Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Devoted to Ministry – 1 Tim 4:15

Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all. (NASB)
Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. (NKJV)

When it comes to ministry, Paul tells me that I should be very intense about it. When was the last time I took pains with anything? It generally isn’t my nature to do anything until it pains me. Other translations don’t make it sound this intense with words like meditate, diligence, and practice. Then I looked up mediation. Joshua was told in Joshua 1:8 to mediate day and night on the Word. Again, in Ps 1:2, I’m told that a blessed man will meditate on the Word day and night. I believe I’m greatly blessed, but I wonder how much more I would be blessed if I took these instructions seriously enough to work at and take pains in meditation on God’s word and what He wants.

Ps 63:1-8 is a great framework for what it takes to be devoted to ministry and meditation is at the center of it. It starts out with the attitude that I need to have if I’m going to meditate and do what God wants. I need to search for God earnestly. This can’t be a willy-nilly, catch-can, or when-I-have-time approach to seeking God. This has to be a quest in which I’m serious. I need to pursue knowing God with deep conviction and seriousness.
David said he faints for God like someone who is a desert land without water. Do I thirst for God? Do I understand that without enough of Him I would faint and even die? Until I meditate on my need for Him, I don’t really appreciate how much all that I am depends on Him. A thirsty man in a desert has only one thing on his mind and that is finding water. That is the way I should seek God in my meditation.

Meditation can also be seen in worship. For David, that started when he remembered seeing God’s glory and power in the sanctuary. David had pitched a tent for the Ark of the Lord in Jerusalem even though the official sanctuary with the altar for sacrifice was not there. David spent much time in this tent before the Ark. 2 Sam 12:15-20 records the time that he spent laying on the ground and fasting before the Lord pleading for his son’s life. Then after the boy died, he cleaned up and worshiped the Lord.
People throughout history have made up their own ideas about God. They believe that God should do things the way they think is best. From our own sinful nature, we formulate what God should be like. Have you ever heard someone say, “I couldn’t submit to, love, or obey a God who would send anyone to hell, let babies die, allow war, etc.” In saying this, they are essentially saying they know better than God does. They say that God is vengeful or wrathful but never loving.

David said that God’s steadfast love was better than life. For that reason, he would praise God and bless Him as long as he lived. I need to meditate on that to understand it better. Isn’t life the most important thing to us? Yet God’s love is better. That means that His love must surpass life, suffering, and even death. His love explains why He allows things we call evil. It even explains why He has reserved a place for everyone who doesn’t want to have anything to with Him. His love gives me reason to absorb myself in ministry.
Worship and praise can take many forms and one is when I lift up my hands to God. This is a sign of complete and utter surrender. I depend on God for all my being, for all my needs, and even my wants. When David did this, he found that his soul was satisfied just as he was physically satisfied by the richest foods. There is a huge difference in physically satisfaction and spiritual or soul satisfaction. God can provide both, but physical satisfaction is temporary and fleeting. Soul satisfaction last a lifetime and even beyond into eternity. It can only be found when I’m completely surrendered to God.

The TV image of meditation is someone sitting in a lotus position surrounded by candles and smoldering incense sticks. Meditation is not limited to special environments but quiet places certainly help. David meditated on his bed during the night watches as well as before the Ark. I can meditate in front of my computer as I write but not in front of the TV. I can meditate while doing yard work, but not as well as when I’m not distracted other activities.
As I meditate, I begin to understand just how much I depend on God. David describes God’s help as being under the shadow of His wings. Just as a bird protects its young from the heat of the day, rain, or predators, so God protects those that trust in Him. I understand that this protection isn’t always physical because there is more to His love and the reality that goes beyond this physical world. His protection means that when the adversary, Satan, prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 3:8), I can resist him with God’s help. It means that when temptations come, I can find the way out because He has provided it (1 Cor 10:13). I can’t do these things in my own power or strength.

When my soul clings to God, it is then that His right hand upholds me.

The problem with comparing my progress to others or even trying to impress others with my progress is that someone will always be doing better than I am and I can become envious or feel bad about my progress. Some will not advance as far as I have and I’ll feel proud. Paul recognized that he hadn’t come as far as possible. He knew that he still had a long way to go (Phil 3:12-14). Yet Paul saw the importance of progress that was visible. That progress served as an inspiration to other so that they would not only seek to do the same but also recognize the position and authority that Timothy had. It was very important for a young pastor. It is very important to anyone who wants to be a good witness to the grace of Jesus in our lives.

Is my progress in ministry and faith in Jesus evident to others? Paul assures Timothy that as he gives himself completely to his work, people will see his progress. I had to stop and think about this. I wanted to justify a lack of progress by thinking that I had progressed far enough that any further progress would be more difficult to see or achieve. That seemed logical until I reread the passage and understood that my progress is related to how much I give myself to the ministry. As I reflected again on David’s meditation, it is clear that progress is related directly to how much I’m yielded to God.

In order to be yielded to God, I need to be yielded to Jesus. In fact, Jesus needs to be the source of all my ministry, my being, and my life. He put it this way in John 15:4-6: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (NKJV)

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Life Will Be Like After Armageddon

The world today is in a state of economic chaos. Governments are threatening to collapse; Iran is getting closer to having a nuclear bomb (they already have the missile capability to deliver one to Israel); a pandemic could easily wipe out millions. Life as we know it today could abruptly change for the worse.

The Bible is clear that economic, pandemic, and environmental disasters will culminate in a global war. That battle will take place in the valley of Armageddon in Israel. It says that demonic spirits will perform great signs to lure the kings of the whole world in assembling at the low hills around Megiddo overlooking the Plain of Esdraelon where many of Israel’s ancient battles were fought. The difference between this battle and previous ones is that these kingdoms will be assembling to fight against Almighty God.
Besides the demonic deception, the leaders of these nations will gather because they believe that God has caused the problems. They are right. The earth will be real mess by this time. God will have already killed one fourth of the population by wars, famine, pestilence, and even wild animals. There have been at least two gigantic world shaking earthquakes. How many will die in those isn’t recorded.

A third of the earth has been burned including a third of the trees and all the grass. A third of the oceans have been polluted by what appears to be an asteroid impact. A third of the animal life in the sea and a third of all shipping is wiped out. Another meteorite pollutes one third of the fresh water on the earth. Not surprisingly, this all probably causes such atmospheric pollution that the sun is dimmed by one third of its power and a third of the stars can’t be seen.
A third of the population is also killed in addition to all that died from the previous pollutants and fires. We aren’t told how many people will be killed during the battle of Armageddon. It could be that people all around the world who have aligned themselves with the kings will also be killed. The result is that earth’s population will be significantly reduced, perhaps to only a few million.

As the kings gather, many things will happen at about the same time. Babylon will be destroyed. This could be a symbolic name for another city or a rebuilt Babylon in Iraq. Jesus will come back with the armies of heaven and completely destroy the armies at Armageddon. For seven years, the cities of Israel will use the left over armament at Armageddon for fuel. They will send out search parties for seven months to find and bury all the bones of the dead.
Obviously, there will be people left doing this clean up. But what will the earth look like? Will the atmosphere be polluted for generations so that life is miserable? Will the infrastructure of the nations be devastated so that commerce reverts to bargaining and trading? How long will it take the earth to heal, vegetation to grow back, and the oceans to return to normal? Will mankind be able to survive until this happens?

The Bible doesn’t talk about how long these things will take. However, some very interesting changes will take place that indicate God will restore the planet. He will make it better than it has since before the flood. These are supernatural changes that affect the very nature of man and animals.
Carnivorous animals such as lions, leopards, and wolves will no long prey on other animals. Lambs, goats, and calves will dwell together in safety. The will graze together. This means the very DNA of these animals will be altered so that they can subsist on vegetation. The natural fear of carnivores will be taken away. These animals will be so tame that a child can safely walk up to them. Concerning vegetation, even harmful brier and thorn bushes will no longer grow. Instead, productive trees will take their place. The Dead Sea will also come alive and be teeming with fish.

It is a result of Satan’s deception that the world is in its current decaying state after mankind’s fall in the Garden of Eden. When Jesus comes back, He will bind Satan locking him in a pit. It is only fitting that Jesus will then return the earth back to the same or better state as it was in the Garden of Eden. It is evident that this dramatic change will be occur since plant and animal DNA will need to be altered for it to happen. Significant environmental changes will also be required.
What about people, will mankind’s DNA be changed as well? That is possible as well. The Bible certainly says that people will suddenly be living longer after Jesus returns. Infant mortality will actually cease. People who are a hundred years old will be considered only in their youth. If a person dies at the young age of a hundred, he will be considered accursed or a sinner.

It is possible that this long life may be a result of genetic changes in the human race or it could be because diseases will be eliminated. Death due to violence and war will no longer happen because Jesus will be in control of the earth. The Bible says He will rule with a rod of iron. That means that He and those who will be ruling with Him will have such a tight grip on society that rebellion and criminal activity will be effectively stopped before any harm can come to others.
There will be many benefits to this new society. Poverty will be eliminated because Jesus will make sure that everyone shares with others. Everyone will have the same opportunity for education. There will always be work available to anyone who wants a job. There won’t be a welfare system to enable people to live off others. Jesus’ government will make sure that able-bodied people will be working or punished if they don’t. People who don’t like Christian values in this age will find this new society to be very oppressive.

People who think capitalism is the only correct form of economics will be shocked to discover that the CEO of a company has the same rewards and benefits as the janitor. If the janitor has five kids and the CEO has only one, then the janitor would have a bigger house. The CEO may have some things that the Janitor doesn’t but it will only be because they are necessary for effectively running the company. The company will exist to provide products or services to others. Its success will not be measured by profits but how well it does this and without charge. The government, led by Jesus, will make sure that all is fair by His standards.
Considering all the changes that will be made, the earth could be rapidly repopulated. People will retain the technologies that have mushroomed in the past century. In this new environment, they will increase even faster. Since people will not die off when their research is yet unfinished, it won’t have to pass on to someone else who had to go over the same learning curve as his predecessor. This would lead to breakthroughs in physics which could enable travel to other planets and even stars.

Read the book 999Years after Armageddon, The End of the Millennium, a novel depicting the end of this time on earth to see if you would be one to find this life oppressive or liberating.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Using Your Gift – 1 Tim 4:14

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (NIV)
Don’t Neglect Your Gift
Many things run through my mind as a read and think about this verse. I wonder what Timothy’s gift was. I also wonder about this unique method by which he received his gift. When I think about how I should respond to this verse, what is important is clear. I should not neglect any gift that God has given me.

In Matt 25:14-30, Jesus told the parable of three men who received property to be used until the owner returned. The story is familiar to most people. What is not familiar or is ignored is that it was told in context of the disciples’ question about the end of the age. In response, Jesus taught about signs of the end, how to get into the kingdom, the parable of the talents, and finished with final judgment.
In the parable, the first two men are rewarded because they used whatever was given to them and the third was punished because he failed to use it. Today, many preachers miss the true meaning of this parable by relegating it to good stewardship. The parable is primarily about God’s kingdom and whether we accept His gift of salvation and use it for His glory or whether we scorn it as the one who buried the talent in the ground. How do I know this is the primary teaching? I looked at the ending of the parable. The punishment for the one who scorned the gift is descriptive of eternal punishment. Since salvation doesn’t come by works, using the talents to get more vs. not using the talent couldn’t make the difference between the reward and the punishment. Even if a person were to use the talents to increase 1,000 fold but didn’t have the gift of salvation they would end up in the same place as the person who buried the talent. Therefore, the only gift that can be used and rewarded in this way is salvation. In addition, the wicked servant’s description of the Master was wrong, revealing that he didn’t really know the Master.

Since salvation is our greatest gift and we shouldn’t neglect it.  What can I do to make sure I’m not neglecting it? Isa 12:1-4 Then you will say on that day, "I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord; For although Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, And Thou dost comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation. And in that day you will say, "Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted." (NASB)
On the day of my salvation and even beyond, the very first thing I need to do is give thanks to the Lord, remembering that God is angry with sinners. Sometimes we dwell on God’s love for sinners so much that we forget that He is also angry with sinners. When I’m saved, His anger has turned away from me. It was poured out on Jesus on the cross.

After I’ve turned to Him, He comforts me. Again, I need to give him thanks. I need to shout, “Behold! God has saved me through Jesus Christ.” It doesn’t matter what happens in this life because He comforts me and strengthens me. I can sing praises to Him and about Him. If I don’t trust Him for this, then I am certainly neglecting His wondrous gift of salvation. If I’m fearful of what may happen, it demonstrates that I’m not trusting God but other things such as my own strength, the government, other people, or even other gods. All of these things will fail us but God won’t.
Jesus said that He was the living water and whoever comes to Him will never thirst (John 4:14, 6:35). When I walk with Jesus, I will have His joy as I draw on His springs of living water, His salvation. If I’m not joyous in my Christian life, then it’s because my trust is elsewhere and I’m not drawing on His living water, His strength, His Spirit, but my own or something else. That would constitute neglecting my gift.

Finally, using my gift of salvation means that I need to call on His name, pray. A lot of trusting, not being afraid, and being strengthened by God comes from prayer. Certainly, I can’t walk with Jesus without prayer. From prayer comes the ability to declare His mighty deeds – especially Jesus’ work on the cross. There are many ways to do this. Speaking to others about Jesus, writing blogs, posting on facebook or twitter are just some of the many ways to make it happen. Contributing to things like the Jesus Film Project can bring the message of salvation to thousands of people. Whenever I do any of these things, His name is exalted and I’m not neglecting my gift of salvation. It is different for each of us as He has given us different gifts of ministry.
Getting back to Timothy, Paul wasn’t talking about salvation but a specific gift of ministry. This isn’t what Jesus was talking about in the parable even though many preach that it was. The reason is that believers will not be punished if we don’t use our talent, but will lose the reward (1 Cor 3:14-15). God’s wrath is not poured out on those whom He has saved (1 Thess 5:9).

Rom 12:6-8 And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (NASB) Paul emphasizes the fact that each of us has received different gifts and this is the only resemblance to the parable. The gifts are given by God as He determines (1 Cor 12:11) and that is why Paul states that it is according to the grace given us. It is because of His grace that we receive anything. I’m not in a position where I can negotiate with God which gifts I want. I am born with certain abilities and potential and I’m also given spiritual gifts in the same way. The gift is only useful when it is used for His glory.
Attitude is as important as the gift. I could prophesy by faith or by my own conceit as did the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time (Jer 14:14). My teaching, serving, exhorting, or other gifts can all be exercised to bring glory to God or to myself. I can use them reluctantly or joyfully. I should be alert to any selfish or grumbling use of my gifts as I would classify that as neglect.

How Do I Get the Gifts?
If I were to only look at this verse in Timothy and Act 6:6, 8:17, 13:3, 1 Tim 5:22, and 2 Tim 1:6, I would come away with the faulty conclusion that having Christian leaders putting their hands on me is a requirement for ministry. Several denominations have pushed this to the limits. They believe that only those who have an unbroken chain of ordinations, which includes laying hands on the recipients, have authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. There is a huge gap between what these verses say and this dogma about who has authority in these matters. Based on Jesus’ commission in Matt 28:18-20, any believer has the right to baptize. I haven’t found anything in Scripture that would prevent me from leading in communion unless I was ordained. It doesn’t matter if it was with my family, or in a large group or a small one. In addition to these, as long as we are remaining true to the Bible, we have the same authority to rebuke or instruct others on moral issues and to share our faith inviting anyone who hears to believe in Jesus and be saved.

Another fallacy that comes from 1 Tim 1:18 and 4:14, is that gifts of ministry require some sort of prophecy. I’ve read about this and heard about it. Some preacher or ministry leader tells someone that he is called to a mission, ministry, or other service. Based on this prophecy, they jump on board. God is glorified and this is wonderful, however it doesn’t mean that this is the normal or only way people are given gifts of ministry. I mentioned before that Timothy was unique. There aren’t any other Scriptures that follow this pattern. If it were the only or even the normative way gifts were bestowed, then I would expect to see it either directly explained or found in multiple places.
If I’m using my gift of salvation as described above, my ministerial gift will become evident. I don’t have to ask for it or wait for someone to tell me what it is. I don’t need to have someone lay hands on me before I start using it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that everyone should run out and be a Lone Ranger. Eph 4:11-16 describes using gifts in conjunction with the Church. It also provides accountability because a Lone Ranger can very easily stray without someone to hold him accountable. Taking official positions in the church should require examination to ensure this happens.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Read, Exhort, Teach – 1 Tim 4:13

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (NKJV )

I looked at eight different translations of the Bible before deciding to quote the NKJV for these verses. I picked this one because it was the closest to a literal translation without using thee and thy. I was disappointed in the big three (NASB, ESV, and NIV) because they all added words so that the instruction was to give attention to the public reading of Scripture.  Perhaps these translators did this because of the word exhortation, which often implies that it is public encouragement. Then looking ahead to verse 16, there is a connection to others hearing. I think adding public and specifying scripture doesn’t clarify what Paul wrote and may even detract what the Holy Spirit wants to say to individuals who are not pastors.

Most people don’t have an opportunity to read the Bible aloud to other people. My wife and I read aloud to each other every day, but this isn’t public. If I were to read this as being attentive to the public reading of Scripture, then I could easily say it doesn’t apply. However, by going back to a more literal translation, I see that I need to be reading and this could very well be my own private reading as well as public. What do I need to read?
I agree that reading Scripture is one thing that I can’t neglect. However, I don’t think that I should read Scripture to the exclusion of other books. I firmly believe that I should be able to get the most out of reading the Bible by comparing the Bible to itself. However, there are times when I need to read another person’s insight to help me out. I also need to read to find out what others are teaching. This is still in context with previous verses, which were cautioning about silly myths and other things.

Normally, I think of exhortation as a public function as well. However, there is no need to limit it in this way. Much exhortation takes place between two people. Some takes place in written communication (the epistles especially), publically and in private. 

Being curious, I looked up the word in the Greek. Paraklesis, means "a calling to one's side" (para, "beside," kaleo, "to call") (from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.) That was a surprise. The word is often translated as comfort, consolation, and entreaty as well as exhort. That reminded me that Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter or Helper in John 14:16. That word is parakletos meaning called to one’s side. This is very similar to paraklesis.
Now Paul’s instruction is taking a much greater view of ministry. Not only am I supposed to be reading to gain insight into God’s Word and His instruction to me, but now I need to use what I’ve read to help others. I can be like the Holy Spirit and come along side another person who is hurting to be a consolation and to comfort him. I can exhort or entreat a sinner to repent and turn his life around.

The NKJV uses the word doctrine. Most other translations use the word teach. The word doctrine stirs up ideas that explanations about God and man are esoteric or difficult to understand. However, the Greek word didaskalia can mean either teaching or what is taught – doctrine. It is the same word used in verse 16. Since the instruction is to read and exhort (both verbs) then it would makes sense that teach is the best translation. In verse 16, the command is to watch yourself (a pronoun) so it makes sense that this would be translated doctrine or the teaching (a noun not an action).

With all that aside, I can now talk about teaching instead of doctrine, which will come in verse 16. I can teach individuals, which would be one way of offering comfort or it could be in small or large groups. This isn’t just a pastoral function as we all teach someone. As parents, we teach our children. As Christians living in a fallen world, we teach others how to live by our lives. Believe me, they do watch and take note, especially when we fail.
Matt 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes  one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least  in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great  in the kingdom of heaven. (ESV) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these words. He also went on to explain that the commandments didn’t just apply to outward behavior but our inward attitudes. My attitudes are usually evident to others. If I ogle a woman, you can bet there is lust behind it. Jesus said that was the same as adultery. If I relax the Law by doing that and others see me do it, I teach them that it is OK. Read the rest of the Sermon on the Mount and it will become obvious that we are all sinners and in need of a heart change.

Someone may tell me that I’m teaching the Old Testament and the Gospel isn’t about that. The Gospel is about love and forgiveness and this emphasis on doctrine and doing is impossible. I have to agree that Jesus fulfilled the Law because it is impossible for us, but it doesn’t mean that we toss out the principles that are in the Old Testament. In fact, I need to understand them even better so that I know how they apply to me today. I have to live to a higher standard than the O.T. since it dealt with external obedience (even though that wasn’t God’s only intention). In Matt 5:20 Jesus said my righteousness had to be greater than the scribes and Pharisees. I have to be more righteous than these people who were experts in keeping all the external commandments plus hundreds they made up. How can I do that?
The good news (Gospel) is that there isn’t any condemnation for us who are truly Christians (Rom 8:1). But that doesn’t let me off the hook to live any way I want. Rom 8:13-14 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (NIV) Anyone who is ignoring the Bible’s teaching to live godly lives is demonstrating that the sinful nature is still in full control and not subject to the Holy Spirit. That sounds a lot like a person who doesn’t really know Jesus.

We can only be led by the Spirit when we love Jesus. We prove that we love Jesus by obeying His commandments. One of those commandments that is imperative is to believe Jesus and the Father who sent Him (John 5:24). When we believe, the Holy Spirit is given to us to guide us into all truth. John 14:15-17 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. (NASB)
Are you able to read the Scriptures and understand them so that you can comfort, console, or exhort others in times of trials? Are you teaching others to be godly by your life as well as your word? Are you led by the Spirit? If you aren’t doing these things then maybe it’s time for some self examination to determine if you really know Jesus.