Monday, December 26, 2011

Where Two or More are Gathered?

I have decided to start posting on pet-peeves of mine that relate to improper interpretation and/or applications of Scripture.  Last week it was "God won't give you more than you can handle" today it is dealing with the quoting of Mathew 18:19-20 that states, "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

I have been guilty of this in the past, and I hear pastors all the time say something to the effect of "We know that Jesus is here because He said He would be present whenever two or three of His followers are present" before or during their prayer.  On one level, I do force myself to keep my heart in check because the spirit of what is being said is not inaccurate per se and I don't want to be critical of people's prayers.

But on the other hand I have two problems with this statement.  

First, it is violates the first three rule of Bible interpretation: context, context, context!  This is what the immediate context before states:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

And this is what follows immediately after:

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

What is the focus of the passages immediately surrounding our text in question?  Sin, correction, and forgiveness.  Is prayer the focus of this passage at all? No.  The point of "where two or three are gathered" is in reference to church discipline.  I tell you there is nothing less appealing as a pastor than having to confront a fellow Christian about their sin.  This passage is assuring us that in this process, Jesus is with us. 

The second concern is what if I am one?  Will Jesus only hear my prayer if I have a proper prayer quorum?  No, that is ridiculous!  Jesus' last recorded words in the Mathew (28:20), "...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  The Scripture makes it clear that we are to pray always about all things!  God is there for us all the time!  So why don't you pray to Him now? :)

I don't want to be trivial, but I do think there are many things people think come from the Bible and they don't, or they are not understood in context and are ultimately misapplied.  As we interact with the Bible, we must take caution to "rightly divide the Word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15)!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

R.I.P. Grandma Kathy

It's 6:16am on one of the most memorable Christmas mornings I can remember. The text message came in at 3:32am, "Mom has passed. We are okay. You don't need to come." As my brain slowly processed the text, I knew that I needed to go be with the family through this process. Minutes later I was in my car asking God to prepare me to be there for the family. This blog is more for me than anyone else as I decompress my tired thoughts in order to prepare for Christmas service in about 3 hours.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting." This verse always comes to mind when I am called to a place where death has come, but on Christmas morning it felt so much more significant. There are many lessons that come from seeing a person lay over the remains of their spouse of some 50 years weeping on Christmas day. I am reminded how short this life is and how I need to cherish each moment that God gives me with my wife and children. Life is really too short to be grumpy.

I have only known "Grandma Kathy" for 7 months or so. She loved the Lord and taught me much on her journey heavenward. It brought me great joy to see her confidence in the Lord's promises as her life came to its end. My mind is tired now and my thoughts are disconnected, but I am thankful that the Lord crossed my path with this wonderful woman.

Leaving church late last night a Christmas song came on the radio. I have heard before, but I never heard the words if you know what I mean. The song is 'Christmas Shoes' and these are the lyrics:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Tryin to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood

Standin right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldnt believe what I heard him say

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes
For my mama, please
Its Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir?
Daddy says theres not much time
You see, shes been sick for quite a while
And I, know these shoes will make her smile
And I, want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
And the, cashier said Son, theres not enough here.
He searched his pockets franticly
Then he turned and he looked at me
He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Most years she just did without
Tell me, sir, what am I gonna do
Somehow Ive gotta buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down
I just had to help him out
And Ill never forget the look on his face
when he said Mamas gonna look so great

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes
For my mama, please
Its Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir?
Daddy says theres not much time
You see, shes been sick for quite a while
And I, know these shoes will make her smile
And I, want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

I knew I caught a glimpse of heaven love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that god had sent that little boy to remind me
What Christmas is all about

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes
For my mama, please
Its Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir?
Daddy says theres not much time
You see, shes been sick for quite a while
And I, know these shoes will make her smile
And I, want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

I want her to look beautiful
If mama meets Jesus tonight

I couldn't help but to think of "Grandma Kathy" as I listened to these words. Tears began to flow as I thought about the simple yet powerful words of this little song. I had no idea that "Grandma Kathy would pass in a few hours. As I was there with the family tonight, I couldn't help but to think about this song and the beautiful picture it brings to mind of "Grandma Kathy" meeting Jesus tonight. After the mortuary came to take her remains, my time with the family had pretty much come to a close. I hugged them and headed on my way. You'll never guess what song came on as I was pulling away from there home. You got it, 'Christmas Shoes'! You may think it was just coincidence, but I do not. I am thankful the Lord gave me this song to remember this very special lady with...most likely every Christmas for the rest of my life.

Please continue to pray for the family as they mourn the loss of a wife, mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, and all the rest.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Reflections

I just started a new routine of Bible reading. No, I am not shooting for reading the Bible through in a year (although there is nothing wrong with that!). My goal in the immediate future is to read from the Psalms each morning. Psalms are so encouraging and truly help my heart focus on God and how good He is.

Yesterday I was in Psalm 2 and the end (2:10-12) jumped out at me in light of this Christmas season we are in. Look at what it says, "Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!"

The focus of Christmas has become a holiday of spending time with family and loved ones and less about the birth of Christ. If Christ is apart of the celebration the focus is on the baby, innocent, gentle, palatable, and inoffensive. In this celebration today and tomorrow, let's not forget some biblical truths.

Jesus did not come into existence at His birth. Jesus existed in eternity past. The birth of Christ is referred to as the Incarnation--meaning God became man (not the other way around). He humbled Himself (Phil. 2:5-9) and in His coming He became the perfect revelation of God (John 1:18).

Jesus' birth was for a specific reason. Every human has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and is therefore separated from God. The purpose Jesus came was to save sinners from their darkness and separation (1 Tim. 1:15).

You have a choice that has eternal consequences. You can have peace with God and of God through believing upon Him (Eph. 1:13). I love that last verse of Psalm 2. Instead of destruction, we have take refuge in Christ and be blessed. The right choice is clear to me!

Monday, December 19, 2011

More than YOU Can Handle?

Have you ever had someone tell you, "Don't worry, God won't give you more than you can handle!" coupled with citing 1 Corinthians 10:13? The likelihood is very high that someone has told you this and you, in turn, have shared this hope with another person.

How would you feel if I told you that this completely wrong? First Corinthians 10:13 is not about dealing with handling life's difficulties, it explains "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." I may seem like I am splicing theological hairs, but I believe this point is important to the Christian navigating life. Let me explain.

First, this passage is dealing exclusively with sinful temptations we face. The Corinth church was a mess and Paul was writing with the purpose of removing their excuses or alibi's for why they continued to sin.

The problem with thinking "God won't give you more than you can handle" is it puts the focus on you and your ability to handle things in your strength. It's like God is measuring up person and calculating how much they can handle and then sending stuff our way that remains within our scope of ability things we can handle. This thought seems to cut against so many other principles found in Scripture. Namely God has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I am not too proud to admit there are many things I can't handle on my own. Death is one such thing in a long laundry of things. It will strike all of us and everyone we know. God isn't expecting us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and suck it up in our own strength. He is instructing us to embrace, or acknowledge, our weakness and lean upon Him and His abilities.

I know people who say, "God won't give you more than you can handle" are really making an innocent mistake, but I believe this thought forces us to rely on ourselves and our abilities when Scripture clearly advises the Christian to a life of complete dependence on God. I encourage you today, to stop relying on yourself and to seek God throughout the day asking Him to help you through whatever you are going through. Remember the great truth found in Philippians 4:13, "I can endure all things in Christ who strengthens me!" (my translation of this verse).

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Heart Christmas!

I love Christmas as much as the next guy. Who doesn’t love this time of year? As I type this, the fire is going, rain is pouring, and my five-year old daughter is singing, “Joy to the World”! This truly is one of my favorite seasons.

“Christmas Season” seems to be opening early and earlier. It used to start the day after Thanksgiving with the mad dash (by some) to the mall to score great deals. Over the last few years Christmas has broached this cultural barrier and I have notice Christmas related items in the store simultaneously with Halloween. I heard commentators in the news state this early arrival is because of the emotional strain the war against terrorism and recession have had on the American people and we the people need a little more good feelings this time of the year. I don’t know about this? But it begs the question, “What is Christmas all about?”

This is a good question. In simplest answer it is to celebrate the birth of Christ—in theological terms this is the Incarnation (see Philippians 2:5-11 for more information). This being the foundation of this holiday makes the widespread celebration of this holiday sort of funny in light of the overall rejection of Christ. But for most, holidays are less about the meaning and more about the time off from work and a regular schedule. Not in my home.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that Christmas is bad or that we shouldn’t celebrate it. My goal is to point out how significant the event of Jesus’ birth is for us humans. The most concise verse addressing the importance of this bit of history that changed the world is found in 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul writes, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came [the Incarnation, or the birth of baby Jesus who existed in eternity past] into the world to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost of all.” Clearly Jesus’ birth isn’t celebrated as a standard human birthday, but rejoices in God’s plan of salvation through Christ.

In many respects Christianity has been so warped in our culture that we identify with Christianity while being separated from Christ. What is the message? Fortunately, the message is simple: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the gospel, the good news, but this is just the facts, not an explanation for becoming a Christian.

How do I make gospel have an effect in my life? This is the part that many miss. We know basic tenants of Christianity, attend church a few times a year, probably own a Bible, and try to be basically good people. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t cut it with God because our sin hasn’t been dealt with. My favorite passage that handles salvation, or how one becomes right with God, is found in Ephesians 1:13, “In Him [Jesus], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel [see above (1 Corinthians 15:34)] of your salvation—having also believed [the action that connects the facts to your life], you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise…”

My prayer this Christmas season is that you would come to celebrate Christmas because you have received the greatest gift a person could receive—eternal life and peace with God!