Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Faithfulness of Ruth: God's Sovereign direction in the Little things of Life

We’ve just gone through the book of judges with all these vast, brutal wars, and chaos and destruction and now we turn to the next book, right after Judges, the book of Ruth. We saw how God is very concerned with huge world events, like the nation of Israel and it’s enemies, and Israel’s sins and their leaders. But in the book of Ruth we get a whole new angle on who God is and how he interacts with us.

In the book of Ruth we learn about how God is providentially at work in the seemingly small, everyday events of our lives. God cares about the little things in our lives. Even in the life of just one person, or a small group of people. God’s hand is at work, in providence. And if you aren’t clear of the meaning of providence, providence refers to how God guides events behind the scenes. He’s at work, even in the smallest decisions we make.

So the book of Ruth, the first line of the book of Ruth tells us these events take place during the time of the judges. Scholars are uncertain as to the exact time frame in which ruth was written, but the probably author of Ruth seems to be Samuel. It’s probably written well after the actual historical events took place, as a retelling of these events.

So at this time in Israel’s history, there is a famine taking place in the land. People are starving to death left and right.

You can turn to Ruth chapter one in your Bibles. So it says in Ruth 1:1-2:

“So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.”

Notice where they’re from: Bethlehem. Very interesting. So Eli and Naomi. They’ve got two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. And they’re fleeing a famine. Very common in antiquity. There were all sorts of famines in the middle east at this time in history. Usually these famines were caused by lack of rains, or hail storms, sometimes also related to sieges from foreign nations as well.

So they head to a foreign nation, to hopefully escape the famine. They’re making decisions, to protect themselves.

Things don’t work out too well in Moab unfortunately. It says, “3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.” Ruth 1:3-5

This must’ve been extremely devastating for Naomi. She’s essentially lost everything. Her husband has died, it doesn’t say how. But it may have been that the famine spread to Moab as well. Imagine how painful that must’ve been! I saw how my grandma struggled after losing my grandpa when he died. I imagine it must feel like losing your other half.

But at least she has her two sons, and they both get married. That’s very good. But then we jump ten years into the future. And it says that both her sons died as well. Once again we don’t know how they died. But it’s possible that it was due to famine.

So now Naomi is left alone, miserable, with only two foreign women, who are both widows now as well.

Naomi hears word that back in Israel the famine has passed and there is food available. So she sets out with Orpah and Ruth. But on the way she asks Orpah and Ruth to turn back and go to Moab. She told them they should look for husbands there among their own people the Moabites.

In the ancient world, women basically had to be married to have their needs met. An unmarried woman was basically at the mercy of the world and would have nothing. So it was very important in ancient times for a woman to have a husband to work to provide for her needs. So understand that cultural context here.

Both of them refuse to leave Naomi’s side. But eventually Orpah agrees to leave and goes back to her people.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”

And here we find our first principle today. The absolute and complete faithful devotion of Ruth. She loves Naomi as herself. The biblical standard of love. If only we had this kind of love amongst us. But we don’t. We’re too busy selfishly seeking our own desires. And that really needs to change amongst us. We need to learn to love each other the way Ruth loved Naomi. She was not willing to leave Naomi alone in her misery. Often times we’re too focused on getting everything we want, arguing over stupid things, and ignoring each other, to actually take time to love each other. That’s my first challenge to you today. We must learn to love each other more deeply. Loyalty. Devotion. A willingness to sacrifice for others. Guess who models that best in this room? Scott does. Always he is willing to help.

So they journeyed back to Bethlehem. So the setting is historic Bethlehem. Very interesting. As they enter the city, everyone is astonished. This was a small town kind of thing. Much smaller than even little Owosso. Everybody knows everybody in Owosso. But in Bethlehem, everybody really knows everybody, tight knit community. They’re all amazed, Naomi is back!

But she replies, “20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”

Can anyone here relate to how Naomi felt at this moment in her life? She’s lost her husband. She’s lost her two sons. She’s really lost everything. Everything aside from Ruth. She has suffered terribly. Can anyone relate here? Have you suffered? Has it felt at times in your life that the Lord has left you empty? Has it felt at times like the Lord caused you to suffer and sent tragedy upon you?

I believe the Bible mentions this incident particularly because we all face situations as Christians, and just as human beings, where we face struggle. If so, this saga of Naomi and Ruth proves one thing: God really cares about our sufferings. He deeply cares about our pain. That’s my second point for you today.

We’ll see how the changes in Naomi’s story prove to us that God cares about even the sorrows of one seemingly insignificant person. God is at work in nations, the United States, the world, but also, he is at work in your little life, and cares about you.

So Naomi and Ruth are in Bethlehem. And Ruth offers to go collect grain in the fields, because it’s harvest season. Naomi gives her permission to do so. This is a practice called gleaning. Gleaning is a concept found in the Old Testament law. Foreigners and the needy were allowed to follow after in the fields after those gathering barley. And they could collect what was left on the ground for themselves.

So Ruth goes out into the fields and begins gleaning. And it just so happens, that she ends up gleaning in the field of a man named Boaz, a relative of her deceased father in law Elimilech.

Then we see in Ruth chapter 2:8-16 “8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”

13 “I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.”

14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!””

Often times, you don’t see what God is doing. Seemingly random events are taking place in your life. You get this job. You become friends with this person. You go out to eat on this day. You visit the park over the weekend. And it all seems kinda random. But quietly, beneath the surface, God is weaving strands of your life together to form a tapestry, a plan, in which your destiny, God’s will, is being unfolded.

That is my third point to you today: God’s will is being unfolded in the “random” events of your life.

So Ruth continues to glean in Boaz’s fields, and Boaz is obviously helping her and blessing her, and impressed by her faithfulness. Ladies, if you’re hoping for a Boaz to come into your life. Follow God’s will for your life. And be a faithful woman, when no one is looking. Be faithful. Be loyal to those you love. Honor God. And people will take note.

Ruth continues to glean through Spring and into early Summer. One day Naomi says to her, from Ruth chapter 3, ““My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. 2 Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3 Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”

So God has brought together seemingly random events in the life of Naomi and Ruth. He’s guided events. There’s an opportunity here. So Ruth receives excellent advice and guidance from this motherly figure to her Naomi. And we should always seek the Lord when making a big decision like this.

But my fourth point to you is this: When God orchestrates His will in our lives, we must recognize the opportunity in front of us and take it. God isn’t going to force Ruth to approach Boaz. He isn’t going to force Boaz to marry Ruth. They both have free will. And Ruth wisely gets godly counsel from Naomi, and then listens and takes the advice.

Now, just a caution, sometimes we can get very bad advice from family and friends as well. So watch out for that. Always check God’s word and pray to make sure.

So Ruth does just as Naomi says. She goes to Boaz at night, uncovers his feet, and he wakes up and sees her there. Everybody please remember this is a Jewish cultural practice. This was a way of the woman to propose marriage to someone who is called a “kingsman redeemer.” For a woman that had suffered great loss, and her husband had died, a redeemer from the same family could redeem the situation by taking the widow as his wife. And that’s what Boaz does.

He realizes that there is another relative that is closer in relation to Ruth’s father in law Elimilech. So Boaz goes to talk to this person. He’s probably very worried, because he wants this honorable woman Ruth to become his wife. But he honors God by obeying the laws of that time. He goes and talks with the man, but he doesn’t want to redeem the family, because he’d have to marry Ruth. So Boaz agrees to redeem the dead man’s family name. He declares this in front of the whole crowd in the marketplace, and they’re very excited about this beautiful situation. Remember it’s a small town, and everybody knows about Boaz and Naomi and Ruth.

Ruth 4:11-12: “Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”

Ruth 4:13-17 "So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”

16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed.”

My fifth point today is, When we respond to God’s opportunity, He blesses us and makes it wonderful.

Ruth and Boaz get married. She gives birth to a son. And Naomi is blessed. It’s a moment of rebirth in her family line, that looked like it was coming to an end. Naomi was completely hopeless. She was totally bitter and depressed and miserable. And God completely changed her story.

So the whole city rejoices with Naomi. And her bitterness is turned to comfort and healing. Ruth is married to an amazing man who loves her dearly. Boaz after being single for so long, he’s a middle-aged guy, is married to a wonderful godly woman.

Point number six, if you’ve been waiting on God for a long time, keep waiting, because God is faithful. He will turn your bitterness to rejoicing.

And they have this child named Obed. Does that name sound familiar? Yes. Obed was the father of Jesse. Making Obed the grandfather of David, who would become king of Israel. Not only that, guess what? Ruth and Boaz’s son Obed is part of the line of David, meaning Obed, this miracle child, is great great great great (28 greats) grandfather to Jesus of Nazareth, who would one day be born in that little backwater town of Bethlehem.

And my final point today is this: Not only will God turn our bitterness to rejoicing. Not only is Jesus Christ our ultimate kingsman redeemer, who redeems us from the grave, and redeems us from sin and death, not only is all that true, but when we obey God and become part of His plan for the universe, He gives us an honored place in his very own family. Just like Ruth and Boaz were part of the family line that would eventually give birth to Jesus the son of God. Amen!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Heresy of Gnosticism

Gnosticism was a large umbrella of varying perspectives around basic beliefs heretical to the Christian faith. Gnosticism tended to be based on dualism, this idea of good vs. evil, material vs. spiritual. Gnostics were always on a search for "hidden knowledge" that would bring about salvation, which is in stark contrast to the Christian faith, that indicates faith in Christ as the means to salvation.  Generally in gnosticism the idea is that the physical world is evil, the physical world is bad, the human body is bad, and things spiritual are good.  

In fact, gnostics believed that the natural world itself was the prideful creation of an evil false god.  Christ was the solution to humans escaping from the material universe. So Christ can't be physical, because the physical is evil, so Christ is seen as a ghost. Christ also isn't considered to be God either, just one of many spiritual beings.

The early church father Irenaeus dealt with the heresy of gnosticism two thousand years ago. He challenged the gnostics, not by individually dealing with all the various sects of gnosticism, of which there many, but instead by simply addressing the main ideological viewpoints of the gnostics, and refuting them.  To his mind, this was as good as refuting all the sects at once.  

Irenaeus regarded creation documented in Genesis to be fundamentally a good thing. Humanity and the universe were created good, which he would indicate is counter to what the gnostics taught, which was that creation was fundamentally bad. Irenaeus validates the doctrine of the Trinity, which of course refutes the concept that Christ is a mere spiritual being and not the son of God.

Thankfully, gnosticism did not prevail over the ages. Though it still exists in some minor forms in the modern world.  But how might things have been different if the early church lost out? 

What would it be like in modern Christianity if gnosticism had prevailed? Well, since gnosticism essentially completely departed from the scriptures, church authority, and biblical theology, I don't suppose there would be any sort of Christian movement remaining in the world, unless it picked up again after the imminent collapse of the victorious gnostic movement. Any church movement that charges in the direction of lowered view of scripture, heresies, and neglect for church authority tends to disappear over time.  At least that has been the case in more recent times with church movements that begin to depart from the authority of scripture. Though one might cite the flourishing of heretical movements like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon church to counter that idea.  In that case, I would suggest perhaps gnosticism would've morphed over the centuries, as such open-ended ideologies tend to, into a conglomeration of religions something similar to Unitarian universalism.  That's just a guess, but it's certainly plausible.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Repeating Cycle of Sin in Judges

It all started with Abraham, one man called by God, and finally the promise of the great nation of Israel has been fulfilled. Led by the great General, Joshua, the wandering masses took the promised land. And during the lifetime of Joshua the kingdom is established, with the various twelve tribes in different regions and it’s good. God has established a nation, in the midst of the sinful Earth. He’s called this nation to be holy, and if they obey God and follow his commands, they will prosper and be a beacon of light to the entire world.

And so we enter a time called the period of the judges. There was no king over Israel at this time, but there were various tribes and regions in Israel, where political leaders led, who were empowered by God for service. We call these the judges. Don’t think of a court room judge when you hear of biblical judges, instead think of leaders and generals who stand for God in difficult times.

If you recall under Joshua the Israelites conquered the promised land from a people called the Canaanites, a wicked people who practiced all sorts of immorality and even child sacrifice. The Israelites were supposed to completely defeat the Canaanites, but they failed to do so. So they establish themselves in the midst of the remnants of the people of Canaan who reform into new groups, and each of these groups would be a problem for Israel in the future. It’s always best to obey God now, even if we don’t understand exactly why he wants us to do something. Just obey. But when we don’t, we see the destruction it brings in the future.

If you’ve ever read through the book of Judges, you’ll know that this period for Israel was a very tragic time, full of evil, violence, destruction and immorality. It’s a very violent and disturbing book of the Bible. And in Judges we see this repeating pattern begin to emerge, though we’ve already seen it happen under Moses and Joshua.

The pattern works something like this: First, there is a time of peace for the Israelites. They honor God, they’ve seen him work, so they realize they absolutely must follow God. They enjoy plenty, blessings and peace. And in that time they get complacent. They start to slack off. They start to drift away from God. And their children and grandchildren, having not seen the wonders of God, don’t have any regard for God and turn away to false gods.

As it says in Judges 2:10-11 "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.”

The cycle changes to stage 2, sin. Sin takes over in the nation. False gods are worshiped. Sexual immorality takes over. Pride and ego take over. Chaos is the result. In this chaos, we move to stage 3, oppression, God judges the nation for their evil, and raises up an enemy against them. Whether it’s Philistines, or Midianites, or Ammonites, these foreign nations invade Israel, steal their crops, destroy their cities, and oppress them. 

Stage 4 begins, over time under this oppression and war, the Israelites realize, we’ve sinned against God, that’s why all this evil is happening. They regret that they failed to honor God. They realize the high price of their sin. And so they repent of their sins, crying out to God for help and deliverance. Then Stage 5 begins, God hears their cries for help, and he sees that they’ve repented and have begun to honor Him again. So God raises up a “judge” and through this judge, God brings deliverance for Israel from their enemies.

Often times while that Judge remains alive, Israel continues to honor God. But then as soon as the judge dies, they begin to get complacent, and begin to turn away from God. Then the cycle repeats, they fall back into sin, and come under oppression, and then they cry out to God for help, and God raises up another judge to help them.

And through all this God is trying to teach Israel, as he often tries to teach us in our own lives, to trust in God, and continue to honor God in the hard times and yes, even in the good times when things are easy.

God says in Judges 2:22 “I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 

And God often does the same thing in our lives, he uses people and circumstances to repeatedly test us, to see if we are learning what he is teaching us, and to see if we will honor Him or turn away from Him and go into sin.

Honestly, in our nation today, we can see this same cycle taking over once again sadly. Our founding fathers founded a nation that honored God, and for many years the nation continued to honor God, but in the 20th century, our nation began to rebel and turn against God, and embrace secular ideologies, and now today in 2021, we live in the terrible results of those broken secular ideologies. Our nation is living in every sort of sin, and doesn’t honor God. So its quite chilling, that we see this cycle from judges repeat itself even to our modern day.

In any case now we turn to consider the lives of some of these judges that God raised up to help Israel.

The first three judges we have are Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah.

The saga of Othneil says this, from Judges 3: 7-11 “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.”

In general Othniel does very well, through the Spirit of God.

Next we hear of Ehud. The Israelites do evil in the eyes of the lord after Othneil dies. And Eglon king of Moab invades Israel, taking over the city of palms it says, which refers to Jericho.

Judges 3:15-26 “Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. 18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. 19 But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”

The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left.

20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. 23 Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

24 After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the palace.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead.

26 While they waited, Ehud got away.”

So Ehud, after assassinating the king, gathers the armies of Israel, and attacks and they win the battle defeating 10,000 enemy troops. And they retake Jericho.

After this we hear of another judge named Shamgar, apparently he defeated 600 philistines in battle. But we only get one verse about him. Very brief mention.

Then we see the next judge raised up, Deborah.

Once again we see Israel turning back to evil, and God raises up Jabin king of Canaan against Israel. And they fall to Jabin and end up under his cruel reign for 20 years. During this time Deborah is already a judge over Israel, she is a prophet, and helps settle arguments between people in Israel. The Lord speaks to Deborah, and she calls for a guy named Barak, and tells him to raise up an army of 10,000 to attack Jabin and his forces.

From Judges 4:8-10 “Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.”

So they gather their forces at Mount Tabor and prepare for battle.

Judges 4:14-15 says, “14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.”

So Sisera, the enemy general flees from the area, and ends up in a tent with Israelites he thought were his allies, but the wife of Heber named Jael, pretends to help hide Sisera, but as he sleeps, she drives a tent stake through his head and he dies.

So we see two important events, led by women, which shows us how God values women, just as men, to do the work of God. If anyone ever says to you, the Bible is sexist, don’t listen to them. It’s a lie. God uses women like Deborah and Jael, Ruth and Naomi, as well as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, and so many others to accomplish his victories.

Then we turn to the historical account of Gideon and how God’s Spirit worked through him to deliver Israel from the Midianites, in Judges chapter 6. But you’ll see, that after the first four judges, we see more and more problems, and the judges get worse and worse, obeying God less and less, as we see this cycle of sin and repentance deteriorating.

That cycle will also deteriorate in our own lives, if we live in that cycle of sin, repent, deliverance, idleness and so on. It will keep getting worse and worse, in a progression, going lower and lower, until we hit a sort of bottom of destruction. Be careful of that. But often times it almost has to happen that way, because at rock bottom our ego is so completely flattened that we’re humbled completely, and finally willing to turn to God completely in true repentance. We’re a stubborn people, and it often takes a brutal rock bottom experience to humble us enough to make a big change.

In any case, Gideon, is used by God, found cowering in an underground cellar, trying to hide his harvest from the Midianites who keep raiding their country during harvest time to steal their crops. Isn’t that nasty? All year you work those fields, then when you finally try to harvest they come steal it.

But once again Israel was doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. In fact Gideon’s own dad has an altar to Baal set up in his front yard. Gideon cuts it down in the night, and obeys God. The towns people want to kill him, but actually end up turning to Him, because God’s Spirit is with Gideon.

So Gideon gathers the forces of Israel, into a massive army of 32,000 and I know we went through this recently at Dinner church so I’m going to move quickly through it, but God reduces Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. And with that he would need to attack a force of Midianites allied with other eastern forces in the area numbering about 135,000 soldiers.

So God had the 300 men bang on pots, blow trumpets and smash pottery and yell, at night, to scare the Midianite army. And so it would seem a massive force was moving against them. But God used that obedience of Gideon and his soldiers, to destroy the entire army, God drove them mad and they were destroyed by each other and Gideon chased after the remaining 15,000 who survived. And victory came.

But some of the villages along the route that Gideon was pursuing the remaining 15,000 refused to provide provisions to Gideon’s troops. So later Gideon would come back and destroy those cities.

Then we see after the battle the people try to name Gideon as their ruler, but he refuses and says God himself must be their ruler. But then Gideon makes a terrible mistake, he asks for jewelry from the people. And he took the jewelry and melted it into a statue of a false god and worshiped it. So all the people went and worshiped at the false idol.

Never-the-less the people of Israel had peace for 40 years. At least during Gideon’s lifetime. But after he passed away, the peace once again turned to complacency. And they turned away from God once again.

During this time a man named Abimelek convinced the people to make him leader over Israel. But he was wicked, and ended up in conflict with a part of Israel called Shechem, who plotted against him. Maybe that’s why our modern idea of a “scheme” comes from. Who knows? Anyway, Abimelek eventually attacks these people but is killed in battle at a high tower in one of their villages, when a woman drops a rock on his head. Simply again and again we see in Judges how when the people turn away from God, total chaos takes over, and people are confused, and in fighting takes place and it’s just a big mess. Sound familiar at all? Yeah, to me too.

So we see another judge rise up after Abimelek this failed leader, named Jephthah and his struggle against the ammonites. So the ammonites, along with numerous other nations now, are mustering to attack Israel once again, though they’ve been oppressing them for 18 years already. And Israel responds by gathering their forces at Mizpah.

Jephthah we hear about is this guy who was born of his father and a prostitute. His father marries another woman later and has children with her and those children drive Jephthah out because they see him as illegitimate.

So Jephthah is the sort of cast out, outsider. He becomes a warrior out in the wilderness, and a gang of troublemakers gathers around him.

So now, with the Ammonites poised to invade Israel. The people of the city come to Jephthah, knowing he’s a great warrior and ask him to lead their army. And he agrees, since they commit to making him their leader if he is successful. Jephthah sends a letter to the king of the ammonites asking why they want to attack and Jephthah tries to explain the truth of the situation to the ammonites but they refuse.

So it says in Judges 11:29-31: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

So we see the reason Jephthah like all the other judges is successful is because the Spirit of God is with them. But then Jephthah makes this strange vow before God to sacrifice when he gets home whatever comes out his front door when he returns from battle.

Jephthah leads Israel to victory and they conquer twenty towns, and defeat Ammon. Then as Jephthah returns home, his young daughter comes out of the house first to greet him. So he has to kill his daughter as a sacrifice to the Lord. And it’s horrible. That’s why we hear in scripture how important it is to not make vows to the Lord unless we can keep them. And in the new testament were told in the sermon on the mount, don’t make vows unnecessarily, just let your yes be yes and your no be no.

So once again, we see a judge falling short.

Then, we see the struggle of Samson against the philistines.

Samson is perhaps the most flawed of the judges. He’s completely obsessed with women, with sex, and with marriage. Have you ever known someone like this? It’s almost like they have an addiction to sex, or an addiction to relationships. They always have to be with someone, they can never be single. Samson is raised up under a Nazarite vow. Very interesting, he’s not allowed to cut his hair, or drink wine or eat anything unclean. And this is the standard by which God will hold him to be able to be a judge and achieve victory. And God calls each of us to a similar standard. If we want to be his heroes, we have to live clean and free from sin, as holy warriors of Christ.

Samson does well for a while, defeating and striking down many Philistines. But his weakness for relationships gets to him. He is betrayed by his philistine wife Delilah, and he is captured and tortured by the Philistines.

They pull him out and gouge out his eyes and tie him between two pillars, to laugh at him at a party they are having. But God restores Samsons strength one last time, as he prays to God, and Samson brings down those pillars and destroys many philistines as the structure crashes down on them. A sad ending to a deeply flawed judge.

After these judges and their increasing failures to lead Israel well, we see some truly horrible events that conclude the time of the judges. So Israel is really reaching a time of rock bottom, when all out chaos is taking over.

First we see a terrible incident, of Micah and his false idol. Micah this guy sets up a false idol, puts together some household gods, little wood idols to worship, and these 600 men called Danites go there, and find the idols and take them, along with a Levite who had become Micah’s personal little high priest of his false gods, and after doing this these Danites destroy an entire city called Laish, from the false words of this false priest, who said to go do it, and it’s just a big mess and the Danites take the city kill everyone and begin worshiping the false gods from Micah’s collection once they rename the city Dan.

Then we see a truly horrible saga of sexual abuse, and death. And it leads to Israel’s first civil war. This is the bottom point, in my view. Total anarchy.

So we see a Levite, so one of the priestly class of Israel, and he’s involved with this concubine. But she is unfaithful to him and goes back to her family. The Levite pursues her, and wants to bring her back to live with him and she agrees. They spend several nights at her parents house, then they finally leave, but leave at night. And they are traveling back to his home. It’s late at night, and they consider stopping at a town but it’s not an Israelite town, so they don’t. But then they do stop at Gibeah, which is an Israelite town.

Now I’ll warn you this is very graphic, and terrible. But I do want you to hear it today. It says this in Judges 19:20-30, “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.”

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.

29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!”

The result of this horrible event was that Israel gathered a force against the benjamites, the people from this region where this happened, and they attacked and completely destroyed this tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel. But some survived, and they went and gathered foreign wives for them, because they’d declared an oath not to let them marry any people of the 12 tribes. Like I said, big mess.

This is where sin leads. It may seem like no big deal at the time. It may seem like only a minor compromise. But we all need to look ahead at where it will lead. It leads into the deepest darkness. Into the most evil places. This historical account is reminiscent of another account from Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s how bad Israel had turned away from God. They’d become no different than Sodom and Gomorrah, cities so evil that they judged and destroyed by God.

It’s much the same in the United States sadly. Were not too far away from people being ambushed in their houses and abused and murdered. We’re not as far away from that as you might think. Think about all the things you see in the country today, that 20 or 30 or 40 years ago seemed absolutely impossible. Endless.

So that’s our look at the time of the judges. We see God at work, but we also see a great deal of sin and destruction. Israel can’t seem to quite stay with God as generations pass one after another. The cycle of sin repeats over and over throughout this book. And it’s a good reminder to us today: Don’t fall into the cycle of constant sin. Remember where God has delivered you from. Always remember, and don’t fall away. Don’t go back into the wilderness, go into the promised land. And be careful to obey the Lord in obedient faith as you walk with Jesus.

But this is also a reminder that God works through average, everyday flawed people. He worked through Gideon even though he was afraid, and hiding. Even though he failed later, God still worked. Same thing with Jephthah, despite his mistaken vow. Same thing with Samson, God gave him mercy to have one final victory over the philistines. God works through broken vessels. You and me. And that’s beautiful. Amen.

Friday, March 19, 2021

How I Got through the COVID-19 Lockdown in Ministry: Healing & Self Care as Hope in Darkness

Go a year back in time with me to last March. Here I am, new pastor, about 9 months into my first assignment. Green, put-puting along in my happy cart, things are going good, dinner church is doing well, we’re relaunching morning services, momentum is building and boom: COVID-19.

I recall there was a certain feeling that permeated the entire city. And I’m sure you know what I mean. First, wondering, "Am I going to die? What level of danger am I in personally?" Feeling an “out of control” feeling. Scary. Later wondering, is my church going to survive? Will the grinch steal Christmas? Will kettles even exist? And on and on.

This brought me to a crisis moment: "Justin, is your faith really real?" Does it go to a real depth of trust? It’s easy to say sure, I have faith. But I’m really relying on my money, my stuff, my own abilities. Well, there was no way I could use my own abilities to beat this. I was powerless. How do you stop a virus? You can't!

I saw people in that powerless state lose their minds with fear over the invisible enemy, the deadly virus. The choice was before me, will I react in that way, or will I do it differently? Does my faith work in the messy world out there? Can I trust God with this? I mean really trust Him and let it go to Him? That was a wrestling choice, within me over months.

Being a single minister, it was hard, because I could only go from work to home. I’m telling you sometimes I could hear a “clang” as I closed that door to the house or closed the door to the corps, like I was going from prison to prison. The streets were empty. It was astonishing.

At first I knew how to solve this problem, Madden NFL 20, and binge watching Netflix. Yes, I’ll just ignore it until it goes away.

That didn’t work. I just grew more and more empty and dismal. I felt the sinking inside and it had no end, no bottom depth. Instead, I started to pray more and more. Talk to God. Who else could I talk to? It was me, my cats and an empty house.

Not only that I couldn’t meet with my church family, for bible study, or Sunday services. That hurt so much. It took something absolutely critical away from me. I desperately need that weekly fellowship. We all do. 

But I found certain ways to adjust my soul care. I found myself spending more time just chatting with my staff members. I visited with a house church, during that time, and found community that way. Of course we all made use of zoom calls, and teams meetings. And social media, to stay encouraged. We started doing live streams of our life group, discipleship group, and prayer meetings on our Facebook page. That helped.

But during that time I felt the fear, and the disappointment with how the world was going. COVID-19 was bringing about death. The lockdown, was bringing about it's own unique destructions as well. I felt angry with our leaders, and angry with the system, and angry at COVID-19. I felt hurt and disappointed. 

Yet I wanted to do something to declare hope. To say, Jesus is still on the throne! This virus can’t stop the Lord! So I put up my cross-shaped Christmas tree, on my front porch and kept it lit 24/7. Everyday, pulling in and out of the driveway, I always saw it there.

The enemy tried to knock it out a few times. During a severe storm half of the lights burned out. So I added a set to fill the blank spots. Then a tree fell on my house, and cut the power line running to my house, and somehow that shorted out the whole tree again! What in the world!? But I replaced it again, restrung it. Then several bulbs went out, yet again! So I added another set.

And that became symbolic for my own struggle to cling to hope, to cling to Jesus during the isolation of the outbreak. I could say I prayed more, studied more, engaged with people on social media more, which is all true, but in the end it was about clinging to hope. I said to myself, "Though I don’t see an end, I know Christ is greater than this temporary pandemic." 

It forced me to become more mature as a minister. And I have and I did. There is hope. It continues onward. Christ is still on the throne. And we're all stronger for it.

I truly believe this last year and a half of struggle and difficulty is due to the fact that the church in America has been double-minded and living in sin and lukewarmness. This whole situation was a wake-up call for all of us. God doesn't cause it, our enemy does, but God uses it to mold us. He is using these hard times to mold and shape us into a pure and holy bride, ready for the great end times harvest and the return of Jesus Christ to the Earth. Let's be ready, and walk through the refiner's fire, because billions of souls still need the light of Christ in these last days! Amen! 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Predestination: What is Salvation? Faith in Christ or the Decree of God?

The classic debate of arminianism and calvinism began long ago, with John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. Today we often experience the same debate within modern evangelical Christian circles. The key issue seems to develop around predestination.  The Calvinist doctrine concerned Arminius because of the issue of salvation.  Is salvation based on faith in Christ, or on the decree of God?

Arminius denied the Calvinist doctrines of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism which both indicate that God decrees salvation or judgment on all believers, either prior to creating humans or after creating humans. Arminius viewed salvation as through Jesus Christ, not through a decree of God. Arminius views salvation as being about the work of Jesus Christ, and what he did on the cross. God may foreknow the future, but God hasn't forced the outcome. To Arminius faith is the key to salvation in Christ. God honors the decision of the person, the decision that God has divine foreknowledge of.

For the famed preacher John Wesley, he also rejected the concept of God forcing people to heaven or hell. He viewed free will as an important factor in the equation. He reasoned that faith was conditional, not irresistible. Belief was required to believe in Christ (what a concept).  But he developed an important concept, he referred to the concept as prevenient grace, the grace that goes before salvation. This is the idea that God is constantly sovereignly drawing us to Christ. So man is totally depraved, and God makes the first reach toward the person, to bring about salvation. Though free will, choice did play a role in embracing or rejecting Christ. 

I find the responses of Arminius and Wesley to predestination to be thoroughly compelling. Predestination is a bizarre idea to me, at least taken to the extremes that Calvinists take it to. But even for the moderate Calvinist, when you draw the lines to the logical conclusion of predestination you to get this unbiblical idea that God decrees that some go to hell and some go to heaven, before they are even born.  And free will plays no role in it.  

So I think Arminius and Wesley properly balance this difficult issue between free will and election.  I don't think they balance it perfectly.  There is still something missing I think, but I'm not sure what it is. Because there is the reality of election, and predestination discussed in the scriptures. We can't discount the reality of God foreordaining some to salvation. Is it only a select few? It's hard to say. Maybe we will never know. Often times the Bible simply leaves two points of tension that outline an interior area that we can't quite grasp. And we wrestle with the tension, and eventually just leave it there as a permanent unresolved tension in the scriptures.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Augustine's Conversion

Augustine describes his encounters and life of sin in his early life as attributable to his own lost state and the foolishness of his own sinful heart. He doesn't really blame any particular set of circumstances, though he does mention that his father cared little for anything aside from for his education, and the hope that he would become an important and well known orator.  He mentions that his mother did try to be a good influence on him, but he dismissed her invitations to Christ as her simply being a foolish woman.

Augustine came to be bonded into several sins, the primary sin that held him seemed to be sexual sin; the sin of fornication. He also practiced thievery with his friends, once stealing fruit from a tree, and then essentially discarding it as he simply stole for the thrill and debased pleasure of stealing. Augustine of course eventually breaks free by turning to Jesus Christ for salvation, and repenting of his sins.  With the power of Christ at work within him, he found new power to resist sin and live holy and pure. He is overjoyed which shows in his writings to have found freedom from sin and the incredible love of Jesus.

You could possibly consider Augustine's perspective on sin as a net positive in the fact that it drives the sinner to conviction, regret, shame, and emptiness. With the increasing realizations that sin provides no lasting fulfillment, the sinner increasingly becomes open to the love of Jesus that offers freedom from the shackles of sin. Sin leads the sinner to Christ, one might say.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The 2 Cyclical Realities of Prevenient Grace & Sanctification

The appeal made by the Holy Spirit to each human on Earth is cyclical. A pattern repeats over and over, through an increasingly severe process of prevenient grace that draws us to Christ. But the fudge factor and the massive variable in entire system God has set up is the free will factor.  This factor is explosive in it's ability to gum up even the most simple equations within the universal system.  It's the equation that just refuses to be balanced or understood. And it affects what we perceive as injustice in the system, though it is simply a highly unfortunate side effect of free will.  

The cycle is often experienced as summer, fall, winter, spring.  Summer of excitement, celebration, sin, and chaos, experienced in all the highest highs available in evil and self-destruction. Then comes fall, when the highs of sin go from celebration and excitement to increasing levels of pain, confusion, remorse, and sorrow. Then comes the winter. A frozen tundra of emptiness and chaos.  Then comes the spring, after the lowest low, rebirth comes, new growth, new hope, and from there the cycle repeats. 

This cycle seems to be perpetuated by God through the Earth system to draw people to realize their need for Christ, and to come to Christ.  This can occur in any of the regions of the cycle.  It can occur in the bright beautiful summer when we notice the beauty of God's creation, or in the fall, as we realize the pleasure has turned destructive.  It can often occur in the winter, when we realize the utter emptiness that sin has brought us into. And it can occur in the spring, when the rebirth period begins, we realize the source of it is Christ, and turn to Christ.

The angelic messengers of the Lord seem to have some function in all this. How they impact the cycle exactly I don't know. Demons have a function as well, they seem to attempt to keep the human in the cycle perpetually, boxing Christ out of it, so they continously repeat the cycle unaware of Christ, or scornful of Christ, until death. 

The saints have a part to play as well, being instruments of God to break those cycles through battle in prayer, and in loving people lost in the cycle, and in of course witnessing for Christ to that person.

But once again, the fudge factor is free will. No one can force another person to receive Christ. And perhaps the most universal aspect of human nature is our own infinite stubbornness. Often we would rather charge through the very gates of hell itself than admit we were wrong, or needed to change direction.  

It's similar to a situation in which a family views an alcoholic or drug addicted family member slowly destroying themselves. The family is absolutely powerless to stop this person. They can grab them, shake them, lock them in the room, hide them away from society, but nothing can stop them from drinking and drugging to the darkest end, ultimately it's their choice.  

That's the sacred choice God has given us.  The beauty of free will is that we choose our own destiny. The terror of free will is that most do not choose Christ, and instead they choose death. 

The cycle repeats over and over, until we turn to Christ, or we don't. Many I see near the end of their lives, and they remain in the repeating loop, unable to quite turn to Christ, or more so, unwilling. Many, deceived by demonic powers, and caught up in traps as well. Many, already turned over to the sins they love, unaware of the judgment awaiting them in the life ahead. 

Once someone does turn to Christ, and gives their lives to Christ, and is born again, and receives the Holy Spirit, we begin a new process, called the process of sanctification.  Through this process we are slowly conformed into the likeness in character to Christ himself.  This process can often at times we cyclical as well, as we repeat "trials" until we accomplish them properly and learn from them.  Often times Christians can be caught up and stuck in the cyclical process of sanctification as well, unwilling to go deeper, unwilling to learn a vital truth. And they become stuck in the cyclical reality as well. This is troubling, but not particularly surprising.

For the Christian who continues to grow, trials continue, fiery trials, and difficulties, as well as joys, and blessings, and good times, and beautiful moments.  And slowly that Christian is brought into maturity.  

The goal of the first cyclical reality is to bring non-believers to realize their need for Christ and make a free will decision to turn to Jesus through the grace of God.  The goal of the second cyclical reality of sanctification is for the believer to come to maturity, achieving victory over the flesh, the world, and the devil. Over the flesh in that they've overcome sin in their lives, over the world in that they no longer live for the world or by the world's ways, and the devil, in that the devil has attempted to deceive them and drive them away from Christ, but has failed, and their love and devotion for Christ has been proven through fiery trials and temptations. And a believer who loses those 3 battles will not have eternal life, but will receive damnation, as they have not overcome the flesh, the world, or the devil.  Luke-warm Christians will be spit from the mouth of Christ.  Hard to misinterpret that statement. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Keep a Close Watch on your Heart

The “Heart is used in Scripture as the most comprehensive term for the authentic person. It is the part of our being where we desire, deliberate, and decide. It has been described as "the place of conscious and decisive spiritual activity," "the comprehensive term for a person as a whole; his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will," and "the center of a person. The place to which God turns."
-J. Stowell, Fan The Flame, Moody, 1986, p. 13.

Tell me about your heart and I’ll know who you really are. Not who you pretend to be in front of people. But who you really are, when no one is looking. The heart is the place from which you make your decisions. Your heart is the center of your being. Now we’re not talking about the muscle that beats in your chest and guides blood around your circulatory system. But it’s a good comparison. The heart is the center of your blood flow, and your blood is your life. Similarly the heart in scripture, is the center of who we truly are and is of great concern to God.

Jesus was once challenged by the Pharisees because he did not have his disciples wash their hands before eating. They said this made them defiled. Jesus responded this way:

Matthew 15:18-20 ESV “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

So out of our hearts comes who we truly are and we speak it out. And it either reveals that we have a good heart, or a wicked heart.

It’s interesting that in the book of wisdom proverbs we’re told to: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” -Proverbs 4:23 ESV

So that’s our challenge for today. I want you to learn today how to “keep a careful guard around your heart.”

Hebrews 12:14-15 “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. 15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”

We see this word in scripture episkopos, which challenged us to watch over our hearts in case of bitterness. In the Greek it means “to look or to watch over.” It’s actually the same word in 1st Timothy 3:1 that is given to a bishop who keeps watch over a group of churches. So we’re challenged to watch over our hearts and our reactions in the same way that a bishop keeps careful watch over the churches under their care.

And here’s a very important point: We are not victims of what comes out of our hearts and minds. We’re the stewards commanded to keep watch over our hearts and minds. So we’re not victims, if we find evil coming out of our hearts, it’s because we’ve made bad choices.

You have the choice, about what you’re going to put into your heart and mind. And you’re the one responsible, by the Spirit’s leading, to think the right thoughts, and have the right attitude about life.

Often times we are tempted to blame our bad attitudes, resentments, or negative feelings on others, or on life. But plain and simple, we are the ones responsible for our thoughts and emotions.

If my thoughts are very negative, or bitter, or hostile to others, or irritable, then it’s my responsibility to begin to bring change in what I’m doing and thinking and how I’m approaching life. .

Some of us here can sometimes be quite negative. We can often have a bitter outlook on life. And it’s up to us, with God’s great help, to begin to change how we think and react to situations.

Keep watch over your heart, and what you’re thinking about. You have the choices to make. Am I watching gory movies? Am I constantly buzzed on the news, constantly taking in all the bad news? Am I watching pornography and then shocked when my heart has twisted views toward the opposite sex? Am I lying to people, and then surprised that our hearts are bitter? Let’s change our behavior, let’s change the words we speak, let’s change what we’re doing, and replace it with closeness with God, and study of His word and prayer, and watch how God begins to change our hearts.

Episkopos your heart. Keep careful watch over your heart. Your heart is like a garden. Have you ever seen a really beautiful garden? It’s carefully tended, all the rows set just right. There are flowers dotting the outside, and the dirt is well watered. The plants are strong, and fences are built to protect the plants against animals. My grandma had a beautiful garden growing up. She tended is very, very carefully. She had boards you could walk on to go deep into the garden. She had beautiful flowers along the outside, and within there were various crops, corn, peas, radishes, pumpkins, squash, and my favorite part, the raspberry plants. But she was always out there, working in the garden.

And it’s the same with your heart. If you keep careful watch to tend your heart, your heart will be in good shape to walk closely with God.

As the word says, Matthew 5:8 ESV “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

If you keep careful watch over your heart, pulling out the weeds and keeping away the predators, you’ll be one who trusts God, as in Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Ultimately, none of us would have any chance to have a pure heart if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ our savior. He’s the one whose made us born again, and replaced our rocky bitter heart with a new soft heart of love.

But it’s our duty as we walk in the Holy Spirit, to keep a careful episkopos, a careful watch over our hearts, as a bishop watches over their churches.

As the word says, Proverbs 21:2 ESV “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

We look at our ways, and we think, it’s all good. But God looks past our ways, right to our hearts.

Honor God by keeping a watch on your heart. Protect the garden of your heart, pull up the weeds now, and build the fences to keep out the foxes.

Discussion Questions:

1. In what ways have you seen God change your heart?

2. How do you keep a careful watch on your heart?

3. If you sometimes struggle with a negative attitude, how can you become more positive?

4. Do you have unforgiveness in your heart toward someone who hurt you? Offer them forgiveness right now.

Friday, March 5, 2021

What does the Bible say about Falling Away?

Let's take a look at some of the scriptures that talk about falling away from the faith. This is a fairly common teaching that was widely accepted for the first 1,900 years of Christianity. Today it's an issue often disputed in the church. So let's examine some scriptures that point us toward the reality of Christians who fall away from the faith.

"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God." -Hebrews 3:12

The writer of Hebrews is writing to the "brethren" which would indicate he is writing to believers who are part of the church, encouraging them to be steadfast, and not to fall away from the Lord through a lack of belief. Pretty simple and straight-forward.

1 Timothy 4:1 "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons"

We learn in 1st Timothy that Holy Spirit warns believers that in the last days some will "fall way" from the faith. To fall away from the faith, one must already be part of the faith. They will be led astray and deceived by demons and evil spirits. They lose their salvation through being deceived.

2 Peter 3:17 "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness"

In 2nd Peter we learn that the "beloved" which would point to believers, must be on their guard so they are not carried away by the errors of those who do wrong, and fall from their steadfastness. Falling away can happen due to the poor example of others.

1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

A pastor preaching the gospel must be careful to discipline his or her body and live out holiness, or they may end up disqualifying themselves from salvation. They could end up falling away if they aren't careful to discipline their bodies.

1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

A simple reminder in 1st Corinthians tells us that we must be careful when we stand, to make sure we don't fall.

Revelation 2:4-5 ESV "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."

Jesus speaks to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, and he calls the church, which references believers, to repent because they've fallen away. And Jesus says if you don't, I'll remove your lampstand. So once again, we see that believers can fall away. Even whole churches can fall away. But they can also repent and turn again to the Lord.

Hebrews 2:1-3 ESV "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?"

Here we see the idea of "drifting away." Often we see people attending church faithfully, loving Jesus, praying and reading their Bible. But they slowly begin to fall away and pretty soon we see them at church less and less. And eventually they are gone all together. They drifted away from the truth, and back into the world.

Finally, we see the parable of the vine and the branches. This is the clearest evidence of the possibility of falling away, if we disregard the important command of "abiding" or "remaining" in Christ.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. -John 15:1-17

Examine these additional scripture about falling away. Click here.