Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ponder the Path of Your Feet

"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or to the left; remove your foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:23-27).
I took part in a conversation recently about the degree to which we are permitted to expose ourselves to the filth of the world. Many scenarios and questions were discussed...
  • Many Christians such as myself would never condone or support going to a public beach or pool when so many scantily-clad and "biblically" naked people are there, and yet are we not exposed to rampant immodesty even at Wal-Mart? 
  • Again, many Christians such as myself would never think of stepping foot in a bar due to the establishment's primary focus on alcohol (unless perhaps it was a bathroom emergency and it was our only option), and yet isn't alcohol served in abundance at restaurants such as Applebee's and Olive Garden? Don't these restaurants even have bars in them? They do! 
  • And finally, many Christians such as myself would never go to see a movie that according to the previews alone contains blatant immodesty, lewdness and foul language, and yet are we not exposing ourselves to these things to some degree when we watch television?
There appear to be two extreme positions when it comes to our approach to situations like these. 

On one hand, there are those who conclude that because sin is everywhere and we're exposed to it despite our best efforts to avoid it, that it's pointless to even try to avoid it. Folks in this category will use the immodesty at Wal-Mart to justify exposing themselves to the immodesty and nakedness at the heavily-populated local swimming pool. They believe that because most Christians are willing to watch television where sinful images and words are often expressed, they are therefore justified in watching the filthiest of movies at the movie theater. 

On the other hand, there are those who impose their personal choices and stringent moral barriers on all Christians around them. Instead of seeing the "gray area" in all of these different categories, they want to make as many things as possible black and white. Granted, there are some black and white situations, but we have to be careful in binding where God has not bound. Wouldn't you agree?

We can debate thousands of particular scenarios and disagree on our approach to a majority of them, and while I'm always willing to express my views on any particular scenario, I believe that Solomon's advice in Proverbs is the best. And if truly applied and followed, we'll avoid many of the moral pitfalls of the world.

Christians must have moral standards. We cannot simply go with the flow and follow our heart's every desire. In our lust for entertainment, we cannot allow our choices to be governed by the movie's appeal (humor, plot, actors/actresses, etc), or by the activities' potential for fun. Solomon is very clear that we must be very cautious and deliberate in our choices. 

We must keep our hearts with all diligence (vs. 23), remove from our lives sin and perversity (vs. 24-25), and give extreme thought to the choices we make and where those choices will lead us (vs. 26) so that we can stay on the straight and narrow path to heaven (vs. 26b).

While we cannot legislate our collective response in every scenario, we must have - and we must encourage our brethren to have - moral standards. And the light that guides our path is the law of God (Prov. 6:23). There are going to be a lot of activities, movies and associations that Christians would do well to avoid. Why? Because we have to? Not necessarily. But because we have a strong desire to be holy and blameless before our God.

Are your moral standards and deliberations what they ought to be?

Friday, May 24, 2013


Following the death of the great King Solomon, their was a revolt against the incoming administration of his son, Rehoboam. When the people of Israel arrived in Shechem to appoint Rehoboam king, they agreed to submit to his rule on one condition...
"Then Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 'Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you" (1 Kings 12:3-4).
The people claimed that Solomon had worked them to death. It would be very easy to assume that their complaint was accurate and truthful. They felt overworked, complained about being overworked, and therefore they must have been overworked. But let's examine their  claim to see if there is any truth to it.

Approximately 36 years earlier, as Solomon made preparations to build the temple (a huge undertaking), we're told that he "raised up a labor force out of all Israel; and the labor force was thirty thousand men" (1 Kings 5:13). And these were just the ones who were sent to Phoenicia to help Hiram's men with the cedar logs. He also raised up an additional 153,300 according to 1 Kings 5:14-18. Of course, Solomon built not only the temple, but a number of additional buildings in the city of Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:1-9), expanded the Millo (1 Kings 9:24), built a fleet of ships (1 Kings 9:26) and a number of additional structures and even cities throughout the land. So while David's reign had been characterized by war, Solomon's reign, though peaceful, was all about fortification and the expansion of infrastructure.

Based on these points, it appears as if the Israelites were justified in feeling overworked and that they had every right to demand of Rehoboam a lighter burden of service.

However, notice these two texts...
"All the people who were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who were not of the children of Israel - that is, their descendants who were left in the land after them, whom the children of Israel had not been able to destroy completely - from these Solomon raised forced labor, as it is to this day. But of the children of Israel Solomon made no forced laborers, because they were men of war and his servants: his officers, his captains, commanders of his chariots, and his cavalry" (1 Kings 9:20-22).
"Then Solomon numbered all the aliens who were in the land of Israel...and there were found 153,600. And he made 70,000 of them bearers of burdens, 80,000 stonecutters in the mountain, and 3,600 overseers to make the people work" (2 Chron. 2:17-18).
Regarding the work of the Temple and all the infrastructure and fortifications that were constructed throughout his reign, these verses seem to indicate that the laborers - or at least the bulk of them - were not Israelites at all. Now it's true that there is mention of "the labor force of the house of Joseph" (1 Kings 11:28), and that he employed many of the Israelites (in what appear to have been "cush jobs" I might add), but even still, I think it's pretty safe to conclude that the Israelites who complained to Rehoboam were either totally skewing the facts or being dramatic in the very least. 

They really weren't the labor force of Solomon's reign. Their complaint constituted what we might call a "labor FARCE."

Should not these people have been thankful for the peace and security that they had enjoyed for almost forty years under Solomon's rule? Should they not have been thankful for the incredibly prosperity and abundance that was the direct result of Solomon's wisdom and God's blessings on Israel (because of Solomon's faith and wisdom)? And should they not have focused on the fact that even though they were asked to contribute and even work, that at least their king had spared them from the majority of the work?

I wonder if we're ever like the Israelites in this story...

I wonder if we ever complain about being overworked in our service to the Lord and in the church even though really we have it so much easier than we deserve. I wonder if we're ever dramatic like the Israelites were with Rehoboam. I wonder if, instead of focusing on how good we have it and how blessed we are (and have been), we resort to ungratefulness and selfishness.

In closing, I'm reminded of Paul's words in Romans 12:1...
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."
As we reflect upon the mandates of the New Testament and the requirements that our God has placed upon us, and as we consider our involvement and work in the local church, let's realize how easy we truly have it. And more importantly, let's be unceasingly thankful that we serve a God who not only has given us a "law of liberty" but who has done most of the work for us by giving us His precious Son.

There are always going to be Christians who, like those Israelites during the days of Rehoboam, complain and moan about being overworked or treated unfairly. Let's not be one of them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Paul: Worthy of Imitation?

There is no doubt that the apostle Paul is one of the most well-known and beloved men of the New Testament. We are all inspired by his radical transformation from persecutor to preacher, from assailant to apostle. And not only are his profound faith and deep-seeded devotion to Christ evident in all thirteen of the epistles which he wrote by inspiration, his praiseworthy characteristics are equally manifest by example in the book of Acts.

As a preacher, I perhaps take a special interest in Paul (as I do in Jesus and ALL of the evangelists of the first century). After all, Paul was an evangelist whose efforts and mannerisms were approved by God. By examining and imitating his style and approach, I believe that I can be a better evangelist...and that I can more likely be the preacher that God, not society, has called me to be. Right? 

Even if you're not an evangelist, wouldn't you consider Paul's example worthy of imitation?

With this question in mind, turn your attention to Acts 24:5. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem not long before and was now standing before his accusers and before the Roman governor, Felix. Notice what Paul's accusers said of him in verse 5:
"For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes."
It is apparent based on this verse that, despite our adoration of Paul, he was no Joel Osteen...at least not in the eyes of his contemporaries. Not only wasn't he popular, but he didn't have the greatest reputation in certain circles as the above text indicates.

Sure, there were unrighteous people in the first century who appreciated Paul even if they didn't embrace his message. I'm reminded of Julius the centurion and even King Agrippa in Acts 26. And obviously, there were churches and individual Christians who thought the world of Paul (Gal. 4:15). But the point still stands: the beloved apostle Paul, despite being a standout Christian and evangelist, was viewed by multitudes of people all over the Roman empire and even by some in the church as being nothing more than the problematic, troublesome, divisive, leader of a narrow-minded, annoying cult.

What is my point in all of this?

We spend way too much time trying to be "mainstream." We go out of our way to make God's word as palatable as possible so that we can draw more to Christ. We pursue "unity" (false unity) at all costs. And we  definitely resent being called a cult (a common charge against churches of Christ especially), doing all that we can "marketing" wise to change our image. We want society to esteem us. We yearn to be accepted and loved. Even in the church, we do all that we can to avoid conflict, oftentimes sacrificing our convictions to "keep the peace."

What would be your reaction if someone called you "a plague, a creator of dissension...and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes"? Would you be embarrassed? Are you even living and preaching in such a way that these accusations could be brought against you? I'm not saying that we ought to go out of our way to make people dislike us. What I am saying is that if we're really imitating Paul and serving Christ as we should, these accusations will eventually (and naturally) be leveled against us.

Is Paul worthy of imitation? Absolutely! However, following his example is far from easy or convenient. Are you willing to take a stand? Am I? The Lord is waiting for us to do just that!