Monday, September 29, 2014

Wolves in the Sheep Pen

   
      There is no greater danger in the church today than false teachers.  Of course, this has been true from the beginning of church history.  Jesus warned the disciples that this would occur in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15):  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."  He went on to say that we could recognize them by their fruits.  Carrying on this warning, the Apostle Paul instructed young Timothy about this very issue.
     In I Timothy 1:3-4, Paul writes:  "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith."  Then Paul goes on in verses 5-7 to describe what the goal of their teaching is and how it differs from the false teachers:  "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Certain persons by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."  The false teacher appears to be knowledgeable, but in fact, as Paul says, they really do not understand what they are saying.  Hasn't this been true of those who have appeared on the world stage declaring that they have new revelation from God?  A number of cults grew as a result of false teachers in our day, but this has been happening since the beginning of the church.
     Later in Paul's letter to Timothy, he comes again to address the false teachers and what motives they may have.  In chapter 6:3-5, Paul writes:  "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."  There it is.  Money, greed, and power are behind those who depart from the sound Gospel of Christ.  They come sounding very good, sincere, and earnest in their approach, but they really do not grasp the truth found in God's Word.  Instead, they believe there is money to be made in the work they do in the church.  Paul clearly rejects this and tells Timothy that we are to be content with the food and clothing we have.  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a good living to support your family, but some of these false teachers want more than that.  They are building a kingdom for themselves not for God.
     Wolves in sheep's clothing are not always easy to spot because they sound so good.  They know enough about Scripture to make their appeal come across as valid.  However, as Jesus told us, we will know them by their fruits.  Are they submissive to leadership?  Do they accept discipline or do they want things their way?  Are they looking for monetary gain or are they humble servants seeking to reach out to all?  These are the questions we need to ask ourselves when someone puts himself forward as a teacher, leader or pastor.
      Today, just as in the time of the early church, I fear there are many wolves looking for opportunities to promote themselves not for the good of the sheep but for their own good.  Such is the sin nature of man.  Therefore, as believers, we need to pray for our pastors, elders, deacons and leaders that they may have wisdom and the ability to discern the wolves among the sheep along with the courage to drive them out.  It is not an easy task to protect the flock of God.  May God help us to walk in the truth daily so we may not be caught off guard by false teachers.  Selah!


Wolf picture is courtesy of Wiki Commons Media and author Laenulfean at http://flickr.com/photos/60359963@N00/481388115.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When All Lies in Ruins


    Two years ago before my husband and I took a trip to Europe for our wedding anniversary, I started delving into our family history on Ancestry.com.  I knew that most of my family members came from Germany.  With a maiden name like “Hess”, it was obvious.
     One of my family members, my great, great grandfather, drew my interest as he had fought in the Civil War.  His name was Daniel Hess and he came from Darmstadt, Germany along with his parents in 1848.  At the age of 22, he enlisted in the 100th Regiment, Company B of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry to fight on behalf of the Union.  I am amazed he survived this brutal war that killed so many good men either from a bullet or disease or both.  He and his regiment fought in many battles in Tennessee and Kentucky before joining Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Home destroyed near Atlanta, GA
(Courtesy theatlantic.com)
     As my father (who was fortunate to know his great grandfather) told me, my great, great grandfather hated all the destruction he saw during the march to the sea.  Homes were burned, crops destroyed and much of the food was taken to feed the army.  War is always devastating and leaves ruin in its wake.  This was one fact my great, great grandfather would never forget.  When you see this type of destruction, it leads to a feeling of hopelessness.
     In the same way, the exiles of Judah who had returned to their land felt hopeless as they saw the utter destruction of their Temple and the city of Jerusalem.  During the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, however, he allowed those who had been in captivity to return to the land with gold and silver that had been taken from the Temple.  God’s Spirit had so moved the King’s heart that what seemed impossible was now coming to pass (Ezra 1).    When the exiles returned, they set to work first on the Temple to rebuild its foundation under Zerubbabel.
     When the Temple foundation was again laid, the people, led by the priests, praised, shouted and rejoiced in what God had done (Ezra 3).  However, there were those older men who cried both for joy as well as sorrow over what had been lost as well.  What a picture of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness we see demonstrated here!  In the middle of hopeless destruction, God will once again raise up the Temple from the ruins.  It will take another 92 years before the walls and gates of Jerusalem will be fully restored under the leadership of Nehemiah, but God sees to it that the work He has begun in restoring the land is completed.  The Lord is faithful in bringing restoration and salvation to His people.
     Often times in our lives, we face trials and battles for which we feel unprepared.  Looking at the death of a loved one, a depleted bank account, joblessness or a host of other scenarios can leave us feeling like my great, great grandfather as he witnessed homes being destroyed.  Ruins all around us can obscure the vision of God who is sovereign over all of life’s affairs.  He is never far from us though it may seem that He is absent.  We need to know and believe that God can create something even better out of our ruins.
     Whatever the state of our lives, we have an advocate and Master builder who can restore what the enemy has stolen from us.  The Creator redeems our lives and rebuilds us brick by brick as we continue to seek His face.
     Today, if you pass through the cities of the South, the neighborhoods are beautiful and no signs of the devastating war can be seen.  Our lives are like that in the hands of our Sovereign God.  He is the “Rebuilder”, “Restorer” and the Resurrection.  When we trust in Him, He will once again restore our hope and joy.  Let us take, in prayer, the ruins of loss, heartache and trouble to Him who alone has the power to restore what the enemy has stolen from us.  We, too, will rejoice as the Children of Judah when we see the Temple of our heart rebuilt and walls of our protection restored.
Selah!
   

Monday, September 22, 2014

Finding Strength in Joy

     All of us are aware that this world brings many problems our way each day.  Life's troubles can weigh us down if we allow them to, but God wants us to live in His joy in spite of our challenges.
Yet, how do we do this?
     First of all, we need to realize that joy is not the same thing as happiness.  Happiness can come and go depending on our circumstances in life.  It is a feeling/emotion.  While it can accompany joy, it is not quite the same thing as joy.  Instead, joy is the calm assurance and peace we have knowing that our Lord is with us in every circumstance.  A good example is found in Nehemiah.
     This book of the Old Testament tells of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah is the governor of this territory and Ezra was the Scribe and priest.  In chapter 8, the people have gathered together to hear the Law of God read to them for they had been exiles in a foreign land for many years.  Their sin before God sent them into exile, but now they had returned.  As Ezra read the Law to them, many wept and sorrowed as they heard the Law they had disobeyed.  Nehemiah, however, spoke:  "Then he said to them, 'Go
your way.  Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to your Lord.  And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'"  Did you catch that?  The joy of the Lord is our strength!  When we are too weary to go on, God's supernatural joy will sustain us and give our hearts rest.  It is not  momentary like happiness can be.
     Joy comes from the living presence of God within our hearts.  This is why Paul, even though he was imprisoned, could write these words:  “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1). Phil. 4:3-4 says: “And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”  This very act of rejoicing in Christ deepens our joy as we bring glory to God.
     Secondly, joy comes from the knowledge of our salvation through Christ.  The book of Habakkuk tells us:  Hab. 3:18-19: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; he will make my feet like deer's feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills."  Not only does God provide for our salvation but He also helps us to walk through the difficult days we face with a sense of joy that the world cannot know.
     Finally, we find not only a deeper joy but also greater strength as we immerse ourselves in God's Word.  Jeremiah 15:16 reads: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts."  When we discover who we are and who God is through the reading of His Word, we find real joy.  The Bible is living and brings to us the truth that we hunger for as Jeremiah describes.  This alone satisfies us like nothing else.
     Having a heart filled with joy does not mean that we will skip merrily through life with no painful situations.  Jesus went to the cross and endured its shame "for the joy that was set before Him" (Heb. 12:2) and James tells us to "count it all joy when you fall into various trials..." (James 1:2-4).  Why?  Because as we face life with God's joy, He supplies the strength we need.  We come out having learned lessons we could not have understood had we not gone through the trials.
     I have mentioned in earlier devotions that I used to have a sign above our computer that read:  "Joy isn't the absence of sorrow.  It is the presence of God".  That makes all the difference in the world dear friends.  Living for Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit has made our lives whole in a way that the world will never understand.  What we have in Him money cannot buy.  Therefore, let us begin each day rejoicing in the joy of the Lord for He provides our strength and all we need.  Selah!