Wednesday, November 24, 2004

"Do I Smell of Smoke?"

Daniel 3

A familiar Bible story many of us learned as a child is the one of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three youths stood firm in their beliefs and were protected by the hand of God from being burned alive in the fiery furnace.

King Nebuchadnezzar had made a giant idol which was 90 feet hight and 9 feet wide [1] and had commanded that all bow down and worship it whenever they heard the music play. These three young men refused to comply and their punishment was to be thrown into a "fiery furnace" [16-18]. The king was so angry with them that he had the furnace heated to 7 times it's normal temperature, had the strongest of his guards bind the three and then had them thrown into the fire. The flames were so intense that the strongest of the king's guards were completely consumed by the flames, [22] yet the three young men could be seen walking around inside the furnace unharmed, along with the image of a fourth man who "looks like a son of the gods". [24-25]

When the king commanded them to do so, the three men walked out of that furnace and were immediately inspected by the king and his court. They were now unbound, yet they nor their clothes were even so much as singed by the fire, and they didn't even smell like smoke! [26-27]

There are obvious lessons of obedience and trust here, but notice how the fire plays a cleansing role as well. If the furnace and it's fire represents the trials we face in the flesh each day, we see God's willingness to send us help and abide with us through those trials. He's that Fourth Man when things get hot. He will shelter us under his wing until the trouble has passed. [Psalm 57:1]

All of the evil things that went near the furnace were burned up. The guards and the bindings used to tie up these three men were utterly destroyed. The Fourth Man, if we will trust and obey, will not only loosen the bonds which the world wants to place on us, He will burn them up completely!

Notice, too, the profound effect of enduring this trial through the grace of God. Nebuchadnezzar decreed that no-one was allowed to blaspheme God from that day forward, and the king promoted these men in the kingdom. [28-30] This is not to say that we will necessarily benefit personally, or in a fleshly manner from our willingness to trust and obey, only that good is an invariable result of endurance when there is that foundation of trust and obedience coupled with God's grace. We are but His instrument and we owe our allegiance to the redemption from which our eternal life springs.

Not trusting and obeying fully when confronted with fire-trials leads to at the very least getting singed? So, "Do I smell of smoke?"

Friday, November 19, 2004

"X" Marks the Heart

1 Peter 2:12-17

Do you ever get disgusted with the world's perception of what it means to be a Christian? I know I do from time to time. If only they could know what it's REALLY all about. If only the truth was presented as sensationally as is the derision of zealots and fallen leaders. It can be so disheartening when someone rejects the Gospel based on the scripturally baseless actions of a prominent few. All too often, a rejection based on these terms is merely a way to justify the rejection of a nagging conviction by the Holy Spirit - a convenient excuse by which to dodge the Truth. How are we to handle such situations? Peter says that we should paint a big bullseye on our shirt!

[12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

OK, so I should live a good life. I can do that. But wait, not just a "good life", but "SUCH a good life" that they may accuse me of doing wrong? I have to follow the teachings of Jesus to the degree that people may think I am just WRONG -- now that's a tall order! Thankfully, Peter also provides us with the promise and instructions with which form a shield.

[15 -17] For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Notice that showing proper respect for the brotherhood of believers is through Love. So I suppose the "X" marking us with that believer's bullseye, should be placed directly over the heart.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Flameout!

Haggai 1:2-11

After the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon, they began to rebuild the temple. After only a few years, construction was halted because some outside forces had compelled them to stop through legal actions (see Ezra 4 ). God's very simple set of instructions had been corrupted by innuendo, threats and baseless accusations targeted at the people who were (up until this time) diligent in following His plan. What happened? The builders of the temple threw up their hands and walked away. What had once been a scene of unbridled joy when the priests had dedicated the foundations, now became a ghost town. They then set about building their own homes with the fine timbers that had been imported for the temple from Lebanon.

Haggai came along as God's prophet to encourage the people to continue the work of finishing the temple. Twice in this passage Haggai relays God's words :

This is what the Lord Almighty says, "Give careful thought to your ways."

God tells them that the reason that they are never satisfied, and the reason why the little they did accomplish was "blown away" was because of their disobedience and self-centered natures. They had used the resources set aside for God's temple to their own glory by building their "paneled houses". All this was not without consequence. Drought befell them as judgement. Sound familiar?

Can we recognize this same scene in our churches today? Can we recognize the same in our own hearts? All too often we begin our work with a fury, only to let the flame flicker and burn out because we lose sight of why we began the work in the first place. Does the church building and it's finery get ahead of the Great Commission? Does our own pride and lust for recognition get in the way of effective service? Do we turn and walk away at the first sign of criticism? Why do we see just a little success and then it seems to just get blown away [v. 9a]?

"Why? Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house." [v. 9b]

Let's heed Paul's advice to Timothy before that fire goes out. About the faith which dwells within us he writes:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. [2 Timothy 1:6]

It's time to tend God's house by tending to our own hearts, and tending to our hearts by giving careful thought to our ways.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

It's OK, he's my brother.

Philemon 1:16,17

We are told, "There are two sides to every story.", and that certainly rings true in this passage. Paul implores Philemon to welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul. Now that is a pretty bold statement! This new believer is so important to Paul that he bestows this voucher upon him. Think of that for one moment. The Apostle Paul is vouching for this man!

So what are the two sides to this little story? Well, the "vouch-er" and the "vouch-ee" of course. Let's start with the "vouch-ee", Onesimus.

Onesimus is a new believer, and has been with Paul for a time. In that time he has demonstrated his grasp of the Gospel which Paul brought to him to the extent that he has become indispensable (or Mr. Useful perhaps?). In fact, in previous verses, Paul expresses the wish that Onesimus could have stayed with him because he is such a great help. What qualities are required to be evident in a man before YOU would vouch for him as Paul vouched for Onesimus? Would anyone vouch for you based on your actions?

The "vouch-er" on the other hand puts his reputation on the line. He says in effect, "I know this man, he's an OK guy, he's my brother, accept him." The value of that recommendation is based solely upon the reputation of the person offering the recommendation. In that light, do you feel comfortable vouching for someone based on your actions? Will your recommendation carry any credibility? You can count one one fact. Good or bad, you reputation will precede you.

In Hebrews 2:11-13 we see that Jesus counts us as family, as brothers.

[12] He says, 'I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.'

How comforting to know that if we accept His gift of salvation, Jesus vouches for us and calls us "brother". How much more is it our duty then, to give Him something to sing about?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Onesimus - Do you live up to your name?

Philemon 1:8-12

Paul could have insisted that Philemon and his family obey his request without question, yet he came to them in the spirit of Jesus' summation of the law of Moses and the Prophets in Matthew 7:12 where he tells us that IN EVERYTHING we should treat one another as we wish to be treated ourselves.

That Paul should not simply state his desire demonstratively, as an Apostle of Christ and as the evangelist who no doubt brought this family the Gospel in the first place is an example of how a leader should conduct himself especially in the company of other believers. Love should be the leader's overriding influence when dealing with those who are led.

So what was Paul's request anyway?

"
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus"

The name Onesimus means literally, useful.
As the story unfolds we see that Onesimus had been Philemon's slave and had run away. While with Paul, he had become a believer, and had been of great help to Paul. So much so, that Paul thinks of him as a son.

Paul then tells Philemon, "
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me." So previously Mr. Useful, Onesimus, had really been Mr. Useless! He has since received the gift of God's grace through Jesus Christ and now, as evidenced by his actions he finally lives up to his name.

So the question to us is, do we live up to our name? Well, if we call ourselves Christians we profess to be followers of Christ. Do we live up to His name? Are we obedient to Jesus' Golden Rule?