Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Gate Is Small - Matthew 7

When my faith began to grow and I grew closer to God, a passion ignited in my soul.  I was filled with an almost unquenchable desire to share the truth with who ever would listen.  I was thrilled to know God, and be known by Him.  I couldn't stand the thought that someone else might be as desperate as I was to hear the truth and not know who to ask.  I endeavored to be the one who was approachable and throughout my life I've been privileged to open the door wide with a great many people both in the church and out of it in order to minister to them.

I've learned much through my years of public and private ministry.  If you are young and at all like me, you may have idealistic ideas about what your ministry will look like. I want to take a moment to encourage you to keep your zeal, but remember something important that Jesus said.  "The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it."   The churches may be packed and everyone around you may have a kind of godliness, but don't be surprised when you see their faith has no power.  They will lack love, they will be slaves to sin and have no desire to overcome, they will be unforgiving and admit as much without shame, they will be filled with fear and pride, they will be haughty and overly sensitive, they will be easily angered and offended and will respond with hostility.  This is how the wicked live.  And you will find these people in your churches.

Allow me to call your attention to Matthew 7.  Specifically the two passages I've quoted below;

Matthew 7:1-6

      "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

and Matthew 7:13-23.

       “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits.  Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’"

Most people know Matt. 7:1. This verse, "Do not judge lest you be judged" is likely the most widely known bible verse in the world.  People cling to it and sling it around like it's the only thing that can save them.  But salvation isn't really what they want. If I had to venture a guess I'd say most people are more interested in maintaining their cover than they are interested in their actual salvation.  They want to look the part of being good people, but they know that they are not and they are afraid that they will be exposed.  

The log and the speck teaching is synonymous with a crutch for many.  These drowning sinners often use this crutch as a paddle while they try to remain afloat on the very logs that are in their eyes.  They also use them to beat off anyone who approaches to help.  Because no one is without sin, these verses very easily become a shield for anyone desiring to be left alone to wallow in their sin.  And anyone who dares to pay attention to verse 5, having first removed the log from their own eye and now seeing clearly to take the speck out of the eye of their brother is never received by these scoffers as a person who speaks Truth in love.  No, these scoffers are like the dogs and swine in verse 6.  They will not hesitate to tear you to pieces to maintain their image.  They are everywhere.  They are in your church and possibly close to you.  Even if you think you know them, don't think you can trust them to respond with favor to the pearls of wisdom you have to offer.  Scoffers are going to scoff.  

Proverbs 9:7-10 also speaks about this.

"He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself,
         And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
         Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
         Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
         And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

What I've frequently found is that most people's understanding is so clouded by their sinful pride that the truth to their ears is received much like words spoken under water.  There is no understanding.  And if they can make anything out, it's usually distorted.  There are some who will accept wisdom readily, but I would encourage anyone starting out in ministry to lay aside any idea that people will see your love and respond according to your sincerity.  It just won't happen, no matter how good your intentions are.

For much of my Christian life I had a Pollyanna view of the world.  Having been raised in good old North Dakota with " North Dakota Nice" as the standard, I learned from the beginning that, "God is nice and we should be nice".  Wouldn't that be nice?  Everyone in church is a Christian, Dontcha know!  Believe it or not this is actually something I believed until my early twenties.
My biggest mistake was in believing that people who claim to know God love Truth and want to deepen their understanding of God's word.  But through the years as I've shared the Truth I think I've received more gracious responses from complete atheists than I have from many people in the church.  It'd be almost laughable, if it weren't so sad.

 I believe Matthew 7 speaks to us about these kinds of people.  Those who merely skim the surfaces of Truth do not appreciate the depths of God's word.  They are blenders, false converts who spend their lives parroting the truth they do not understand and mimicking the actions and deeds of those who do.  They are all around us and in our churches and on line representing the Church. They speak loud and often all the while convoluting the truth.  The righteous man receives reproof and instruction and becomes wiser still, but these blenders will reject every kind of personal correction and instruction.  Rather than receiving wisdom they reject it, flailing around what ever accusations they can use to deflect scrutiny.  They are after all, blenders and do not want to be noticed as such.  When a blender is called out for his sin, rather than acknowledging that sin and repenting of it, he will instead shift the blame and point at others as a way of directing attention away from him.  But the humble and righteous man will receive correction without deflecting it in any way and will instead be cut to the heart and be motivated to repent of that sin.

I don't know what motivation you have for speaking God's word and teaching others to know Christ.  But I will say this, unless pleasing Christ is your sole ambition,  you may find yourself disappointed.  Work for the applause of One...Jesus.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that because God is nice, people will be nice.  They are not nice.  They will likely turn and tear you to pieces if they can.  But you, with your eyes fixed on Christ, will come out unscathed.  Don't think you can love people deeply and that it will be enough.  They won't care how much you love them.  They will be unforgiving in their accusations.  They will find fault with you even when there is none.  They will hold you to impossible standards so that they don't feel compelled to reach for them themselves.  They will also seek to tear you down anyway they can so that you are not credible in your witness.  These things and much more you can expect in your ministry.  But...GOD is not diminished, nor is His grace!  You may feel like giving up, but God will never give up.  He will work His will in you and through you, even when you become disillusioned.  And He loves you more than you can imagine.

To the young and idealistic person in ministry I say, "Be satisfied and humbled with knowing Christ, and everything He does though you will be to His glory.  That gate is awfully small, so don't be surprised or disillusioned when few come through it.  Be thankful!  Be joyful!  Those few are precious!!  Keep your eyes on Christ and rejoice in the opportunity He's given you!"  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Mere Breath

Psalm 39:1-5

I said,

                              "I will Guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue;"

                "I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle, while the wicked are in my presence."

                                 I was dumb and silent, I refrained even from good;

                                                   And my sorrow grew worse.

                        My heart was hot within me;  While I was musing the fire burned;

                                                  Then I spoke with my tongue:

                                              "Lord, Make me to know my end"
                                             "And what is the extent of my days."
                                              "Let me know how transient I am."
                               "Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths"
                                         "And my lifetime as nothing in thy sight"
                                      "Surely every man at his best is a mere breath"

Sometimes it seems like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.  You just can't win with some people.  And by win I do not mean "best".  A win for me is to succeed in carrying out Romans 12:18;  "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.".  I have become convinced that sometimes it is just not possible.  Herein lies the catalyst for me being forced to grow up and face the facts.  Some people are hell bent on being wicked and evil.  Even some people in the church and I'd even go so far as to say that it is their delight to be so.

At one time I was so filled with ideal thoughts and beliefs it seemed the Christian life could be exactly like a dramatic movie complete with a perfect happy ending.  I still wish it could be, but those days are long gone.  Now, like the psalmist above, I have come face to face with the knowledge that should give hope to every Christian.  I am but a breath, even at my best.  And wicked men, at their greatest wickedness...are a mere breath.  Rather than causing consternation this knowledge should bring great comfort.

What could have been disillusioning for me ends up being liberating for me.  I know that every single wicked person who fabricates evil is nothing but a breath.  And I know that if I speak, having knowledge of what will save others, I will incur their scorn, wrath and attacks.  But it does not help to keep silent.  I've tried.  The truth in me burns to get out.  And even if I keep silent the wicked rage.  They fabricate all kinds of evil against God's elect without provocation.  Such is the way of life.  But I am not bound to the futility of this life.  I am bound to the eternal God who is my hope.  As the psalmist continues in verse 7 and 8,

                                               "And now, Lord, for what do I wait?"
                                                        "My hope is in Thee."
                                             "Deliver me from all my transgressions;"
                                            "Make me not the reproach of the foolish."  

The foolish and wicked who seek to make miserable the saints of God will be reduced to nothing.  They are but a breath.  And so are we.  Our only hope is in Christ, who redeems and sets us free from the lying tongues of those who know nothing of forgiveness.