Do You Care? Really?

Far too frequently we see news stories about parents who neglect their children. It’s hard to look at the pictures of little faces that are suffering because those who should love them do not. In some of those cases there are probably some psychological disorders contributing to the problem. But in other cases it may be nothing more than what Paul described in Ephesians 4:19 as being “callous” (ESV) or “passed feeling” (NKJV). Some have traveled so far from God and his righteousness that their consciences having been seared (1 Tim. 4:2). Bluntly stated, some people just don’t care.

Another tragedy that happens far too often is when people stop caring about their own souls. There is no human possession more valuable than one’s own soul (Mark 8:36-37). Yet many have become so callous and past feeling that they sin “against their own souls” (Num. 16:38) through neglect and abuse. I often ask the same question about them that I do of those who abuse children: how can you not care?

Consider these basic characteristics of a person who cares.

If you care, you feed. Parents who care about their children want them to have sufficient food to eat. In a similar way, the person who cares about his own soul will feed it proper food. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). As we mature in the faith, we should consume the “meat” of the word in addition to the milk (Heb. 5:13-14). Do you care enough to read and study the Bible each day? Do you care enough to attend Bible classes? Do you care enough to be faithful in your worship attendance?

If you care, you protect. Loving parents will protect their children from harm. They will put up safeguards in the home. They will watch them closely in public places. But what about your own soul? Do you care enough to protect it from the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21)? Do you protect your soul from the worldly influences that often come through television and movies? Do you protect it from internet pornography? If you care, you protect.

The danger of neglecting our souls is that if we neglect them long enough, we might never be able to rescue them (Heb. 6:4-6). Examine your life and habits. Do you care? Really?

20 Lessons from Galatians

  1. Salvation is God’s gift to us (1:4; 2:16, 20; 3:8, 13-14, 26-29; 4:4-5; 5:1; 6:8).
  2. Doctrinal purity is non-negotiable (1:6-9; 2:4-5; 4:16; 5:7-9).
  3. It matters what we believe (1:6-9; 3:1-5; 5:7-9).
  4. We cannot serve God and man at the same time (1:10; 5:11).
  5. The Scriptures are inspired of God (1:11-12).
  6. God is no respecter of persons (2:6; 3:28).
  7. Christian fellowship is wonderful (2:9; 4:13-14; 6:2, 10).
  8. We should not be hypocrites (2:11-14).
  9. Sometimes sin must be rebuked publicly (2:11-14).
  10. Justification is by faith, not meritorious works (2:16-21; 3:1-14, 21-23; 4:1-5; 4:22-31).
  11. The gospel of Christ produces freedom from the bondage of law (3:10-14, 23; 4:1-7, 22-31; 5:1).
  12. The Law of Moses fulfilled its purpose (3:19-29).
  13. All Christians, regardless of race, are descendants of Abraham (3:29; 6:16).
  14. It is possible to fall from grace (5:4).
  15. Freedom in Christ is not license to sin (5:13-15).
  16. We should walk by the Spirit (5:16-18, 22-23, 25; 6:8).
  17. We should avoid the works of the flesh (5:16-17, 19-21, 24).
  18. We should restore the erring (6:1).
  19. We reap what we sow (6:7-8).
  20. Rewards belong to those who endure (6:9).

What Exodus Teaches Us About God

Exodus does not merely tell the facts about the life of Moses, the ten plagues, the Jewish people escaping Egyptian slavery, and the Ten Commandments. It draws the reader ever closer to the God who made all that happen. What do we learn about God in the book of Exodus?

God Keeps His Promises. God had promised Abraham that he would make a great nation out his descendants (Gen. 12:2; 15:12-16). The book of Exodus emphasizes God’s intention to fulfill those promises (Exo. 2:24; 3:6–8, 15–17; 4:5; 6:2–8; and also 32:13).

God Wants to Be Close to His People. One of the themes emphasized in this great book is God’s presence among his people. He appears to Moses (3:1-4:17). He descends to the top of Sinai in the presence of the people (19:16-20). He shows himself to Moses, Aaron, and 72 leaders (24:9-11). He reveals his glory to Moses (34:1-10). Most of the second half of the book (chapters 25-40) focuses on the tabernacle, through which God promised to dwell among them (29:43-46; 40:34-38).

God Can Still Use Those Who Struggle With Self-Confidence. In chapters 3 and 4 Moses wrestles with accepting God’s charge to deliver the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. Moses saw nothing in himself that would qualify him for the task God set before him (3:11). He didn’t want to be asked a question that he could not answer (3:13). He was fearful that the people wouldn’t believe him if he did answer (4:1). He didn’t think he was eloquent enough to effectively communicate what God wanted (4:10). But God’s consistent responses changed the focus from who Moses was to who God is (3:12, 14; 4:5, 11-12), and that made all the difference.

God Deserves the Credit for Our Victories. We succeed only by the power he supplies (13:9, 14; Col. 1:29; Eph. 3:16). “Our God will fight for us” (14:14).

The Laws of God are Tests of Our Faith (15:25-26). How we relate to God’s commands tells us the nature of our relationship to God himself (cf. John 14:15; 15:14; 1 John 5:3). We cannot successfully argue that we have faith in God if we consistently live without regard for his instruction.

God Deserves to be Feared (20:18-21). Interestingly, Moses says in Exodus 20:20, “Do not fear” and then says that “the fear of him” should be before the people. The first reference to fear in that verse is connected to the end of verse 19. They were afraid that God was trying to kill them. Moses is telling them not to be afraid of that. The second reference is to the proper fear of God, which includes the dread of punishment for wrongdoing as well as the offering of reverence that God deserves. In that sense, it is proper to fear God (Prov. 1:7; Psa. 19:9; Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:11; Heb. 10:31; 12:28-29).

God Deserves to be Worshiped (20:22-26; 22:20, 29-30; 23:13-19). God instructed the people to build altars “in every place where I cause my name to be remembered” (20:22-26). In addition, there were three times each year that the people were to observe feasts: the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Harvest, and Ingathering (23:14-17). These celebrations reminded the people of God’s worthiness to be praised. All of the instructions regarding the tabernacle, its furniture, and the work of the priests (chapters 25-40) also stressed the importance of their worship to God (Psalm 18:3; 29:1-2; Rev. 4:11; 5:12-14).

There is tremendous practical value in studying the Old Testament (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17). The book of Exodus reminds us to trust God, draw near to God, be confident in God, be grateful to God, obey God, fear God, and worship God. Those are reminders we need every day.

Intense Prayer

Has anyone ever watched you pray silently and concluded that you were drunk? It has never happened to me. However, it happened to Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:9-18. In the past I pictured Hannah’s prayer as coming from a prim and proper June Cleaver-ish young lady sitting up straight in a chair, hands folded and gently placed in her lap. Given that picture, I struggled to understand how Eli could watch a woman sit basically motionless (except for the slight movement of her lips) and presume that she was intoxicated. A deeper consideration of the text (a novel idea, right?) caused me to adjust my mental picture.

Ponder the terms that describe Hannah and her prayer: “deeply distressed” (v. 10), “wept bitterly” (v. 10), “troubled in spirit” (v. 15), “pouring out [her] soul” (v. 15), and “great anxiety and vexation” (v. 16). With those descriptions of this devout woman and the intensity of her emotions, I find it much easier to understand Eli’s response. A silent, practically motionless woman would not lead another to conclude that she was inebriated. But such a conclusion is understandable if that same woman were animated by the heaviest of burdens and looked like she was carrying on a tear-soaked, bitter conversation with no one.

That must have been one intense, deep, and passionate prayer.

The pen of Paul writes of another example of this kind of prayer. In Colossians 4:12, we read,

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Consider these thoughts from the prayer-life of Epaphras.

His prayers were constant (“always”). His prayers were personal (“on your behalf”). His prayers were purposeful (“that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God”). And his prayers were intense. The word translated “struggling” is from the Greek agonizomai, which means to fight or to compete in an athletic contest. When an athlete competes to the best of his ability and exhausts himself in the contest, reporters have been known to say that the athlete “left it all out on the field.” In other words, the player held nothing back. When he left the field of play, he did so knowing that he had nothing left to give. He gave it everything he had. That’s what Epaphras did when he prayed. When he was finished, he had nothing left in the tank.

When I think about Hannah and Epaphras (and Jesus in Gethsemane, Luke 22:44), I’m ashamed that so many of my prayers lack intensity. How easy it can be for our prayers to turn into little more than the recitation of words and phrases memorized long ago. Most of us can probably pray on auto-pilot without ever digging deep into our souls. The words may be there, but the heart isn’t. It seems I remember Jesus addressing that phenomenon (Matt. 15:8).

Spend some time in God’s presence today, but don’t merely recite old phrases. “Pour out your heart before him” (Psa. 62:8).

Romans 1:18 – 3:20

Introduction: In the opening verses of chapter one, Paul affirmed the primary subject matter of the letter this way, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17). Before he proves that obedient faith in the gospel of Christ is the basis of salvation from sin, Paul will prove that everyone – Jew and Gentile – stands in need of salvation.

I. The Gentiles Need the Gospel (1:18-32)

A. The wrath of God is decreed on all who suppress the truth and live ungodly and unrighteous lives, which is the natural result of rejecting truth (1:18).

B. Though God had revealed himself to Gentiles, they had largely rejected him – an action for which there was no excuse (1:19-32).

1. God’s eternal power and divine nature can be perceived through the created world (1:20; Psa. 19:1-4; Acts 14:17). But the Gentiles refused that evidence and chose the path of idolatry (1:21-25).

2. As a result of rejecting God, they slid further into immorality. Specifically, Paul calls attention to homosexuality and uses strong words of condemnation for it (1:26-27).

3. In quick fashion, Paul lists several additional sins that characterized the Gentile world (1:28-32).

C. Take special note of the connection between what a person thinks about God and how that person acts (cf. Prov. 4:23; 23:7).

1. It was because the Gentiles “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25) that they gave themselves over to the grossest immorality.

2. It is easy to see the same thing in our day. The more people reject the truth about Jehovah, the more they embrace depravity (Rom. 1:28). Look at the list of sins in this section and note how many of them are not just excused, but praised and promoted in our culture.

II. The Jews Need the Gospel (2:1 – 3:8)

A. Beginning in chapter two, Paul switches from addressing “they/them” to addressing “you” – one indication that he is now addressing the Jews.

B. The Jewish people had become adept at condemning the sinfulness of the Gentiles; but Paul makes it clear that both Jew and Gentile occupy the same spiritual real estate (2:1-16).

1. The judgment of God against such sinfulness is right (2:2) and he deals with each person fairly and impartially (2:11).

2. While it’s true that Gentiles deserve censure for their ungodliness (2:2), the Jews should not think that they are squeaky clean. To the contrary, they were “storing up wrath” for themselves, too (2:5).

3. Each person – whether Jew or Gentile – will be judged “according to his works” (2:6). Eternal life will be the lot of those who do well (2:7), and punishment will find those who do evil (2:9). God shows no racial or ethnic partiality (2:10-11).

4. The Gentiles stood condemned because they violated the law to which they were accountable – moral law; the Jews stood condemned because they violated the law to which they were accountable – the Law of Moses (2:12-16).

C. The primary condemnation of the Jews was hypocrisy (2:18-29; Matt. 23:1-7). Though they boasted of their connection to God and viewed themselves as leaders of the blind, they were guilty of the same sins that they condemned in others. As a result, the name of God was slandered.

III. There is None Righteous (3:9-20)

A. To bolster his case that Jew and Gentile are in need of the saving gospel, Paul combines quotations from several Old Testament texts in 3:10-18 – Psalm 14:1-3; 5:9; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1.

B. Since the only thing that mere law can do is condemn – it cannot justify – there is no other conclusion to draw except that there is none righteous (3:19-20).

1. This is a major theme in Romans, and Paul will return to it later (3:27-28; 4:13-16; 9:30-32).

2. It is also a major point in Galatians (2:16; 3:10-13; 5:4).

Conclusion: Having established a universal need for the gospel, Paul will move on in the next chapter to explain the necessity of approaching God in a spirit of faith and trust, grateful that he will declare us righteous for so doing.

Jesus and Genesis

Skeptics have targeted the book of Genesis for a very long time, especially the first eleven chapters. That is no surprise since the straightforward affirmations of the creation of the world, the first human couple, and the flood cannot be harmonized with the evolutionary dogma that permeates popular science. What is surprising is the growing number of religious people in general, and members of churches of Christ in particular, who have compromised the Genesis account of origins in favor of unproven evolutionary principles that originated, not from sound Biblical exegesis, but from atheism. For professed believers in the inspiration of scripture, who should know better, to distort the Bible in their attempts to harmonize it with evolution is shameful. What many of these compromisers have failed to accept is this: to deny the historical accuracy of the early chapters of Genesis forces you to deny the truthfulness of Jesus.

Jesus affirmed in John 8:44 that the devil exists, that he is a liar and murderer, and that he has been since “the beginning.” There is no doubt that Jesus is calling the attention of his listeners to the Genesis account of the entrance of sin into the world (Gen. 3:1-6). In answering a question about divorce, Jesus spoke of the creation of Adam and Eve, the formation of that first home, and declared that those historical events stood as authoritative precedents for the governance of modern homes and marriages (Matt. 19:3-6). In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus affirmed his belief that Noah existed and that the Genesis account of the flood actually happened.

If the early chapters of Genesis do not report real, actual historical events, then Jesus was wrong, whether honestly mistaken or purposely dishonest. But if Jesus was wrong about the historical accuracy of Genesis, what else might he have been wrong about? If he cannot be trusted in his statements regarding the early chapters of Genesis, upon what basis should we trust anything else he said? One cannot consistently reject the historical accuracy of Genesis and at the same time accept the historical accuracy of Jesus.

40 Sentence Sermons from the Minor Prophets

  1. Calamity awaits those who have no knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1, 6).
  2. Do not remove the spiritual landmarks that God has set in place (Hosea 5:10).
  3. No one can help you like God can (Hosea 5:13).
  4. Don’t let your faithfulness to God fade like a morning cloud (Hosea 6:4).
  5. You reap what you sow (Hosea 8:7).
  6. Don’t let God’s law become a strange thing to you (Hosea 8:12).
  7. God loves freely (Hosea 14:4).
  8. It is important to teach every generation about God (Joel 1:2-3).
  9. Repentance must be genuine and from the heart (Joel 2:13).
  10. God is very concerned with how we treat the needy (Amos 2:6; 5:11-12).
  11. God’s word is like a plumbline – an absolute standard (Amos 7:7-9).
  12. A famine of the word of God is the worst kind of famine (Amos 8:11-13).
  13. God can use “natural” calamities to get our attention (Amos 4:6-13).
  14. Prepare to meet your God (Amos 4:12).
  15. Pride is deceitful, leading to a false sense of security (Obadiah 3-4).
  16. In matters of right and wrong, we can never be neutral (Obadiah 11).
  17. You’ll never get anywhere running from God (Jonah 1:1-3).
  18. Preachers must preach only what God desires (Jonah 3:2).
  19. God responds positively to those who turn to him (Jonah 3:10).
  20. Preachers are not perfect (Jonah 4:1-2).
  21. God will turn against His people when His people turn against Him (Micah 1:2).
  22. What God requires of people is this: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).
  23. God will punish the guilty (Nahum 1:3).
  24. Preaching should be plain (Habakkuk 2:2).
  25. The just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).
  26. God deserves to be praised regardless of our circumstances (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
  27. Material wealth will mean nothing on the Day of Judgment (Zephaniah 1:18).
  28. We will be judged not just according to what we do, but also according to what we do not do (Zephaniah 3:2).
  29. God’s house is more important than my house (Haggai 1:2-4).
  30. Living in the past can harm our work in the present (Haggai 2:3).
  31. Self-examination is an on-going need (Haggai 1:5, 7).
  32. Our work today is for future glory (Haggai 2:9).
  33. If we turn to God, He will turn to us (Zechariah 1:3).
  34. We are the apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8).
  35. Our sufficiency is not of ourselves (Zechariah 4:6).
  36. Don’t forget God’s love (Malachi 1:1-2).
  37. Don’t give leftovers to God (Malachi 1:7-8).
  38. Be careful whom you marry (Malachi 2:11-12).
  39. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
  40. God has a book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16).

Romans 1:1-17

Introduction: Douglas Moo wrote, “Romans is one of the most interesting and engaging books in the Bible – precisely because it shapes the way we think about so much of the universe we inhabit” (16). I cannot argue with that assessment. In this letter, Paul discusses the sinful condition of all mankind, the consequences of that sinful condition, the lengths God has gone to justify us in spite of our sin, the faith response required of us to obtain that justification, and how the justified should live in view of that justification. Romans is deep, theologically challenging, and imminently practical. In this first section of the letter, Paul introduces the reader to the underlying theme – the good news of Jesus is God’s power to save because it reveals his plan to make men righteous.

I. Introduction and Greeting (1:1-7)

A. Paul identifies himself (1) as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”

1. Each of those terms emphasizes Paul’s understanding that his life was not really his own. He belonged to another.

2. Galatians 2:20; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 14:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:15

B. Paul identifies some key elements of the gospel (1b-4)

1. It originates with God, it was promised in the Old Testament scriptures, and Jesus is its subject (cf. Luke 24:44; Acts 26:22-23).

2. Regarding Jesus, Paul calls attention to his humanity, his deity, and his resurrection. These are key components of the gospel message (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

C. Paul explains his apostolic mission (5-6) – “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (cf. Rom. 16:26). The good news of Jesus is designed to produce obedient trust in him.

D. Paul identifies the recipients of the letter (6b-7) – they belong to Jesus, God loves them, and they were called to be saints.

II. Gratitude and Prayer (1:8-15)

A. Paul’s reasons for being thankful and his requests for them (8-10).

1. Paul is grateful for their faith, through which they had developed a widespread reputation (8).

2. Paul prays for them “without ceasing,” longing to be able to come to Rome and visit them (9-10).

B. Paul explains his desire to visit them personally (11-15)

1. His desire to visit them revolves around his desire to strengthen them through the imparting of “some spiritual gift” (11) that Paul believed would result in mutual encouragement and deeper faith in both him and the Roman church (12).

2. To reinforce how much he wanted to visit them, Paul further explains his motivation, sense of obligation, and eagerness to preach (13-15).

III. The Theme Statement of the Book (1:16-17)

A. The gospel of Christ is God’s power to save (16).

1. The gospel of Christ can be viewed from different angles: there are basic facts that must be believed (1 Cor. 15:1-4); there are commands that must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 6:17); there are promises that can be enjoyed (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).

2. This good news saves anyone who believes it – whether Jew or Gentile (cf. Rom. 2:9-11).

B. The gospel reveals God’s plan to make men righteous (17).

1. The “righteousness of God” in the book of Romans is not a reference to a characteristic of God’s nature; rather, it is a reference to the righteous status that God bestows on those who believe the gospel.

2. In other words, Romans 1:17 is affirming that God’s plan for making men righteous is revealed in the gospel. It is a plan that is both rooted in faith and leads to additional faith.

3. To supplement his point, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, which affirms that spiritual life is obtained by trusting in God.

Conclusion: When one stands before the book of Romans he stands on holy ground. To understand Romans is to understand the message of the entire Bible – the sinfulness of man, the grace of God, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of Jew and Gentile, the power of faith, and the necessity of showing our faith in submission to the authority of Christ. It should be a wonderful study!

REFERENCE

Moo, Douglas J. Romans. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. Print.

Abraham’s Early Mornings

I have never been a “morning” person. At times I wish I were. Without an alarm clock pounding my eardrums, I can easily sleep much longer than I should. I just don’t naturally wake up early under normal conditions. If, however, the day promises something out of the ordinary and pleasant (e.g., the beginning of a vacation), I’ve been known to wake up before the alarm clock goes off. As hard as it normally is, the prospect of an unpleasant day makes getting up that much more challenging and pulling the covers over my head that much more alluring.

That’s one component of Abraham’s faith that makes it so amazing. There are three instances in his life in which the Bible says that he arose early in the morning – and he knew on all three of those days that what he had to do would not be pleasant. Yet, instead of hiding under the covers, he got up early to face each day.

Sodom and Gomorrah

God left no doubt regarding the evil character of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 13:13; 18:20; 19:13; 2 Pet. 2:7-8). Though he had been patient with them, God’s longsuffering finally reached its righteous end. When he told Abraham of his plan to destroy the cities of the plain, the faithful patriarch interceded on behalf of his noble nephew, Lot, who lived in Sodom (Gen. 18:22-33).

God promised Abraham that he would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous souls could be found there, but it was not to be (Gen. 19:13). God rained fire from heaven and engulfed in his wrath those sinful cities.

Note carefully how Genesis 19:27 begins, “And Abraham went early in the morning” to inspect the damage. There is little doubt that Abraham feared Lot would suffer the same fate as the wicked. Abraham knew that the cities were overcome with iniquity. When he spoke with God earlier, he didn’t seem confident that God would find the agreed-upon ten righteous souls that would have spared them. That deep anxiety for the welfare of his kinsman and the nagging feeling that it might be Lot’s last day did not make for a pleasant morning. Still, Abraham arose early to face the challenge.

Hagar and Ishmael

Moses records in Genesis 21 the joyous fulfillment of God’s promise to bless Abraham and Sarah with a son through whom God would establish Abraham’s lineage and bring the Messiah into the world. Isaac brought laughter and joy into the lives of his aged parents (21:1-7).

But Sarah’s animosity toward her handmaid, Hagar, who had previously given Abraham a son, intensified. Sarah demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away (21:8-10). Even though Ishmael was not the son of promise, he was still Abraham’s son, and the thought of sending him away “was very displeasing to Abraham” (21:11). But God counseled the patriarch to do as Sarah requested (21:12-13). His response? “So Abraham rose early in the morning” and sent Hagar and Ishmael away (21:14).

Isaac

While Isaac, the son of promise, was still a young boy, God tested his father (Gen. 22:1) by instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Abraham had waited long for Isaac to be born. The boy brought him great joy. And now God commanded him to take his life. How did he respond? “So Abraham rose early in the morning” to obey the Lord (22:3). His confidence that God would provide another sacrifice (22:8) or that he would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19) probably tempered his emotions somewhat. But surely no one would argue that it was a pleasant morning.

Abraham, no doubt, arose early to some wonderful mornings. But the three above are the only ones specifically mentioned in the Bible. How brutal they must have been! How tempting it might have been for him to keep rolling over and sleeping just a little longer. Yet, instead of hiding under the covers, he rose up early and met the challenges of the day.

Life brings with it many unpleasant days. But the with the help of God and the faith of Abraham, we can throw off the covers, confidently rise from our beds, and face what each day brings. Regardless of what today brings, it is still a day created by the Lord, and in it, we have plenty of reasons to rejoice and be thankful (Psa. 118:24; 1 Thess. 5:18).