April 30, 2008

An Unbelievable Offer!

1 Kings 3. It is one of those stories that is almost proverbial. Even many non-church-goers would be able to give at least a skeleton outline of the events. God gives Solomon a genie-in-a-bottle-like dream come true: “Ask what you wish me to give you” (v.5). What an offer! And this is no genie in a bottle! This is the Creator and sustainer of the universe making the offer! Now, amazingly, we find that Solomon – with such a no-strings-attached kind of offer on the table – does something remarkable: he does not ask for riches, or for fame, or for long life … but for wisdom to govern God’s people. Would that we all prayed like that! What a delightful example Solomon has set for us all! And how good of God to answer his prayer!

Now most of us begin and end our thinking about this vignette with admiration for, and the desire to be like Solomon in our praying – not inappropriate reactions by any means. But I want to show you that there is something much more amazing, much more heart-warming than Solomon’s selfless prayer in 1 Kings 3. Read the few verses that lead up to God’s unbelievable offer (1 Kings 3.3-5 – emphasis mine):

“Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, ‘Ask what you wish me to give you.’”

Solomon had one big sin problem – “he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places”, which was strictly forbidden by God. I say it was a big sin problem because, as we read, he didn’t do it occasionally, or half-heartedly. No, we read that in the high place “Gibeon … Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings.” Let’s put Solomon’s sin problem into a modern metaphor. If the problem had been drinking, people would have said: ‘Oh no. Solomon is not a social drinker, he’s a real drunk.’ That is how committed Solomon was to his sin habit. He offered a thousand offerings on this one forbidden altar! Though he tried to mix them up with worship of the one true God, Solomon was intoxicated with the idolatrous rituals of the pagan nations around him.

So Solomon would go up to his favorite pagan shrine, the one in Gibeon, and do his thing. And well we might expect the LORD to meet him there – maybe with the same sword that quivered over Balaam and his donkey; perhaps with the angel of death that passed through the land of Egypt in times of old; perhaps at least with the promise of dysfunction which overtook his father after the affair with Bathsheba. O yes, after what Solomon has been doing, we certainly might expect God to meet him in Gibeon! And this God does … but not with a scourge! “In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, ‘Ask what you wish me to give you.’”

Wow! Just when we expect God to drop the gavel on Solomon … He grants him the greatest blessing of his life! And I am reminded that, in Christ, this is exactly how God has dealt with us. Before I knew Jesus, I was certainly dabbling in my own ‘high places’ – my own selfish pursuits and sinful desires. And it couldn’t even be said of me (as it was of Solomon) that I “loved the Lord.” So, somewhere along the line, it was inevitable that God would meet me, and have a few words with me. But, to the surprise of anyone who understands God’s justice, He didn’t meet me with a sword in his hand, but a nail-print; He didn’t meet me with a scourge, but with scourge marks on His back; He didn’t meet me with a death knell, but with an offer more unbelievable than the one He gave Solomon: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10.13).

It seems counter-intuitive – that God would meet us with blessings “in Gibeon.” The world calls it foolishness. But the Bible calls it “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1.21). And, even better than possessing the wisdom of Solomon, is knowing and trusting the wisdom of God in Jesus!

April 21, 2008

What Manner of Man is this?

The following is an evangelistic article I wrote last year some time and never published. I post it now because:

1. It might be helpful to some of you readers in organizing your thoughts...and praising the Savior.
2. You might want to bookmark it as a brief something you could send to friends who are asking questions about God and Christ.
3. Anthony is preaching on a similar theme at PRBC this weekend, and I thought this brief article might serve as a little appetizer to whet our appetites for the meal he is preparing.

A great teacher? Founder of the world’s largest organized religion? Prophet? Humanitarian? All of these descriptions have been attached to Jesus Christ of Nazareth through the years. And none of them without warrant. For Jesus did teach like no one ever taught. Millions of people world-wide do claim Him as the founder of their faith. And Jesus did care for humanity with a power and a compassion unparalleled in history. But none of these man-made descriptions fully captures the essence of the true man, Jesus.

So who, really, is Jesus? Let’s let Him answer the question Himself.

Jesus claimed to be God Himself. He took on prerogatives that belong only to God Himself (e.g. forgiving sins, Mark 2.5). He claimed to be one with God, the Father (John 10.30). He commended the apostle Thomas for calling Him “My Lord and my God” (John 20.28). And He was constantly referring to Himself by God’s personal name, “I AM” (John 4.26, 8.58, 18.6, etc.). Jesus was fully God. And yet…

Jesus also claimed to be fully human. Jesus slept, ate, drank, wept, and bled. There is no question that He was (and is) a real live man. Even after His resurrection, He made it clear that He was flesh and blood, just like us: “See My hands and feet…touch Me and see Me, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see” (Luke 24.39). Jesus was fully man.

Now, how can a person be fully God and be, at the same time, a human being? The question is beyond full comprehension. But we get some clear insight when we read about the virgin birth of Jesus (Luke 1-2). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (and thus is fully God), and yet was born of Mary, a Jewish woman (and thus is fully human).

And why are these things important—and why is Jesus Himself so important? Because…

Jesus claimed to be the only hope for man’s salvation. He claimed that no one (no one!) can know God unless they come to God through Him (John 14.6)! Why? Because all of us are sinners—intentionally ignorant of God and rejecting the knowledge of Him that is obvious in the created world (Romans 1.20-21). God made us, loves, us, cares for us, and has made Himself plain to us. But we have been traitors.

Yet Christ came to bring sinners back to right relationship with God; to give His life as a ransom payment, absorbing the punishment that we deserve for our treason against God (Mark 10.45); and thus, to grant us eternal life (John 3.16) in place of the judgment we deserve. But to do so, He had to be the one and only God-man!

Being fully God, and having no sins of His own for which to die (Hebrews 4.15), Jesus was, therefore, spiritually capable to die for ours. And being fully human, Jesus was physically capable of entering into the physical, human death that our human sins deserve.

There have been numerous religious characters to come on the stage of the world—each of them claiming to have the solution for bring man together with ‘god.’ But no other character on the pages of human history ever even so much as claimed to be capable of dealing with the problem of mankind’s guilt. No one ever claimed to be able, single-handedly, to make man right with God. But Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, not only claimed the ability, but demonstrated the willingness to do so by laying down His life on the cross. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3.18).

Amazing claims! And Jesus not only made them, but proved them by raising Himself from the dead! Here is a life worthy of our consideration…and, more than that, our admiration and adoration!

April 17, 2008

Pastor's Training Institute - Ethiopia

PTI round 5 is quickly approaching - one month from this coming Monday. So I thought I'd post a brief reminder to be praying for myself, Anthony, and a few other men from his church as we travel May 21-30. I will be doing the majority of the teaching - first from from Genesis 1-11, and then from the book of Hebrews. Do pray for the Lord's help as we train 60+ men to take the everlasting gospel of Jesus to the unreached villages and towns of Ethiopia:
  • For the message prep that still needs to be completed
  • For the eagerness and openness of the trainees
  • For adequate rest (jet-lag, long teaching hours, late night talks, etc.)
  • For logistics (our travel, the trainees' travel, expenses, etc.)
  • For Anthony, who returns 'home' with all sorts of new and unforeseen emotions, needs, and tasks
  • For our walks with the Lord (Anthony, myself, plus Frank, Jamie, and Joseph who are going to be helping Anthony pack his belongings to bring back
  • For long-term fruit - that many new and faithful Ethiopian churches might be birthed as a result of PTI
Thank you so much. Stay tuned for updates - pre, mid, and post-trip (theological pun intended). I lean toward post.

If you are interested in sponsoring a pastor (or two, or ten) ... you can send a check to:

Christ Community Church
P.O. Box 795
New Albany, MS 38652

Earmark the check for PTI ETHIOPIA. After the men and their churches cover 25% of the expense, it costs roughly $40.00 to feed , transport, and house each trainee throughout the sessions. I think we are still in need of about $1000.00 (sponsorship of 25 men). Thank you, as always, for your generosity.

April 15, 2008

An Update from YFZ

Here is the latest from Texas Child Protection Services spokesperson Marleigh Meisner. My emphasis added:

"I believe we have ... children who are victims of physical abuse, and I think we have children who are victims of sexual abuse. I think we also have children who were at risk because of the environment they were in -- that they could be potential victims or they certainly could be witnessing abuse or neglect. And I believe and our department believes that this was not a safe environment for these children."

Again, without at all defending the FLDS, that seems like a lot of maybes. 416 children were taken from their mothers because Marleigh Meisner and her staff think and believe that the children could be in an unsafe environment. And the kids are gone. Who gets to decide this stuff? And again, what if the leaders of Child Protective Services in your state decide that Bible-believing Christian homes also aren't a "safe environment"?

O, let us pray that this turns out well.

April 14, 2008

Yearning for Zion

I have been following, out of the corner of my eye, the developments in Eldorado, TX at Yearning for Zion Ranch, the home of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints compound that has been so much in the news. And, while I certainly have no sympathy with their polygamous practices, their heretical view of Jesus and the gospel, or any form of their suspected abuse of children…I find my heart moved in sympathy for the people of YFZ Ranch.

This week hearings begin to determine the fate of 416 children taken into state custody from the Ranch. 416 kids who do not know any better than to think their home is normal; 416 kids who may lose their families temporarily, and maybe permanently; and 416 kids who have no real idea why any of this is happening to them. There are also over a hundred mothers who are losing their families. Not to mention the dads. Are all of them abusive monsters? I don’t know. Chances are some of them are not. Have all 416 children been victims of abuse? It seems highly unlikely. But now entire families find themselves torn apart—based on one report of abuse, plus a general suspicion of more.

Make no mistake. Whatever child (or wife) abuse is happening at YFZ needs to be punished to the full extent of the law. If underage marriage is being forced on young girls, the government should be their advocate. I in no way defend men like Warren Jeffs who prey on children through the guise of religious belief. He and others like him deserve whatever punishment they receive. But this situation saddens and scares me.

It saddens me for these poor, frightened children—both because of the possibility of abuse, and because all 416 of them have been snatched away—abuse or no. We ought to be praying for them—that God protects them; and that He shines the true light of Christ through this dark cloud.

The situation at YFZ also scares me. If state officials can raid an entire compound and carry away 416 children—simply because one child reported abuse—what sort of precedent does that set? I am no expert on child welfare. I know there are situations where children must be removed from their homes. But my worry is that the line is getting blurrier and blurrier. Children can, apparently, be removed from their homes without proof of abuse, but simply accusation and surmise. It may turn out that the fostering of 416 children was the right choice. But it may not. We don’t know yet. And the quickness of the removal of these 416 leaves me asking: ‘What next?’ With the religious intoleration that is slowly building in this country, is a day coming when faithful Christian families might be subject to such search and seizure because they spank their children; because the neighbors suspect they spank their children; or because they homeschool their children (one of the public knocks on the FLDS folks)?

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom. But I do believe that Christians ought to be paying attention to the events at YFZ and realize that, although we in no way, shape, or form agree with the practices of the FLDS, our own biblical values and beliefs may, in 20 years, seem just as bizarre, unhealthy, and criminal in the eyes of our ever more secular culture.

At the very least, YFZ is a mandate to pray—for the 416; for the eternal souls of the entire group; and for our own liberties as distinctly religious people. YFZ, to me, is also a mandate to obey Deuteronomy 6.6-9. What happens to the ten-year old YFZ kid who maybe never goes back home? Will he still believe what his parents taught him when he is twenty? Or will he have blended into the secular culture around him? More close to home—what would happen if my Julia or Andrew or Silas were taken from me? Am I training them so diligently that they would, like Daniel, remain true to Jesus even if dragged into a completely pagan upbringing? The thought makes me shudder. We are stranger to the onlooking world than we think. So the possibility of a raid on Christians may not be as remote as it seems. So I’ve got work to do. And, if you are a parent, so do you.

May our children, whatever their earthly fate may be, find themselves always and truly yearning for Zion.

April 8, 2008

Missions Conference

Who: Anthony Mathenia* (missionary to Ethiopia, friend, blogger) and Bob Selph (pastor, Grace Baptist Church Taylors, SC and retiring missions leader from ARBCA)

When: Friday April 25-Sunday April 27

Friday - 7pm
Saturday - 6:30pm
Sunday - 11am, 6pm

Where: The King's Chapel - West Chester, OH - (directions)

What: Bob Selph always presents wonderful and encouraging charges from the Scriptures concerning the cause of world mission, and gives updates, specifically, on ARBCA's missionary work. Anthony will be presenting the work in Ethiopia on Friday, and preaching Saturday and Sunday.

How Much: The same as it costs to come to Jesus for salvation (Isaiah 55.1)!

*Anthony will also be preaching at PRBC on the morning of the 27th!


Did you know the Bible has a story about leftovers? I’ll bet you remember it. Luke 9…five loaves…two fish…five thousand men…and twelve basketfuls of broken pieces “left over” (9.17). Here were leftovers no one could complain about! Twelve baskets of bread standing forever in our memories as monuments to the abounding grace of God. He is willing and able to give blessings more numerous than we can imagine—or even fully enjoy this side of heaven! I’ve been reminded, in fact, of God’s superabundance of blessings as we’ve worked through Hebrews at PRBC. As I complete my sermon each week, I am well aware of much spiritual food for which we’ve had no room—many precious truths that, in a six-month study of Hebrews, must be left not fully explored. At least one of those breadcrumbs may be found in the passage on which we’ve been lately feeding (9.1-10.18). I am referring to Hebrews 9.27: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” There has been simply no room on the Sunday morning table to place this small, but rich platter of truth. So let me offer it to you as a snack between meals. Notice a few things…

First, “it is appointed for men to die.” This is inevitable. We may try, with modern medical might, to avoid it. We may hope, by pushing it to the back of our minds, not to worry about it. But the angel of death is always treading hard upon our heals. He will catch up with us—often in the moment when we least expect it, as we have learned painfully in recent weeks. So we are fools to push death out of our minds—to try and ‘not worry about it.’ No, we had better take death seriously. We had better prepare ourselves for that last day. It is coming sooner than we think.

Second, “it is appointed for men to die once.” Once that death angel grabs hold of the back of our collar; once he drags us down to the grave—there is no coming back. Don’t believe the books, the TBN interviews, and the Reader’s Digest articles. People do not die, have a cup of coffee in heaven (or hell), and then come back to tell about it (nor would that be helpful to us – Luke 16.30). And don’t believe the pope either—there is no purgatory from which we can spring if we are good enough long enough (or if someone lights enough $9.00 candles for us). No, the Bible is clear. “It is appointed for man to die once.” There is no coming back. There are no second chances. So we would do well to ready ourselves before it is forever too late.

Third, “it is appointed for men to die once.” In other words, we do not get to decide when we die. That moment is “appointed” for us. By committing suicide you may think to speed your death up, but one thing is sure—you cannot slow it down. The end of this life has already been appointed for you. And it is an appointment God will surely keep. Thus, you must not delay in making peace with God, saying to yourself: ‘I have plenty of time to live. I will prolong my life a little while…and then turn to the Lord.’ Jesus called people who think this way fools (Luke 12.20): “This very night your soul is required from you.” And when God requires your soul, there is no delaying the inevitable!

Finally, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” When you die, you will not float into oblivion. You will not cease to exist. Nor will you be promoted instantly to a place of bliss and comfort. No, first you will stand at the bar of God’s justice…to give an account for your dealings with Him in your life on earth. It will be shown, from your own life, that (Romans 1.20), because of what you saw in creation, and what you felt in conscience, you knew there was someone who made you and owned you—indeed carried you along in love. Then it will be uncovered, again from your own life’s history, that “even though you knew God, you did not honor Him” as you knew you should have. The gavel will fall. The verdict of ‘guilty’ will be pronounced. And since you only get to die once, the verdict will be final. Only if you have entrusted yourself to Jesus, who took your punishment for you, will the verdict not be followed by a sentencing hearing (one that always leads to the punishment of hell). Only if you have believed on the crucified Savior, who died in your place, will the guilty verdict be withdrawn. Only if you believe in Christ will you enter God’s bliss and comfort. But if you believe in Christ, you most certainly will! So, will you be sure you believe in Christ…before it is forever too late?