Legal Eagle

Colossians 2
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.
19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:
21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

We want to have a closer relationship with God. We read the Bible, pray seek guidance from those whom we trust and have experience. This growth can be stunted, or even choked to death by the weeds of legalism. Legalism can be defined as a strict adherence to the law. Specifically, as it relates to faith, a legalist is one who believes that performance is the way to gain favor with God. Legalism is the human attempt to gain salvation or prove our spirituality by outward conformity to a list of religious “do’s” and “don’ts.” It’s often disguised in Christian terms and behavior.
We tend to think others are legalistic, but that we’re not. The fact is that we’re all legalistic by nature. We tend to judge others by our own standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t. In essence, we think our sins smell better than other people’s. We have very little tolerance for people who sin differently than we do.

Legalism is highly contagious. While it’s usually less conscious and systematized in our minds than it was among the Pharisees, legalism can spread like a bad virus through an entire congregation, group and family. That’s why Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for legalistic list-makers in Mark 7:6-8: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Legalism can take a vibrant faith and make it dull and lifeless. It can evaporate enthusiasm, jettison joy, and stifle spirituality. Instead of finding freedom through Christ, many believers become burdened by the church.
Legalism produces large quantities of self-righteousness, judgment and condemnation. It majors in guilt and misguided sacrifice, urging its followers to evaluate their relationship with God on the basis of standards and scores and expects others to do the same. Superficial spirituality short-circuits the work of grace.

Legalism makes it impossible for people to see Jesus. There is nothing that pushes a seeker away faster than a list of rules and regulations. We inadvertently portray Jesus as a drill sergeant instead of the Savior.
The New Testament books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews also lampoon legalism. We must be taught over and over that everything is by grace. We’re saved by grace and we grow by grace. In our text for this morning, Paul argues that if we want to pull the weeds of legalism, we must focus on two truths.

The best defense against a performance-based faith is to remember our legal standing before God. If we understand God’s divine decree as a result of what Jesus has done on our behalf, we’ll experience amazing grace and live with the freedom that is ours in Christ. As Jesus said in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
At conversion, God issues four rulings, or decrees.

We are complete (9-10). Let’s look at Colossians 2:9-11: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” The phrase, “in Christ” shows us that Jesus is the center of God’s saving activity. When we put our faith in Christ, we are included in what He has done. All the fullness of deity lives in Him. As we’ve already established in Colossians, if you want to know what God is like, then look at Jesus. The phrase, “lives in bodily form,” means to “dwell permanently.” Jesus is not just a way to God; He is the only way because He is God Himself.

Listen carefully. Not only does all the fullness of God dwell in Christ, all believers are filled with the fullness of Christ. The tense of this verb in Greek indicates that this fullness is a permanent experience. One translation puts it this way: “And you are in Him, having been completely filled full with the present result that you are in a state of fullness.” If you have put your faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins, then there is nothing lacking in your relationship with God. There’s not some extra blessing or another experience you need to have.
You have everything you need if you have Christ because the fullness of God comes into your life when you receive Jesus. Friend, you do not need anything more than you already have! You merely need to understand and appropriate that which you’ve already been given.

We are alive (11-13a). One of the many good reasons to talk about an entire book of the Bible is that it forces me to address subjects that might not normally come up in a conversation. I’m thankful for the insights I received from Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on this passage (Victor Books: The Bible Exposition Commentary).

Verses 11-13a establish some parallels between circumcision and our new life with Christ. Check it out: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

God initiated circumcision in the Old Testament as part of His covenant with His people in order to set them apart and identify them as true followers. One of the problems at Colosse was that some legalists were demanding that Christians submit to circumcision and obey the Old Testament Law. These false teachers were a bit different than those Paul refuted in Galatians. In that context, they were insisting that circumcision was necessary for salvation. In the church at Colosse, the false teachers were suggesting that obedience to Old Testament regulations would help them become more spiritual. Though circumcision was a physical procedure, it had some sacred significance. The trouble was that Old Covenant followers insisted on the physical act without emphasizing a change of heart. It had become a religious ritual. That’s why Jeremiah 4:4 states that believers were to circumcise their hearts. Physical acts are never meant to be the substance of our faith. Instead, a spiritual change on the inside, accomplished only through the redemptive work of Christ, is what God demands.

When we put our faith in Christ, Jesus spiritually circumcises, or cuts away, our sinful nature in order to prove that we belong to Him. Since we are alive, and no longer dead in our sins, Paul next uses the illustration of baptism. The word baptize has both a literal and figurative meaning. The literal meaning is “to dip, or immerse.” That’s what we witnessed last Sunday afternoon when six believers were baptized by immersion. The figurative meaning is “to be identified with.”

It’s important to keep in mind that just as the physical act of circumcision did nothing to change someone’s heart, so too, the waters of baptism itself do not save anyone. When we place our faith in Christ and are born again, 1 Corinthians 12:13 states very clearly that we are “baptized,” or “identified” with Christ: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

Water baptism is a wonderful picture of an inner reality. When we go under the water, we are symbolizing our burial with Christ, and when we come up, we become a picture of what it means to be raised with Christ. The Greek words are very expressive in verse 12. We are co-buried, co-raised, and co-made alive. We died with him, we are raised with him, and we have life because of him. Baptism vividly portrays the death and burial of the believer’s sinful way of life. When Christ died, our old nature died with Him. That’s our spiritual circumcision. When we come up out of the water in baptism, we symbolize that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so too, we will be raised to resurrection life.

Remembering that our old sinful nature is dead and buried with Christ gives us a powerful motive to resist sin. We can keep sinful desires from controlling us by treating them as if they are dead. Romans 6:11-14 provides a practical game plan to use in order to live with the freedom that Christ has promised us: “In he same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

Our sins are canceled (13b-14). Look now at the last part of verse 13 and verse 14. Here we see that we’re not only complete and alive, but our sins have been canceled: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Notice that Jesus forgave “all” of our sins. That means every single one, even those that you have a hard time forgiving yourself for. The “written code” is the Law. Jesus not only took our sins to the cross, He also took the Law and nailed it there, forever out of the way. The Law was against us and stood opposed to us because all it could ever do was point out our sinfulness. In Romans 7:7, Paul concludes that he “would not have known what sin was except through the law.”

The written code was like a handwritten ledger of our trespasses against the law. In Bible times, records were often kept on parchment, and the writing could be washed off. Paul is saying that our sins have been wiped away. Our rap sheet has been canceled. All of God’s legal requirements have been taken away once they were nailed to the cross. No regulations or man-made rituals have power over us.
We have victory (15). We have completeness in Christ, we have new life, and we have been completely forgiven. Our legal standing involves one more thing: we have victory. Verse 15 is a wonderful picture of Christ’s triumph over evil: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The word for “disarmed” is literally “stripped,” as in stripping a defeated enemy of armor on the battlefield.

The powers and authorities of this evil world stripped Christ of his clothing and popularity, made a public spectacle of him on the cross, and thought they had triumphed over him by putting Him to death. Little did they know that the victory actually belonged to Jesus. Friends, evil no longer has any power over you because Christ has stripped Satan’s weapons from him. He is disarmed. The only power he has is what we give him when we allow him to deceive us and create fear in our lives.

The cultural background to this verse is rich with meaning. When the Romans went off to fight their enemies, after winning the war, they would bind their vanquished foes together by the hands and march them single file back to Rome where they would have a huge celebration. Thousands of Romans would line the streets to watch this “public spectacle.”

At the front of the parade would be the conquering General. Following him would be those soldiers who had acted heroically in battle. The rest of the army would follow. And then at the rear of the procession would be all those who had been conquered. As they would march past the crowds, the people would jeer at them, cast insults, and even throw things. You didn’t want to be the main attraction at one of these pubic spectacles!

Jesus has turned his captors into captives, displaying them in His victory celebration. The Colossians had participated in that victory, and so have we. We don’t have to follow false teachers and we don’t have to succumb to sin or fear Satan. Jesus is the victor and He has triumphed at the cross. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The best way to pull the weeds of legalism is to remember our legal position before God ­ we are complete, alive, forgiven, and we have the victory. I love how one translation renders Galatians 3:2-3: “I shall ask you one simple question: Did you receive the Spirit of God by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the Gospel? Surely you can’t be so idiotic as to think that a man begins his spiritual life in the Spirit and then completes it by reverting to outward observances!” Colossians 2:16-23 gives us three warnings so that we can avoid being idiotic. We must be vigilant or we’ll lean toward legalism on a daily basis.

Refuse to judge by externals (16-17). Look at verses 16-17: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

Whenever you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you should always ask what it’s there for. Paul is drawing a conclusion based upon what he has just written previously. Since Jesus has done what was necessary for our salvation, don’t let other people evaluate your spiritual life by their external standards.

Food restrictions, special diets, observance of ceremonies and holy days rose out of specific practices in the Old Testament. Religious festivals were annual, New Moon celebrations were monthly, and the Sabbath was weekly. Since Christ has now come, special diets and obligatory days are no longer necessary because every Old Testament feast looks forward to Christ. They were just shadows of the reality that is fulfilled in Jesus. Hebrews 10:1 puts it succinctly: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves.”

It’s relatively easy to judge by externals. If there’s something you’re not supposed to eat and you avoid it, then everything’s kosher (no pun intended). If you attend when you’re supposed to attend, then you must be doing OK. If you kneel when you pray, then you must be close to God. We must be alert to make sure we’re not evaluating what we’re doing, or what others are doing, according to external standards.

Reject false authority (18-19). Look at verses 18-19: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”
The word, “disqualify” means “to declare unworthy of a prize.” It’s the idea of an umpire who is calling you out because you have not obeyed the rules. Paul describes these people in four ways:

They have a false humility. They present themselves as humble and holy but in reality they are filled with spiritual pride and superiority.
They worship angels. Their focus is on other spiritual beings rather than on Christ.
They have seen visions. They love to give people the “latest word from the Lord.”
They are puffed up with idle notions. Their “inner secrets” gave them big heads but not burning hearts.

As a result, because of their subjective bias and experiential expressions, they had actually become disconnected from the head. They were severed from any hope of spiritual vitality because they were not getting their orders from Christ. We must make sure we are not seeking experiences that do not correlate with Christ. Even though there is a fascination with “religious mysticism,” our focus is to be on Jesus.

As good as books, seminars, and tapes are, and I take full advantage of them, we must come back to the cry of the Reformation: Sola Sriptura! That means that the Bible alone is the standard and measurement for everything else.

Repudiate religious rules (20-23). Let’s refuse to judge by externals and reject false authority. Finally, if we want to pull the weeds of legalism, we must also repudiate religious rules. Drop down to verses 20-23: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”

The false teachers focused on personal denial as the way to curb their appetites. This sounds really good on the surface because we all agree that we need discipline in our lives. But they were teaching that these disciplines were necessary for fellowship with God.

Paul tells us that we don’t belong to the world anymore. We don’t get to heaven by following a list of do’s and don’ts. And, we don’t live the Christian life that way either. We cannot earn God’s favor. All we can do is receive it. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way: “I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit.” (“Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers,” p. 235).
Verse 23 states very clearly that regulations, though they may look and sound good, “Lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Rules don’t abolish the appetite because they feed the flesh. Why is that? Because no matter how hard we work we can’t force sin out of our lives through devotion to man-made dictates. We need God’s power working within us. It’s His grace, not a regimen of rules and activities that affect real life change.

We must teach grace before commitment, because once grace is understood and embraced, it will lead to commitment. But, required commitment and rule keeping always leads to legalism. Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

Let me ask you, “What is your Christianity like?”
Is it focused on yourself or on Christ?
Are you a list-keeper, or a grace-giver?
Is your faith anchored to personal experiences or on the Word of God?
Has it set you free or tied you up?

Rules are like religious training wheels that keep us from tipping over. But they’re also confining because they keep us from breaking free. A bishop once said to Louis XI of France, “Make an iron cage for all those who do not think as we do, an iron cage in which the captive can neither lie down nor stand straight up.” The king agreed and had it constructed. A short time later, the bishop somehow offended King Louis, and for 14 years he was locked in that same cage.

Have you constructed a cage for those who don’t think the same way you do? Be careful, because you may end up in bondage yourself.
Christianity is not a matter of what you do or what you don’t do. Christianity is what is done for you. Its not spelled D-O but rather D-O-N-E. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished.” The price has been paid. The debt has been erased. You are complete in Christ. You are alive. Your sins are forgiven. And you have the victory!

What old laws are still on your books? Are you ready to nail them to the Cross so that you can be set free? Give your list to Jesus right now.

Construct or Destruct?

Romans 14
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.

21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

I was in a restaurant recently and everywhere I looked there were people of all ages, nationality, race, sex. There were all on the smartphones. Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, playing games. I mean they were eating with others. I found myself secretly judging them from my sanctimonious perch of a high-back chair. I couldn’t believe that they were so tied to their technological devices. I was getting pretty worked up inside…until I looked down and saw that I had my phone out and during this whole time I had been checking messages and replying to texts myself. It’s not easy to jettison our judgmental spirits, is it? We try to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable, how to overcome a judgmental spirit, and how to deal with diversity. This is only possible when we realize that in “disputable matters,” our motto should be, “Not Wrong, Just Different.”

Pursue harmony and be helpful. We see this in verse 19: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” As we mentioned last week, that little word “therefore” comes up a lot in this chapter. When we let love limit our liberty and begin to care for others as Christ does, then we will pursue peace and look for ways to edify everyone we can. I love that Paul includes himself in this by using the word “us.” This shows that these words are for every one of us, me included.
The phrase “make every effort” means “to follow or press hard after or pursue with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain an objective…like a runner in a race exerting with every fiber within him to reach the goal.” Oh, and it’s in the present tense which means we must go after this all the time, daily, minute-by-minute as a lifestyle. One paraphrase puts it like this: “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.”

The word “peace” means to “join or bind together that which has been separated.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When He called them they found their peace, for He is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but instead “peacemakers.” This could be translated as “peace workers.” It takes effort to bring conflict to an end. When we work at resolving conflict we are doing what God does.

We can’t be passive about peace; it must be pursued. Let me share some additional verses on the importance of going after peace.

* Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
* Psalm 34:14: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
* Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
* 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”

The word “edification” is a construction term that was used to describe a building going up brick by brick or the process of making a structure stronger to improve its usefulness and extend its longevity. Are you a constructor, or a destructor? Do you build up or tear down? Whether we like to admit it or not, our actions either strengthen or weaken the church. Our words are either flames or flowers. They have the power to construct or destruct. Check out Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome [rotten] talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I hope you’re not like the hypercritical husband who was impossible to please. He was really cranky at breakfast. If his wife made scrambled eggs, he wanted them poached; if the eggs were poached, he wanted them scrambled. One morning his wife hit upon what she thought was a brilliant idea. She decided to poach one egg and scramble the other. When she put the plate before him, she thought for sure he would be happy. He peered down at the plate and snorted, “Can’t you do anything right, woman? You scrambled the wrong one!”

Does that describe you? Are you always unhappy and do your words wipe others out? If you’re like most of us, you need some help knowing how to change what you say.

Don’t demolish those you disagree with. The opposite word of construct is “destroy” and is used in verse 20 as a term for tearing down a building: “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food…” This tearing down often happens in a marriage. I heard a story about a couple who had an argument while they were driving down a country road. Neither of them was saying anything because they were both too mad to talk. But when they passed a barnyard full of mules, the wife sarcastically asked, “Relatives of yours?” Without missing a beat, the husband replied. “Yep. In-laws.”
Paul repeats what he has been saying throughout this chapter in the last half of verse 20 and in verse 21: “All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better [beautiful] to not eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Go back and circle the words “destroy,” “stumble,” and “fall.” What I do affects you and what you do affects me. And, if that means we abstain from something for the sake of a brother or sister, than that’s what we better do. As someone has said, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.” Friend, do you love people more than you love being right? The question is not, “Can I do this?” but rather, “If I do this, how will it affect another believer?”

Paul is challenging us to be builders instead of demolishers. My highest priority in relationships with others should be their edification, not their demolition; their construction, not their destruction. Paul was really serious about this according to 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

Keep your convictions quiet (22a). There are certain truths that all believers must accept because they are explicitly taught in Scripture. However, some of us may feel like we have to tell people what we’ve decided about different debatable topics. Actually, according to verse 22, the way of wisdom is to keep some things private: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” Your personal convictions are just that – personal. If they were meant to be for everyone, God would have included them in the Bible. But He didn’t. He gave them to you personally and they should stay between the two of you.

I’m challenged by Proverbs 12:23: “A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.” Albert Barnes, a Bible commentator, said this: “Be satisfied with cherishing your own opinions.” Spurgeon had this insight: “Do you feel quite sure upon such matters? Keep it within thine own bosom, but do not worry other with it. It’s helpful for me to remember that “my response is my responsibility and your response is your responsibility.” In his book called, Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll quotes an unknown author:

To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring; it means I can’t do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off; it’s the realization that I can’t control another.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another; I can only change myself.
To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to deny, but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.

When in doubt, throw it out. The second half of verse 22 and verse 23 help us see that if our conscience bothers us or we have some doubts about something, the principle is this: when in doubt, throw it out: “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” This goes along with what Paul wrote in Acts 24:16: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” And John adds that we must be in sync with our conscience in 1 John 3:21: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.

Martin Luther, who was brought to faith in part through his study of the Book of Romans, said this: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

When in doubt, leave it out! How is it then that we make decisions in the debatable areas? I came across a list of 12 biblical tests to apply when we’re faced with determining whether or not we should do something.

1. THE WORLD TEST. Is it worldly? Will it make me worldly to do it (John 15:19, 1 John 2:15-17)?

2. THE QUALITY TEST. Is it good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Romans 12:9b)?

3. THE TEMPLE TEST. Can I do it when I remember my body is God’s temple and must not be marred or misused (1Corinthians 6:19)?

4. THE GLORY TEST. Will it glorify my Lord, or will it on the other hand possibly bring shame to His name (1Corinthians 6:20, 10:32)?

5. THE BLESSING TEST. Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it and be sure I’ll not regret doing it (Proverbs 10:22, Romans 15:29)?

6. THE REPUTATION TEST. Will it damage my testimony for the Lord (Philippians 2:15)?

7. THE CONSIDERATION TEST. Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them (Romans 14:7, 21)?

8. THE APPEARANCE TEST. Will it look bad? Does it have the appearance of what is wrong or suspicious (1Thessalonians 5:22)?

9. THE WEIGHT TEST. Could this activity slacken or sidetrack me in running the Christian race (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24)?

10. THE COMING OF CHRIST TEST. Would I be ashamed to be found doing this when He comes again (1 John 2:28)?

11. THE COMPANION TEST. Can I invite Christ to go with me and participate with me in this (Matthew 28:20b, Colossians 3:17)?

12. THE PEACE TEST. After having prayed about it, do I have perfect peace about doing it (Colossians 3:15, Philippians 4:6-7)?

Pursue harmony and be helpful. In every conversation you have this week purposely say at least one encouraging word to the person you are speaking with.

Don’t demolish those you disagree with. Is there any one you’ve demolished lately? If so, ask for forgiveness and work at restoring your ruptured relationships.

Keep your convictions quiet. When faced with an opportunity this week to express your opinion on something that is disputable, no matter how worked up you get, take a breath and say nothing. Or you could say under your breath, “Not wrong, just different.” Don’t say, “Not wrong, just stupid.”

When in doubt, throw it out. Think of a way in which you’ve compromised your conscience in your beliefs or behavior and ask God for the strength to discontinue that attitude or activity.

A father was trying to read a magazine but was bothered by his daughter who kept asking him what the United States looked like. On the back of his magazine he found a map of the country and so he tore it up into real small pieces and told her to go in the other room and put it together. He thought this would keep her busy for a long time so he could finish reading his magazine. In less than five minutes, his daughter was back with the map completely put together. He was surprised and asked her how she did it. She replied, “It was easy. On the other side of the paper is a picture of Jesus. When I got Jesus back where He belonged, then our country just came together.”

As we put Jesus where He belongs in our life, our family, our community, our church, and our world, we will come together as well. Let me close with this as I pray it into my life and yours, 2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”

Something New!

Isaiah 43

19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

We are surrounded on every side by trouble, tragedy, misfortune, heartache, discouragement; consumption, decline, loss destruction, decay; ruin, devastation, spoliation, desolation; refuse, rubbish, trash, garbage – DESERTS!

Deserts fill our world, stalk our streets and sting our spirit. Decay pollutes our air, poisons our water. Deserts kill our joy, dash our hopes and snatch our loved one away prematurely. We are surrounded on every side by desolation, ruin, waste and destruction!

On every side we are surrounded by the Cries of the People of God in these Deserts. 500,000,000 people hungry; 1 billion people in extreme poverty; 40 million dying every day from malnutrition; billions of people with no access to medical care. Millions addicted to drugs and alcohol; millions suffering the agony of neglect and abuse. People are Sighing and Crying and Dying in this Desert! Their hopes dismantled; their dreams destroyed; their prospects all but perished! Deserts have come their way just like they have come our way!

Robert Frost wrote:
“I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.”
Yes, each one us have our “own desert places.” Deserts leave no stone unturned, no body untainted, no life untouched and no heart unbroken. Even the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world as the perfect specimen of the human family, thru His life demonstrates for us what it means to be a true child of God. But even He wasn’t above this Desert-Experience; for He was stabbed by suffering, stung by pain, startled by disappointment and stalked by death. And taking His place, casting His lot with us in our desperate situation, the Desert claimed the Son of God, straggled the life out of Him, signed the requisition for His disposition, sealed the order for His termination, and delivered Him into a cool, chilly, waiting grave!

It seemed like all was lost; it seemed like all was done; it seemed like the Fat Lady could now sing; it looked like the curtain had fallen on the Light of the world; it looked like Life had met death and death had won. But before you take out your pencil and write a Period thinking that’s the end of the story, I think I need to tell you that God Erased that Period and wrote an Everlasting Comma!

So we can rejoice today; we can shout today; we can celebrate today; we can give thanks today because GOD IS DOING A NEW THING! And neither disappointment, heartache, trouble deserts nor death could claim Jesus Christ.

And therefore, the Lord thru the lips of Isaiah, viewing from afar the Resurrection Event, declares in tones bright and clear “I will even make rivers in the desert.”

And that “Rivers in the Desert” Thing, that “Streams in the Wasteland” Phenomenon is significant and relevant to our present situation and circumstance; because many of us are now standing in some Desert of Seeming Finality and we have written a Period!

For some of us, that Desert is a Person or Group of People who are utterly Useless, Unprofitable – Just Waste, Garbage. Their lives are Ruined or Wrecked by some past sin. Their Minds desolate of any good thought; their hearts void of any kindness; their body destroyed by pleasure; and so, we have written them off and Thrown Them Away!

To others, your Desert is a Disease or Sickness that has Devastated your Body and left you unable to function as you used to do. And so, you have written yourself off as Useless and Hopeless. To others, your Desert is a Desert of Depleted Finances and Resources; there is no Well on earth to which you can turn for relief and help. All you can visualize in the future is poverty, pain and suffering; and so you have consigned yourself to the poor-house for the rest of your natural life. To others, your Desert is a seemingly devastated and destroyed love-relationship in which there seems to be no hope of recovery. The thrill has gone and Stella is no wondering will she ever get her groove back? And so, you have decided to put up with the hopeless of the situation and grin and bear until; you see your change in the future.

But I have been moved to tell you that before you close the chapter on what you think is Ruined, Wasted, Destroyed and Beyond Recovery, to LOOK AGAIN IN THE DESERT! For I believe that if you would look again, with eyes of faith, into Your Desert you would discover that GOD IS DOING A NEW THING!

After having examined the Hebrew Text, I discovered that the verb translated as “Make” here really means “To Turn Something into Something Else.” So the Lord is not saying that He will make rivers in the desert, but that He will turn the desert into rivers. HE WILL TRANSFORM IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE!!!

THE MORE DESOLATE YOUR DESERT IS, THE MORE GOD WILL DO; FOR GOD OPERATES ON THE BASIS OF NEED.

If God is to do More, there must be a Greater Desert.

Perhaps, you and I have never developed a Need for Deserts in our lives. We love Plenty, Plushness, to have More Than Enough. We simply do not like to be in need; we don’t like Desert-Places. But if God is to do more in our life to His glory, we must allow Him to create More Needs in our life [More Deserts] to which He can be the Total Supply.

We will not trust God without Need. If there are no problems, deserts, needs, then there would be no cause for you and I to be dependent on God as the Supply in every situation. GOD WILL SUPPLY THE TOTAL FULFILLMENT TO EVERY NEED HE ALLOWS!!!

It Is Wrong to Reject The Desert. Because the Desert is precisely what triggers the Divine Supply of Rivers. The life of victory is lived right in the midst of Deserts! It is our Weakness in Warfare that calls God’s Power into the Battle. It is the Desert that Releases the Rivers!

DESERTS ARE A NECESSITY! WE MUST HAVE DESERTS. The Desert is what calls God into our affairs.

Your desert doesn’t necessarily have to be on your own making. It could have been caused by someone else, or some circumstance that happened long before you arrived on the scene. Some of us are in the Desert because of someone else’s sin. You have inherited a
debt which you did not make; a fractured relationship which you did not cause; a problem which you did not create. Others of us are in Deserts of our own making. Bad Decision-Making. Wasted Lives. Ruined Relationships. Wasted Finances.

But in either case, the Good News from the Lord is that He is the God of Second Chances. HE IS GOING TO TRANSFORM THAT DESERT INTO DELIGHT!

THERE ARE ATLEAST THREE IMPLICATIONS OF GOD TURNING DESERTS INTO RIVERS.

1. The First Implication of Turning Deserts Into Rivers is that of RENEWAL. To Renew is to Bring something back to its Former State or Condition.
A) Wasted Life
B) Ruined Relationship
C) Depleted Finances
RENEWAL!!!

2. The Second Implication of Turning Deserts Into Rivers is that of REVIVAL. To Revive is to restore or put back what has been depleted or used.
A) Sagging Spirit
B) Backsliding Believer
C) A Weary Church

3. The Third Implication of Turning the Wasteland Into Streams is that of REJOICING.

DON’T TRASH IT, REJOICE!

DON’T THROW HIM/HER AWAY, REJOICE!

DON’T WRITE A PERIOD. WRITE A COMMA AND REJOICE!!!

Some people don’t praise the Lord simply because they just don’t know how to. Or at least they think that they don’t know how to. Take a lesson in praise from the sport fan.

When your team dunks the ball, crosses the goal line, hit’s a home run or score a point; nobody has to tell you how to respond. You just shout.

Well, when it comes to the Lord, He is always scoring points on your behalf. I don’t know about you, but I have been in many situations in the game of life where there were 2 men out, the last half of the 9th inning, with no balls and 2 strikes; and the Lord hit a Homer just for me. Don’t you know when that happens don’t nobody have to give me shouting instructions.

Its alright to shout in your Guccis, your Ann Kleins, your Stacy’s, your Flosheim’s, your Nun Bush. And even if you don’t wear any shouting shoes, Shout bare-footed.

You ought to just praise the Name of God. So many blessings we take for granted that we ought to praise the Lord for.

THE LORD IS IN THE BUSINESS OF TRANSFORMATION!

LET HIM TRANSFORM YOUR DESERT INTO DELIGHT.

HE HAS WATER TO POUR ON THIRSTY SOULS.

LET HIM TRANSFORMS YOUR DESERT!!!!!

For certainly GOD IS ABLE!!!
The blind person needs to know that God Is Able; for he/she needs the assurance that there is Someone to watch over them.

The deaf person needs to know that God Is Able; for he/she recognizes that Someone has to hear and respond to the cry of the needy.

The alcoholic needs to know that God Is Able; for every sip of every drink is a search to be warmed and filled by the Holy Spirit in their life instead of being warmed and filled by a distilled spirit.

The homeless person needs to know that God Is Able; because he/she is searching for that shelter that protects from the storm, that food when he/she is hungry, that drink when he/she is thirsty.

The crack addict needs to know that God Is Able; for every time he/she takes a lighter, puts it to the pipe and inhales, they are hoping for God to enter their life and provide them with joy unspeakable and hope that flows like a river instead of the sting of a slow, painful death. A crack addict I once knew came into my office wanting to go into rehab for his crack habit. He knew there was a God and believed in Him, but he could not touch or see God; the pipe was a substitution.

Look at your own situation. Look at some of the things you faced during this past week. Look at some of the situations that are constantly in your life.

“When I get in trouble, Is God Able? When my back is up against the wall, when all hope is gone, Is God Able?

I can answer today in the affirmative: YES, GOD IS ABLE!

If God was able to speak and the worlds began to twirl and spin on its axis;
If God was able to place the stars and planets in exact order around the sun;
If God was able to fashion man in His own image;
If God was able to take a rib and make a woman;
If God was able to number the hairs on every head that
ever walked the face of the earth since time began;
If God was able to walk on water and say ‘Peace, be still’;

THEN GOD IS ABLE TO TURN THE DESERT INTO RIVERS!!!

HE IS ABLE TO MAKE YOUR WILDERNESS WAY MANAGEABLE.

HE IS ABLE TO TRANSFORM YOUR ENVIRONMENT!

Sex….God…I really messed up!

A study estimates that the average person views over 9,000 sex acts, or implied sex acts, every year on television. Of that, over 80% is by people who aren’t married. Average kid, watching television, from age 8-18 (ten years) watched 93,000 scenes of sex, over 72,000 of these scenes would have been premarital or extramarital affairs. Guess what happened. Teenage pregnancies have skyrocketed. So the government said, “Hey we better start passing out condoms at school.” Did it stop the pregnancies? No, Pregnancies have increased 400%. 70% of unwed teen mothers will go on welfare. Of teens who marry because of pregnancy,

60% will be divorced in five years. 2/3 of teenage pregnancies are fathered by men over 20.

–But that’s teenagers. Adults make wiser choices, right? Yeah, right. 12 million Americans become infected with Sexually transmitted diseases every year. There are more adult bookstores in America than McDonalds restaurants. Pornography is an 8 billion dollar/year business.

Someone wrote once that “Sex is like a great river that is rich and deep and good as long as it stays within its proper channel. The moment a river overflows its banks, it becomes destructive, and the moment sex overflows its God-given banks, it too becomes destructive.”

Sex is more than just a physical act. It’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Problem with topless bars, pornography, and sexual advertisements, is not that they emphasize sex too much, but that they don’t emphasize it enough. They totally eliminate the depth of human relationship and restrain sexuality to the narrow confines of momentary pleasure. They think genital sex alone defines sex, but that is only a small part of God’s beautiful design. They have trivialized sex as a shallow “get high” drug, useful only until the next hit.

The bible is not squeamish about sexuality. God boldly created it in the beginning and called it good. Song of Solomon celebrates sex as a voluptuous adventure.

Song 8:6 “Put me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm…”

Paul the apostle, in his letter to the Corinthians writes “The husband should give his wife all that he owes her as his wife. And the wife should give her husband all that she owes him as her husband. The wife does not have full rights over her own body; her husband shares them. And the husband does not have full rights over his own body; his wife shares them. Do not refuse to give your bodies to each other, unless you both agree to stay away from sexual relations for a time so that you can give your time to prayer. Them come together again so Satan cannot tempt you because of a lack of self-control.” (I Cor 7:3-5).–Husbands do not own wives. Wives don’t own the husbands. But neither do they have total ownership of their bodies.

Major difference between sex in our culture, and God’s original blueprint for sex, is that God’s design has a much deeper level of intimacy and commitment.

The University of Northern Iowa once offered a general art course that included a most unusual exercise. The teacher brought to class a shopping bag filled with lemons and gave a lemon to each class member. The assignment was for the student to keep his lemon with him day and night–smelling, handling, examining it. Next class period, without warning, students were told to put their lemons back in the bag. Then each was asked to find his lemon. Surprisingly, most did so without difficulty.

It touches deep into the spirit of each person and produces a union between two people. Something called the “one flesh”. Gen 2:24 “they leave, and cling, and become one flesh.” Jesus said, “So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man pull apart” (Matt 19:6). Obviously there was a merger, a unity. I Corinthians 6:16 “Don’t you know that he who joins himself with a prostitute becomes one flesh with her?”

That’s why sexual sins are different than most others…It’s the one-flesh that happens.

I Corinthians 6:18-20 “Flee from sexual immorality…All other sins a man commits…”

That’s why the bible says to wait for marriage to have sex. It’s not just a safeguard against venereal disease, or unwanted pregnancy. Tina Turner “What’s Love Got to do, got to do with it.” God’s word says, commitment and love have everything to do with it. Two lives become one.

God looks at sex differently than our culture does.

Our culture doesn’t consider people married until they go down to the courthouse and get the documents, then see a justice of the peace or a licensed minister and say “I do.” God sees it a little differently.

Jesus, John 4:16-18. Samaritan woman. She ran around.

God considers people married if they sleep together, even if they don’t have the papers. If a couple slept together and didn’t follow through with a marriage covenant–they were killed with stones. If a young man sleeps with a young woman and didn’t intend to immediately follow it up with the marriage ceremony, he has disgraced her and her family…her relatives would seek out the young man to kill him.

Research shows that couples who are having sex and living together before marriage will divorce 25% more often. Facts of life. No bible needed. Why? Guys will lie to women about commitment and love and women will believe it. A study at a Midwestern college showed that 80% of the women who had intercourse hoped to marry their partner. Only 12% of the men had the same expectation.

If you or someone you know are sleeping together with only a verbal commitment, God’s word would tell you, “Follow that up immediately with the marriage covenant, or go and sin no more–get out of it right away.” Build your relationship on solid ground…not just shacking up for convenience sake…

USA Today even had a front section article about how cohabitation leads to a lower level of commitment, happiness, and satisfaction among partners…to enjoy better sex as God designed…get married or save yourself for one who will totally commit his/her life to you.

The bible may sound old-fashioned, but it’s backed by the best results. The proof is in the pudding. God, the designer and creator of sex, knows how to give us instructions in this area…

Madonna explained years ago that she intended her daughter, Lourdes, to read the Bible. Even though she might not have a daddy in the house, she would have a Bible. Madonna’s said “I want my daughter to read the Bible, but I will explain to her that these are stories that people made up to teach people — it’s not the rule.” Yet little Lourdes will one day come across God’s word about sex, and her mother’s words and lifestyle regarding sex. She’ll have to choose. If she chooses to follow God’s word concerning sex, she’ll see that it maximizes commitment, sex, love, intimacy, and enjoyment.

When it says…

“Do not be deceived: The sexually immoral, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.”I Cor 6:9-10.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” Heb 13:4.

…it’s setting solid boundaries to protect relationships.

When it says

“Be faithful to your own wife, just as you drink water from your own spring…don’t be held captive by a woman who takes part in adultery. Don’t hug another man’s wife” (Proverbs 5).

…it’s not making laws to make us unhappy, but to enhance our relationships.

“Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Eph 5:3.

You will be a minority if you hold to God’s ideal in sex.

“Enter the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to destruction, and many will enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to eternal life. Only a few people will find that road.” Matthew 7:12-14

If we continue to hold onto a distorted, twisted view of sex–popular with our culture, we can literally destroy people’s lives.

Norma Jean Mortenson. Remember that name? Norma Jean’s mother, Mrs. Gladys Baker, was periodically committed to a mental institution and Norma Jean spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel.

He said, ’Here, Honey. Take this and don’t ever tell anyone what I did to you.’ When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened she was beaten badly. She was told, ’Our boarder pays good rent. Don’t you ever say anything bad about him!’ Norma Jean at the age of eight had learned what it was to be used and given a nickel and beaten for trying to express the hurt that was in her. “Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would notice she was a person too–not just a body–or a pretty face–but a person.

Then Norma Jean went to Hollywood and took a new name–Marilyn Monroe and the publicity people told her, ’We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you.’ And this was her reaction, ’A symbol? Aren’t symbols things people hit together?’ They said, ’Honey, it doesn’t matter, because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid.’

“She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking,

’Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?’

Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles. “Everyone hated Marilyn Monroe. Everyone did.

“She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn’t know was that she was in her dressing room vomiting because she was so terrified.

“She kept saying, ’Will someone please notice I am a person. Please.’ They didn’t notice. They wouldn’t take her seriously. “She went through three marriages–always pleading, ’Take me seriously as a person.’ Everyone kept saying, ’But you are a sex symbol. You can’t be other than that.’ “Marilyn kept saying ’I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress.’ “And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35 when all beautiful women are supposed to be on the arm of a handsome escort, Marilyn Monroe took her own life. She killed herself. “When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her.

Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. “He answered with the famous line of Rhett Butler,  ’Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!’ That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone–left it dangling. “Claire Booth Luce in a very sensitive article asked, ’What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?’ She said she thought the dangling telephone was the symbol of Marilyn Monroe’s whole life. She died because she never got through to anyone who understood.

Have you messed up sexually? If you have don’t give up. The bible has hope. It says that even if you’ve constantly lived in opposition to God’s ideal for you, you can begin again. You can start over. You can be a virgin again.

No way, you say…Yes way.

1. I John 1:9 “Confess sins. Forgive and cleanse…”

2. Guard your thought life. “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

3. Maintain proper boundaries.

“…so be careful. If you are thinking, ’Oh I would never behave like that,’ let this be a warning to you. For you too may full into sin.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 (LB)

a. Don’t be alone with the opposite sex.

b. Monitor things that come into your mind.

c. Don’t discuss problems about your marriage with the opposite sex.

d. Don’t flirt-joke inappropriately-put down your marriage.

4. Take your vows seriously. Be a promise keeper.

5. Remember that God’s ideal for you–if you live to his principles is to have no shame. “And the man and woman were both naked and were not ashamed.”

6. Make a commitment to live according to Gods blueprint for your life, not just in sex, but in all areas.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” Psalm 119:9