August 18, 2018 – Be Wise About What is Good- Romans 16:17-20

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Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.

 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:9-14 (ESV)

 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:17-20 (ESV)

Unfortunately human history is a timeline filled with fallen, fallible people getting it wrong. Dogs bark because that’s what dogs do. Cats meow because that’s what cats do. People sin because people are sinners. It’s what we do.

No sooner than Moses had turned his back and returned to Mount Sinai to hear from God after he came to the people of Israel with the tablets of the Law, the people turned away from God and bowed down to a golden calf they had made. (Exodus 32)

We have been given all kinds of warnings against breaking God’s Law, but we still do it. We can’t help ourselves.

Even David, who wrote Psalm 34, wasn’t able to do as he instructed, and David was a man after God’s own heart.

Christians are no exception to the sinner rule. While we are also saints because of the offense of the Cross- that Jesus died for our sins and took the punishment we deserve- our sinful nature is evident in everything we do and that we don’t do.

The apostle Paul warns the people in Rome about believing bad teaching and wrong ideas just as he warns the Galatians and the Corinthians. There are people who teach doctrines that are contrary to what we learn in the Bible, and often these are teachings that lead people either to serving their own interests (prosperity “gospel”) or to lining the pockets of their “teachers.”  Sometimes bad teaching can be made to sound logical or good, but it does not point us to Jesus. We are warned because there are many things in the world that can lead us away from the truth.

There is no such thing as a perfect church. We are at best a collection of fallible and imperfect sinners.  If we rely on any one particular person or doctrine, we are going to encounter errors.  There will be disagreements and conflicts. We are not going to “do it right.”

God has given us holy Scripture so that we can hear and read His Word and know the truth. The more that we read, study, know and talk about the Bible the better equipped we are to see what is the real deal and what isn’t.

We are called to discernment- to test the spirits-  and to hold on to the good news of Jesus, as the apostle John teaches us:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”- 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

We are called to ask questions and to find answers.  We can do this knowing that even though we are never going to get it right in this world, we have the written Scripture God has given us. We have each other, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are invited to confess our sins, to be forgiven, and to live in the sweet assurance that in our baptism we have been named, we have been claimed and we belong to God because Jesus died for us.

April 24, 2017- Unless I See For Myself- John 20:24-29

Doubting_Thomas

But Thomas (who was called the Twin) one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:24-25 (NRSV)

“Doubting Thomas” gets a bad rap.  After all, he wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to the rest of the apostles in the Upper Room.  Maybe Thomas thought the rest of the guys were playing a joke on him, or maybe he thought they had some sort of mass delusion, and they were claiming to have seen Jesus arisen because they wanted to see Jesus alive again so badly.

I understand Thomas wanting to see Jesus alive for himself, and to really know the truth. As a rational and analytic type, it is really hard for me to take anything on faith unless I see it, touch it, and have something tangible to convince me it’s real. I understand the value of taking the pragmatic, realistic approach to the world around me.

Jesus did not expect people to follow Him mindlessly.  As followers of Jesus we are instructed to test the spirits, (1 John 4:1-2) and to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).  Faith in false things is worthless.  All the belief in the world, if it is put into a lie, doesn’t make the lie true.  We only need to observe the actions taken in the names of the false religions and twisted cults of this world to see the damage that believing in a lie can do.  When Jesus spoke of teachers and leaders and movements, and of those claiming to be believers, He said, “You will know them by their fruits.”  (Matthew 7:16-20) He didn’t tell us to just jump on the bandwagon.

This being said, there is a fine line between being so cynical that there is no room for wonder or mystery or faith, and being open to everything that is said without any sort of filter or discretion being applied.

The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of wisdom and discretion if we only ask for them. But Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first revealed the Holy Spirit to the other disciples, so how was Thomas supposed to know?  He took the logical route, and given the options he could clearly see, that was not a bad thing to do.

We come to places in our lives as well where all we can do is come to faith like Thomas- only through what we can see and touch and experience for ourselves. It is a harder road than to simply be able to have the faith to follow those before us, but the lesson sticks harder as well.

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas, because Thomas came to Him the only way he knew how. There is no shame in needing hard evidence to believe, but Jesus also said to Thomas, ”Blessed are those who don’t see but still believe.” (John 20:29)

It is a blessing to be able to learn from the testimony of others. It is important for us to share our testimony so others may be blessed by it. Our stories can strengthen others’ faith, and if we ask, the Holy Spirit will help us find the courage to share them.  Sharing our stories may save another person the pain of having to have to go to the school of hard knocks to learn what our experience may teach him or her.

Lord, if we have to share in Your suffering, and walk in Your shoes, and feel Your scars, in order to believe in You and to walk in Your way, let it be so. Let us listen to the Holy Spirit so that we will have the discretion to test the spirits and reject what is false, but also the faith to trust Him to open our hearts to those things that are of You and therefore true. Make our love ever stronger and our faith ever deeper, so that we may believe You even when we can’t see.