During the “Ask The Pastor” meetings on Wednesday nights at the church I serve, many questions come up that I don’t have the time or equipment to be able to give a full answer to. I believe there are many who have similar concerns and questions, so for a little while I’m going to use this forum to share a few resources to dig deeper into these important topics.
Jehovah’s Witnesses come up in conversation more times than one might think. I guess that it’s because there are many people who know JW’s and there don’t seem to be many obvious differences between their faith and ours. Many JW’s are nice people, talk about Jesus, share their faith, and care about their families… just like Christians. So what are the differences? Are they just a different kind of Christian?
The short answer is simply this: No, they are not Christian. When you look deeper into their beliefs, theology, and religious practices, there are some very important and striking differences that cause the evangelical community to purposefully separate themselves from the JW’s and call them a cult. That may seem harsh, but if you check out the links below, you’ll understand why.
Important Note: I’m not giving this to you so you can bible-thump the JW’s that come to your door, but for the strengthening of your own faith, and to equip you to address the differences with clarity, grace and love.
John Ankerberg has been helping Christians understand other religions for a long time and has some helpful links:
– Facts Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t tell you when calling at your door [Some of these seem pretty far fetched at first — like them believing that the cross is a pagan sex symbol or that Jesus is the Archangel Michael— but I checked some of them out (not all) on the Jehovah’s Witnesses own website, and they were confirmed! Their records only go back to 2000, so some of the older stuff wasn’t there.]
During the “Ask The Pastor” meetings on Wednesday nights at the church I serve, many questions come up that I don’t have the time or equipment to be able to give a full answer to. I believe there are many who have similar concerns and questions, so for a little while I’m going to use this forum to share a few resources to dig deeper into these important topics.
Many people have been affected by today’s topic — suicide. I’ve known friends and family who have attempted or even committed suicide. I’ve presided over a funeral service for a man who had killed himself. I know how deeply emotional and confusing this topic can be — even doing the research for these links broke my heart — so I hope these links will help your mind be at rest, and expand your faith in the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Important Note: If you are contemplating suicide, or are looking here for a way to be able to commit suicide but still go to heaven, then please seek help. Call your pastor, a Christian friend, or click here to find a place to go for help.
A Christian View of Suicide
There’s some confusion among Christians regarding male Eldership and the role of women in the church. This is a concern to me because it can easily become a divisive topic if it’s not clearly communicated and carefully (and humbly) studied. I want everyone to understand what God says about the different roles of men and women in the family, the church, and society in general, so I’ve done some research to point you to the clearest, most concise, biblical teaching I can.
Here’s my own sermon on the topic: “Women In the Church (From “They Like Jesus but Not The Church” Series)
– Why Can’t Women be Elders? (by Bill Kynes)
– Complimentari-What? (by Justin Holcomb)
– Should Women Become Pastors? (by John Piper)
The Qualifications of Elders and Deacons (by Matt Perman)
– I’m a Complementarian But… (by Thabiti Anyawbwile)
Why Do the New Calvinists Insist On Complimentarianism? (by Kevin DeYoung)
I wrote a book a while back called “Letters from Jesus: A Study of the Seven Churches of Revelation“, and it’s FREE on Google Books to read and download as PDF. It’s all about how Jesus speaks to us in unique and special ways to encourage, correct, challenge and train us.
The book won an “Award of Merit” from The Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards in 2009. I learned so much writing this book, and hope you will come check it out. I would love some reviews too, if you are so inclined. :-)
If you would like an actual, paper copy, the last few are on sale at Salem Storehouse in Ottawa, ON for $8.
From the Back Cover:
Pastor Allan Descheneau invites the reader to “walk along with the letter carrier of the Roman Road” as he takes them on an exhilarating journey in his book Letters from Jesus. Well organized and simple to understand, Pastor Allan reveals Jesus’ hopes for His church and their need for repentance, grace, encouragement, and a revitalized relationship with Him. Although these letters were delivered to specific churches almost two thousand years ago, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Allan is able to draw out the many truths for us today. Just as Ephesus struggled to make love a priority, Smyrna faced persecution, Pergamum endured the flank attacks of Satan, and Thyatira compromised its morality, so do many Christians and congregations struggle with these same issues today. Above all, Letters from Jesus invites the reader to ask, “What would Jesus’ letter be to me?”
Oh toothpaste, how you have let me down! You promise so many things! In your TV commercials you tell me that no person can respect, love or enjoy the company of someone without shiny, white teeth. You tell me that the reason that I’m not successful in life is because my choppers are too dull. You say that if my bicuspids were whiter, I’d smile more often, be more popular and have a more positive attitude towards life.
And it’s not just the positive hopes that have imprisoned me in your diabolical trap, but also the fearsome negatives… those scary promises that you and your cohorts with the drills have pounded into my brain since the days of my youth. My enamel will never, EVER grow back! Drinking pop or coffee may as well be drinking battery acid! If I forget to brush before I sleep, when I wake, after I eat, or snack, or chew too much… I could contract all sorts of terrible, fatal diseases like tartar buildup, halitosis, bleeding gums, heart disease, arthritis, or even cancer!!!
“BUT NEVER FEAR!”, you say, “I, TOOTHPASTE, will make it all better!”
And I try to follow your ways! I try to keep up with this maniacally strict regimen of brush-rinse-floss-rinse-pick-swirl-massage-rinse-repeat, but FORGIVE ME TOOTHPASTE for I have sinned — it has been 12 hours since my last brushing! Cleanse me of my filmy iniquity, wash me from the foul odor of last night’s garlic pizza.
I live in a world which is more concerned with my dental color and oral freshness than my talents, skills or personality qualities — so I need you. I need you to make me right with the world. I need you because there’s an outside chance that my wife and children may knock me out and leave me for dead on the side of the road if I wake up with dragon-breath one more time…
But alas, and to the shame of my family and kin, I have been using an older brand of toothpaste; one not fit for today’s diabolical dental attacks. And so I have given my offering unto another, better, NEWER toothpaste! It’s got baking soda. It’s got peroxide. It’s got ultra-foaming-action. It whitens, brightens, lightens, heightens and frightens plaque away.
And I brush. Two times a day I brush. Yea, verily, three times daily do I brush. Surely the wondrous technology captured within the chemicals of this intoxicatingly minty-mixture will overcome my shortfalls. Surely this seven dollar tube of menthol flavored miracle juice will make my life better. Surely the science behind this cool-blue gel will finally bring me everything I’ve ever wanted: success, fame, fortune, the adulation of an adoring public, respect, a secure home, a blissful, pain-free existence! Surely this is the missing link, the key to everything that I’ve ever hoped for!
But alas no. It has been two months now and I have no more fortune, success or adulation than I did before. And so I have turned my wrath unto the giver of the great promises… my toothpaste. I am angry with my toothpaste. It has let me down.
But I saw a commercial last night for something called “botox” and those people were pretty happy… hmm…
Matthew 6:19-34, John 15:5-8 are key verses to read and know if we are to understand life as a Christian. They are encouraging, reassuring and powerful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read them or referenced them in sermons. Life with Jesus is meant to be a life where our worries are minimized, our joy is maximized, and where we effective and joyful and “bear much fruit”. So how come most of us feel the exact opposite of that?
We love to quote the words of Jesus in John 10:10 to each other,
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Really? Some of us say “my life is full”… but it ain’t full of the things that Jesus was promising. It’s full of problems, frustrating situations, difficult people, money issues, time crunches and fatigue — full to the brim with problems.
Romans 8:31-32 says
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
If God was so loving and gracious to send His Son to die for us, and is willing to forgive our sins through His blood… then He’s already proven that there is no limit to what He will do for us out of His love.
So how come our life doesn’t look like that? Why does our existence, at times, seem so meagre?
The Apostle Paul had to deal with this paradox all the time. How did he reconcile his knowledge of the love of God and the painful life he was living? A few verses later, in Romans 8:35-36, he says,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.””
First he tells us of his unshakeable faith in the love and protection of God, and then proceeds to tell us about his life… trouble, famine, nakedness, danger, swords, and death all day long. Was he crazy? How can “if God is for us, who can be against us” be in the same breath as “we face death all day long”? Do those things really go together in this “abundant”, “fruitful” Christian life we’re supposed to have?
His answer to this conundrum comes in verse 37,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
“Conquerers”? That doesn’t sound like the life of a conqueror! But there’s a very important word stuck in the middle there. A naughty little word that we don’t want to hear, but is in there anyway. The word “in”. “In all these things…”. Check out what John Piper says about this section:
“What I think “more than conquerors” means for your happiness is that a conqueror has his enemies lying subdued at his feet. You’ve got distress, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, persecution, and there they are, conquered at my feet. ‘More than conquerors’ means they’re not just at my feet. They are serving me. They’re not just in chained in prison. They are serving me. My persecution, my famine, my nakedness, my loss—as painful and as tearful as they are—are my servants. God works them all together for my good.
Now, that good that he works in and through them is the foundation of my happiness. It isn’t the circumstance. There’s plenty of tears. Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Paul says, “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”… So yes, God wants you happy. But he doesn’t do it with circumstance. He does it with himself. He does it with the gospel. And he does it in and through circumstances.”
That’s how to untie this knot. That’s the balance. Therein lies our hope and our perseverance.
Tomorrow I want to show you a picture of how I believe this works. It took me about 3 months to develop this picture, and I’m not saying it’s perfect (it’s more likely that I’m just slow), but it really helps me to remember how life works, and how to keep my priorities straight. I call it “Minding my buckets” and it has everything to do with being happy with God… not with circumstance, but being happy and filled with God himself. Seeking first His kingdom, and his righteousness, and having everything else come after. Connecting to the Vine who is Jesus, trusting the Gardener who is God, and living a life that abides in the source of our life.
Check it out tomorrow.
I recently began a sermon series called Plug In: The Spiritual Disciplines, where I plan on going through 10 weeks of study on different ways we can meet God, know more about Him, understand our faith, and grow closer to Jesus. This was given as the first sermon in the series. I realized after the service that it was too much to take in all at once (especially after a few people came up to me, breathing heavily, and told me so!). Many people requested a copy, so what I’m going to do over the next few days is chop it up into more bite size pieces so folks can review it and, hopefully, learn more.
What is Bible Study?
I came up with my own definition that we can take apart.
Bible Study is “making the choice, under God’s direction, to methodologically spend time, energy and concentration to better understand God’s Word.”
“Making the choice”
Getting to know the bible better is a choice. Anything we do that is challenging requires us to make a choice. It does not happen merely by chance, or by osmosis. Sitting through sermon after sermon, and going to various groups does not make you a student of the bible. You need to make the choice to engage your mind, heart and hands in the process. One must say, “I see value in knowing the scriptures, and therefore I choose to invest my time and energy into studying them.”
“Under God’s direction”
We cannot really understand the bible without God’s help. Yes, we can learn about the people and places the bible speaks about, but we cannot truly be impacted by the full worth of God’s Word unless He works within us to help us understand it. It is His letter to us, and when He is not involved in the reading of it, it becomes stale and fruitless. If we don’t come to God before we study it, the bible will be foolishness to our ears, and produce nothing but guilt, showing us all the ways we don’t measure up. But if we seek God when we come to His world, then inside of it we will not only find conviction, but also wisdom and freedom.
Like any other study, Bible study requires a plan. This is a huge stumbling block to some people. They don’t like being told what to do, or that they need someone else to teach them about the bible, so they try to make it up all by themselves. But we need a guide to help us, a plan to complete the task, and a system by which we gather the knowledge. If we come to the bible without techniques and tools, then we cannot say we are studying it, any more than a scientist can say they are studying something if they have no equipment, system, process, reports, or methodology.
“Time, Energy and Concentration”
Bible study will take your time. This is probably the greatest expense to us, because our time is very valuable. It seems that we would much rather spend any other resource we have than time. Bible study will also take energy. It’s not something we can do very well when we are tired at the end of the day, but it will require some dedicated energy. And it will require concentration. We have to choose… there’s that word again… to put our concentration into the study. Anyone who has ever taken a class knows that you can sit through class, take notes, and even do the assignments, and not learn a thing because you’re just going through the motions to get the grade! To get anything out of bible study you will be required to concentrate and invest.
“to better understand God’s Word.”
Our goal is to understand it, not to read into it, manipulate it or use it for our own purpose. This is the Word of God that He has given to us. Our agenda is to have God speak to us through it, and to bring us to an understanding of what God has said, and is saying, through it.
“Why is Bible Study important?”
People see the bible in different ways. Some see it as an emotional antacid that you read only when your life has your stomach tied in knots. As a sleeping pill that you read to cure insomnia. Or, as an insurance policy where you may not have read the fine print but are hoping that by owning one you can get some help in the event of trouble. Some see it as a holy book reserved for monks and gurus. Or, as a story book filled with fables and fairytales. Some perhaps see the Bible as ancient wisdom literature pertinent to a bygone culture, but not relevant for today.
What is your view of the bible? Write down on your sheet… “The Bible is…what?” Now let’s ask a second question: How do you treat the bible? Do you treat the bible in the same way that you view it? Does your use of the Bible… how much time you spend in it, the effort you make to understand it, and the authority level you give the words… correspond to your view of it?
Why is it important that we know this book, and become a people grounded in this book? The answer is because this book contains the very words of God, given through human agents, to all of humanity, to guide us in this world, and ultimately lead us to salvation from hell and into eternal life. If you believe that, then you need to study it that way. It’s a very important book. Now, if you don’t believe that, then you should study this book and determine for yourself whether these claims are true or not. It’s still a very important book.
I came up with 5 reasons why Christians need to study the bible, but I’m sure that there are many more.
First, without bible study we soon forget God’s promises.
If we are not in the word regularly, we can forget what God has done for us, and is doing through us. We can get bitter, afraid, confused, or prideful if we are not reminding ourselves of the presence and promises of God regularly. We need these kind of reminders often. And it’s amazing how when we are going through a devotional guide, or a bible study, how often God will use the content to remind us of His goodness, greatness, love for us, and tell us what we need to hear that day.
Second, we become an easy target for the devil’s schemes.
When the banks, or tellers, or the RCMP study counterfeit money, they don’t spend time memorizing all the ways that a 20 dollar bill can be counterfeited, they spend their time memorizing what the real thinglooks like. That way anything that differs from the authentic note, must be a counterfeit.
Think of the Garden of Eden. What was Satan’s opening line there? The first line he ever spoke to humanity in Genesis 3:1 “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” He challenged God’s word. And Eve fell for the trap of dialoguing with Him. Then she modifies what God says, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” She changes the word of God ever so slightly…
And then Satan says, “You will not surely die… For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.””
The whole conversation was based on God’s word. Can you trust God’s word? What did God really say? Can God’s word be modified for this situation? When Jesus was facing the same temptations in the desert, He didn’t even speak His own words, or dialogue with the tempter at all. He merely quoted the truth of the bible and shut down the conversation. Most of us don’t know our bibles enough to shut down the conversation, and so we get drawn into the dialogue, and ultimately fall. If we don’t know our bibles… if we don’t know the truth… then we are open to being deceived.
Third, we become closed-minded.
We get stuck on one or two verses or ideas that define how we conduct our lives, our church, our families, and our friendships. Some people learn Matthew 7:1, “judge not lest ye be judged”, and never get past it. And therefore never speak to anyone about anything they are doing wrong. They never pull aside a brother or sister in Christ and tell them to get right with God.
And that’s because they’ve never gotten as far as Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The words “spur on” literally mean “irritate, provoke and incite”. Or what about Proverbs 27:17 which says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Or, Matthew15:15where Jesus says, “If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” We are commanded in scripture to figure out how we can lovingly challenge and confront one another until we are caring for each other properly and doing the right thing.
We need the whole counsel of scripture to have a greater picture of what it means to be a Christian, not just picking and choosing a few favourites that fit with what we want to believe.
Fourth, we won’t be able to, as 1 Peter3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
I’m convinced that this is a big reason why people don’t share their faith. It’s because at some point they were told the truth, and they believed it, but they never locked away that truth inside of them to share with others. They are afraid that questions will come up that they won’t have answers for, so they don’t start the conversation at all. But if we are good students of the bible, then we will have the answers to many (not all, but many) of those questions, and have more confidence when we tell the story of what Jesus has been doing in our lives, and in this world.
And fifth, without diligent study we can be led, and lead others into heresy.
The word heresy literally means, “to choose other beliefs.” It is the opposite of the word “orthodoxy” which means “same thinking”. If God’s word is a revealed word, then it was revealed for a purpose, with a meaning in mind. There is a right way to read it.
2 Peter talks about the importance of reading what the Bible says and taking meaning from it, rather than putting meaning into it. Turn to, and listen to the words of 2 Peter 1:16-18, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Peter says, “Listen, we didn’t make this stuff up. And the prophets of the Old Testament didn’t make it up either. They weren’t interpreting things the way they saw them, or putting down their own ideas. They were simply writing what God told them to write.” That’s makes the bible a very special book.
We can’t say that these people wrote and taught this stuff to be popular or to make money. Most of the people who wrote the books of the bible lived difficult lives and were brutally murdered for what they believed.
And because of this, we need to remember that when we read the bible, we are not reading opinion, but we are reading the words of God, and we let them speak to us. If we stop reading the bible, or start reading into the bible, we will begin to introduce heresies… or “other beliefs”, that can lead us and others away from the truth.
Listen to how serious God takes heresy as I continue to read 2 Peter 2:1-3, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
We need to have good bible study habits and consistent accountability or we run the risk of promoting heresy, and what we think about a subject, rather than what God thinks.
So let’s get practical.
What are some methods we can use to study the bible to make sure we get it right? We need two things: Techniques and Tools. I only have time here to talk about the techniques. I brought some tools this week for you to see later.
There are 4 basic kinds of bible study that we can do: Topical, Exegetical, Biographical, Favourites.
Topical basically means that we pick a subject like salvation, heaven, hell, joy, judgement, prophecy, love, sacrifice, or grace and we see what the bible says about that topic. We find verses about that topic, and look up those words in a concordance to see what comes up. We read topical helps that talk about that subject.
Exegetical study means that we go verse by verse through the bible. We pick a book and study it chapter by chapter, verse by verse, word by word. This is generally how I preach when I go through a book. We go verse by verse, finding the key ideas, seeking out the context, and learning what the individual words meant then, and what they mean today.
A Biographical study is the study of a person. Moses, Ruth, Nehemiah, David, Solomon, Jesus, Paul. Pick a person and read all the books, verses and topics about them. Identify with them in your own life. Read their ups and downs. Study where they lived, and what their life was like. How did they live? How did they die?
And the fourth is a junk-drawer word I’m just calling Favourites – just picking and choosing a favourite passage. This would be studying the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23 or 51, or all the definitions of love from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s mostly exegetical, and a little bit topical, and a little bit biographical.
How To Do A Bible Study
But what do you need to do? No matter what kind of study you’ve chosen, whether it’s topical, exegetical, biographical or a favourite, you’re going to come at it in the same way. Rick Warren has a great book called “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” and it has lots of different ways to go about doing a bible study. But it all boils down to three things you need to do:
Observe, Interpret, Apply.
First we Observe.
This is where we build our foundation of understanding the content. This is where we ask the “5W’s and an H” – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Here are some questions you can ask when looking and observing a passage:
1. What does it say?
What is the most obvious thing that this verse says. First impressions. Most basic, obvious observation. Let’s grab a difficult verse like John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” First impressions. Well, the NIV has the word “Word”capitalized, so it must be a proper name. And that proper name is probably a person who… wasn’t a human… but then became a human… and then lived among other humans. Ok.
2. What are some key words that I need to understand?
This requires a word study. What did the word mean back then and what does it mean today? Well, a few obvious words we need to understand are “Word”, “Flesh” and “Dwelling”. Let’s pick the word “Dwelling”. I went to www.blueletterbible.org and found the original text and learned that it is the Greek word SKENOO which means “Tabernacle” or “Tent”, and occurs 5 times in the bible. Once in John and 4 times in Revelation. I also remember that the Old Testament had a “Tabernacle”… I wonder if there’s a connection…
3. What’s the literal context?
What words are surrounding it? Who’s talking? Who is being spoken to? Well, we’d have to read the whole chapter and find out. What is the main idea that the author is trying to get across in this book, and in this paragraph, and in this sentence. And if God inspired the writing, then each word is important. Why did He choose that word, and what did that word, and sentence, and paragraph mean to the people then?
And what kind of literature is this? Knowing what kind of literature this is will help me interpret it. If you’re reading a poem, and you treat it like an encyclopaedia, you’re going to mess up the meaning. In the bible there are many kinds of literature. There are teaching sections, Legal writing, Narrative stories, Allegorical stories, Poetry and Prophecy. It’s important to figure out what kind of style you are reading before you interpret it.
4. What is the cultural context?
Where was the person when he wrote this? Who was he writing to? What were the political, social, economic, religious conditions during that time? Was there persecution? Famine? Was the author in prison like Paul? Or the leader of a country like Nehemiah? Or on the run like David? Was it being written to a church in a rich city, or a person who was a slave owner, or is this a chronicle of events to be kept in a library for reference? Cultural context is critically important for understanding the bible. What did it mean then?
My study bible says that John was a Jewish man, who wrote his book to both Jews and Gentiles. So he must have used the word “Tabernacle” to bring up something important in the minds of the Jewish and gentile readers, who understood about the tent that moved around with the people of God in the wilderness as they searched out the Promised Land.
And John uses that word to describe what Jesus did for us! The presence of God, in a fleshly tent, just like in the days of Moses.
5. What cross references apply?
Now we leave the verse we are studying and look around the bible for other verses or ideas like the one we are looking at. We always study difficult to understand verses in the light of verses that are easier to understand. If we can’t get it, then find another place in the bible that is more clear. The Bible will never contradict itself, but will always interpret itself rightly. Now, if we have learned that “the Word”, which we understand to be referring to Jesus, “became Flesh”… then does that mean that He was no longer God? Does that mean that he was sinful like other humans? We need to look at other passages to see.
- Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
- 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
Ok, now we’ve covered that part a bit. Cross references are very necessary in figuring out what’s going on, and a good study bible will help you find these cross references.
Now it’s time to Interpret.
In other words, ask the question, “What does it mean?” Based on your observation and all that you know about the context, meaning, words, cross-references, author and the rest: What did it mean then, and what does it mean now? What’s the main point God is getting across?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Is this passage teaching me doctrine? Is this passage rebuking me and telling me of a sin I have in my life, or that is in the world, that needs to be avoided and repented of? Is this verse correcting me and straightening out something that I’ve gotten wrong, or that others have gotten wrong? Or is this verse training me to do something like help someone, fix something, serve someone, or encourage someone? What does it mean?
Well, the main point of our verse seems to be that Jesus is God in the flesh, and chose to become one of us. Jesus, “The Word”, became human, and took on a “tent” of flesh, and decided and chose to live among us.
If we kept studying this we’d discover things like Jesus existed from eternity past, and was never created, but chose in love to become a human, for our sake, to take our penalty, because only a human could take the punishment for another human. And only a perfect human could take on Himself the wrath of God against sin for all humanity. And we would learn to identify the “Words” of God with the power of creation. Calling Jesus “the Word” represents Him as having the full power and majesty of God, the very power to create the universe.
We would also learn that in Greek culture “The Word” was considered to be an abstract, impersonal force, like the principle of reason or knowledge that gave order to the universe… but Jesus was not an impersonal “Word”, but was a very personal God who had the power to give order to all things through His very words. It is by His hand all things are sustained. That’s a powerful truth.
Now, interpreters have been studying this passage for 2000 years, so we’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means. But already we’ve learned something powerful. But so what?
Now we Apply what we’ve learned.
This is why we don’t end with Observation and Interpretation. It’s great to know what it says and what it means, but… what does it mean to me? This is God’s book. It is not written just to others, but to you and me as well. We need to ask “What does this passage really mean?” and then follow it up with, “And now what must I do?”
What do I need to change? What encouragement can I take from this? Who do I need to tell this to? What plan can I make to learn this lesson, and open my heart to God helping me to live more like Jesus. I’ll leave this part up to you today. What does God want you to do with this?
Observe, Interpret, Apply.
Bible Study is a rich and wonderful exercise, and I want each of us to be a person of the word. We need to work alone on this, and together in our groups.
I recently spoke at the 165th anniversary celebration for Beckwith Baptist, a church in the Ottawa area. I got a lot of comments and requests for the text, so I thought I’d post it here this week. It’s based on Acts 2:42-47.
A Good Church
If you ask the question, “What is a church?” a lot of people will give you some pretty sterile answers that usually involve describing the building.
“What is a church?” Well, a church is a big building with a cross on it, full of pews and a stage for someone to stand on and talk for a while. Some have stained glass, or statues, or even beautiful organs. A really good church will have beautiful architecture, a lovely garden, beautiful woodwork and stonework, and have a powerful effect on you when you see it. Christians do this too sometimes when they walk into a large, impressive church building. They think “Wow, this must be a really good church!”
Hopefully you know that a church is not made up of brick and mortar, wood and nails, but a good Church, the kind of church the Bible describes, that we all want to be a part of, the one that Jesus died for, is made up of people. “Church” in the bible is the Greek word EKKLESIA and it basically means “a group of people who have left their homes to come to a public place”. It has come to mean “gathering of believers in Jesus”, but originally it was just a “gathering”.
When we say “church” here, we’re talking about the “Christian Church” or what we like to call “The Body of Christ” which we get from verses like Romans 12:5. A gathering of people who come for the purpose of being Christians, proclaiming Christ, and doing Christian things.
When a church is as established as Beckwith Baptist we sometimes forget that the church isn’t the building. We begin to associate Beckwith Baptist with the walls that surround us, the place that sits on the corner of 7th line and Tennyson Road. People ask us where we go to church? We say Beckwith Baptist. I wish we would learn to say, “Where does your church gather?” or “Where do you go to be a part of the church? It is so much more biblically accurate to say, “I am a part of a church, and our building is at 277 Tennyson Rd.”
I hope, no matter where you have come from today, whether this is where you meet, or somewhere else, that you are part of a strong group of believers that love Jesus and love you. That is my prayer.
When this church was first planted, that was the dream. They wanted to gather together people who would love Jesus, love one another, and spread that love to the community around them. No matter what church you are a part of, that’s the goal. And people need that so badly. All people need to be a part of a good church.
Let’s try something. It might be a little difficult, but for a moment, clear from your mind all of your preconceptions about church. Imagine that you’ve never been part of a church. You’ve never set your foot in the doors of any church building in the world, and you’ve never heard anything about them. You don’t know what they look like, what goes on in there, or anything about what it means to be a Christian. Somehow you’ve grown up in a place and a family where the word “church” never came up, and you weren’t around any believers. So you have no preconceived notions of what a “Christian Church” is.
And then, one day, as a plane flies overhead it hits some turbulence and a bible falls out of the luggage area and lands right in front of you. All the pages start to blow away all over the place, but what lands in front of you is the page that contains Acts chapter 2. Fortunately it’s in your native language and you start reading.
You’ve just read Peter’s first sermon preached at Pentecost and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah come to make possible the forgiveness of sins. You’ve read that after that sermon was preached a multitude of people turned their lives over to Jesus, repented of their sins, were baptized in His name, and began to meet together regularly.
You continue on to read about the change that this message brings to the life of these people. You know that these same people were the ones who crucified Jesus, who rejected Him, and where His enemies. They were once people who were destined to be destroyed, but were now people who were called “saved”… saved by Jesus! And this gospel message so changed their hearts that they began to meet together all the time. They wanted to talk about, celebrate, and learn more about who Jesus is, and the amazing things that Jesus had done for them. And so you begin running around gathering as many pages as you can, and you sort them together until you have most of the New Testament. You read it, and believe it, and give your life to Jesus. You are now one of the “saved!”
And then around the corner, in that same moment, your boss comes to you and says that you are going to be immediately transferred to another branch office. You’re still reeling from what you’ve been reading and he says, “I’m sending you to Ottawa,Canada’s capital city. Actually, you’ll be just outside of it in Carleton Place. You’re going to be working there for a while so we’ve bought you a house on the South-West Side, in a neighbourhood called Beckwith. You leave tomorrow.”You pack your things, move them to your new home, and on your first day you notice a brick building on the corner of the road you now live on. At first you think it might be a store, or a school, but as you round the corner you see a sign, and the sign says “Beckwith Baptist Church”. You have no idea what a Baptist is, but you’re heart begins to race as you pull your makeshift bible out of your pocket and it dawns on you that this building houses a group of Christians. They’ve bought a building and they meet together!
The excitement is almost palpable. You run up to the door, trying to get in, but the door is locked. Temporarily saddened, you turn to see that the gathering is on Sunday morning at 10:30am. You can’t wait! The week is a blur! All you can think about is being there so you can see all that you’ve been reading about in the scriptures come to life. This group of people who know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, hear from Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living within them. This group of people who doesn’t conduct itself the way the world does, but call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.
And as you stand out on the lawn you thank God for this place, and pull out your favourite page. The first one that landed at your feet. And you read Acts 2:42-47,
“ And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
You can’t wait to meet this group, this church, this body of believers and be one of those who have been added to their number.
This was the vision of those who planted this church. This is what they desired it to become. I would also imagine that this is the deepest desire of the heart of every person who comes through these doors. They want to be a part of a group like that – a good church. It’s what we look for our whole lives. Amen?
Acts 2 is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say. I love these verses. Not because it is a prescription of “what to do”, but because it is a description of what happenswhen we allow God to take over our lives and let the Holy Spirit reign in our hearts.
Sometimes people read these verses as a prescription. If we do these things, then we’ll be a church. If we check all these boxes: “Apostles teaching”, “Break bread”, “Pray”, “Generously Share”, “Meet together”… check… then God will add to our number and we’ll be a group of good Christians and a good church. But this verse isn’t prescriptive, it’s descriptive.
It’s not telling us what to do… it’s showing us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people. This is the clearest picture the bible gives us of what God desires from a Christian church. What’s on His heart, on His mind, and what it look like when He’s fully in charge.
Some churches and church leaders believe that if they institute enough rules and ministries they can achieve this. They say “if we do these things we will be a good church”. People have tried that for literally centuries.
- “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t play cards or go to movies, or play loud music, and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Have a really nice building, with shiny floors and a big cross, and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Get involved in politics and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Be multi-ethnic and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Have really good children’s programs and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Get a dynamic preacher, a popular music leader and some nice visuals and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Support global missions and send out lots of missionaries and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Support local missions and volunteer at lots of places in town and you’ll be a good church.”
- “Be open to everyone, get rid of any negative words like ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ or ‘discipline’ and remove the biblical qualifications for leadership… let anyone preach, teach, or lead and you’ll be a good, popular church”
Books and books and books have been written with tricks on how to increase attendance, giving, outreach, evangelism, commitment, prayer… and everything else. And many people put them into practice and they get that area going pretty good. More people come, more people read their bible, more people serve… but being God’s church doesn’t mean we get one or two areas of ministry right, it means we get our hearts right with God, open our ears to His voice, and walk wherever He wants to lead us.
If you’ve been around the North American church for a while then you’ve heard of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek church. It has been the trendsetter for many churches over the past 30 years. They basically invented the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-drive” movement and have generated a huge amount of the ministries, content, songs and directions for churches all over the world. Over 22,000 people will be attending Willow Creek Church today. Most pastors and churches would give their left arm to have even half of that attendance.
Well, a couple years ago they came out with a book called “Reveal” where they made a confession that rocked the Christian world. I want to read you part of an article where Bill Hybels talks about what they learned:
“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life. Hybels confesses:
‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage. (Source)”
This HUGE church is learning this lesson, and so are many others: God doesn’t need help to be living, active, creative, dynamic, powerful and relevant in our lives. It’s not about how amazing the building and facilities are. It’s about incarnating the gospel, and growing closer to God through a relationship with Jesus. That will always be true! The Gospel is not bound to any time, people or culture. The choices God has given us for how we organize how we do church is multifaceted! Therefore, as time moves on, people and culture changes, and so does the way we communicate our message, but the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, and the fundamentals of the faith will absolutely stay the same.
Now, even though the foundations of our faith will remain rock solid, no church can simply keep doing what it’s been doing and hope it works forever. The people who planted Beckwith Baptist in the very beginning knew that. They were starting something new! They wanted a place that would meet their community’s needs and would spoke in a way that would honour God and where His message could be understood. Something different than was already present.
This is true now more than ever because things are changing so quickly. We need to know where the bedrock of our faith lies, and be able to meet people’s most basic spiritual needs, but the way we do it is going to constantly change.
Culture today is totally different than it was when I was a teenager – and that was only about 15 years ago! I used to consider myself pretty informed about what’s going on around me, but now I just can’t keep up! I’ve been surpassed in technology, music styles, clothing, magazines, and even language. I find myself having to look up a lot of slang terms on Google just so I can understand what people are saying. And in similar fashion, the ministries we have, the music we play, and way we communicate needs to change as well.
The Church may look different, sound different, and be conducted differently from place to place, and from generation to generation, but the fundamental, bedrock motivation for the ministry – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the core message of a “good church” — will NEVER CHANGE. Beckwith has proven that fact over and over in its history. And this church, this group of people, can and will experience the same thing the Acts 2 church experienced, if we allow God the freedom to do as He pleases with us.
Beckwith Baptist, even today, is working through some deep issues. We are praying and studying and seeking God, ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be the church of Jesus Christin our own cultural context, in this place, at this time? How can we effectively share the love of Jesus with, and minister to, as many people as possible by providing for their most basic spiritual needs? What will that look like as we look into the future of this church?” We are too small to provide every need of every type of person, but we cancreate ministries that will supply what all people desire most, and what God desires most for them.
We all want to be a part of a good church. A church that inspires us to worship God throughout our week, in every part of our life. A church that strongly tied together in the bonds of fellowship, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging and holding each other accountable. A disciple making church where we are all challenged to grow closer to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ, and live out that faith in practical ways. And part of a church that is reaching out into our local community and beyond, changing lives by the power of God and seeing more and more people saved by His grace.
That’s the journey that Beckwith has been on for a while now, and one that they continue to pursue. The next year is going to be amazing, and I look forward to seeing everyone here come together and work on this as a family. My hope is that everyone can get excited to see what God has done, and will be doing as each of us work together towards clarifying the direction, improving the ministries, strengthening ourselves spiritually, and more effectively reaching out to our community.
I’m excited about this process, and about what God can continue to do with this church. We’ve seen Him work already in many ways over the years, and many have been blessed by the ministries and people here. The people of this church have gone through a lot together, and I believe, are on the cusp of something very exciting and life-changing.
I ask for your prayers. Pray for God’s blessing on this family of believers. On those who have chosen to leave over the past while, and the new people who have come.
Pray for the leadership who is taking on this challenge of renewing and listening for God’s heart for Beckwith Baptist. Pray that God sends workers to be with them so that they won’t be overburdened. Pray for the community around us, that God might send the healing rains to soften the soil of their souls, so that when we cast out His word it would find fertile ground.
And above all pray for God’s blessing and protection. That He would bless us with open ears, wise actions, a fearlessness to do what is right, the courage to act, and the conviction to flee from sin. Pray that each of us would have a soft heart for the needs of others, and a long-suffering patience for those who are going to make this difficult. Pray that the attacks of Satan would be repelled by the faith of the people here, and that God would grow us in ways that we can’t even conceive of right now.
I’m breaking pattern this week so I can share something I wrote for Father’s Day, a sermon based on Psalm 1:1-2. It’s challenging and practical, and I hope will help you next time you have the “I’m worried about the path you’re going down” talk with someone.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Happy Father’s Day! This morning I’m going to give you a tool to use as dad’s (and mom’s, and anyone else too, it’s pretty universal), and a challenge for you to look at in your own life. It’s a tool because after I’m done here you should be able to replicate this little drawing I’ll show you on a napkin while having dinner with your kid, or even an employee, or someone you are mentoring. It’s a challenge because I also want you to think about these concepts for yourselves. This morning we are going to talk about Success.
There seems to be an insatiable desire among people to be seen as, and feel, “successful”, no matter what the cost. And I think the reason is because in a lot of people’s minds, “success” equals happiness… or at least it’s supposed to. We sacrifice a lot of things to achieve this thing called “success”. We work hard at school, sacrificing our time, our friends, and sometimes even our health to be top of our class. Then we get into the working world, and we do the same … whatever that looks like in our field of work.
Is that ok? I think that the desire to be successful, and happy, productive and pleased with our work, is a God given desire, and therefore is holy and good. I believe that God made man for happiness – it was His intention to create beings that would be happy, productive and thriving– to have an abundant life. So it’s a good thing. And on the other hand, nobody wants to be unhappy, a failure or miserable. There are some who do things that, in the end, will make them miserable or set themselves up for failure, but no one starts out their life wanting to live that way.
But there’s a problem with our pursuit of happiness and success – or at least the way many people try to achieve it. One famous theologian (Adam Clarke) states the problem this way,
“So perverted is the human heart, that it seeks happiness where it cannot be found; and in things which are naturally and morally unfit to communicate it.”
In other words, we have this burning desire to attain a life of achievement, accomplishment, happiness and contentment, but we are so clouded by sin and selfish ambition that we end up going all sorts of wrong places to find it. And that hurts the individual, and their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with God. So this morning, I want to talk a little bit about what success really looks like, and to show an important step we must take to attain it.
I started out this morning reading Psalm 1 because I believe it gives us a picture of a successful person… what he looks like, and what he doesn’t. Take a look at the beginning of this verse. The first word in the book of Psalms, the song-book of the bible, is the word “Blessed”. It’s the Hebrew word ESCHER and it’s the word for “Happy”. In Latin it’s translated BEATUS which is where we get the word “beatitude”, which is used in the New Testament when Jesus begins longest set of teachings, His Sermon on the Mount, with a list of “Beatitudes”… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”… or “Happy are peacemakers…” He starts His longest sermon with a picture of what a blessed, happy life looks like.
And that’s what we’re shooting for in life isn’t it? Happiness. It’s what we’re searching for. It’s what we want to provide for ourselves, our children, and those we love. But what does it look like, and where can we get it?
I think it’s highly appropriate to talk about this subject on Father’s Day, because Dad’s (and of course mom’s too!) need to get this right. A lot of dad’s mess this part up, and end up having a lot of regrets in the middle or at the end of their life when they realize that what they had worked so hard to achieve, or spent a lot of time pursuing things that weren’t going to make them truly successful. And I don’t want that for any of you.
So, how does one define success? Is it something that we get to choose ourselves and direct our life towards, or is there a definition that is common to everyone, that is a quintessential measurement of human success?
People define success in many ways. Some measure it in wealth. If you have the most money and stuff, or enough money and stuff to live comfortably, or at least more money and stuff than someone else… then you are doing well – you are a success. Some measure it in health. If you can live the longest, or can run the farthest, lift the most, or hit it harder than anyone else, then you are the best – a success.
Some measure it in popularity. It doesn’t matter how much money you made, or even if you are the best. If you are known by more people, then you are successful. There are people today who are famous for being famous, and that is their end goal. They make nothing important, say nothing important, and contribute very little to society, but they are famous and therefore feel successful. TV shows and magazines follow them around like mosquitoes, and lots of people will do anything to become famous like them – because that’s success.
I heard a little girl on the radio last week when they were doing a radiothon for CHEO. This little girl, who had gone through so much in her life, surrounded by amazing doctors, nurses, specialists… The host asked what she wanted to be when she grew up? Her answer, “I want to be famous.” That is a very telling statement about what we are teaching our youth about how to define success in their life.
Some define success by their peer group. Wealth and fame doesn’t matter, as long as they are acknowledged to be part of a certain group. They work their whole live to get that title. CEO, Elite Status Member, VIP, MVP, Gold Medal Holder, World Record Holder. There are people who have actually died trying just to get into the Guinness book of World Records. One woman died trying to break the world’s Free Diving record… she went 561 feet under water and didn’t come back alive. Many have died trying to set speed records on land, sea and in the air. I read that a man from London essentially killed himself because he wanted to set the world record for spinning in circles. He fell down, cracked his head, and died. He wanted to be identified with that group called “World record holders” so bad, it cost him his life.
So, how do you define success? When you look at what you are putting your effort, energy, time, money, strength, attention, life and heart into… what are you trying to achieve? Happiness, right? Why do it if it won’t make you happy? Well, my hope today, dads, moms, and everyone else here too, is that what you are pouring your life into is actually something worth achieving, and will really bring you true, lasting happiness. And hopefully this is something you can share with others, and can be doing in a way that worships God. It’s based on Psalm 1:1-2.
Let’s read verse 1 again, and today I’m using the English Standard Version, but it’s really close to the NIV. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…”. “Blessed is the man…” “Happy is the man…” “Successful is the man…”. He’s showing us a picture here and uses a pretty neat poetic structure to do it. So here’s your picture.
Bill Cosby once said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”
In other words, the people you are in relationship with, and who influence your life the most, will inevitably dictate its direction. That’s what it says here too. When you think of a person, or when people think of you, who do they associate you with? When people think of you, and summarize who you are at the core… they think… what?
Let me show you the poetic structure and how the psalmist paints the picture of this man’s life. There’s a pretty neat set of three progressions here. The first is: Walking, then Standing, then Sitting. And this is all about commitment to certain relationships. It’s a picture of how this guy got to be who he is today.
Picture yourself at a party, and it’s easier to understand this. First you come into the party and you’re walking around. You’ve still got your jacket on, you’re schmoozing and getting drinks and going to the snack table… you’re not committed to staying, but you’re there. At least when you’re walking you have some kind of momentum and could turn around and walk out the door, change who you’re talking to, and do something different.
But at some point you stop… now you’re standing. You’ve found a group to chat with that seems to have something in common, or is someone you want to get to know. Now you’re not moving and have decided to stick around. Conversations are had, jokes told, stories shared, advice given… but you’re still standing. It’s awkward to hold your snack plate, you can’t really have freedom to gesture or you’ll spill something. You are more committed to this relationship than when you were walking, but you’re not fully comfortable, and could still excuse yourself.
But then comes sitting. Now you’re not just attending the party, you plan on sticking around for a while. You’ve gotten to know some people, moved to the couch, taken off your shoes and your jacket, you’re comfortable there, and you are beginning an intimate conversation with someone and it will take a good effort to get up, gather your things and go somewhere else. This is you at their kitchen table, or in the living room on their couch—this is friendship.
This is the progression of how we build relationships. Walking, Standing, Sitting. The Psalmist here is saying, “Be careful who you associate with. Where you walk, who you stand with, and who you get comfortable around. Your happiness and success will be built on your associations with the people you end up sitting with at this party called ‘life’.”
Now look at the next progression – Counsel-Way-Seat. First is “counsel”. When someone is counselling you, they are talking to you. This is a picture of who influences this man. This is the building of influence. First, it’s talk. It’s advice. Take it or leave it, but the voices are there. This is the lowest level of influence… the voices around us. Those who we hear as we walk around this life. Some are louder, but we are not committed to listening to them.
Next comes “the way”. This is a beautiful word, DEREK, that means journey, path, or direction. In other words, you’ve now moved from this person or group’s voice being just advice that is floating around your ears, and have appropriated their words as ones which guide your way of life… you are now on the same path as them, going the same direction. Your journey and destination is the same as theirs. You go their way. You’ve moved from them being an outside group, to them being people who actually have enough influence to sway the direction of your life. These are your friends and partners.
And finally comes “the seat”. This word MOWSHAB means dwellings, or house, or land or a place to sit. In other words, now you’re living with these folks. You sit and eat at their table and they are like family. They have the highest level of influence in your life.
God’s word here in Psalm 1 seems to be saying that everybody will go through this process. This is non-optional in life. We are going to be walking, standing and sitting with someone, or many someones. And we are going to be influenced by these people, and we will give some of them greater influence over us than others. The caution, and the secret to success and happiness shown here, is being careful when choosing who these people are, and knowing where and what they are leading us towards.
So who are these people? This is the third progression – building associations. This is a picture of who this person IS NOT associating with. Blessed is the person who IS NOT associating with these people. The Wicked, Sinners, and Scoffers.
“The wicked” is a term used for unrighteous people. Now scripture says that we are all sinners, we are all unrighteous, and need God’s grace to be saved. But this word is not talking about our general condition of being sinners, it is speaking of people who are committed stirring up trouble. The word picture is of a person who is like the water of a troubled and turbulent sea, constantly churning up dirt and muck from the bottom, never stopping to let anyone see clearly. They stir themselves up, and they stir up others, and cloud people with sinful chatter.
These are people who are good talkers, and love to counsel people. They are great whisperers, and backstabbers, and trouble makers. They might not be folks who necessarily commit crimes that people see… and are usually so smooth that people can’t really pin down what they’ve done wrong… but they are the ones who use their words to tear people down, set people up for failure, and lead others astray. We all know these kinds of folks, “the wicked”, and have been hurt by them, right?
Next in the progression comes “sinners”. Now again, we are all sinners, and if we were to try to avoid ever being around sinners, we’d not only be lonely, but we couldn’t even be around ourselves. But this word is an emphatic one. These people are right out in the open with their sin, even bold and daring about the bad things they are doing. They don’t even really try to hide it. They post pictures on Facebook and videos on Youtube of them doing these sinful things! They brag about it! The “wicked” are a bunch of talkers… these people called “sinners” are doers. These are the folks who will even announce their sin before they do it. “We’re going out to get drunk, start a fight, and probably end up in jail, so get out of my way.” Or “I’ve figured out a whole bunch of loopholes in my taxes so I can get a bunch of money that I don’t really deserve… and I’ll show you how!” or “I think pornography and fornication is good, I want to do it, and I think you should join me.” “I want you to come over to my house and let’s gossip and slander the people we know.”
These people are ok with their sin, and boldly proclaim it. But then comes the next part of the progression where one moves from listening to bad things, to doing bad things, to actually working against God and those who follow Him. This is the third group – “the scoffers”. Proverbs 21:24 defines what the word “scoffer” means: ““Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” This is the person who actually derides, mocks, and openly ridicules God and what God wants. The “wicked” talk about sinful things… the “sinners” do sinful things… “scoffers” do both of those, and go further to even despise and make fun of the most sacred precepts of religion, piety and morals. They even invent ways to ridicule God and His people. They put themselves purposely above God, saying He doesn’t exist, that He is foolish, and what He says doesn’t matter… but what they say does matter.
You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.
This is the third place of the progression. Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But it’s true when you think about it. You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do. You begin by talking about sin… gossiping, backbiting, verbally abusing, sexual talk, joking about cheating, wishing out loud you had someone else’s stuff, even discussing the what-ifs of certain sinful behaviours… and that eventually leads to the action of sinning. And just like when you stand in a place with a foul smell long enough that you get used to it, you will get used to that kind of thinking and behaviour, and begin to see things from the perspective of those people. It becomes normal. Slander, cheating, fighting, swearing, cutting corners, taking things that don’t belong to you, stretching and breaking the laws… that becomes normal. “That’s just the business world!” we say. “That’s how it is at work!” “That’s what has to be done if you’re going to survive in this world!” “Everybody does it!” “All your friends are doing it.” “It’s a natural part of life.” “It’s biological.” “It’s normal.”
But it goes further. When sin becomes normal, it also becomes our god. We take the True God out of our life and replace him with something else – a god that tells us what we want, and lets us do whatever we want. And as that becomes normal, it’s easier to mock God, His priorities, and His people. Purity is seen as prudishness. Pursuing a holy life is considered to be like living in a prison, restricted in movement, and unpleasant to consider. Worshipping and reading God’s word is considered a waste of time, or even wrong.
Have you ever heard this:
“Churches are just breeding grounds for hypocrites and fakers. If God really loved this world it wouldn’t look like it does… He must be a horrible God. Christians have a blind faith is anti-intellectual and is only for stupid people who get fooled into it. We’ve all moved so far past that old way of thinking. We are in a new age, a new time, and they are still stuck in the Dark Ages. All they want to do is control people, condemn people and take their money. Christianity is for the weak and the dim-witted.”
Easy to see, isn’t it? We’ve all heard it. And this picture in Psalm 1:1 is the progression of how we get there. Some of us came from there and have lived it, others of us still visit there from time to time… and still others are there right now. You may hear this kind of thing regularly, and that’s why you hesitate to tell people you are Christian, or that you go to church.
This is the picture I want you to see and that I want you to be able to draw for your friends, your mentoree’s, and your kids when you have that talk about “the path I see you going down right now”. You know that talk… when you see someone listening to dangerous voices, doing wrong things, and heading towards some serious problems in their life. This is what you can draw for them.
You can say, “Listen! Success isn’t defined by what you have, what you do, who you know, or who knows you… it’s defined by who you are. Who you are when no one’s around except you and God. Who you are in your thought life, your will, your priorities and your desires. Your character. Your integrity.” That’s success!
Verse 2 shows us who this man does associate with, and who he really is. He IS NOT with the wicked, the sinful or scoffers, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Some of us hear that and tense up. Oh great… meditating day and night… reading the bible all day and living on some mountaintop somewhere, eating stewed potatoes and contemplating the complexities of the Book of Job all day long. That’s not what this means.
In easier to understand language it says — a happy and successful person delights (or enjoys and finds benefit in) what God says in the Bible, and throughout his day, from morning to evening, He makes God’s voice the greatest influence in His life. When he’s at work, at the gym, out hunting, doing his taxes, playing with his kids, changing the oil in the car, making dinner, cleaning the house, talking to a neighbour or dealing with a problem, He’s allowing God to have the first say in how he reacts and what he does. Jesus gets first dibs. He listens to Jesus’ counsel, walks in Jesus’ way, and sits at Jesus’ table.
That’s what a successful life looks like. When those who are closest to you and know you best (spouse, children, friends) respect you, know you love God, delight in His word, that you love them with all your heart, forgive them of their wrongs, help them to become better people – because that’s what Jesus does for you — then you are a success.
So, to close, I ask you this question: When people think of you, who would they say your number one relationship is with, who your greatest influence is, and who you associate with? Ask your spouse, your friend, or even your kids, to do some association with you.
Do you ever play word association games? I say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head.
I say “BLACK”, you say…
I say “CAR”, you say…
I say “FOREST”, you say…
I say “REMOTE” you say…
Now… I say [Your Name], you say…
What is your association? Do this with a friend. Say your name… “When you hear my name, what is the first word that springs to mind?”
When your kids hear “I’m home”! “Dad’s home!”, or “Mom’s Home!” or “Grandpa’s Here!” do they associate that with the thought “Yay! I have to get to the door and get a hug!” Or is it “I have to hide until I find out what mood they’re in before I go anywhere.” What about your wife (or your husband, ladies). What word do they pick? “Angry”, “Grumpy”, “Caring”, “Generous”, “Cheap”, “Funny”, “Serious”, “Confusing”, “Unavailable”, “Dark”, “Dirty”, “Hard-Worker”, “Godly”.
Is that word a characteristic of the people from verse 1, or the man in verse 2?