Go Tell John What’s Happening

Matthew 11:4-6. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”

Poor John.  Imprisoned, alone much of the time; cut off from the amazing ministry of the One Whose way he prepared. He had sent two of his followers to ask Jesus for some reassurance.

Jesus’ response  was classic.  He simply numbered all the different things He had done that were signs of His power, and were fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He was fulfilling Isaiah 35:5-6; the dead were raised, the good news of the Kingdom was preached.

At the end of the message, He blessed anyone who was not offended in Him. The word used in the Greek is skandalizo, and is obiously the root word of our scandalize. It meant to entrap, trip up, cause to stumble, or entice into sin or apostasy.  What a loving, gentle, kindly administered rebuke and encouragement that was to John. “Don’t despair; don’t be tempted into doubt; I am He.  Look at all the signs I’ve given you, confirming the Messianic power of the King.  I am He. I AM.”

Have you ever wondered what went through John’s heart and mind when he received this answer from Jesus?  Ever wonder  how it must have lifted his head and his spirits to get word from Messiah that all was as it should be?

My life verse is Psalm 119:165. “Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them.”

If I love God’s Word, not only will I have the inner peace everyone craves; I will also be safe from anything that would entice me, cause me to stumble, cause me to doubt my Redeemer.  I will not be scandalized!

Domestic Abuse: Divorce, part two

Some of you may be wondering why there’s any question at all about this.  If he’s abusive, divorce him!  Seems like an easy answer, but for those who want to follow what the Bible teaches, it’s not that easy.  I do NOT claim to have the only definitive answer.   I certainly cannot pretend to solve a problem that has been debated for centuries.  All I can share here is my own understanding of what God’s Word has to say.

I’ve been studying I Corinthians 7 every day this week.  It seems to me that the key verse here is verse 15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God hath called us to peace.”

Depart is the word chorizo,  and means to separate, put space between; it was commonly used at the time to denote divorce, or putting asunder.

Usually, this verse has been applied to desertion; more specifically, to the desertion by an unbelieving spouse of a believing spouse. Abandonment has been seen as cause for separation, but not divorce.

Abusers, however, do not typically leave the relationship.  They want to keep it, because they crave the power, control, and warped sense of entitlement  it gives them.  So, the power still remains in  the hands of the abuser, because the believing spouse does not feel she has biblical authority to leave.

A quick review:  Abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior that belittles, demeans, degrades, and crushes the victim.  This abuse can happen in so many ways, including verbal, emotional, mental, and physical.  Many professing Christian men are quite adept at twisting the scriptures and using them against their wives, thereby using her own desire to obey God as a way to keep her under his control.

When the victim, finally exhausted and at the end of her strength to withstand the abuse, finally leaves the relationship, the question of “Who left?” is often used to bring her back into the marriage.  Maybe it would be better to ask, “Who caused her to leave?”  The one who perpetrated the abuse is the one who caused the chorizo,  NOT the one who finally escaped!

Let me put this in simpler terms.  I was watching a rerun of an old program the other night. The high school jock, star athlete, and conceited brat, was failing algebra.  He would be kicked off the team if he didn’t pass.  A concerned teacher got him a tutor, a peer; a girl in his class who was not one of the “cool girls.”  Mr. Jock wanted her to just do his assignments for him, saying “Come on, be a friend.” When she reluctantly refused, he stormed out.  Just before he got to the door, he said, “When I get kicked off the team, just remember it will be YOUR FAULT!”

Okay, we all know that was a classic job of blame-shifting.  It was his own fault, and he was trying to make it hers.

When a marriage breaks up, the abuser ALWAYS says it’s the victim’s fault for leaving. He shifts the blame to her, ignoring his years and years of tormenting her, degrading her, and beating her up. The abuser caused the separation.  The victim escaped.  If she had been held by any other man besides her husband, and been mistreated in the same way, everyone would be up in arms to rescue her and set her free.

Why don’t we have the same concern for a wife who needs to be rescued?

I still haven’t mentioned whether or not remarriage is an option for the believing spouse who has left an abusive relationship.  We’ll take a look at that next week.

If you are just coming into this series, you may want to go back and read the previous Friday posts about abuse.  I am not advocating that a believing spouse quickly and easily walk out of an abusive marriage. Especially if the abuser is a believer, every effort must be made to reconcile. But no one should be forced to stay in a marriage that destroys the heart and soul of the victim.  This is not what God established.

The end of I Cor. 7:15 says that “God has called us to peace.”  If peace cannot be found inside the marriage, then it must be found in separating from the marriage.  Must a victim of abuse divorce her spouse?  No.  She can separate without divorcing.  I do believe, however, that the option of divorce is not closed to the spouse who has suffered years of humiliating, chronic abuse.

As my cursor hovers over the “publish” button, I have strong misgivings.  What I have said here will not be accepted by a lot of people for whom I have great respect. I need to emphasize again that I know there will be disagreement, and I welcome that as long as it’s courteous. Please, no long discourses.  Use your own blog for that.Also, as I said at the top of this post, I do not claim to have the definitive answer. I do claim, however, that this post has been covered in prayer, sincere searching of my own heart, and thorough study of what the scriptures teach.  I do not believe that the heart of God is willing for anyone to live life as a victim of ongoing abuse; I believe He has provided a way of escape.

Art Thou He. . .?

Matthew 11:2-3. ‘Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”

John the Baptist hasn’t been heard from or about since chapter 4:12, which tells us that when Jesus heard that John was in prison, He departed into Galilee.  The spotlight that was on John for a short while had been moved to Jesus, and John spent some time in prison. When we get to chapter 14, we’ll hear the rest of John’s story.

John, like most of the other Jews, probably expected that Jesus, Messiah, would soon establish the Kingdom.  It would be normal for John to expect to have some kind of position or to share in the glories of the Kingdom.  Instead, he found himself in what I’m pretty sure was not a state-of-the-art prison cell, not knowing what his future would be.

Sounds to me like he became discouraged, maybe depressed.  Prison is a lonely place, and hopelessness is common there. John must have wondered if all his efforts had been for nothing.  He was human, after all, and don’t we all question things at times?

There are a couple of theories regarding this passage. One is that John indeed doubted Who Jesus was, and sent his disciples to confront Jesus.  Another is that John was perfect, and needed no reassurance; he sent his disciples because they needed reassurance.

Neither of these theories sets well for me, because they require that things be inserted into scripture that aren’t really there.  I love that old saying, “If the plain sense makes common sense, then any other sense is nonsense.”

So, looking at John as a godly man who wakes up in prison day after day, it shouldn’t be surprising that he sent to Jesus asking for some confirmation of his own ministry.  It makes me think of a child, having been disciplined, tearfully asking his daddy, “Do you still love me?”   Or, it is similar to Gideon asking for a sign from God;  God did not rebuke Gideon, but fulfilled his request for reassurance.

I love the answer Jesus sent back.

Teaching and Preaching

Mattew 11:1. “And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples, He departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.”

It has always seemed to me that this verse would have been better placed at the end of the previous chapter, since it was the climax of Jesus’ preparation of His disciples to go into all Israel and preach the gospel of the kingdom.

I believe the important thing here is to understand that Jesus did not sit back and drink coffee while His disciples went on their way. He also returned to His teaching and preaching ministry. He is the Lord of the harvest, but He did not set Himself above the laborers that He had sent into the harvest.  Godly leaders don’t just give directions. They participate in the work.

At this point, His rejection by Israel becomes more and more obvious.  Yes, they wanted His healing.  Yes, they listened, often in amazement, to what He had to say. But then, for the most part, they went back to their homes and shook their heads as this upstart Nazarene Who seemed to be preaching a different gospel than the one they wanted to hear.

We have to remember that the Israelites of that day were suffering under the rule of Rome.  They wanted a strong military leader to take them into a fight to reestablish their sovereignty; they wanted a king to destroy the Roman usurpers.  As long as they thought there could be a chance of that, they would follow just about anyone.

It was pretty clear to the people, after a while, that Jesus had come not to free them from bondage to Rome, but to free them from bondage to sin, self, and Satan.

They weren’t quite as interested in that. They wanted a leader like Joshua. There eyes were blind, their ears were deaf, and their hearts were not open.  They rejected Jesus, and 40 years later they ceased to exist as a nation.

We should take heed.

This chapter and the next are important turning points in the story. Tomorrow, we’ll see how John the Baptist is doing.

A Cup of Cold Water

Matthew 10:42. “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”

What a well-known verse this is!  I’d like to take a little closer look at it today and see if there’s any nugget of truth I’ve overlooked.

The phrase little ones is a term that is used both for new believers and for children (I John 2:1, and many other references).  It denotes a tenderness toward these little ones, and a sense of protection and nourishment.

We in America don’t value a cup of cold water in the same way as do those for whom it is more difficult to come by.  Water is not so easily available in many areas of the world, and some places in Israel were pretty dry.  It may seem like a small thing to us–we walk around with bottles, thermoses, even jugs of water and never think about what a huge blessing such abundance really is.

It seems like a small detail until you go without water; then, the blessing of water becomes more real.  No detail done for others in the name of even a disciple, with the right motive and the right goal, is going to be overlooked by God.

Think of that.  Changing a diaper in the church nursery; helping a two-year-old at the drinking fountain; holding the door for a person with full hands and little kids hanging onto her; stopping to help somone change a tire; just a heartfelt thank you when someone holds the door for you; none of these acts of kindness, done in a heart of service, goes unrecognized by God.

What I’m wondering is how many times I’ve overlooked such simple opportunities, and the heart of God has been grieved because I was to busy to notice or too worried to care.

It is the offer of a cup of cold water that can open the door to leading someone to Christ. We should never underestimate the importance of simple acts of kindness. We live in a dangerous, self-centered world.  Living as Jesus lived will surely set us apart from those who need most to know Who He is.

How it Works

Matthew 10: 40-41. “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.”

Jesus had a lot to say in order to prepare His disciples for the work they would do.  I’m sure there were questions in their minds that stayed with them as they traveled, but I’m also sure it wasn’t long before they understood clearly what Jesus was teaching them. Sometimes we need to experience life before we understand what God’s Word teaches about how to live!

In this passage, the word receiveth is to accept, approve, embrace, or give ear to.  When the minister is accepted, then his message is also accepted as truth. If he preaches Christ, then Christ will be received as the minister is received; those who receive the minister and the words he preaches will also accept Christ. If they do not accept Christ, they also refuse the minister.  And by so refusing, they deny themselves the blessing of the minister, or prophet, sent by God.

To receive a false prophet, one not sent by God, is to accept his message as truth. God’s blessing will not fall on that person, or that congregation, because they have not discerned the false prophet, and have embraced his false message.  We must be more discerning than to give our hospitality, money, and support to every man posing as a minister.

How do we know which is which?  Matthew 7:15-20 clearly tells us that we will know them by their fruits, or by the results of their teachings in the hearts of the people; later, this can be applied to the church as well.

We live in an age when many promote themselves as messengers of God.  They strive to set themselves up as leaders who have some special kind of message that no one else has ever known before. They go on radio and television; sometimes they write numerous books, and they typically make lots and lots of money.  Yet, their fruit is hard to find.

Sometimes, even when they do seem to teach God’s Word in its fullness, they still are more interested in self-promotion than they are in being humble shepherds of the flock. Satan will never stop trying to destroy the church until he is cast forever into the lake of fire. His hatred for God is that strong.

If you sift whatever you hear through the Word, and find that there are things that don’t quite make it through the sieve, then you know those things are not truth. The only way you can discern the truth from the lie is to be in the Word yourself, daily, and with much prayer.

We live in difficult times.  We need to be wise, discerning, and knowledgeable students of God’s Word.

Here is the kind of shepherd I want:

A God-Honoring Funeral

It was our privilege this morning to attend the farewell service for a friend we’ve known for 19 years. He was a co-worker with Terry at the church we both attended.  He was a man of unusual character, strong convictions, strong faith–and a quirky sense of humor.

 It was wonderful to hear how much his family loved and respected him. It was even more impressive that they saw him the same way those outside the family saw him. He was consistent in his walk because he lived exactly as he said he believed.

There was laughter today as those who spoke remembered the jokes our friend always  seemed to have ready to tell.   At a funeral where God is the center, there can be joy right along with the sorrow.  We know that our friend is at this moment sitting at the feet of Jesus, amazed to be in the presence of the One he loved and served.

Many of us who were there today have lost loved ones of our own over the past year or so. It was good to think of them meeting each other in heaven, and to think of them joining in a mighty chorus of hallelujahs in praise of the One Who paid the penalty for our sin.

Heaven.  The home of all who have been redeemed.  Sometimes I just can’t wait.

Domestic Abuse: Divorce

Pretty miserable picture, isn’t it?  You can almost hear the hopelessness.  My heart breaks for the baby, who is already learning how to behave in difficult situations:  When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!

I wish there were an easy, one-size fits all solution for the problem of whether or not a spouse can divorce her abuser. There isn’t.  I would never presume to be THE ONE with the perfect answer when all down through the centuries there has not been a universally approved solution to this problem.

You have those who say “No. Never. God hates divorce. There is never any permission given for a spouse to divorce an abuser.  The only permission given for divorce is in the case of infidelity, and even then there is no allowance for remarriage.”  This position is the most absolute, and is based mainly on the passage in Matthew 19. In that scripture, the Pharisees tried to trip up Jesus (foolish men!) on the question of divorce.

In His response, Jesus reviewed the Father’s plan for marriage:  One man, one woman, becoming one flesh for life. Man is not to divide that which God has joined.

But the Pharisees were wily, and they reminded Him of Moses having given a command to “put away,” or divorce one’s wife.  Jesus’ response was quick, and right to the heart. He said, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered (allowed) you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

Many have referred to this passage as the “exception clause,” because it was the only valid reason for divorce.  However, to remarry after divorce was considered adultery for either the husband or the wife.

It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, if there were no other behaviors that would make a woman want/need to leave her husband?  Then we wouldn’t need to have these discussions.

There is another position.  In I Corinthians 11, Paul wrote quite a bit about Christian marriage. You should read it, carefully and prayerfully, and as much without prejudice as possible.  If you were reared in the same generation or church environment that I was, you regard divorce as possibly the WORST of all sins.  That idea seems to have come from the statement that God hates divorce. It is also based on the picture in Ephesians 5 in which marriage represents Christ’s relationship with the church.  Marriage is sacred.

In I Corinthians, however, we’re given a little broader  scope to look at the possibility of leaving a spouse, and I will say at the outset that remarriage is still not an option; and I do not find it as an option anywhere else in the Bible.

Okay, let me stop here for just a minute.  And maybe this post is going to be in two parts 🙂

I can already hear the questions:  What?  God won’t forgive me if I remarry?  You’re telling me I have to just put up with the abuse?

God forgives all sin when it is brought to Him in repentance. I John 1:9. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to clease us from all unrighteousness.”

It is true that God hates divorce.  That does not mean He won’t forgive it.  He also hates lying (Proverbs 6), yet no one has ever turned anyone away from the church or declared them anathema because they have lied. Well, okay, there was Ananias and Sapphira, but that was a particularly nasty lie, and God dealt with it strongly.  It’s a good thing He doesn’t do that with us today, isn’t it?  We’d ALL be living in our mansions over the hilltop by now.

I am in no way minimizing the importance of marriage and divorce. It grieves the heart of God.  It destroys families.  It sets children up for all kinds of problems.  The povertization of women in America is largely due to divorce. There’s really just not much good to say about it.

Big “however”:  There are times when a woman is driven to desperate measures; when she can no longer endure; when she must protect her children.  She doesn’t have to stay in such a situation. She doesn’t have to divorce, but if she does, she must remain unmarried until the ex-spouse dies.

I’m going to stop right there, and let you think about what I’ve written so far. Please, please feel free to comment.  I will respond, unless the comments are just evil. Then I delete them.

He is No Fool. . .

Matthew 10:39. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot  (Jim is on the right)

Jim Elliot is a hero to many, and so he should be.  He and the others who gave their lives up to open the way for evangelization of the Auca Indians understood very well what Jesus meant in Matthew 10: 39, So, what DID He mean?

I love my  Dake Study Bible.  Here is what it says in the margin about this verse:

Whoever lives a life of self-gratification will lose it; whoever puts to death the sinful deeds of the body will gain it (Romans 8:12-13; Gal. 5:16-20).

It’s all about where we put our focus, isn’t it?  Is your life all about collecting stuff?  Amassing great amounts of money, power, possession?  Don’t you understand that the moment you draw your last breath, it all disappears? You may be a pauper in heaven, if you’ve spent your life  doing nothing but serving yourself.

Or you will be a pauper in hell if you have never acknowledged your need of salvation and trusted Christ as your Savior. Did you know that Christianity (real, biblically-sound Christianity!) is the only faith that offers a Savior?  Think of that.

On the other hand, if you spend your life in service to God and to others, you have so much to gain! The rewards in heaven are eternal; the approval of the Father is above all else.  I want, with all my heart, to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Take Your Cross

Matthew 10:38. “And  he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of me.”

A true disciple follows his master in every way possible.  To follow Christ requires a daily, even hourly decision to obey Him, to trust Him, to walk in His steps. Does that mean that we must literally pick up a cross every day?

Well, no, I don’t believe so. Jesus’ cross was many things.  It was the tool of His crucifixion and death, which was the means of redemption for all mankind.  It was the burden of the sin of all mankind, which means He paid a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we could not pay.  It was what kept the Father’s face turned from Him as He spent his last moments paying that debt, separating Him from the Father for a short time so that we might be united with the Father for all time.  Every step Jesus took on earth led Him closer to His cross; every step He took toward His cross was a step away from eternal separation from God for us.

What is our daily cross?  Here are some references for you: Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Rom. 6:11-13; 8:12-13;Col. 1:23; 2:6-7; 3:5-10.

Briefly, our cross is self-denial, death to sin and self, yieldedness to God, allowing our bodies to be instruments of righteousness unto God, to live after the Spirit, and not after the flesh; to continue in the faith, to be grounded and settled; to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, stablished in Him, abounding with thanksgiving; to mortify the flesh, avoiding fornication and all other uncleanness.

Wow, that’s pretty heavy, isn’t it?  I mean,  that’s a lot to ask of anyone, right?

Well, not when you consider that Jesus left the unbelievable glories of heaven, and His place at the right hand of God. He chose to be born in a stable, among animals and poor folks. He walked with sinners, tax collectors, and all manner of sick people. He allowed Himself to be abused, humiliated, falsely accused, shamed and tortured–and THEN He allowed Himself to be crucified.  He did battle for us with Satan, and arose in victory.

THAT’S asking a lot of Someone, isn’t it?  If He was willing to walk that path, to carry that cross for me, then the very least I can do is to devote myself to living for Him and walking the path that He has set for me.