Friday, April 25, 2014

Real Hope for the Addicted

Real Hope for the Addicted

Peter 1:3-4
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Ephesians 5:18-21
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

God has given us everything we need to know about life and godliness. His Word describes the difficult experiences of our lives, including addiction. God exposes the root cause of the sin and gives us solutions that give us lasting hope. God wants us to understand addictions so that we can be wise in helping others. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The root cause of any addiction is idolatry. Someone addicted is worshiping the object of their addiction, a preoccupation with a substance or behavior. God created man to worship and love Him and experience a real relationship with the living God. The addict is most likely someone who does not know or have an understanding of the character of God and has chosen to doubt and ignore the truth about Him. He alone is worthy to be worshiped and able to redeem them from their sin and sorrow. The heart of the addict is selfish and becomes demanding and unwilling to come before God in true repentance. They become impatient in waiting on God’s timetable with His solutions and begin to think, “This is too hard.” They turn to other gods of their own design and the downward spiral to idol worship and debauchery escalates.

An addict can use a great amount of physical energy and mental thought in the pursuit of their idol, thus, neglecting the things that are most important in life. If an addict is responsible for others, those individuals may be affected as well. The addict is enticed by their own lusts and embraces the lie that this false god is somehow good for them and can be profitable. Deceit is a characteristic of addiction; addicts are chronic liars. They lie to themselves, and will lie to anyone about their whereabouts or activities. 

How do we help those that are suffering from addiction? The pit of despair can appear to be so deep the fear that they’ll never climb out again is overwhelming. They must first realize there is freedom from addiction through Jesus Christ and in having a personal relationship with Him. The Spirit of the living God dwells within and in His power they can have victory. Having a Word-centered life and thus, a Holy Spirit controlled life, moves a believer through their life under the power of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, they must make the decision to change for the right reasons. The motives behind their decision to seek help are very important. What is the right motive for obtaining freedom from alcoholism and drug abuse? A right view of God and focusing on His glory. When they center their attention on God’s glory, they will inevitably change.

Scripture denounces drunkenness as sin. Drunkenness and drug addiction is associated with unrestrained evil behavior and the word dissipation. Dissipation is a recklessness, immoral lifestyle, with a lack of restraint, and a loss of self-control. This is behavior characteristic of a non-Christian. Understand that unrestrained, evil, dissipated, reckless, irresponsible, out-of-control behavior which is induced by alcohol or drugs is sinful, is characteristic of non-believers as a way of life and ought not to be characteristic of Christians at all. 

You are not to be under the influence of the wrong internal power. Alcohol and drugs are an internal power that brings you under its influence. The Holy Spirit is an internal spiritual power that brings you under His influence. So rather than being brought under the influence of any substance, you need to be brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit, thus, being filled with the Spirit.

Thought: The addicted need to understand the difference between sorrow or guilt that produces repentance and the sorrow of the world, which produces death. Sorrow that produces death leaves God out and in pride embraces vain self-effort to save themselves. Humility and submission to God must replace pride––––realizing repentance is not a one time act. Making choices each day to serve God rather than themselves will cultivate a grateful heart and bring praise to God.

Personal note: My family and I have a heart for the addicted. Please be in prayer as we try to help those who are hurting from a wrong view of God and choosing idolatry/addiction, over the abundant life Christ promises. Thank you.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Final Hours

The Final Hours

Matthew 27:27-37
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!  And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.  And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.  And sitting down they watched him there;  And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

There are many people that have been accused, arrested, and convicted of crimes they did not commit. But, only Jesus has been falsely accused of crimes He never committed, arrested wrongfully, beaten unmercifully, and found innocent, repeatedly. Pilate had Him scourged and mocked to show to the Jews He was a helpless man, and a pathetic individual. He hoped this would satisfy their thirst for blood and stop them from executing an innocent man.

The scene is gruesome and hard to envision, the tragedy of Jesus’ face being slapped repeatedly, bruised and punched until He was swollen beyond recognition. Now Judas, the betrayer, is desperately trying to escape the consequences of what he has done. Sin never truly satisfies and moments  of pleasure in sin give way to sorrow, misery and pain. Maybe Judas thought by killing himself he could finally be relieved from his tremendous guilt, but the opposite is true. By killing himself, he found that he would have to live in his guilt, in hell, for eternity. 

The trial of Jesus was a mockery of the justice system. The Sanhedrin’s purpose was to intimidate Pilate and make him listen to their plea. They no doubt hoped Pilate would do whatever they told him to do, but Pilate was unwilling to co-operate so easily. Pilate gave his approval to judge Jesus according to their own law, but the Sanhedrin was not satisfied with Pilate’s approval, they wanted a Roman execution. If the religious leaders gave over the responsibility for Jesus’ death to the Romans, they would put Him to death. This was a fulfilling of the plan of God spoken by Jesus in (Matthew 20:18-19). “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.” 

It was clear the charges against Jesus, by the Sanhedrin, were false and had no foundation. Pilate had presided over countless criminal trials, some guilty, some innocent but none so obviously innocent and still, the accused, declined to speak in His own defense. This astonished and bewildered Pilate as Jesus held His majestic silence before him. Pilate took Jesus to Herod’s palace–––a short walk through the narrow streets of the city. Herod and Pilate agreed that Jesus was no threat to Rome and all the Sanhedrin’s charges were concocted and of an evil intent.

The crowd, now becoming hostile, pushes Pilate into making the decision to scourge Jesus. He knows He’s innocent and hopes that this act of cruelty will pose as a gesture of compromise. As was the custom of the day, one prisoner would be released from prison and Pilate proposed Jesus’ release in the fulfillment of that custom. The only candidate given for release was Barabbas, a man so foul and notorious that Pilate thought for sure the people would never choose him.

It is the sixth hour, by Roman calculations, that would be 6:00 a.m. an extremely early hour. The hostile crowd is persisting in their cries for Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate was finally forced into the order for Jesus to be crucified. There was no stopping the scheme of the Sanhedrin. Pilate, the highest ruler in the region, is unable to stop this outrageous plea for Jesus’ crucifixion. John 19:17-18 says, “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”

The flogging of Jesus was only the beginning of the physical and emotional tortures He would have to endure before His death. The Roman soldiers had no reason to heap such scorn upon Jesus yet, they took great delight in torturing Him and led Him through the streets to maximize His humiliation. Being in an already weakened condition, it made it impossible for Jesus to carry the heavy load of the cross from the Praetorium to the place of crucifixion.

What pain He suffered before His death. Long, tapered, iron spikes were driven through His wrists and through both feet. None of these nail wounds would be fatal, but they would cause intense and excruciating pain. Victims of crucifixion would experience nausea, fever, intense thirst, constant cramps and ultimately, could lapse into a state of unconsciousness. The feeling of such utter hopelessness along with public shame and increasing trauma to the body, made every moment more painful then the last. Death came to the victims of crucifixion normally from slow suffocation. Such agony, fatigue, and intense pain would render the victim unable to continue to to push themselves up in order to draw just one more breath.

Thought:  Multitudes passed by the cross, hurling insults and wagging their heads at the Savior –––another fulfillment of prophecy as seen in Psalm 22. Though the abuse and torture of Christ is hard for us to fathom–––nothing compares to the wrath of God placed upon His Son when He bore our sins on the cross.  Such emphasis is placed upon the death of Christ because,”Jesus 
Christ and Him crucified” remains to be the very essence of the gospel. Therefore, the Resurrection of Christ is the supreme power of God, the divine authority we celebrate, and the immutable and enduring love we as believers, experience. The words, “Christ arose!” becomes the Christian’s anthem of praise and ultimate expectancy of eternal life–––because He lives!  Amen and Amen!

Friday, April 11, 2014

What Happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?

What Happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Luke 22:47-52
And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?  When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?

And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.  Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.

Recall the night Christ entered the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. They had the Last Supper together celebrating Passover and then entered the garden.  The Garden of Gethsemane literally means “oil press,” and is located on a slope of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray, but the most famous event would happen this night. The reality of this dark night was mounting  and Christ, in His absolute sovereignty and calm, triumphant behavior remained unshakeable throughout this painful experience. 

As the evening began in the garden, Jesus took three of them—Peter, James and John— to a place separated from the rest. Here Jesus asked them to watch with Him and pray so they would not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:14), but they fell asleep. Twice, Jesus had to wake them and remind them to pray so that they would not fall into temptation. This was especially important because Peter did fall into temptation later that very night. Three times he denied knowing Jesus which had already been foretold would happen by the Lord. Jesus asked His Father to remove the cup of wrath He was about to drink, but each time He submitted to the Father’s will. He was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death,” but God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).

Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, was very familiar with the Garden of Gethsemane having been there with Jesus many times. As he arrived with a “multitude” of soldiers, high priests, Pharisees, and servants to arrest Jesus, Judas identified Him by the prearranged signal of a kiss. None of the writers of the gospels give an exact number to estimate the size of the mob that came for Jesus. Clearly they were afraid of Him and sent an armed multitude to arrest the King of Kings. Peter, trying to protect Jesus, took his sword and attacked a man named Malchus, the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. Miraculously, Jesus restored the man’s ear showing a divine supernatural healing, and an overwhelming display of power. It’s surprising that after witnessing this amazing miracle of healing it had no effect on the multitude. When Jesus asked, “Whom seek ye?” they went backward, and fell to the ground. They were not shaken by the power of His healing or His words, and became like dead men, falling to the ground. 

In John chapter 18, we are shown through this narrative account not only the power and the courage of Christ, but also His great love. In the anticipation of the cross, Jesus is never concerned about Himself, but is always concerned about His disciples. When at last He should be thinking about Himself, He is thinking about them. He asked that these men, the disciples, be let go when in the garden they came with lanterns, torches and weapons to apprehend Him. They arrested Him and took Him bound to Pontius Pilate, while the disciples scattered in fear for their lives.

Thought: Jesus will willingly drink the bitter cup and die our death. His disciples will forsake Him, the Gentiles will mock and scourge Him, and the Jews will cry "Crucify Him," yet He will die in our place. He will give His life for those whom He loves in obedience to the Father's plan. May our hearts respond to so great a love, the divine work of redemption. Such a perfect plan in every detail and fulfilled flawlessly despite the enemy’s schemes to prevent it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

I Wish You, Dead! (part 3)

I Wish You, Dead! (part 3)

Luke 15:25-32
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.  And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.  It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Luke 15 has a third scenario hidden in the mist of the story. The account of the oldest son and his perplexing attitude towards his father, accompanies the contempt he holds for his younger brother at his return. The prodigal son tries to work for his father as an hired servant and tells him he doesn’t deserve to have his place restored in the family after what he has done. The loving father shows true forgiveness by having the best robe placed upon him, a ring put on his finger and shoes brought for his feet. He prepares the fatted calf in celebration of his lost son coming home. This symbolizes sinful man trying to work his way to heaven. The unregenerate sinner doesn’t realize that God’s grace and forgiveness cleanses him from all sin and makes him an heir with Christ for eternity. This act of love is not because he deserves to be an heir of Christ’s or that he can work his way to heaven. It’s because of God’s great love for sinful man that He paid man’s sin debt on the cross. A true believer is saved by the free gift of the grace of God which makes him no longer a slave to sin, but an heir through Christ.

Let’s take a look at the older brother and see what his life teaches us. He is a dutiful son, a harding working son in his father’s fields. He willingly stays with his father when his younger brother takes his inheritance and leaves all to fulfill his sinful desires. The Pharisees are seeing the older brother as the good son, the son that did what was right, not disgracing his father or their Jewish heritage. But, as we continue the story, we see that the older brother becomes angry when his younger brother returns home and he, the older brother, refuses to join the homecoming celebration. In fact, the oldest son has no real relationship with his earthly father which we see in the way he speaks to him and his refusal to participate in his father’s great joy. This older brother’s reaction is a picture of the Pharisee, the hypocritical religious person, who stays close to other religious people but has no relationship whatsoever to the Father, and no interest in repenting sinners. A religious hypocrite will not recognize his own sin and repent as we have seen in the elder son and his self-righteous behavior. This son’s behavior was more socially acceptable than the younger brother’s outward sinfulness, but it was equally shameful. 

The Pharisees were consistently angry about Jesus associating with sinners, and embracing them, that they wouldn't go near them or speak to them. Here in this passage they meet themselves. This is the very attitude that they showed back in chapter 5 when they asked the disciples why in the world does Jesus eat with such wicked sinful people. This is the same attitude they had in chapter 19 when they grumbled again because Jesus went to the home of a man who was a sinner, namely Zacchaeus the tax collector. They were continually outraged by the conduct of Jesus associating with sinners, which indicated they had no idea of the heart of God.

We have learned that the father in this story is God in Christ. The father is the loving, life-giving Redeemer of sinners, the Savior, the reconciler who forgives those who repent and believe. The sons are sinners. Some sinners are irreligious and blatant and some are religious and hidden. But they are both sinners who are void of a relationship with God. The amazing reality of the story is  that God loves sinners religious or irreligious, moral or immoral, outward or inward. He loves them both. He offers them both grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship and eternal life whether they are extremely wicked or extremely moral, which these two sons illustrate.

Thought: The older son has no love for his father and no interest in his father’s love for his younger brother. He doesn’t see his need of anything. He fews himself as perfect and requires no repentance. Inwardly, his heart is wicked and blind to spiritual reality but he is seen as moral on the public front, outwardly good, and obeying all the rules. Unfortunately, he has no relationship to God and no understanding of grace.

The younger son was overwhelmed with his father's grace and immediately confessed his sin, confessed his unworthiness and received instantaneous forgiveness, reconciliation, and sonship.  He entered into the celebration of the father's joy, which is eternal salvation. The older son was shown, the same tenderness, the same mercy, and was offered the same grace, but reacts with bitter resentment, towards the father.

I’m not sure where you see yourself in this story, but we're all there. Either you're the open sinner  living in rebellion against God or the hidden one concealing your sin from man. I pray you will come to the Father who has borne your shame, leaving his throne in heaven to take your place on the cross. He is a God who delights in mercy and finds His joy in forgiveness.