Sunday, June 10, 2018

Famous Fence-Straddlers (1 Kings 18:17-24)

(Transcript of message preached at Faith-Grace Vietnamese Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, GA, on June 3, 2018.)

1.      People of Israel (northern tribes)—
a.      couldn’t decide between the LORD and Baal, the idol that Jezebel brings in beside the golden calves the northern tribes were worshipping;
b.      the LORD uses Elijah to show them who is truly God; very merciful of him to do that, since all but 7000 of the entire country had turned away from him;
c.       After the fire falls, Elijah kills prophets of Baal, but people don’t return to God permanently;
d.      Elisha carries on his ministry after he’s taken up to heaven, and it’s a similar scene—few follow the Lord; most drift back to worshipping idols because it’s the easier thing to do, but they lose their souls in the process
e.      Lesson here: fence-straddlers may be moved toward the right temporarily, but if it’s not a decision based on deep personal conviction, they’ll eventually go back to their former ways

2.      Zedekiah (Jer. 38:14-23).
a.      Last king of Judah rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, but Jeremiah tells him that if he humbles himself and surrenders, his life will be spared and he’ll be treated well;
b.      instead, he stubbornly refuses and is captured and loses his sons and his eyes (last thing he ever sees is his sons put to death);
c.       he’s afraid of what his nobles will think about him bowing to Jeremiah’s preaching (which nearly all of them hate)—“The fear of man, that bringeth a snare” (Prov. 29:2x)

3.      Herod (Mark 6)
a.      three Herods: (1) “the Great,” who tries to kill Jesus as a boy; (2) Antipas, the one here; and (3) Agrippa, whom we’ll talk about later;
b.      Herod listens to John’s preaching, enjoys it, and even does good works in response, but the lingering sin in his life is that he takes his brother’s wife for himself, and John tells him it’s wrong;
c.       you know what happens next—daughter of his illegal wife (Herodias) dances at his birthday party and he promises her half his kingdom; at her mother’s urging, she asks for John’s head, much to Herod’s regret; he has to keep his oath, though, and has John put to death;
d.      no more light for Herod after this; he sees Jesus just before Christ dies, and Jesus says nothing to him—Herod had firmly rejected the light he had (note how he mocks Christ’s silence) and Jesus gives him no more;
e.      you can’t play games with God, y’all; if he gives you light, act on it—if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts…like Herod did, and lost his soul for fence-straddling

4.      Rich young ruler (Luke 18)
a.      came running, so not old; seems earnest—Mark says that Christ loved him, and sincere (kept commandments best he knew);
b.      but when Christ puts his finger on his idol, the thing more important to him than God, he slinks away sad—he knows what he ought to do, but can’t bring himself to do it;
c.       fence-straddler! Christ tells him that the next step beyond what he already knows and has obeyed is to sell out—not try to hold the world in one hand and God in the other; can’t be done—you love one or the other;
d.      true, we must live in this world, but we’re not to love it (evil world system), because that will harm us

5.      Pilate (John 18)
a.      “what is truth?” Spirit of our times; most people, even some believers, scoff at the idea of absolute truth;
b.      Pilate was a skeptic, who wasn’t governed by moral absolutes, so he sells Christ out in the end, because self is most important to him, not truth…
c.       John 19—made himself a king; Pilate has to get rid of Christ to keep his job, but he knows that Christ is blameless and the true king of Israel (superscription);
d.      fence-straddler! “I wash my hands of him”—no you don’t Pilate! His blood was on your hands, those of the Jews and their leaders, Herod, and Judas Iscariot. All of them had a hand in Christ’s death—Pilate makes the final call, the last nail in the coffin.

6.      Agrippa (Acts 26)
a.      almost, but not altogether. Paul gets an audience with this Jewish king before being shipped off to Rome to defend his ministry before Caesar.
b.      Acts 26 is a masterpiece of persuasive preaching. Paul not only works on Agrippa personally, but also on everyone listening. In the end, Agrippa is so moved by Paul’s testimony that he says, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28).
c.       Paul’s reply is classic and makes Agrippa stand up in respect—“I would that thou were not almost but altogether as I, except these bonds.” Wow! What powerful words from a man in chains; oh, his hands may have been shackled, but his spirit wasn’t.
d.      You couldn’t steal Paul’s joy, for anything; same should be true of us. The same apostle told us, “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” Elsewhere he says, “Rejoice evermore,” defining alway as evermore.
e.      Don’t stop rejoicing in the Lord, despite the circumstances. What a glorious promise, y’all. God will be with you in every trial, and there for you to rejoice in. The world can’t say that. They have to comfort themselves, but God promises to do the comforting, no matter what you go through (2 Cor. 1:3-4) and give you joy in it.
f.        You cannot lose as a Christian, though everything seems against you. Now do you see why Paul wanted Agrippa to have what he had. Not straddle the fence, but dive in to the ocean of God’s love in Christ. But what would his friends think? WHO CARES! Your friends aren’t your friends if they don’t respect your faith in Christ, and they’re not worth keeping. God will give you a new set of friends if you follow him (Binh is a good example of that in my life)

The Bible has nothing good to say about those who won’t decide between good or evil. Good and evil are absolutes (no ying-yang—God hasn’t a spot of evil in him, nor Satan a spot of good).

Good was here before evil, and evil will go away, leaving only good. That’s why we all want stories to have happy endings, because this one does.

Don’t straddle the fence—decide today that you’re on God’s side and follow him to the end. You will come out a winner, no matter what you face in this life.

Properly Judging Character (1 Cor. 4:1-5)

(Transcript of a message preached at Bible Believers' Baptist Church, Madison, AL, on May 27, 2018.)


·         Like it or not, making judgments is a BIG part of life.
o   When Christ said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” in Mt. 7:1, he was warning against unjust judgment—a hypocrite (vv. 2-4) judging someone else for something they were guilty of even worse—but not against judgment altogether.
o   In John 7:24, Christ tells the Jews to “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” and in Luke 11:42, he rebukes the Pharisees for passing over, or omitting, “judgment and the love of God,” both of which should be present in our lives.
§  To love God is to exercise judgment, since God “loveth righteousness and judgment” (Ps. 33:5; Jer. 9:24) and it is the work of God’s spirit (Is. 11:1-4; 1 Cor. 2:15).

·         In life we’re called upon to judge others’ revealed character, without trying to nail down their exact motives, which only God understands in full.

·         According to our text, we may not understand our own motives sometimes, much less others’.

·         Nonetheless, judgment of others’ character is not optional, according to scripture, though scripture does offer guidance on it, which we’ll come to a bit later. First, a few examples of where we’re required to judge others’ character.

Examples of Where Character Should Be Judged
·         Brethren (church fellowship)
o   1 Cor. 5:12-13--commission
o   2 Thes. 3:6-13--omission
o   2 Tim. 2:22—purity of heart will be manifest in righteousness, faith, charity, peace

·         Bishops
o   Told to evaluate their character very carefully
o   1 Tim. 3:1-7—not only knowledge but experience, not only church life but public testimony
o   1 Tim. 5:22-25—not only their present but their past and potential future

·         Widows
o   1 Tim. 5:3-15. Thirteen verses are devoted to the character of widows—how to gauge it and how to respond to it (church aid or no)
o   Church’s aid not only depends on possibility of family support, but their personal worthiness (vv. 9-10)

·         Cultural: spouse
o   In some cultures, spouse doesn’t have a choice who they marry
o   Where one does, however, s/he should take a serious look at their potential mate’s character
o   I can’t tell you exactly how that’s done or how long it takes; that’s something to seek God about (which is where you’re likely to find the answer anyway)
o   At a minimum, see how they act in a variety of situations and with a variety of people [“winter them”; 1 Tim. 3:10]; seems to agree with 1 Tim. 3 and 5


Guidelines for Judging Character
Four principles of judgment stand out to me in scripture; not saying this list is exhaustive, since it’s only four, but I think these principles hold true, even if they’re not the only ones, plus I see a relationship between them which I’d like to highlight for you.

·         Foundational
o   In Mt. 7, the judge was a hypocrite, so his judgment wasn’t pure. Proper judgment of character must be based on proper character itself. Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Without purity, how could you possibly arrive at proper judgment?
·         Ensures the other principles. If you’re not pure, you’re likely to be partial, unmerciful, and quick in your judgments.

·         Not same as perfection
o   No human judge is perfect, but that’s not required, nor really desirable.
o   How could you sympathize with others if you were perfect (Heb. 5:1-2)?
o   Christ couldn’t be our perfect judge if he had not walked in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3) and felt the infirmities and temptations that we feel as men (Heb. 4:15).
o   So don’t think you must be faultless to exercise righteous judgment, otherwise no one could judge.
o   Point is that your walking in the light that you have without conscious offense—that is purity and that qualifies you to exercise judgment.

·         Not showing undue favoritism toward race, gender, social status, family, etc.
·         This is one way to, as the Bible says, “pervert judgment,” since it’s not right to favor people for who they are without due regard for what they’ve done.
·         Here’s where bribery can come in strongly, tipping the scales toward the one putting up money. But a righteous judge (#1) won’t be swayed by “filthy lucre” but will judge based on principle, impartially.
·         Good (or bad) example of this: Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abiah (cf. 1 Sam. 8:1-3). Note the progression in v. 3—
o   turned aside after filthy lucre—in their hearts; departed from purity
o   took bribes
o   perverted judgment—ultimate result
·         Partiality is warned against throughout the Bible
o   Mosaic law (Ex. 23:1-8)
o   Church age (1 Tim. 5:21)
o   Jews in end times (Jas. 2:4); last verse esp. strong—willful partiality is evil!
·         Great rewards for being impartial
o   Levites (Ex. 32; Deut. 33)
o   Phinehas (Num. 25)

·         Human frailty must be considered, in keeping with God’s own nature, which prefers mercy over judgment
o   Mic. 6:3, 7:18
o   Jas. 2:13
·         You will err in judgment if you’re too harsh (Saul), but also if you’re too lenient (Eli/sons; David/Absalom)
·         Strive for a balance, with God’s help (Rom. 11:22).

Slowness (“slow to anger”; Jas. 1:19-20)
·         Don’t be quick to judge—God isn’t
·         Don’t judge based on isolated incidents (the exception rather than the rule).
·         Sometimes the truth about someone’s character doesn’t come out until way down the road (1 Tim. 5:22-25)
o   Isolated incidents: Noah (Gen. 9; 2 Pt. 2), Moses (Ex. 2; Deut. 34), David (2 Sam. 11; 23), Elijah (1 Kings 18; Luke 9)
o   Good to bad:
§  Saul (1 Sam. 11)
§  Solomon (1 Kings 1-8)
§  Joash (2 Chron. 24:15-24)
o   Bad to good
§  Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:11-19)
§  Dying thief (Luke 23:39-43) 

·         Judgment is a sobering responsibility that all of us have, and it’s often hard to make good judgments.
·         While it’s true that you can learn from your own bad judgments, why not take the easier route and learn what God says about judging and study good and bad examples of judging in the Bible?
o   Every young man should know who Rehoboam was and the bad judgment he made (1 Kings 12): it split God’s earthly people in half for about 500 years!
o   Furthermore, God gave young people an entire book of scripture, from the wisest man who ever lived, for the express purpose of developing good judgment.
o   So what’s anyone’s excuse for not being in this school and making progress therein?
·         Richard Carlson, the late psychologist who wrote Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, a popular self-help book, said that parents should look for incremental progress in their children’s maturity.
o   God is the same way. Learn these principles of judgment, and begin applying them in your daily life, step by step, and you’ll see the payoff in the long run.
o   “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18).

A Life of Confession (Acts 9:1-22)

(Transcript of a message preached at Faith-Grace Vietnamese Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, GA, on April 15, 2018.)

Grabber: You’ve just read about one of the most important events in history. Say what? Yeah, God just turned his biggest enemy into his greatest friend. Wow!

·         This guy hated the church so much that he went looking for them everywhere, even outside where most of them lived, to wipe them out altogether. Bad dude, folks…really bad dude.
·         But thank God he didn’t stay that way! Deep down, Saul was doing what he thought God wanted him to do. Years later, he told King Agrippa while on trial, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to [or against] the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). But that same Jesus, exalted to heaven, knocks him on his back and asks him, “Why are you doing this to me?” (vv. 4-5)
·         And when Saul realizes who Jesus really is and that he’s been fighting him, Saul receives him on the spot (v. 6). Praise the Lord for his grace and power! God is not only willing to forgive his greatest enemy but able to turn him into his greatest friend, the apostle to the whole world and the pattern for all believers in this age.
·         This passage also talks about what happened right after Saul got saved, including his baptism, discipleship, and early preaching. What strikes me about all of it, and what I want to point out to you today, is that Paul led a life of confession: a life of declaring to others who the Lord was, what he had done for him personally, and what he could do for others.

·         Definition of confession (how the text of the Bible itself defines it)
·         Paul’s life of confession (examples, fruit, inspiration)
·         Ways you can confess the Lord today (some very simple)

·         Psalm 32:5. To confess it to acknowledge something: that you know something or someone. Here David is saying that he knows what he had done was sin and declaring it to be so.
o   Acts 19:18-19. People who had heard Paul’s preaching and believed came forward to acknowledge that their witchcraft was wrong and burned the expensive books they’d used (“curious arts”; that’s how many people get snared by Satan, all the way back to Eve—they’re curious and end up getting far more than they bargained for).
o   Rom. 10:9-10. So when the Bible refers to confessing the Lord Jesus, it’s saying you’re acknowledging that the Lord Jesus is the Saviour and has become your Saviour when you trusted him as that. Verse 10 makes it clear what happens when you get saved: in your heart you trust in Jesus as the one who “died for [y]our sins according to the scriptures…was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
o   Most people only associate confession with sin, but that’s a mistake, since the confession that Paul emphasizes and exemplifies is acknowledging and declaring the truth about Christ our Saviour. We need to be careful about our fellowship with the Lord, but we also need to be careful to acknowledge and proclaim our Saviour every way we can, and we’ll talk more about how later.

·         Examples
o   Baptism. By submitting to this, he was acknowledging his faith in Christ. He was no longer Christ’s enemy, but his follower.
o   Early ministry (Acts 9). After spending time with the believers in Damascus, he begins to acknowledge Christ publicly to others as “the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). By this point, I believe, God had revealed to him the gospel that he would take to the whole world, the message of grace and salvation through Christ that would bring Jews and Gentiles together in the body of Christ, the church of the living God.
o   Core ministry (Acts 13-28). Paul testifies before two rulers in Judea: (1) Felix, the Roman governor (Acts 24:14-16, 24-25); and (2) King Agrippa, a Jewish ruler under the Romans (Acts 26). He confesses his faith in Christ to both of them, but sadly moves neither. Paul’s confessions didn’t always have positive results, but God still used them. Felix doesn’t believe Paul, but he keeps him safe from the Jews for two years; Agrippa refuses to become a Christian, but he doesn’t condemn Paul either.
o   Later ministry (2 Tim. 4:16-17). From the footnote at the end of 2 Timothy, we learn that Paul faced the Emperor Nero twice: once in Acts 28, and once here (4:16). Now he was awaiting judgment, with the sense that he’d be killed. From 4:17 we see that he confessed his faith to Nero again and gave him the gospel, perhaps for the second time. Facing the king of the world he boldly proclaims his faith. What an example to us all!
·         Fruit
o   Since Paul practiced confessing Christ, he could encourage others to do it too.
o   His first jail term in Rome moved other preachers to speak out for Christ (Phil. 1:14).
o   He reminded Timothy how Timothy’s Christian life began with acknowledging his faith before others (1 Tim. 6:12), just like Paul’s did, and should continue to do so (2 Tim. 1:8).
·         Inspiration
o   If you keep reading past 1 Tim. 6:12, you see what Paul’s ultimate inspiration for confessing his faith was, and what Timothy’s and ours should be: Christ Jesus.
o   Even when he’s taken captive by his people and brought before government officials, Christ declares the truth of God’s word, in which he, as a man, trusted. Pilate, a skeptic, asked him who he was, and Christ told him. Pilate thought truth was relative (“what is truth?”; John 18:38), not knowing that “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) was standing right in front of him.
o   Sadly he wasn’t looking for the truth, so even with it right in front of him, he missed it, and so can you, if your heart isn’t seeking it sincerely.

·         If you’re sitting there thinking: All of this about Paul is great, but how do I apply this in my own life? That’s exactly what you should be thinking!
·         Bible truth isn’t just meant to be learned: it’s meant to be applied
·         That’s what Bro. Binh does for me every day at work: takes the knowledge that our team gains from research and makes sure that it’s put to use by Georgia DOT.
·         How do we put to use this truth about acknowledging our faith in Christ?

o   First, examples from the Bible. How did Paul do it?
§  He started with his friends, like Ananias, through his baptism.
§  Confessed his faith to other believers (and non-believers) in Damascus.
§  Spread the message of grace wherever he went.
§  Even when brought before rulers, he didn’t hide what he believed but was open and even persuasive about it.

o   Examples in our own time (here’s a few to consider)
§  Clothing (t-shirts, lapel pins, ties)
§  Vehicle (magnets, stickers, tag frames, plates)
§  Home (yard sign; artwork; Bible)
§  Literature (tracts, booklets, books)
§  Social media/email/letters
§  Personal conversations (coffee; meals @ home or out)
§  Parade floats
§  Street preaching

o   Do it every way you can, for whoever you can, as long as you can
§  Someone said, Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” including confessing Christ.
§  During WWII in Germany, most of the church leaders backed Hitler, but not all. Some joined together and called themselves “The Confessing Church,” the church that spoke the truth and didn’t compromise with Hitler. Obviously they were persecuted, and one of their leaders, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, became well known. Sadly he was killed by the Nazis not long before Hitler died.
§  We need to be confessing believers and churches too. Paul’s a great example for us, as is the Lord Jesus himself, of declaring his faith to everyone; now it’s our turn to do the same; will you join us?