Finding Righteousness


Matthew 5:6

One Sunday on their way home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.” The mother said, “Oh? Why is that?” The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. The mother replied, “Yes, that’s true, honey.” “And he also said that God lives in us? Is that true, mommy?” Again the mother replied, “Yes.” “Well,” said the little girl, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?”

Hunger and thirst in our text are expressions of strong desire. Nothing better expresses this strong desire than when we strive to obtain righteousness than hunger and thirst. An ardent desire is often represented in the Scriptures by hunger and thirst. Ps 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Since hunger and thirst are the keenest of our appetites, our Lord, by employing this language here, plainly means “those whose deepest cravings are after spiritual blessings.”

Oprah Winfrey was interviewing people on her program recently who were having affairs with married people! One woman who had a long-standing affair with a married man was saying how happy she was. But then someone raised the question of morality. “Wait a minute,” the woman protested. “I am a Christian, but my personal life and my religion don’t have anything to do with one another. God wants me to be happy, and if I am happy with this man, then God doesn’t mind.”

Is God only happy in making us happy? Is God like an eternal babysitter letting us constantly have our way? Can we believe in God and live like the Devil? Can we sow wild oats all week then glibly go to church to pray for a crop failure? The truth is, God is too pure even to look upon wickedness. Hab 1:13Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. “God is light,” John says, “and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (I John 1:5,6) Yes, God is concerned with happiness, but our eternal happiness! He wants to get us to heaven’s pleasures, so He demands righteousness on earth.

What is righteousness? A rabbi went on a journey with the prophet Elijah.
They walked all day, and at nightfall they came to the humble cottage of a poor man, whose only treasure was a cow. The poor man ran out of his cottage, and his wife ran too, to welcome the strangers for the night and to offer them all the simple hospitality which they were able to give in straitened circumstances. Elijah and the rabbi were entertained with plenty of the cow’s milk, sustained by home-made bread and butter, and they were put to sleep in the best bed while their kindly hosts lay down before the kitchen fire. But in the morning the poor man’s cow was dead.

They walked all the next day, and came that evening to the house of a very wealthy merchant, whose hospitality they craved. The merchant was cold and proud and rich, and all that he would do for the prophet and his companion was to lodge them in a cowshed and feed them on bread and water. In the morning, however, Elijah thanked him very much for what he had done, and sent for a mason to repair one of his walls, which happened to be falling down, as a return for his kindness.

The Rabbi, unable to keep silence any longer, begged the holy man to explain the meaning of his dealings with human beings. ‘In regards to the poor man who received us so hospitably,’ replied the prophet, ‘it was decreed that his wife was to die that night, but in reward for his goodness God took the cow instead of the wife. I repaired the wall of the rich miser because a chest of gold was concealed near the place, and if the miser had repaired the wall himself he would have discovered the treasure. Say not therefore to the Lord: What are you doing? But say in your heart: Must not the Lord of all do right?”

Rigtheousness is to be morally upright. It is the person seeking to be free of sin. virtuously justifiable!

A parable that comes out of Asia and is similar to the Biblical story of the Prodical, has a son leaving home and spending many years away, finally returning in rags and misery. He does not recognize his father, but the father recognizes him and tells his servants to take him to the mansion and to clean him up. Still not revealing his identity, he waits to see if the son will become worthy to become a son. He assigns humble tasks and leads him on through encouragement. Not until his son had become used to his duty, withstood temptation, and broken himself of a mean spirit did the father reveal his identity. He formally declared him to be his heir, and introduced him to his relatives, the king and other people. The father did not accept his son while he was still unworthy. The father treated his son according to the stage he had reached.

They shall be satisfied as a hungry man is when supplied with food, or a thirsty man when supplied with drink. Those who are perishing for want of righteousness; those who feel that they are lost sinners and strongly desire to be holy, shall be thus satisfied. Never was there a desire to be holy which God was not willing to gratify. Christ has made provision to satisfy all who truly desire to be holy.

John 7:37-38 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

A Look Inside The ‘Jesus Seminar’


Last year when our congregation hosted the School of Christian Growth, one class struggled with issues that had been raised by the Jesus Seminar. I don’t even think that most people know what the Jesus Seminar is, much less what has come out of the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar was started in 1985 with thirty Biblical scholars and has grown to over 200 experts in biblical studies. It started under the auspices of the Westar Institute. The seminar meets twice a year to debate technical papers that have been prepared and circulated in advance. The goal was plain and simple, “Fined out and determine what Jesus really said.” This goes beyond just the literal words to include the substance and style of his utterances.

It is far to easy for us to say, what more needs to be looked at, for it is in the Bible and all is said and done. Those who joined the quest of the Jesus Seminar knew that their process would border on the sacred and even abut blasphemy to many in the Christian world. But the benefits of knowing the historical Jesus outweighed the risk. They knew that the fundamentalist would generate a climate of inquisition and distrust. That scholars would have difficulty being honest with their judgements. That many would cry heresy!

To get at the historical Jesus, three things would have to be done. The divine (God side) of Jesus has to be put to the side and cannot be considered. Please understand, that doesn’t mean that they don’t believe that Jesus is God, it simply means they are not going to try to prove it or disprove it. Faith will not be a consideration. One cannot prove or disprove faith. Rom 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Faith becomes a part of our belief system with issues we cannot prove but believe. Thirdly, they could not limit themselves to only the Bible. If they were to get at the truth they could not rely on the assumption that the Bible was the inspired word and contained all of the information. Again, that didn’t mean that they didn’t believe that the Bible was the inspired word, what it meant was that they would have to find the facts without relying upon believing that it was inspired.

I will never forget my first Bible class in college. Dr. Coker was a real scholar who challenged his students to think. Above all THINK! He asked me, how did we get the Bible? “God dictated and man wrote.” He didn’t like my answer, because it was all based on faith and little reality.

Isaiah wrote, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD (Isa 1:18). It is a challenge from the word of God to think. God has never been afraid of humanity obtaining knowledge. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not to keep knowledge from them but sin. In the Tower of Babel knowledge was not the problem, arrogance was. Paul writes to the young Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15) and challenges him to “study to show himself approved.” For some reason we see education and faith in conflict with each other. That somehow knowledge destroys our belief in God. John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I think there are two reasons for this discomfort of challenging the Bible. One, we put our faith in the Bible rather than the God of the Bible. The sole purpose of the Bible is to teach us the stories of God. Without even realizing it some of us make the Bible our God rather than allowing it to simple point us toward God. John 5:39 Jesus said You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. The second reason is that somehow if we find out differently, it will force us to change what we believe. If what we believe is wrong, we need to change it. However, with all the education that I have received I have only found that it reenforces what I know to be true.

What have we learned from the Jesus Seminar? Of the 176 events recorded in the Gospels, the Seminar concluded that 16% without a doubt actually took place by Jesus. Now at first hearing that you will think that 16% sounds awfully low! Think about it, over 200 scholars, some of the most critical and picky professionals, are in agreement on 16% of the Gospel stories. That validates the existence of Jesus.

We have known for some time that there was a 5th Gospel that we called “Q”. This “Quelle” source becomes evident when we parallel the four gospels. Mark the oldest of the gospel clearly had a source that he was copying from. Matthew and Luke, clearly used both Q and Mark when they wrote their respective gospels. We have never known what happened to that writing or who wrote it. None of our original Christian documents dates back more than a 1,000 years. We have copies of copies. Best thought had the writing of Q connected to Peter. The research of the Jesus Seminar is leaning toward the theory that Jesus himself left some written record in Greek, maybe Q.

For years, non-Christian sources have challenged the belief of the resurrection of Christ. The theory was that the body of the man named Jesus was simply stolen from the grave by some Christians. In what they call the “Post-Easter Jesus” the Seminar concludes that what happened to the body in the grave is moot when there is verification of Jesus being alive following the entombment. The Bible is emphatic on the empty tomb and that was more to point out that He was alive (even though they did not understand how).

Open dialog has never hurt anyone. The year is 1887. The scene is a small neighborhood grocery store. A middle-aged gentleman is in the store buying some turnip greens. He gives the clerk a $20 bill and she starts to put the $20 bill in the cash drawer to give him his change. Then the clerk looks down at her fingers and she notices some of the ink from the $20 bill is coming off on her fingers which are wet because she’s been wrapping those turnip greens. And she looked up at Mr. Nenger. Here’s a man she’s known for years.
She looks down at the $20 bill. She’s shocked. She wonders to herself, “Is this man giving me a counterfeit $20 bill?” And then she discounts it almost immediately because Emanuel Nenger is an old and trusted friend. So she says, “No, he wouldn’t do that.” So she gives him his change and he goes on his way. But $20 is an awful lot of money in 1887 and so she decides to contact the police. They get a search warrant; they look through Emanuel Nenger’s home. Up in his attic they find the facilities for reproducing $20 bills. The facilities are rather simple. It’s an artist’s easel, paint brushes and paints Emanuel Nenger is laboriously, stroke by stroke, hand-painting those $20 bills. You see, he was in fact, a master artist. And while they were up there they found three portraits that Emanuel Nenger had painted. They sold those portraits at public auction for a little over $16,000. That’s over $5,000 per portrait. But here’s the irony — it took him almost the same length of time to paint a $20 bill that it took him to paint a $5,000 portrait. Yes, Emanuel Nenger was quite a thief, wasn’t he? He was a thief who was stealing from himself. Anytime we try to take the short-cuts; anytime we try to break the law, we end up stealing from ourselves.

A faith worth having is a faith worth testing. A God of truth can not and will not be proven wrong. If God is God, God can defend Himself, and doesn’t need any assistance.

The Great Mystery


The Apostle Paul was chosen by God to make known and explain at least two great revelations. The first of these was the Gospel itself —good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the great epistles —Romans, I and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians —Paul develops at length this first revelation. The second was the truth of the Church as the body of Christ. In the epistles written in prison, he deals to a very large extent with the second of these revelations —the Church as the body of Christ.

Paul gives us the climax of the second theme of the good news of salvation in Jesus. We call it the “Dispensation of the Grace of God.” This dispensation is the present Church, the Body of Christ. During this age of the Church, God is crediting His righteousness to humanity through an act of faith. What does this mean? Whoever believes and accepts God’s son, Jesus, God gives grace.

Paul writes to the Church at Rome, Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. This was a revelation for everyone. Almost all religions, including the Jewish faith, taught that forgiveness had to be earned. In the Jewish faith, the Law, as given by Moses, required people to live perfect lives. Under the Law, the Law demanded that all blessing be earned.

The difference? Grace was free. Grace is the unmerited love and favor of God toward humanity. There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace, it is something that is given to us. Here is the mystery of the Church as the body of Christ.



A sinner has to repent first; otherwise forgiveness makes no sense. That’s why the lost must first realize they cannot rescue themselves; otherwise salvation makes no sense. That’s why love can only be complete if it is both given and received; otherwise it is either a bondage or a dependency.

Some forty-five years ago a clergyman was sitting in his office. Unknown to him, several blocks away, a bank was being robbed by three men. As they departed from the bank one of the robbers shot and killed a teller. Attempting a get away in their auto they encountered mechanical problems only a few blocks from the bank. Leaving the car they made their way into the church where the pastor was located. The three men came into the church with mixed emotions: one wanted a hostage, one hoped for some help, and the last one was unsure of his motives. With gun in hand they encountered the preacher. In the process the telephone rang and they told him to answer. For unknown reasons as he was talking on the phone they attacked him with fists and guns. He fell to the floor under the onslaught and the robbers continued their assault. They stopped when they realized the head could not be wedged any further and the assault had removed one of the victim’s eyes. Nearly a year passed before the preacher left the hospital, he returned to his pastorate. In the meantime, the three were apprehended. The one robber who had killed the teller was sentenced to death. The other two were tried separately and the pastor was a witness at the trial.

On the day the sentence was to be given, the pastor stood in the court room and asked the judge for a point of personal privilege. The pastor requested that instead of the two being sentenced to jail, that they be released to his care and custody and be allowed to go home with him and his wife and live with them as their sons. The court, though shocked, granted the request on the privison that if the men in any way broke the law — their sentence to go to jail would be enforced. One of the men would not respond except negatively. The young man was sentenced to prison. Nearly two years passed. One afternoon, a knock came at the office door. He hurried across the room and leaned across the desk and with tears swelling up in his eyes said, “Under God, you’ll never know the way I feel every time I look at you. Don’t you realize I was the one who beat out your eye.” The pastor replied, “Yes, I know it was you. The man told the pastor,
“I want to become a doctor and help people who are blind.” Today on the West Coast the man performs surgery to aid the visually impaired.

Philip went to Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He amazed them with his magic. Simon himself believed and was baptized. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.

Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” Repentance is truly a gift from God. It is godly sorrow for our sins. We admit that we have sinned against God. Ask God for forgiveness. And change our ways.

Shepherds, Strangers, and Thieves


Newsweek Magazine interviewed an employee at a Waco, Texas bar once frequented by cult leader, David Koresh and made an observation about the one who seems to have claimed to be Jesus: “Pretty rowdy behavior for Jesus. He’d get a buzz off the beer and go squealing out of the parking lot.” The world measures our actions by a pretty high standard, the standards of God when we claim to be God! Actor Dean Martin died on Christmas Day several years ago. His memorial service was held three days later in Los Angeles. During the funeral, actress Shirley MaClaine was on hand to comfort the mourners. She said she talked with Martin just an hour before the service and he told her “how happy he was” in heaven. Ms. MaClaine sounded like a spokesperson pitching a new feature for long distance calling. False prophets are always hinting that Jesus Christ is not the only way.

Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said. So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.

Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.

There always have been and always will be until the very end false prophets. Scripture in fact warns us that in the end there will be one great false prophet. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. The people of God are warned to ignore those prophets who aren’t prophets of God. They were to carefully heed the oracles that were given by God’s prophets and to stone false prophets. So then, how did they tell the difference? God lays out the test for a true prophet who speaks his message. The bottom line is that the true prophet will never be mistaken, all prophecies will come true.

Television shows, radio call-in programs and phone services seduce many with prophetic claims. Look around us at the number of cults that have popped up. If you ever set in a class that I teach on the cults you will hear me teach that there are four criteria for being a cult. Adding to or taking away from the Word of God. Subtracting from the deity of Jesus. Adding requirements for salvation. Dividing the follower’s loyalty. “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. Many cults pop up that offer different ways to God. Sun Myung Moon says that he is the new “son of God.” The Mormon’s say, “if you are good enough, you will become a god.” The Jehovah Witnesses say there is no such thing as Hell. Ron Hubbard says all the power is in the brain.

Jesus called on the believer to be “fruit pickers.” By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

How do we know? In the 1972 Olympics at Munich, Germany, the climax of the marathon race was marked by confusion and deception. Frank Shorter was the U.S. bet to win the gold and having led for much of the race, he was expected to enter the stadium for the final lap. As the time drew near, a runner entered the stadium much to the delight of the crowd. As 50,000 applauded and cheered someone they thought was Frank Shorter striding to an Olympic gold medal, at least one person caught the deception. Erich Segal, knew instantly the man on the track was an imposter. How did he reach that quick conclusion? He didn’t know the imposter, but he knew Frank Shorter. He had met Frank, spoken with him, built a relationship, and followed his career for several years. While he had not a clue about the imposter, television audiences in America heard Erich Segal adamantly pointing out the fraud.

The Bible speaks of false prophets and deceptive teaching in the last days. The best path to discernment is to get to know the true God and His Word so well, that anything else is blatant deception.