Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snake Handling, Faith or Folly?

It seems that our society has come upon a new phenomenon. Over and over again we read stories of churches and preachers that get caught or hurt handling snakes. The other day a minister was found dead in his home after being bitten by a poisonous snake while at his church. There are even entire television programs such as “Snake Salvation” dedicated to these snake handling churches.

(I will give a disclaimer before I go on. I have never watched a single episode “Snake Salvation” or any other program similar to it.)
When we read stories like the one about the Kentucky pastor who recently died our first thought normally is, “What is wrong with these people?” “These people are crazy!” “There is no way I would handle a snake!” These are all pretty normal thoughts I guess. I just can’t help but wonder how crazy these people would be to us if we would have grown up around this type of culture. These rituals seem very strange, and even “crazy” when we see others doing them. To those people who grew up in snake handling churches it’s not that “crazy” at all.

Imagine if your parents had taken you to a snake handling church when you were a small child. What if you were taught all your life that the only way to prove your faith was to take up a serpent? You see the things that seem odd to you may be natural to someone else. It doesn’t just end with snake handling. What if you grew up being taught that polygamy was God’s plan for your life? Would it really be odd to pray to the Virgin Mary if you were taught all your life that was the best way to get in touch with God?

Many of my readers attend churches where worship is participated in and encouraged. Do you realize that some of the things you do in church such as shouting or clapping your hands other churches find very disturbing? I personally believe that the Bible teaches this type of worship, but there are many that would disagree with me.

The purpose of this blog is not to justify those that handle snakes nor is it to condemn them. I personally believe that snake handling is a false doctrine, but it is one that I can understand. The reason that I can understand it is because I see people all the time who believe they have to do things in order to impress God. This is not new at all. In Paul’s day he constantly had to battle with false teachers that would come into churches and teach that you had to do certain things in order to impress or be accepted of God. For example notice what Paul says to the Galatian church.

10Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. Galatians 4:10-11

This church was founded in the truth of the gospel presented to them by Paul. Soon after Paul’s departing however there came a group of Jews teaching that in order to please God you had to do certain things. Rituals and good works soon took the place of the gospel message. These people became so wrapped up in these rituals that Paul worried that he had wasted his time ministering to them.

The scriptures are clear that the moment a person places their faith in Christ their sins are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ is placed upon their life. When God sees me He sees me as righteous, as if I had never sinned. The scriptures are also very clear that the transformation that takes place in our life at the moment of salvation should motivate us to live in such a manner that would be pleasing in God’s eyes. We don’t work to earn or maintain salvation, but we do work because we have been freely given salvation.

When I look at churches all around me I have two fears. My first fear is that many Christians place so much emphasis on their works. They place so much emphasis on works and rituals that they eventually take the place of God in their life. They begin to worship their standards and their rituals more than they worship the God of heaven.

I believe in having standards. I certainly believe that we should be busy working for God. Just don’t ever get so caught up in your work that you forget who it is that you are working for. Don’t forget why it is that you are performing those works. We work, not to obtain, but because we have obtained the goodness of God.

My second fear is that the average Christian just kind of assumes that everything they are taught is right without examining the scriptures for themselves. I can promise you that there are people sitting in good, sound, fundamental churches who are just as ignorant about what they believe as the man dancing with a snake in his hands. In both cases the people just believe what the preacher tells them from the pulpit is true.

This has always been an issue in the church. Just scan through the New Testament writings of Paul and notice how many times he writes “I would not have you ignorant.” Paul realized that many Christians did not understand the scriptures for themselves. Ignorance of the scriptures is one of the most powerful weapons the devil has to fight the child of God with. If the devil approached you like he did Eve in the Garden of Eden with the question “Yeah hath God said…” would you be able to tell the difference between truth and a lie? In the time commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages” false teachers would intentionally keep the scriptures out of the hands of the common man. Satan has always known that if a man studied the Bible for himself he was far less likely to fall for false teachings.

I don’t look down on those that are caught up in false teaching, I pity them. I pray that they read the scriptures, see the truth clearly presented therein, and that they have the courage to stand on what they learn to be truth. My prayer for you is the same. We all need to surround ourselves with people and ministers that we can trust, but let us never be solely dependant on them for scriptural truth. Read your Bible. Pray that God gives you wisdom to know truth from error. Soon you will discover that with that your new knowledge also comes a world of blessings.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hidden Treasures

Here in east Tennessee “real” snow isn’t something that we have seen a lot of lately. Today was an exception to that rule. Most people around had several inches of snow, probably more than my children have ever seen. It was that good kind of snow too. It was the wet kind that you can pack and play in.

This morning I did what many of you do on snow mornings. I got up, put on some warm clothes and went outside to play with my family. We did some sledding, made a great snowman, and even threw a couple of snow balls (if you can believe that). The kids had a blast, and the parents had a pretty good time too.

Unfortunately it wasn’t too long before the sun started coming out melting the snow off of the roads. This meant that I had to put on my big boy pants and go to work. Bummer right? As I was driving to work I began to pray and thank the Lord for the morning that I had just experienced. It wasn’t anything grand and luxurious, but it was fun. It was a few precious moments that my family got to play and laugh together.

This got me thinking. I am of the opinion that most of the blessings that God gives us are buried right out in the open. What I mean by this is that we often overlook the blessings of God because they are little things right in front of us. This morning God allowed us to smile instead of frown, laugh instead of cry, and play instead of mourn. God was handing out blessings and I am thankful for them.

Many times as time passes and life happens we get focused on the things that we don’t have instead of those we do. We see the bills that still have not been paid, the stress we are having on the job, and the problems going on with someone in the family. I’m not trying to diminish any of these issues, but I am saying that these things often cause us to overlook other things in life.

The next time you take inventory of your life don’t overlook the small things that God has blessed you with. Don’t be so focused on the big things that you overlook the small things.  Those laughs, smiles and snowball fights will be more important down the road than the big things you keep worrying over anyway, so why not enjoy them?

Oh, I know that it is easy to overlook these things. I am one of the world’s worst, but for today I will say “Thank you Lord for your small blessings.” 

I'm on twitter @drjoshuasharp

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Who loves them more?

Have you ever stopped to consider how much God actually loves you and your family? I don’t mean just a passing thought, but to actually consider it. Well I don’t know that any of us can comprehend the depths of God’s love, but something interesting struck me this morning.

As I was driving to work I was praying. It’s kind of my thing to do in the mornings. Anyway, as I was praying for some of my lost family members I made this statement, “God you probably want them to be saved as much as I do.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth when the thought crossed my mind, “Would you give one of your children to die for that family member?”

Here is the thing, I have often said that I could not give one of my children to die for a stranger, but that God loved them so much that He gave His Son to die for them. Of course God loves that stranger more than I do, they are a stranger. I had never stopped to consider that God even loves my family more than I do.

Could I give one of my children to die for an aunt, an uncle or even a grandparent? Could I even give one of my children to die for a parent? Absolutely not! I couldn’t even allow one child to die for another.

This is a humbling thought when you consider that God loved that aunt, uncle, and grandparent so much that He did allow His only Son to die for them. I just thought that I loved them, but my love today seems so little compared to God’s. Does this make me feel bad? No. Instead it makes me feel encouraged. I know how much I love that lost loved one. I know how much I want them to be saved. Then to consider that God wants the same thing so much more is an encouraging thought.

You never have to wonder whether it is God’s will to pray for the salvation of a loved one. God wants them to be saved more than you do. Therefore when that family member is burdening your heart, take them to God in prayer. There you will find common ground. God loves, cares and wants them to be saved more than you do.

9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

19We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

I'm on twitter @drojoshuasharp

Friday, January 31, 2014

Broken Laws and broken tablets

Over the past couple days I have been thinking about something I have truly never considered before. Why did Moses break the tablets that contained the Ten Commandments in Exodus 32? Bear with me for a minute and let me walk you through the steps, and my thoughts.

God gives Moses the Ten Commandment, the punishment for breaking the commandments and the plans for the tabernacle in Exodus 20-31. In chapter 32 God tells Moses to get down off the mountain because the people were sinning and God was angry. Moses comes off the mountain, sees them dancing around the golden calf and breaks the two stone tablets God gave him.

I guess I have always assumed that Moses broke the tablets because he was angry. Some people say that he broke them to symbolize that the children of Israel had already broken the laws on the tablets, but what if it was more than that?

I wonder if Moses knew that if he carried those tablets into the camp the people would immediately be responsible for breaking them and God would have killed all of them on the spot. Therefore he breaks the tablets before he goes into the camp so that they are not responsible for what is written on them.

At the least this is a wonderful picture of Christ. According to Exodus 32 & 33 God becomes angry and says that He is going to kill the people for their sins. When God does this, Moses, their savior from Egypt, goes to God and says "If you are going to kill them kill me too." Moses begs God for forgiveness over the next few chapters, and finally God, for Moses' sake makes a covenant not to kill these people in chapter 34.

Now Moses goes off the mountain for the second time and the bible says his face was shining. (It wasn't shining the first time.) Therefore there must be a difference between the first and second giving of the Law. The difference was that this time Moses not only had the two tablets, but he also had a covenant of mercy.

Here is the picture. I am a sinner and guilty of breaking the Laws of God. In all reality I should pay the price for my wrongs, and pay with my life. While I am guilty and deserve the punishment, Jesus Christ, my savior, took my place. Moses said, “God if you are going to kill them then kill me too.” Jesus said, “God he deserves to die, but take me instead.”

With the plea of mercy made, God made a covenant with Moses not to kill the people. On the cross a covenant was made between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus died in my place, “the just for the unjust.”

When Moses learned of the mercy of God the bible says that his face shone with the glory of God. He had been in God’s presence, seen God’s glory and received God’s mercy and it showed on his face. I wonder how many Christians today have the glory of God shining in their lives. It will take being in His presence, seeing His glory and receiving His mercy, but we can do it.

No wonder the children sing, “If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it.”

I'm on twitter @drjoshuasharp