Friday, September 17, 2010

Revelation 20

(Author's note:  As I did recently with a post from my New Testament Chapter Summaries, I wish to put this post on Revelation 20 on my main Bible blog so that readers who have been slow, or amiss, in reading that blog will be able to study this much-discussed Biblical chapter.  Hopefully, this article will whet the appetite of more readers, who will then go to my Revelation blog and give further attention to the matters written there.)

The overthrow of Satan (vs. 1-9)--There is very little that is easy about this chapter and I won't pretend that there is. I hesitate not in saying that I do not know all of what is being conveyed here, but I do think the basic ideas are clear; let us be reminded of Revelation 1:3 which pronounces a blessing on anyone who reads the book. If total understanding of this chapter is lacking, then there could be no blessing accruing from it. So there are some wonderfully comforting thoughts here which can inspire and solace us. And while I may not know all of what this chapter means, I do know what it does NOT mean, and it does not teach that there is going to be a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. This chapter says nothing about a reign of Christ on earth and, in keeping with the very nature of apocalyptic literature, the 1,000 years is almost surely symbolic as well. The whole concept of a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth is taken from this one passage; there is no other passage in the Bible that even remotely hints of such a thing. To build an entire system of Biblical interpretation on one passage, and one that is in the midst of the most symbolic, figurative book in Scripture, is shaky hermeneutics indeed. It should not be done. What does the Bible say, clearly, in other locations? Figurative passages should be interpreted in line with the plain passages, not visa-versa. And if the 1,000 years in this passage is literal, then why not the key to the bottomless pit, the great chain, the binding of Satan (and is he a dragon or a serpent?). To be consistent, these things should be interpreted literally as well. But no one does this.

The major thrust of this passage is the final defeat and overthrow of Satan. As I noted in the last chapter, the enemies of God and His people are introduced in chapter 12. In that chapter, Satan comes forth. In chapter 13 come the two beasts, and in chapter 17, the harlot. Then, in reverse order they are all defeated--the harlot in chapter 18, the beasts in chapter 19, and now here, in chapter 20, Satan is finally and forever conquered. That's the point of this chapter, not the 1,000 years. If verses 4-6 of Revelation 20 were not in the Bible, no one would ever have conceived of a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. Again, as best, it is very, very poor scholarship and handling of God's word to base a system of theology on three verses in the Bible. Yet, premillennialism is a materialistic philosophy; people love the things of this world and want God to give this earthly junk to them for as long as possible. That's just not what the Bible teachers. We are not love this world or the things thereof (I John 2:15). Our treasures are to be placed in heaven, not the earth (Matt. 6:19-20). God is spirit, not flesh, and the true reality, true happiness, eternity, lies in spiritual matters, not physical. We simply must get our minds and hearts out of this world and into the next one.

Ok, given that, what does Revelation 20 mean? As repeated ad infinitum in this blog on the book of Revelation, how would John's beleaguered readers in 95 AD understand the passage? They would see their greatest adversary, the devil, effectively stopped from deceiving the nations (via emperor worship and the Roman Empire). An angel bounds Satan with a chain (vs. 1-2) and casts him into a bottomless pit for 1,000 years (vs. 2-3). The limiting of Satan's power is obviously in view here, not his final destruction, and that's the main point. John's readers perhaps--and I have no intention of being dogmatic or absolute here--would see this as Satan no longer being able to deceive the nations through the emperor worship demanded by the Roman Empire. Frequent reference has been made in earlier chapters to the "kings" and "nations" and their obsequious obedience to Rome. That's going to end. The 1,000 years may refer to a complete period of time (10x10x10), or it may mean the completeness of the destruction of the Roman Empire and not a time period. Be that as it may, after the 1,000 years--the ability of the devil to no more "deceive the nations" (via Rome, v. 3)--he will be "released for a little while" (v. 3). The Roman Empire is not the end of the work of Satan.

But it was the problem that John's readers faced. And with Rome "bound," the oppressors are defeated and the oppressed are victorious, enjoying total victory with Christ. Who the "they" are in verse 4 is unclear; perhaps the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since the godhead ultimately works in tandem in judgment. The victory and reigning of those "who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands" (v. 4) is called "the first resurrection" (v. 5). The "rest of the dead" (v. 5) perchance refers to the faithful of God who had not lived under Roman domination. This is difficult, I make no bones about it, but I always come back to John's readers--they are the ones who need comfort here so the message applies primarily to them. They did not serve Rome, they were willing to die for the Lord, and thus they will reign with him. Over them, "the second death has no power" (v. 6). Again, this passage says nothing about a reign of Christ on earth; indeed, the martyrs were already in heaven (Rev. 6:9).

But Satan is relentless (vs. 7-10). After the Roman Empire, Satan was "released from his prison" (v. 7)--he still plagues us today, and will continue to "deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth" (v. 8). These nations are called "Gog and Magog," who have been enemies of God's people since Ezekiel 38 (the only other location in Scripture in which they are mentioned). They attempt to make war against the saints and persecute them (v. 9), but "fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them" (v. 9)--we are saved by Him, not by ourselves. Satan and his emissaries are then "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" where "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (v. 10). Folks, Satan is not in hell right now; he's on the earth. Hell is reserved for him, too. This is not just the teaching of this passage, but other, plainer, passages elsewhere (cf. I Pet. 5:8). Satan will ultimately be defeated where he can tempt us and destroy our souls no more. What greater, more comforting knowledge is there than that? Emphasizing the 1,000 reign in this chapter completely misses the magnificent promise of the final defeat of our greatest enemy.

The great white throne (vs. 11-15)--God is there on that throne (v. 11-12), and "the dead, small and great" will someday stand before Him (. 12). No escapes the final judgment. The "books" (the Bible) were opened, as well as the Book of Life; that these first books refer to the Bible is evident in that all will be judged "by the things which were written in the books" (v. 12). And we will be judged "according to [our] works" (v. 12)--there is indeed a part man plays in his own salvation. Again, all, even those who are dead at the time of the final judgment, will face God. When that judgment is over, there will be no more death, and no more Hades, which is apparently the resting place of the soul before the final judgment (v. 14). The saved will be with God (as described in the next two chapters) and the lost will be "cast into the lake of fire" (v. 15). God's people will live forever; God's enemies will live forever, too--but not in His presence.

I do believe I've captured above the general essence of Revelation 20, "general" being the point of apocalyptic literature anyway. The specifics have been debated since the book was released to the public almost 2,000 years ago. The earthly 1,000 year reign has been propagated ever since, but again, I find no warrant for such a doctrine anywhere else in the Bible. Indeed, when it speaks clearly, without a figure, inspiration tells us of heaven, not the earth. Victory, a heavenly home with God for eternity, is what we await.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Historical Certainty of the Gospel

(Author's note:  I have just published this same article on my A Journey Through the Bible blog, but not all of my readers peruse every one of my blogs.  But I want this one read by a wider audience so I wish to add it to my main Bible blog as well.)

Luke 1:1-4--"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed." Luke's prologue is one of the most interesting, and faith-building, paragraphs in the Bible. As an historian, Luke has been proven true on all matters of which he can be tested; historians only reject his gospel and book of Acts because of the miracles he records. This is simply prejudice, not evidence. I want to do a little word study of this section, looking at a few of the terms Luke uses and how they forcefully proclaim the historicity of his writings.

"Which have been fulfilled" (v. 1). The KJV has "most surely believed." The Greek is a form of the word plerophoreo, which is variously translated (in the KJV) as "be fully persuaded," "be fully known," and "make full proof of." In other words, there is an absoluteness of belief because the life of Jesus is something "fully known" and supported by "full proof." God never asks us to believe something without evidence.

"Eyewitnesses" (v. 2). From the Greek word autoptes. It means an eyewitness, seeing with one's own eye. The apostles didn't simply listen to tales made up by Mother Goose. They saw Jesus and everything recorded about Him in the gospels. Our English word "autopsy" derives from this Greek word. What does the doctor do in an autopsy? He sees with his own eyes the cause of death, so that there will be no doubt.

"Having had perfect understanding" (v. 3). The ASV has "having traced the course of all things accurately." The Greek word is akribos, which is variously translated "diligently, circumspectly, perfectly." The idea is exactly, accurately, diligently. Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit, of course (that's the only way he could have truly had "perfect" understanding), but such inspiration did not preclude a Bible writer from doing research. The Lord knew that future historians would demand such, and thus Luke is at pains here to indicate that he did a thorough investigation of that which he wrote, talking to eyewitnesses, getting the facts "from the very first." What else can an historian do?

"That you may know the certainty" (v. 4). Greek, asphaleia, which is found only three times in the New Testament. The other two instances it is translated "safety." Both of those other two examples, however, also imply certainty and absoluteness (Acts 5:23; I Thess. 5:3). The word has the meaning of firmness, stability, certainty, undoubted truth, safety from one's enemies. Luke wanted Theophilus to know that his faith stood on a firm foundation, that it was true of a certainty, and that there could be no fear from enemies of the gospel.

Everything about what Luke writes in this prologue indicates the absolutely true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no hesitancy, there is no doubt, there is no speculation--this is historical fact, Luke says, I researched it diligently from the very beginning, I talked to those who were there, I know what I'm talking about, and you can be certain of its truth. That's Christianity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Israel Has No Part In God’s Plan Today

     The nation of Israel remains, and will remain, in the news today. The Near East is one of the world’s hot spots, and rightly or wrongly, Israel is one of the reasons why. It is quite common for televangelists and other preachers within Christendom today to argue that God gave the Jews the land of Palestine forever, intended for them to live in it, and thus the Jews, Biblically, have every right to that land today and Christians should support Israel. Whether Christians should support Israel can be debated politically, but the other three points are dead wrong. God did not give the Jews that land forever (or, until the end of time), He did not intend for them to live in it, at least not beyond the Christian age, and the Jews have no Biblical right to that land today.

     Folks, read my next statement very carefully and let your mind wrap around it for a little while because it’s going to take some time for it to sink in. According to true, New Testament Christian theology, there shouldn’t even BE any Jews in the world today! God wants everybody to be a Christian; He doesn’t want this mass of unconverted Jews out there who still reject His Son, Jesus Christ. How can Israel today be in God’s plan if there aren’t even supposed to be any Jews left? Didn’t Jesus die to make EVERYBODY a Christian, back then and ever since?

     The Old Testament prophets pointed their people to Jesus, to the spiritual Israel, the church. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls the church the “Israel of God.” Old Testament, physical Israel was a type of New Testament, spiritual Israel, the church. The Jews were selected by God to be the people through whom the Messiah would come (Gal. 4:4). Thus, Abraham and his descendents were given the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1-3), and God delivered a constitution to the nation of Israel through Moses (Deut. 5:1-4). This was a tremendous honor that God gave to the Jews—to be the people through whom the Savior of the world would come, and to be custodians of His word. What other peoples were granted such a great, great privilege? Obviously, none, and the Jews should have been infinitely grateful for the honor God bestowed upon them. But once they delivered the Messiah into the world, the role Jehovah intended for them to play was finished. Jesus is the Savior of all, and God wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4). And that salvation can only come through Jesus.

     The Jews rejected Him. They weren’t supposed to, but they did. Ideally, every single, solitary Jew and Gentile was/is to be converted to Jesus. There should be no Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Shintoists, etc. If God had HIS way, everyone would be a Christian. So all the gifts and promises God made to the Jews were fulfilled and ended in Christ. They had the rich blessing of bringing Him into the world; they should have had the humility and thankfulness to accept Him and become Christians. They did not. But just because they didn’t, doesn’t mean God still has a plan for them. He destroyed their system of theology (as written in the law of Moses) in 70 A.D., something Jesus predicted in Matthew 24, and such destruction was a result of their mass rejection of Him (read the chapters leading up to, and including, Matthew 24). The Jews, Israel, have no more part to play in God’s designs for humanity. The only thing God wants for mankind today…is for everybody to become a Christian.

     If today’s pro-Israeli televangelist today is correct, then the apostle Paul is a heretic. He wrote in Romans 10:1, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” No, Paul, God did NOT want the Jews of your day to be saved. You see, God still has a plan for Israel 2,000 years after your time, Paul, and that means that He planned for the mass of Jews over the last 2,000 years to reject Jesus, be lost, and go to hell so that He could fulfill whatever designs He has for Israel in the 21st century. So, Paul, whatever YOUR heart’s desire was—that the Jews might be saved—was certainly not in GOD’s heart because, if you had had your way, Paul, and if all the Jews had turned to Christ, become Christians, and been saved, then there wouldn’t be any Jews left 2,000 years later to build an Israel that God could use!

     I really cannot think of a more unBiblical, un-Godly doctrine than the teaching that God still has a plan for Israel today. Because if that’s true, then again, God intended for the mass majority of Jews over the last 2,000 to reject Jesus and be lost. And go to hell for eternity. That was His plan?? That, of course, makes every Biblical statement about the love of God for all of mankind and His desire for all men to be saved just so much bunkum. I would think it would be revolting to God to imply that He deliberately intended for millions of people to be lost so He could fulfill some sort of plan 2,000 years after the death of Christ.

     There is no plan, in the Bible, for Israel today. Or, I’ll take that back, there IS a plan, and that is for all Israel (Jews) to be saved through Jesus Christ. But that was the plan…from the very moment man first sinned and God put a scheme of redemption into operation (Gen. 3:15). It was the plan before Abraham, to Abraham, under Moses, under the prophets, under Jesus, under Paul…and it’s the plan today. The only plan. And to say otherwise, in effect, makes God a liar by saying that He did NOT want all men to be saved.

     How can so many supposed “Christians” be so pro-Jewish?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Who Is, Are, Was, Were the Antichrist(s)?--I

This creature called “the Antichrist” is very popular today among those who claim to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth. As we shall see, he always has been. The modern manifestation is embodied within the premillennial theory, the “1,000 year reign” doctrine. The idea, briefly, runs something like this. Very soon, the “rapture” will take place (all the faithful will disappear from the earth to be with Christ for a while). Then there will be seven years of “tribulation,” horrors upon the earth such as there have never been before. The “Antichrist”—a human leader--will become publicly known during this period, and because of the “tribulation” and the charisma of this “future fuehrer” (as he has been called), multitudes will follow him. However, he will be a bitter enemy of Christianity, and will lead the world towards the final, great earthly struggle, the Battle of Armageddon, which will take place in the country of Israel and will involve nearly all the nations of the world. Right before the nations of the earth utterly obliterate themselves in this battle, the Lord Jesus will return with His saints, destroy the Antichrist, and inaugurate a reign of peace and tranquility that will last 1,000 years. There is much more to premillennialism than this, and there are variations upon the above scenario. But this is the basic idea, and regarding the “antichrist,” he is anticipated by nearly all to be a charismatic leader who will deceive many.

I am not among the “nearly all,” and I will demonstrate why in this series.

The “antichrist” is supposedly found in many passages in the Bible, but under a different name. The king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4), the little horn of Daniel 7:8 and 8:9, the man of sin (II Thess. 2:3), and the beast of Revelation 13:1. Matthew 24 provides the “signs” that precede the 2nd coming of Christ to set up His millennial kingdom, while the book of Revelation provides much of the detail. Check my blog on Revelation for a different perspective. Interestingly, the “antichrist” has had a long and varied history since the 2nd century. There has probably not been a single generation since the 1st century in which someone has been pegged with this title. The range of views is incredible. We will take a look at the “antichrist” down through history in part two of this series.

Who Is, Are, Was, Were the Antichrist(s)?--II

Regarding the “antichrist” down through history, some Bible students have maintained that there was a Jewish “antichrist” legend taken up by Christians. I have found no historical proof of this, thus the apostle John (the only biblical writer who uses the term “antichrist”) got his language from the Holy Spirit and not Jewish custom. Others have suggested that the “antichrist” is not a person, but a principle, where there has also been the idea that the “antichrist” is some historical personage. This last idea is, by far, the most popular down through the centuries.

Early references to the antichrist were to Roman emperors Caligula (37-41 A.D) or Nero (54-68). There was also the idea that Simon Magus (of Acts 8 fame) was the “antichrist”; a long, and interesting, “history” (mythical) followed Simon the sorcerer, of which it is not relevant to pursue in this series. Nero was especially popular in the early centuries following Christ (i.e., the 2nd through 4th centuries). No one knew where Nero’s grave lay, so there were occasional sporadic rumblings, especially during times of persecution, that he would imminently return from the dead. According to Augustine and Jerome, many people believed that the apostle John also was not dead, but sleeping, and would come forth at the same time as Nero and testify against the emperor, anointing him as the “antichrist.” This, obviously, never happened.

Other claims as to who the “antichrist” is were equally extraordinary. Two early Christian “fathers,” Iranaeus and Hippolytus, writing in the late 2nd-early 3rd centuries, argued that the “antichrist” would spring from the tribe of Dan—Deuteronomy 33:22 reads, “Dan is a lion’s whelp and he shall leap from Bashan,” and even Jacob, in Genesis 49:17, predicted “Dan shall be a serpent by the way…that bites the horse’s heel.” Very clear references to the “antichrist”! However, these “powerful” arguments gave way to other (equally?) weighty tomes. In the 4th century, the Arian heresy was nominated for the role of “antichrist.” Cyril of Jerusalem, a 4th century bishop) suggested that the “antichrist” was a magician who would take control of the Roman empire. Many Protestants, after the Reformation, equated the Pope with the “antichrist.” An 1864 volume of the Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell’s monthly journal, quotes an article from the Prophetic Times stating that French emperor Louis Napoleon had all the signs of becoming the “antichrist.” Not many years ago, Henry Kissinger was nominated for the role, and it is not surprising that many believers today are suspicious that Barack Obama might be this dastardly fellow. Well, Barack certainly doesn’t seem to be very interested in spreading Christianity around the world, that’s for sure.

The above is a very cursory examination of the “antichrist” down through history. And all of this is very curious, given the fact that the term “antichrist” is found in only four Scriptures in the entire Bible. Talk about building a mighty structure of a very thin foundation…Well, in our third, and final, article in this series, we will look at these four Scriptures and see if we can determine who this “antichrist” was—or actually, “antichrists”, for there were more than one.

Who Is, Are, Was, Were the Antichrist(s)?—III

The four Scriptures that use the term “antichrist” are as follows:

I John 2:18—“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”

I John 2:22—“Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”

I John 4:3—“And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already it is in the world.”

II John 7—“For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”

That’s it, the only Scriptures that use the term “antichrist.” Please note that none of these Scriptures are in the book of Revelation, yet premillennial commentaries of that book are full of references to the “Antichrist.”

Notice some things John says about the “antichrist.” First, there are “many antichrists,” not just one. It is very important to note that the HOLY SPIRIT, the ultimate author of John’s writings, does not limit “antichrist” to just one being. Plus, they were already in the world in John’s day. Is the “future fuehrer” that old?

But who are “they,” John? Anyone “that denieth the Father and the Son,” (I John 2:22), “every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (I John 4:3), “who[ever] confess[es] not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (II John 7). John clearly, to his readers, identifies who these “antichrists” were. But for us to understand exactly about whom John is writing, we need some knowledge of the historical situation in the church in the late first century, when the beloved apostle was writing. Let me briefly overview the historical background behind John’s letters.

By 80 A.D., the Jewish people, as a whole, had rejected Christianity, and there were very few Jewish converts. Most of the converts to Christianity now were Gentiles. The separation between church and synagogue was complete; the controversy over justification by faith vs. the law of Moses had largely died out, and the influx of Gentiles into the church, with their heritage of philosophical thought, was beginning to affect doctrinal teaching., Thus, the later books written in the New Testament deal with this problem, after the earlier writings (especially Paul’s) had argued so vociferously about the law of Moses and its relationship to Christianity. The book of Hebrews was likely the final breaking point, along with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

These new Greek Gentile converts were interested in the person of Christ—who was He? If He was God, how could He die? And if He died, how could He be God? And thus there was a tremendous debate over the nature of Christ, which occupied the church, literally, for the next several centuries (and still exists, to a point), and gave us such interesting things as Arianism, Monothelitism, and Monophysitism. Most of the important early church “councils” were called to try and settle this problem--Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431, and Chalcedon in 451, the final of which settled the issue—truthfully. The particular problem that the apostle John was dealing with was an early form of Gnosticism. What was Gnosticism?

Briefly, Gnosticism was built on the premise that the spirit is good and matter is evil. Salvation consists of escape from the realm of matter into the realm of spirit; the means of escape were numerous, but most needful was knowledge, by which man can rise above the earth-bound chains of matter into the heavenly apprehension of truth. This knowledge (Greek, gnosis) could be attained only by those who were initiated into the inner secrets of the group—sort of like a modern cult. Since they believed that matter (including the human flesh) was evil, some Gnostics were extreme ascetics, some extreme libertines. Both believed that the “body” was evil. Now, since matter, including the body, was evil, how could the infinite, pure spirit called God have anything to do with a material body? Gnostics, therefore, had two basic views about Christ. One, He was not really human, but only apparently so, or two, the Christ-spirit entered Jesus’ body at baptism and left Him before He died. But “God” never could have possibly “become flesh.”

The apostle John is obviously combating these ideas in his writings, especially the first one, i.e., that Jesus was not really human. In John 1:14, he plainly stated “the word became flesh and dwelt among men.” In I John 1:1, he immediately contradicted the Gnostic notion: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life”—we saw Him, we heard Him, looked upon Him, we touched Him. He who denied and “confess[ed] not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh…is a deceiver and an antichrist” (II John 7). And there were “many” of them in John’s day and the coming centuries (I John 2:18). John’s strictures against “knowledge” (the Gnostic form) and their lack of love for the brethren (because of the Gnostics’ belief in their superior knowledge) are found frequently in his letters. The full development of Gnosticism was not until the 2nd century, so John was probably fighting a precursor, Docetism, which argued that Jesus only “seemed” to come in the flesh. But be that as it may, the Bible is very clear who these “antichrists” were: Gnostic or pre-Gnostic heretics who denied the true nature of the Lord Jesus. Gnosticism is not with us anymore, at least in its early forms, thus these “antichrists” do not exist today. The idea that the “Antichrist” is some future dictator or tyrant simply is not supported by the Biblical evidence. It is important, yea, essential, that we have some knowledge of ancient history and the setting in which Biblical books were written. Otherwise, we also could be swept into the errors of premillennialism and other false notions.

Let us be careful in our handling of the Biblical text that we speak only as it speaks and not be misled by claims that have no basis in Biblical truth or historical reality.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

America and the Conversion of Nineveh

Christian people are mourning, and rightly so, the moral degeneration in American society today. Our country is run (mis-run) by a Congress that doesn’t encourage Christian charity, but rather rewards sloth and punishes self-reliance and hard work. One of the major leaders of the House of Representatives is an open homosexual, and some states are agitating to let them “marry.” Not many months ago, a famous Senator, a blatant adulterer and moral miscreant, passed on to his eternal reward and yet was eulogized as one of the greatest statesmen of our time. Our President from 1993-2001 was caught in a vile sexual scandal—and was defended almost unanimously by the Democratic party and suffered no consequences except maybe some embarrassment. He hasn’t gone into hiding yet. And these examples are only from our supposed “leaders,” those who should be setting an example of moral rectitude and virtue for our people, and especially our youth. Hollywood, of course, spews out virtually nothing but putrid, filthy, immoral rot, pouring it daily into the minds of amenable, simple-minded Americans. Is it any wonder that drugs, sex, alcohol, homosexuality, feminism, divorce, covetousness, greed, laziness, and a whole host of sins plague a once-great nation, a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles? (And, concomitantly, is it any wonder why Muslims in the Middle East are fighting so hard to keep American influence out of their region of the world?)

But America isn’t the only country/empire in history that has suffered from moral decay and putrefaction. Indeed, tragically, such is the rule, not the exception. Take ancient Assyria, for example. Emperor Ashurbanipal (ruled 669-626) had no qualms about doing to his enemies what Barack Obama would love to do to the “tea party” people:

“The severed head of the Elamite king was brought to Ashurbanipal as he feasted with his queen in the palace garden; he had the head raised on a pole in the midst of his guests, and the royal revel went on; later the head was fixed over the gate of Nineveh [the capital], and slowly rotted away. The Elamite general, Dananu, was flayed alive, and them was bled like a lamb; his brother had his throat cut, and his body was divided into pieces, which were distributed over the country as souvenirs” (Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, p. 269).

Prisoners of war were nearly always dispatched after a battle; feeding them was too expensive and guarding them during a long campaign was dangerous and a nuisance. So their heads were beaten in with clubs or cut off with swords; scribes stood by to count the number of prisoners taken and killed by each soldier and booty was apportioned accordingly. The nobles among the captives came in for special treatment, however: their ears, noses, hands, and feet were sliced off, or they were thrown from high towers, or their children were beheaded, or flayed alive, or roasted over a slow fire. Ashurbanipal boasted, “I burned 3,000 captives with fire. I left not a single one among them alive to serve as hostage…These warriors who had sinned against…me…I [tore[ out their tongues…their lacerated members have I given unto the dogs, the swine, the wolves…” Well, dogs, swine, and wolves have to eat, too, I suppose. Interestingly, abortion was a capital crime in Assyria, but for practical reasons, not spiritual. Warrior societies need lots of sons so killing babies was discouraged. Most of the emperors died violent deaths, killed either by their own offspring or some ambitious general who could raise an army behind him. As Durant wrote, “The nations of the Near East preferred violent uprisings to corrupt elections, and their form of recall was assassination” (ibid, p. 273). Religion did nothing to mollify this—or perhaps it did.

At least in one case it did. The book of Jonah tells the fascinating story of God sending the prophet to preach to Nineveh—“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). Most of us know that Jonah was reluctant to go, but the Lord finally persuaded him to do so by forcing him to spend three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish (read Jonah chapters 1 and 2). In chapter 3, the Lord again commands Jonah to “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee” (Jonah 3:2). This time Jonah obeyed. The message was “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (v. 4). Now, Jonah was preaching in the late 9th or early 8th century B.C. (800s-700s; note the date of Ashurbanipal’s reign, given above). His preaching was successful. The prophet’s message came to the king, who clothed himself in sackcloth (a sign of repentance) and commanded all his subjects to do the same, and also to “cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not” (Jonah 3:8-9). And sure enough, when “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (v. 10). This was one of the most successful preaching missions in history, because Nineveh had a population of at least 120,000 (Jonah 4:11)—huge for ancient times. What a great story.

And an encouraging one. We don’t know the circumstances behind Jonah’s preaching; in other words, what God had done to prepare the people of Nineveh for repentance. Something was going on that had gotten the king and citizens of that city ready to receive God’s message of doom—and salvation. The groundwork had been laid before Jonah had arrived—the Lord saw to that. His providence had been at work; the people of Nineveh were disposed to reformation; the preacher was sent; a wonderful salvation was effected. A wicked, wicked city had turned to Jehovah.

Can it happen in America today?

Why not?

As noted in the first paragraph, we have an exceedingly ungodly nation today, though there are, of course, many good, decent people who are aggrieved by the debauchery that is so rampant and open. But who knows what the Lord is doing behind the scenes, in His providence? Is He preparing America for a Ninevite conversion? We can hope and pray that He is. And we can—we must—continue to proclaim His word, a message akin to that which Jonah delivered in Nineveh: “soon America will be overthrown.” And perhaps the country will turn from its wicked ways and return to the Lord Jehovah.

It happened once—a great, wicked empire humbling itself before God. Who can tell whether it may happen again? Let’s keep our faith in God, not in ourselves, and we may see the salvation of our beloved country yet.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Form Over Substance

Israel had fought one of their seemingly never-ending battles with the Philistines. And they lost. They couldn’t fathom the reason. “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?” (I Samuel 4:3). Someone then came up with a bright idea: “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies” (ibid).

So that was the plan. And, indeed, the ark was brought, and when it arrived, “all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook” (v. 5). Victory assured, all because the ark was there. Only it didn’t quite go as planned. “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers” (I Sam. 4:10). A disastrous day, even with the ark of God in their midst. And, actually, the Philistines captured the ark and made off with it.

What happened? What happened was form over substance. The Lord had told them, plainly, how to defeat their enemies: “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth…[and] the LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 7). Trusting in a box, regardless of how holy it might be, is not quite the same as trusting in the Lord. Israel was defeated because they failed to honor God, failed to put their confidence in Him, and thought they could find salvation in a representation of God rather than the Lord Himself. It is not terribly surprising that in Leviticus 26, Jehovah had told the people, "But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you…I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies” (vs. 14-17). It is a lesson Israel never learned.

We must keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2), and our trust must be in Him, not in some formality. As important as the church, baptism, worship, good works, etc. are, they are only the forms of Christianity; Christ is the substance. How many of us truly have a relationship with Him? Or do we have a church-building centered religion? The “church” (usually the preacher) “plans” so many “activities” for the brethren to get involved in. We try to keep busy doing things, many of which are very good things—visitation, prayer meetings, fellowships, etc. I’ve been there. All too often, when I was preaching full time, I felt like a program director and not a gospel preacher, and I felt guilty if I didn’t have something to keep the brethren occupied. It never occurred to me that all of that was…form over substance. Unless people learn Who Jesus Christ is, develop an in-depth bond with Him, trust Him and not the church and its “programs,” then we will have a very shallow religion and a very weak brotherhood. And that, indeed, may be why the Lord’s body is having so negligible an affect on the world today (though I hope it’s greater than it appears to be to me). Unless people are “busy” with church “activities,” they have very little religion. Take away the forms and how much substance is left in the lives of our brethren?

Israel lost to the Philistines because their religion went no deeper than a outward expression of Judaism. Form over substance. How often do we lose to the devil for the same reason?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

If Anybody Thinks This Is Easy, They’re Nuts

There is a very definite reason why the Bible speaks of the “exceeding riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:7), of God being “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4), of His “abundant mercy” (I Peter 1:3), the “multitude of Your mercy” (Psalm 5:7), that “great is Your mercy” (Psalm 86:13), of His “tender mercies” (Psalm 103:4), that He is “slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8), that His mercy is from “everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 103:17). There indeed is a very good explanation for why the Bible describes God’s grace and mercy in such expansive terms.

It’s because we need it.

Anybody who thinks living a Christian life is easy, isn’t trying. And I’m going to prove that in the course of this article. Yes, there is so much to be thankful and joyful for in this religion. But that doesn’t mean it’s simple. And I don’t think it is accidental that the Bible uses such terms as “riches,” “abundant,” “great,” and “multitude” when describing the grace and mercy of Jehovah. The greatest challenge any human faces is to live the Christian life as God intends. None of us do that, but even the effort requires the most supreme manifestation of our will and exertion. To be like God, which is what Christianity demands—and nothing less—is an awesome thought and a daunting trial. And, again, it is far, far from easy.

Why do I say that? Try these verses out for size.

“Blessed are the pure in heart” (Mt. 5:8). Purity of heart. Does that describe you? Where every, single motive behind your every, single action is chaste and uncorrupted? What else does a “pure heart” mean? I can’t tell you what your every motive should be; that’s between you and God. But how often do you and God discuss it, and how often do you make sure that every intention of your heart is what it ought to be?

“Bringing every THOUGHT into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5). Is every THOUGHT you think in harmony with God’s will? Try it sometime. Tell me it’s easy. In Philippians 4:8, Paul puts it this way: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” The New King James Version says “meditate on these things,” which is probably a closer meaning to the verb. Is your every thought true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and full of praise? Are those the things you “meditate on”? Work on it. It will keep you busy for the rest of your life.

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24). Two thoughts here. The word “strait” means narrow, demanding, strenuous to navigate. The word “strive” is the Greek word “agonidzesthe”; if you see the English word “agonize” in that, then you are perceptive—and correct. Jesus, in effect, says to “agonize” to get into heaven, because the gate to therein is narrow, difficult, and arduous to navigate. Gentle reader, do you ever “agonize” over your sins and Christian life?

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). That’s a piece of cake, isn’t it—to be perfect like God. No trouble at all. I’m being facetious, of course. None of do this, but that’s what Jesus said. His teaching was perfect, and it was designed to make us perfect, i.e., to be just like God. Anything less than that is less than what we ought to be. Do you even try to be like God? There is no excuse for sin, folks. “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2). Don’t sit there and say, “Oh, well, I can have my little sins and God will forgive me.” Uh uh. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). Did Christ have His “little sins” that He expected God to forgive Him of? No, there is no excuse for sin. As a Christian, your responsibility is to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven in perfect.” Now, yes, we will sin. But the fact that we will is no excuse to do it.

Do you understand now why the Bible speaks of the “riches” of His grace, the “multitude” of His mercy, His “abundant” mercy, which stretches from “everlasting to everlasting”? The harder you try to live the Christian life and the more you truly want to please God, the more difficult you will realize that it is, because of the weakness and frailty of your flesh. Thanks be to God that He understands that, and is “slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) because “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

We’ve Got This All Backwards

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a king (God) who prepared a wedding feast for his son (Christ). Once everything was ready, he sent out his servants to let those who had been invited (the Jews) know that “all things are ready. Come to the wedding” (v. 4). But those invited “made light of it and went their way” (v. 5). Some of them even “seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them” (v. 6). Not too surprisingly, “when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (v. 7). Not to put too fine a point on it, but what kind of idiots would, number one, reject an invitation to a feast from a KING, and number two, kill his servants when they came with the invitation? It’s not terribly surprising that someone (the king) who had absolute power acted as he did.

The parable continues. Since “those who were invited were not worthy” (v. 8), the king sent his servants “into the highways, and as many as you find (the Gentiles), invite to the wedding” (v. 9). The servants obeyed, and “the wedding hall was filled with guests,” “both bad and good” (v. 10). The king’s invitation was now open to anyone. One guest failed to show the proper respect for the occasion and he was removed (vs. 11-13), but that’s somewhat incidental to the point I want to make in this article.

What Jesus is teaching here is that the gospel invitation went out to the Jews first. By and large, they rejected it, and the kingdom, to this very day, is mostly composed of Gentiles, or non-Jews. That kind of teaching is what got Jesus killed.

But what I want to emphasize is how incredibly reversed this whole situation is. Think about it. The great God of heaven and earth, the perfect, holy, righteous, omnipotent Almighty preparing a feast for us, who, at least compared to Him, are worms, wicked, sinful, miserably rebellious and wretched creatures. We have no right to even approach Him or be in His presence. If anybody ought to be preparing a feast for somebody else, it is us for Him. It is an awesome thought to me—that God would prepare a feast for man. Invite us to come. Let us in. And we have certainly done absolutely nothing to deserve it, indeed, just the opposite. There can exist no greater dichotomy than this, no two opposites could be farther apart than God spreading a rich, luxuriant, bountiful table full of blessings for humans. It boggles the mind, if we truly consider it.

Yet, how many of us, just like those invited in the parable, are ungrateful and unthankful? How many look on the marvelous banquet which a holy God has laid out before wicked, undeserving man with contempt, mockery, or apathy? What greater insult could there possibly be than man rejecting God’s feast? In the parable, the king, when “he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city,” certainly was entirely justified. God, wholly by His grace, has laid before us incomparable riches. He didn’t have to prepare this feast for us, you know. He was under no obligation to invite us. He could have, and been completely within the boundaries of His rights, demanded that we prepare a feast for Him. That’s the way it ought to be. This whole thing is backwards.

So what do you think we deserve if we fail to attend the feast prepared for us?

Monday, March 1, 2010

True Greatness

We were talking about Alexander the Great in Western Civ one day, and I asked the students how many more people they could think of down through history who had been given the nickname “the Great.”

They did well. They named “Alfred the Great,” “Peter the Great,” “Catherine the Great,” “Frederick the Great.”

And then one very wise, very enterprising student called out, “Mark the Great.”

Well, yes. But it is interesting how we humans view people in history. Every one of the above named individuals (except “Mark the Great”) were butchers, had oodles of blood on their hands, and oppressed about as many people as they could put a cage around—the ones they didn’t kill, that is.

Peace and goodness aren’t very interesting, folks. Wars and wickedness are what make the history books. Historians are a strange lot, given the kind of people whom they think are “great.”

But, come to think of it, it’s not just historians. It’s humanity in general and it afflicted even those who walked with Jesus: “Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-35). Jesus knew what they were talking about, and His patience is astounding. Notice: “He sat down [and] called the twelve…” He took the time to explain one of the most supreme lessons in the world: in God’s eyes, true greatness is not how many people you can kill or how much territory you can rule over…but how well you serve others.

At another time, the Lord indicated that He was well aware of how humans thought. The mother of James and John came to Him with a request: “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). She had no idea what she was asking, of course; she, like just about every other Jew in Jesus’ day thought He would establish an earthly kingdom and rule with a rod of iron from Jerusalem. And if He was going to be a King like David, a great Monarch ruling over the world—“Jesus the Great”—then she wanted her two sons sitting in the seats of honor, one on His right and one on His left. Then they, too, would be “great.” Jesus' ultimate answer no doubt was a complete puzzle and shock to His disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (vs. 25-28). Jesus was not here to be served. Indeed, if anyone on this earth ever had a right to BE served, it was He. But He came to show us the way the godliness, the way to true greatness in the eyes of Jehovah. You want to be great? Jesus asks. Then you'll have to learn how to deny yourself (Luke 9:23), humble yourself as a little child (Matthew 18:4), and serve others.

This is not the way “the rulers of the Gentiles” think. Nor is it the way historians reckon. Or many of the rest of us, for that matter. We all desire a certain amount of notice and adulation from others, whether we want to be known as “the Great” or not. And probably nobody reading this will ever be known in history as “the Great.” But every one of us can be great in the eyes of the One who really counts. Let’s not concern ourselves about what the world thinks of us, but start giving due consideration to what the Lord thinks of us.

You know, I do hope, in the ultimate history book, the one written in heaven by the only Author whose opinion truly matters…I hope, in that book, a “Mark the Great” exists. But if there is, he’s going to have to be a servant of men, not a conqueror of them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It Is No Longer I Who Live

If you’re a Christian, you’re dead. Or at least you’re supposed to be. The apostle Paul said so.

In Galatians 2:20, he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” As much as in us is, God’s people are to be living, walking manifestation of our Savior Jesus Christ. He owns us. He bought us: “For you were bought at a price” (I Cor. 6:19), “therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.” And as a result, we are “a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9). “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:16). Why? “For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

Self-denial is probably the most difficult thing for a human being to do. Even the Greek philosopher Plato said that the greatest victory a man could have is to conquer himself. We have desires, wants, needs, not all of which, of course, are bad. But even the “good” must be sacrificed for the “best”—service to the Lord: “If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). Jesus doesn’t mean that we are to literally hate our nearest and dearest; He is simply saying than we can have no higher allegiance than to Him—even father, mother, wife, children, our own life. Nothing can be more precious to us than He.

Why? Well, again, He bought us. As Paul wrote, we died with Him on that cross. And thus, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. We do what He wants, not what we might want. Every minute of every day we must be conscious of how the Lord wants us to live—where we go, what we do, what we say—it’s not our will which we live by any more, it’s His. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service” (Rom. 12:1). That’s just the price of this religion, folks, and if we aren’t willing to pay it, then we have no business claiming to be His children. You don’t live any more! At least, not for yourself. The greatest harm done to Christianity is not by atheists and skeptics; it’s done by so-called Christians, who claim to be followers of the Lord, but live like the devil. Or, aren’t willing to conform to His dictates in all matters. We are to bring ”every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5). And that means every step we take is done to follow and please Him.

Why? Because “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Christianity contains perhaps the greatest paradox in existence: the high cost of a free gift. It’s costs us nothing, because of what Jesus did on the cross; He paid a price we couldn’t pay, so He did it for free, simply because He loved us. But yet, to obtain that free gift it’s going to cost everything we’ve got. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." (Lk. 14:33). Very, very few people, even those who claim Him as Lord, are willing to make the outlay. Death to self, and everything else, is just too high a price to pay. But that’s what it costs to be a Christian.

Christianity is worth it. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44). It cost that man “all that he [had]” to obtain that field. But he did it “for joy,” because he knew that what he got was far, far greater in value than what he had to pay to get it. Turning loose of the world and trusting the Lord completely is a difficult thing to do. Self-denial is usually not “fun,” it doesn’t please us, and we currently live in a pleasure-oriented, hedonistic society that bombards us daily with the falsehood that true happiness is found in sin, debauchery, and worldly junk. The question is: who are we going to believe? God or the world? Where, truly, is our faith?

Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” That’s why he proved to be one of the greatest men who ever walked the face of this earth. And that’s why he is in heaven right now. Gentle reader, can you say what he said?

Friday, February 19, 2010

“The Lord’s Gonna Burn It All Up”

I have long believed that the greatest spiritual problem we face, at least in America, is plain old worldliness—too many of us are simply too attached to things on this earth. The Bible counsels us repeatedly about this: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). The human heart is simply not big enough to hold love for God and love for the world. In the parable of the sower, Jesus warns us about one kind of failing heart: “’And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful’” (Matt. 13:22). Notice: “the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” We must not be deceived by worldly pleasures. This problem of the world is what led to Israel’s eventual downfall: “For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxed fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and despise me, and break my covenant” (Deut. 31:22). And they had nothing, material-wise, compared to us.

Marshall Keeble was a wonderful Negro preacher of last century. Wherever he went to preach, he drew multitudes of people, both black and white. The number of souls he baptized into Christ is innumerable. He was a great servant of the Lord.

The story is told about how, one time, at a place where he was holding a gospel meeting, Marshall Keeble was invited out to the ranch of a very wealthy man who wished to show the preacher how lovely it was. He led Keeble around the fine ranch house, the beautiful land, let him see all the horses and livestock…the rancher was obviously quite proud of his possessions and what he had accomplished, and he shared such with Marshall Keeble. When the tour was over, the man asked Keeble what he thought. The preacher’s response was, “The Lord’s gonna burn it all up.”

And, of course, Keeble was correct: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Peter 3:10). Now, Jehovah put us on this earth, of course, and He intends for us to enjoy its blessings while we are here. But it’s very important to remember that we are here on this earth to “fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). The worldly blessings we have are not ends in themselves, they are tools in helping us serve the Lord. For, indeed, serving Jehovah is our prime mission and ought to be our number one priority. Yes, we should be thankful, every day, for what the Lord has given us. But, we should also heed Jesus’ teaching “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:19-21). Why set our hope on things the Lord is going to burn up?

And since the Lord is “gonna burn it all up,” “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness” (II Peter 3:11). Well, we shouldn’t be worldly people, that’s for sure. “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory” (Col. 3:2-4). Gentle reader, untie yourself from the world before the Lord burns it all up.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

God Means What He Says-I

(Note to the reader:  There are three articles in this series and I have placed them sequentially on the blog to make for easier access.  So numbers 2 and 3 are below.  I've also put the Scripture quotations in blue type so that they will stand out.  If that is confusing or difficult to adjust to, please let me know and I'll return to the former ways.)

There are few people on this earth more dastardly and villainous than false teachers, those who would lead the innocent and unwary down the pathway to eternal destruction. Instructors of error are legion, and the Bible, both Old Testament and New, warn us repeatedly about this. Here are just a few references from Jesus and His apostles: Matthew 7:15-20, Acts 20:30-31, Romans 16:17-18, Galatians 1:8-9, I Timothy 6:3-5, Titus 3:10-11, I John 4:1. There are others, but that is sufficient to make the point. Except I want to provide one further passage, II Peter 2:1-2: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” Note very carefully, they “privily” (secretly) bring in “damnable heresies.” What they teach will destroy souls. And then the tragic finale: “many shall follow their pernicious ways.” The Scriptures caution us continually about false teachers. If we succumb to erroneous doctrine, it will not be God’s fault.

The point, of course, is that false teachers teach things that are not what God said. And one of the great lies and successes of Satan is to convince man that God does not really mean what He said, that we can take liberties with His word, that He can be presumed upon because He is so loving and gracious, that we simply can set aside Jehovah’s message with little or no penalty. There can be no greater, or sadder, or maddening, deception than this. And in this series of articles I want to emphasize as strongly as I can and with every ounce of my being that God said exactly what He meant and He meant exactly what He said and all the demons in hell and preachers on earth can’t change one single word of it. If we are not aware of and committed to this principle, then we need to give it serious consideration and thought.

The problem is not with God and His Word. The Lord has no problem expressing Himself clearly and letting His will be known to man. No, the problem is that man has never believed that God meant what He said or that He wasn’t really serious, or something. But from the very first chapters of the Bible we learn, conclusively and unequivocally, that God said what He meant and meant what He said. Beginning in the next article in the series, I will give several examples of this and how destruction came upon men (and women) who refused to believe this most important of Biblical truths.

God Means What He Says-II

God said what He meant and meant what He said! Here are some examples of people who learned that point the hard way.

1. Adam and Eve. The denial of this principle begins with the very first sin committed by humans. God plainly told Adam and Eve—there was nothing difficult to understand about His command—that they could eat of any tree of the Garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And that the day they ate of that tree “thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Well, Satan is usually more indirect than he was in chapter 3, but if he can directly contradict God’s word and get away it, he will. He came to Eve and persuaded her that if she did, indeed, eat of the fruit of that tree “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Eve, of course, believed Satan. But who was right, God or Satan? Jehovah told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit they would die and that’s exactly what happened because God said what He meant and He meant what He said! Mankind has been suffering ever since because Adam and Eve didn’t believe that.

2. The people of Noah’s day. By Genesis 6, the world had become exceedingly wicked and God decided to destroy it with a flood. One man, Noah, “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). Jehovah told Noah what He was going to do and instructed Noah to build an ark to save his family. Noah obeyed (v. 22). But Noah also warned the world of the impending destruction; II Peter 2:5 calls him a “preacher of righteousness.” Did anybody believe him? Just his own family. Did the fact that nobody believed him change what God said? Did God conclude, “Well, since nobody believes I’m going to do this, I guess I better not…”? What did happen? God sent the flood, just as He promised, and only Noah and his family were saved. You see, folks, God said what He meant and He meant what He said, and the fact that nobody believed Him didn’t change a thing. And it won’t change a thing today, either.

3. A man picking up sticks. Here is an interesting story found in Numbers 15:32-36. We find a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. We don’t know his name, we don’t know why he was gathering sticks, we don’t know how many sticks he gathered—we know nothing but that he was picking up wood on the day of rest. He was apprehended, taken before God, and the verdict was “stone him.” The Lord orders that the man be executed. Why? Because in Exodus 31:14, Jehovah had said “You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” And God said what He meant and meant what He said! And this may sound harsh to us—“well, all the guy was doing was gathering sticks”—but God’s command was clear, He said what He meant, He meant what He said, and Israel, and you and I, need to learn that lesson. If God had let that man get away with defiling the Sabbath, then every one of us would think that we can get away with disobeying God, too. Mankind had to know, as early as possible, that God’s word is absolutely not to be trifled with or presumed upon.

4. Uzzah and the ark of the covenant. David and the people had recaptured the ark of the covenant from the Philistines and were returning it to Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6 tells us they placed it on an ox cart (which wasn’t the way it was supposed to be transported, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment). The oxen stumbled on the way and the ark was about to fall off the cart and possibly be smashed. A man named Uzzah reached out his hand to keep the ark from tumbling. Verse 7 reads “Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.” Why? Again, this seems so ruthless to us—to kill a man because he was trying to keep a holy item of God from possibly be destroyed. Surely he wanted to help God. Very possibly he acted instinctively, stretching out his hand to keep something from falling. No doubt he was sincere in his actions. Why did God kill him? Isn’t this cruel? No, because God had said in Numbers 4:15 “you don’t touch the holy things of God and if you do, you die.” And God said what He meant and meant what He said! And, reader, there are no loopholes in God’s law. Sincerity, instinctive reactions, trying to help God out—it doesn’t matter. Uzzah disobeyed God by touching something holy and the penalty was death.

Because God said what He meant. And He meant exactly what He said. And it really doesn’t matter if we like it or not.

In my next article in this series, I will provide my favorite example of this principle, and then look at some applications for our own lives.

God Means What He Says-III

God said what He meant and meant what He said! Adam and Eve, the people of Noah’s day, the man gathering sticks, Uzzah—and others we could mention—all found out the hard way. I want to use one more example, a classic. It’s found in II Kings 5.

5. Naaman the leper. Naaman was a captain in the Syrian army, thus not a Jew. He was plagued with the dreaded disease of leprosy. His wife had a Hebrew girl for a servant who mentioned that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him. Naaman decided to try, so, misunderstanding, he went to the king, Jehoram, first. Jehoram couldn’t help, and finally Naaman was directed to the prophet, Elisha. Naaman goes to Elisha and stands outside his house. The prophet won’t even go out to meet him, he simply sends a servant to tell Naaman to go dip seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed. Nothing difficult to understand about God’s command through the prophet. Obviously, Elisha could not have known this without divine inspiration.

But verse 11 is so…human. The Bible says, “But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought…” yada yada yada. It doesn’t matter what he thought, the problem was that he did think when God spoke. Folks, when God speaks, we don’t have to think, He’s done that for us. But Naaman had this preconceived notion of how his healing was going to take place, and when the prophet’s word did not agree with his idea, he went away mad. And he didn’t get his healing, either—that is, until one of his servants convinced him to just go do what the prophet said. So Naaman did; he traveled to the Jordan River, dipped seven times, and came up cleansed. God’s word through the prophet was true. God said what He meant and meant what He said.

But let’s consider something here. There are a lot of religious “leaders” and “thinkers” today who argue that we can’t really know what the Bible teaches, or that we can’t really see the Bible alike, and that so much of it is “just a matter of interpretation.” If you think about it, that’s impugning God. That’s saying that God either could not or did not give us a message we could understand—because if we truly understand it, we will all understand it alike. So if God couldn’t or didn’t give us a message we could comprehend, why bother give it in the first place?

Now, look at Naaman’s situation. He thought his healing would take place in one way, but Elisha told him it would happen through another means. Why was Elisha right and Naaman wrong? How did Elisha know that the only way Naaman was going to be healed was by dipping seven times in the Jordan River? How did he know that? Well, he obviously had God’s message on it; God told him that was how Naaman was going to be healed, and it wasn’t hard to understand. But…is what we have any less God’s word than what Elisha had? Is God less clear to us than to Elisha? Is Naaman’s healing so much more important than man’s salvation that God would speak perfectly clearly to Elisha but speak to us in such a manner where we cannot understand Him? I do not, I will not believe that, no, not for a second. The problem is not that God is unclear in His communications with us. The problem is that too many of us are like Naaman…or Adam and Eve, the people in Noah’s day, or the man gathering sticks, or Uzzah…we just don’t believe that God meant what He said when He told us what He wanted us to do to please Him.

Let’s consider some examples. I might as well step on some toes; anybody who has ever heard me preach or teach knows how good I am at making people mad. How many people are going to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “But, Lord, behold, I thought that I really didn’t have to be baptized to be saved.” Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). I Peter 3:21 reads “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.” And God said what He meant and meant what He said!

Or did He? Well, maybe we ought to ask Adam and Eve…the people of Noah’s day…the man gathering sticks…Uzzah…Naaman…ask them if God said what He meant and meant what He said.

“Oh, but Lord, Behold, I thought that one church was as good as another…” Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “I will build MY church.” In Matthew15:13, He told us “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” In Ephesians 4:4, Paul wrote “There is one body.” And God meant what He said and said what He meant!

Or…did He? What would Adam and Eve, the people in Noah’s day, et al, tell us about that?

And then how many are going to say on that Final Day, “Lord, but…but…behold, I thought…there really wasn’t a hell……..” Revelation 21:8—“But the fearful, and UNBELIEVING…..and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

And God said what He meant. And He meant what He said.

How about it, gentle reader? Are there any “Behold, I thoughts” in your life? Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. He said exactly what He meant in His Book, and He meant exactly what He said. We cannot learn this principle too soon in our lives.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where Do They Get This Stuff?

Men can come up with some fanciful notions sometimes when it comes to God’s word. We need to be careful that we only draw such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence. And we also need to be careful that we don’t bind our opinions upon others. The divisions in Christianity are not God’s fault; they are caused by men who simply cannot stay within the confines of God’s word. The illustrations of that are innumerable, but I want to mention one that I think is fairly quaint, but does indicate just how imaginative man can be when it comes to Scripture. I don’t believe there have been any denominational divisions over this illustration, but I do think it shows how flighty humans can be at times when dealing with Holy Writ.

In Genesis 4, we read about a man named Lamech, a descendent of Cain. Lamech took two wives, the first polygamist that we know of. One of his wives, Zillah, bore him a son named Tubal-Cain, who was the world’s first metal worker. That’s found in verse 22. But that verse ends with the declaration, “And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.”

Naamah. Who was she? Well, she was the daughter of Lamech and Zillah and the brother of Tubal-Cain. What else does the Bible tell us about her? Absolutely nothing. She disappears completely from Scripture, at least as far as any direct mention of her is concerned. She was Lamech and Zillah’s daughter, and Tubal-Cain’s sibling. That’s the sum total of what God says about her.  Why He even mentions her I haven't the faintest idea.  I hope I can ask Him some day.

But what do men say about her? Well, the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel says she was the inventress of funeral songs and lamentations. A commentator named R. S. Jarchi tells us she was the wife of Noah and quotes Bereshith Rabba in support of the opinion. “Some of the Jewish doctors say her name is recorded in Scripture because she was an upright and chaste woman; but others affirm that the whole world wandered after her, and that of her evil spirits were born into the world” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Genesis 4:22).

Where in the world did they get all of that?

You know what I think? I think Naamah had a rose garden and that she raised Labrador retrievers. She had red hair and green eyes, was 5’2 inches tall, and I’m not about to embarrass her by giving her weight. She chased butterflies and, unless I miss my guess, invented a rudimentary form of the game of golf. Quite a lady, if you ask me.

Now, where in the world did I get all of that? Well, the same place that the fellow who thinks she was Noah’s wife—the imagination. And my guess is every bit as good as his. I cannot imagine what good this kind of speculation can do, but I can imagine a lot of harm, if men begin to think their speculations are as valid as what God actually said—or, in this case, didn’t say.

Let’s watch out how we handle Scripture. It’s God word, and while reasonable deductions can be made from solid evidence, we don’t want to hie off on an imaginary tangent that will distract us from what is truly important—discovering what Jehovah wants us to do in order to be saved from sin.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Faith As A Principle of Action, Part Two

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…

Well, no, actually he didn’t because there warn’t no battle to be “fit” until “the walls come a-tumblin’ down.” Mainly because this in the only time in history that a city has been won in war the way Joshua and the Israelites won it. And they didn’t have to fight for it.

A few days ago, I wrote an article for this blog entitled “Faith As A Principle of Action, Part One.” If you have not read that post yet, I would encourage you to do so before finishing this one. The basic idea is that “faith,” Biblical and otherwise, will often involve the one who believes doing something, some action, in order to accomplish some purpose. The illustration I gave in that first article was a non-Biblical one; in this treatise, I want to show, through Joshua and the battle of Jericho and Noah and the ark, how the principle applies Biblically.

In Joshua 6:2, we read, “The LORD said to Joshua: ‘See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.’” Notice that Jehovah is going to give Jericho to Joshua; it’s going to be a gift of God’s grace, the Israelites are not going to have to win Jericho the way most cities in history have had to be defeated. But then the Lord proceeds to tell Joshua what he must do to get the city: “You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him" (vs. 3-5). In other words, even though God is going to “give” Joshua the city, there was still some actions the people of Israel had to perform in order to receive God’s grace. Now, here’s the crucial point. Joshua is not earning the city; even after he and the people have done all that Jehovah requires, they have not earned the city because walking around the walls for seven days is not the way cities are won in wars. Wouldn’t it have been nice if American soldiers, a few years ago, could have taken Baghdad by simply marching around the city for a few days? It doesn’t work that way. God gave Joshua the city, but grace does not mean that there aren’t some conditions. We MUST understand the Biblical definition of grace, and not make up our own.

Another quick example: Genesis 6. God is going to destroy the world with a flood. Verse 8 says, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” But then God proceeds to tell Noah what he must do to procure that grace: build an ark. Grace had conditions for Noah, and for Joshua.

And both men believed God: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household,” (Hebrews 11:7).  "Prepared an ark for the saving of his household."  Grace, faith, obedience.  A little later in that chapter, we find “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days,” (v. 30). Notice please: the walls did not fall down until AFTER Israel had done all that Jehovah commanded! Now, again, even after obeying fully, Israel had not earned God’s grace; but those walls wouldn’t have fallen if they hadn’t believed—faith as a principle of action.

If Joshua had been a modern theologian, he might have reasoned, “Well, God said He was going to give me the city, and since I believe, I’m going to get the city whether I do what He commands or not.” Where would the walls of Jericho had been seven days later? What would have happened to Noah if he had reasoned that way? He would have drowned like everyone else. We simply must let the Bible define its own terms—and grace is not “free” from the standpoint of eliminating all conditions. No, we’ll never earn salvation. Jesus said in Luke 17:10, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” But grace, or faith, alone are simply insufficient to obtain God’s blessings, if He places conditions on that grace.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Wonderful Savior

Humans tend to be very ungrateful creatures; or perhaps just so unspiritual and self-centered that they will look for any excuse to reject God and live the kind of life they wish to live. A person can be showered with innumerable blessings from God for years, but then something bad happens, they blame God, and turn their back on Him. It’s an inexcusable tragedy because we have a wonderful Savior Whom, if we’d only take the time to appreciate as we ought, we would serve and honor as we ought.

“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written,” (John 21:25). Indeed, if I were going to try to list all the reasons Jesus is a wonderful Savior, this article would be never ending. Let me note just a few and then add a personal touch.

1. Jesus is a wonderful Savior because, through His blood, we have the opportunity for forgiveness of sins. “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” (Rev. 1:5). This is, by far, the greatest blessing we have. If we had NO other blessings from Him, this would be sufficient. Because it is the blood of Christ that leads to the second reason I’d like to mention…

2. Jesus is a wonderful Savior because He gives us a promise of eternal life. “And this is the promise that He has promised us--eternal life,” (I John 2:25). Eternal life. This earthly existence can have its sorrows, but most of us aren’t terribly interested in giving it up any time soon. But we all will some day—“it is appointed unto men once to die,” (Hebrews 9:27). But…the life that Jesus promises the faithful will never end. And there will be no sorrow, tears, or pain to accompany it (Rev. 21:4).

3. Jesus is a wonderful Savior because He is always there. “For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” (Hebrews 13:5). This can, indeed, be one of the most sublime, comforting promises in all the Bible. Humans are frail, and quite often, will let us down. The Lord is always there; He never forsakes us. Unfortunately, too often we ignore Him and pay Him no mind. But He’s always there, regardless. And when we do return to Him, He won’t turn His back on us, as we have on Him so many, many times.

4. In like manner, Jesus is a wonderful Savior because He is willing to help share the burdens of life. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30). “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you,” (I Peter 5:7). Wrongly, some interpret those two verses to mean that all we have to do is tell Jesus about our troubles and they’ll go away instantly and miraculously. That isn’t the way it works. It simply means we have someone, always, to go to, to talk to, Who will understand. Again, He is ever available when we need Him.

There are many, many other reasons Jesus is a wonderful Savior. But because He is, we ought to always honor, praise, and glorify Him—for Who He is, what He is, and what He has done for us and promised us. There’s simply no excuse for failing to submit to Him and serve Him with all of our being.

I’m not a believer in “personal testimony” for salvation, but I do believe our earthly experiences can comfort and aid one another, and indeed, we should use such experiences for those reasons. So let me get a little personal here and tell you a little about myself. Many of the readers know, and some don’t, that I had cancer back in the year 2000. As far as cancer goes, it wasn’t terribly serious, but cancer is always horribly frightening, and it was surely a scare. The Lord pulled me through that, but one of the offshoots of the chemo-therapy treatment I had was horrible, hideous mental depression which I’ve suffered with ever since. I’d been plagued somewhat with melancholia for many years before, and the doctors concluded, after the chemo, that something in the medicine (specifically Prednizone) simply pushed me over the edge into full-fledged bi-polar 2 depression. Now, to define terms a moment. There are basically two types of “bi-polar” disorders—bi-polar 1 and bi-polar 2. People with bi-polar 1 bounce up and down; they can have very high highs, and then very low lows. Bi-polar 2 people never have the highs, only the lows. If I can illustrate it numerically, it would be like this. On a scale of zero to 100, if 100 is floating above heaven and zero is the deepest pit of hell, with 50 being basic neutrality, bi-polar 1 people can go from zero to 100. Bi-polar 2 people rarely hit 50. I’m bi-polar 2. Folks, I’m not looking for any sympathy or pity—anybody who knows the first thing about me knows I’m not—but I have absolutely no idea what the human emotion of “happiness” feels like. Oh, I can laugh and cut up occasionally, but that is nowhere near my normal state of mind and that’s not what “happiness” is, anyway.

Since that chemo treatment, I’ve had almost constant depression. I take medication and I suppose it mitigates the pain somewhat, but not always. I spent 10 days in the psycho ward of a mental hospital in 2002, and there have been very, very few days over the years when I haven’t had anxiety or some depressive low—for no reason at all except the chemical imbalance in my mind for which, apparently, there is no cure. And for the last 10 weeks or so, I have had an absolutely horrible spell—much worse than normal. Every…single…day, the whole day, I’ve been dealing with this stuff. Sometimes at night it gets a little better, but there are times when I’m literally doubled up in pain, crying out in agony, tears streaming down my cheeks. Now that’s the extreme, but there’s nearly always some kind of pain. I have to force myself, above the pain, to write these articles for my blog. It can be simply excruciating. Believe me, the only thing I look forward to during the day is going to sleep at night because that’s the only respite I ever get. There have been many, many nights over the last 10 years when I prayed to God I wouldn’t wake up the next morning because I knew how painful the day would be. And I’ll probably pray that tonight. I’d be a whole lot better off.

Now, why am I detailing all of this? Again, I am NOT looking for sympathy, and don’t want any; there are a whole lot of people on this earth in a whole lot worse shape than I, and I thank the Lord that my condition is not worse than it is. My point here is—and I’m going to boast just a moment for a reason I shall shortly explain—but during all of this time, the cancer and the hideous depression, I have never once said anything to God but “blessed be the name of the Lord.” I’ve never cursed Him, blamed him, or denounced Him. Now, I haven’t always lived as closely to Him as I should; no way. But I won’t curse Him, either. The cancer and depression came for some reason of His—to strengthen me, punish me, prepare me, teach me—some of that or probably a lot of all of it. I don’t know why and I just wrote seven articles on this blog explaining that we cannot know the mind or reasons why God does what He does. But I do know this. I have a wonderful Savior Who has promised to forgive my sins, Who offers me eternal life, Who has never left me or forsaken me, and Who I can always go to when I need Him. And, while again, I haven’t been nearly as faithful to Him as I should have been through all of this, I won’t deny Him. Because what He has done FOR me far, far, far exceeds what He has ever done TO me; and even the latter has only been for my good. And if I must live with this depression for the rest of my life, which, at the moment, seems very possible, then so be it: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” (Romans 8:18). What’s a few years of pain here on earth compared to an eternity of joy after this life is over? “Just one glimpse of Him in glory will the toils of life repay.”

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to ask Him to mitigate the depression and send it to a devil’s hell where I think it belongs. But I have no guarantees He’s going to do it. He’s gotten me through 10 years of it, I’m confident He can get me through the rest. And I’m not going to deny Him or try to find my own solutions. Again, this stuff can be excruciating, folks, and it would be so nice to have some relief besides sleep. And I guess I could go out and get drunk or do drugs or go honky-tonkin’ or find some harlot to spend the night with or surf for Internet porn—any of that would at least bring some temporary solace and pleasure from this agony. But I’m not going to do it. I’ve told Him in prayer, “I don’t care what you do to me, I’m not going to do it.” If I have to bear this pain for 16 hours a day, I’ll do it. For Him. Why? Because of what He’s done for me, which again, is far, far more than I could ever repay. Indeed, I feel that what I’ve had to endure is much less than what I deserve, and if He pours it on even more, then it will still be less than my desserts. Because He is a wonderful Savior.

Part of why I’m explaining this is to, hopefully, help the reader whenever he/she might be burdened with some earthly trial or sorrow—and we all will be at some time or another. It’s not easy, going through pain, sickness, sadness, despair; but it’s part of this life, and I want to plead with you to remember, when some sorrow enters your life, how wonderful a Savior you have in Jesus Christ. To remember what He did for you on Calvary’s cross. To remember that He’s always there for you, like He’s always been there for me. That He knows what you are going through, and while that doesn’t mean He’ll remove it, it does mean you can tell Him about it. You can ask Him. And you can hope—and know—that something better awaits, if only after this life is over.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

When clothed in His brightness transported I rise,
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love,
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

What a wonderful Savior we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Faith As A Principle of Action, Part One

Joe Goodfellow is just that—a very good fellow. His life is very principled, he’s responsible, dignified, and full of integrity. He works hard at his job, and never cheats his employer by being late or leaving early or giving him anything but the best work he can. He’s kind and thoughtful, and concerned about others, often going out of his way to help someone in need. He doesn’t gossip or slander or lose his temper. One never hears a foul word out of his mouth. He lives an upright life, a man dedicated to God, family, and others.

Some people don’t like Joe because they think he’s a “goody two-shoes.” Though he’s never intrusive and he minds his own business, Joe’s very life is a condemnation of the lives of those despise him.

Martin Slimeball is one of those who loathes Joe.  He’s a co-worker and views Joe with malicious contempt. Martin is crude, rude, vulgar, and obnoxious. He’s lazy, doing all he can to cheat his employer, and laughing when he gets away with it. He’s a drunkard who beats his wife, and every time he sees Joe, he makes it a point to use foul language or tell some filthy story that he knows Joe would disapprove of. Joe, of course, will often just walk away, which just angers Martin all the more. For all his uncouthness, Martin has a lot of friends because their lifestyle to a large degree matches his.

But then something happened. Not to coin a phrase, but it was a dark and stormy night. Joe was a bit of an amateur meteorologist and was watching on his weather radar as tornado cells built here and there around the area. And then he grew very concerned. He knew that Martin Slimeball lived in the country a few miles out of town. As Joe watched the radar closely, he saw a huge tornado heading right for Martin’s house! It would strike in minutes. He had to do something.

Joe picked up his phone to call Martin, praying that he could get through. Sure enough, Martin answered.

“Martin! This is Joe Goodfellow. There is a huge tornado heading straight for your house! It will be there very shortly!”

Martin, who knew about Joe’s meteorological hobby, was horrified. “Joe! What must I do to be saved?”

Joe responded, “Get into your car and drive to town, you and your house, and you will be saved.”

Martin immediately hung up, and took Joe’s advice. Sure enough, within three minutes, the tornado struck Martin’s house and demolished it. No doubt he would have been killed had he stayed at home….

Now, let’s examine this story in regards to Martin’s “salvation.” What saved Martin? Several things.

1. Joe’s grace. Even with all the hatred and bitterness Martin had shown towards him, Joe never let it affect his own feelings. He didn’t have to call Martin, of course; he didn’t have to save him. It was totally an act of unmerited favor. Martin was saved by Joe’s mercy and compassion. But not totally.

2. Martin’s faith saved him. He believed Joe. What evidence did Martin have that a tornado was about to strike his house? None, except Joe’s word. But because Martin knew Joe wouldn’t lie to him, he believed Joe concerning the tornado.

What if Martin had not believed Joe? He obviously would have been killed in the storm. Faith in Joe saved him.

3. But, was Martin saved by his faith alone? No, other things were involved in his “salvation” as well—Joe’s radar, the phone (what if it hadn’t worked?), Martin’s car (what if it hadn’t started?), and perhaps other things we could mention. But another crucial aspect of Martin’s rescue was that he did what Joe advised—he got into his car and fled for safety. He “obeyed” Joe, if you will.

What if Martin had thought, “Well, I’m saved by faith only. All I have to do is believe Joe and I’ll be protected from the tornado.” Would his faith have saved him? What if Martin hadn’t gotten into his car and driven away? Even had he believed Joe regarding the tornado, he would have been killed had he not done what Joe told him to do. And notice, Martin did what Joe suggested in order to be saved, not because he already was saved from the tornado.

Now, the above scenario is not an absolutely perfect analogy of our salvation from sin. But it’s awfully close. One of the major errors of many, many religious people in Christendom is failing to understand that faith is a principle of action, i.e., when the Bible says we are “saved by faith” it does not mean “faith alone.” The Scriptures never teach we are saved at the point of faith only, any more than Martin was. Faith in a merciful God, trust in His word, moves us to do what He says in order to be saved from the impending disaster that will come upon us if we do not believe and act.  On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when the people had been convicted and believed Peter’s message, they asked what they had to do. Peter’s response was “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). He didn’t say to them, “Oh, you already believe so you are saved. Salvation is by faith only.” No, faith was simply the beginning--the principle of heart that led them to obey. Those people on that day believed in God and the Lord Jesus Christ, they believed the inspired messenger, but they were still in their sins until they repented and were baptized.

Letting the Bible defines its own terms is crucial if we are going to please God. The idea that “faith” means “faith alone” is simply not supported by Scripture or reason. More on this important point in later posts.