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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Can Say To Him, “What Are You Doing?” No. 7

This will be the last in our series on this topic. I do hope the readers have found the lessons edifying and helpful. In this article, I want to discuss God’s providence in the narrative of Joseph, found in Genesis 37-50, a wonderfully delightful story that has a happy ending. I’ll just recount the basic facts here, but if you will start reading in Genesis 37, I suspect you won’t put your Bible down till you’ve read all the way through chapter 50.

Joseph was Jacob’s 11th son, his first by his favorite wife, Rachel. Jacob had four wives and 12 sons (and one daughter) and the polygamous situation Jacob was embroiled in created some family hardships, jealousy, meanness, and downright wickedness. God never intended for man to have more than one wife, and it is also an interesting point about how He used this polygamous relationship to accomplish His great purposes, too. But I won’t go into that. Suffice it to say that, since Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, it created jealousy and hatred of him among his brothers.

Joseph didn’t help matters by announcing, while a teenager, that he had had two dreams that appeared to indicate that his family was going to bow down to him at some point in the future (which did happen). His brothers were irate, and soon after, took the opportunity to sell him into slavery into Egypt. It almost destroyed Jacob because the brothers led him to believe that Joseph was dead, but he was alive, in slavery in Egypt.

The young man stayed faithful to God. His first master’s wife unsuccessfully tried to seduce him, which, when the wife lied about it and accused Joseph, made the husband mad and got the young man tossed into prison (innocently, of course). While there, he interpreted a couple of dreams by close servants of Pharaoh, both of which came true—one was restored to his position and the other was put to death. Yet it was two years before the butler (the one with the favorable dream) remembered Joseph; he did so because Pharaoh had had two dreams, and the butler was reminded that Joseph had interpreted his dream. Pharaoh called for Joseph, who came, and by the power of God, interpreted the king’s dreams.

The dreams amounted to a prediction that Egypt was to enjoy seven years of astounding agricultural bounty followed by seven years of grievous famine. Joseph suggested to Pharaoh that as much grain as possible be stored those first seven years to prepare for the lean years. Pharaoh thought that was a splendid idea and put Joseph in charge of the whole thing. Nobody was as powerful as Joseph in Egypt, except Pharaoh, of course. Well, Jacob’s son did a marvelous job, and by the time of the famine, Egypt had plenty of food to survive the hard times. From slavery to second in the kingdom. Quite a move upward.

The famine came, just as predicted. But it not only struck Egypt, it hit Canaan as well, where Jacob and his family lived. When their food ran out, Jacob sent 10 of his sons to Egypt to buy some; he kept Benjamin at home, because, as the second and only surviving (at least Jacob thought so) son of Rachel, he became the favorite. So the 10 other sons of Jacob went to Egypt, where they came face to face with Joseph, whom Pharaoh had also put in charge of distributing the grain. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Joseph then concocted a brilliant plan to see if there had been any positive change in his brothers. He treated them harshly, ask them about their family, and said that he would not see them again—thus they could buy no more grain—unless they brought Benjamin with them the next time. The brothers went home and, the following year, when their food ran out again, Jacob was going to send them back to Egypt to buy more.

But Judah told him that “the governor” of Egypt would not see them again unless they brought Benjamin with them. This distressed Jacob greatly, but there was nothing he could do—they needed food and the only place to get it was Egypt. So he unwillingly acquiesced and allowed Benjamin to go.

Joseph met his brothers again and saw Benjamin, his only true full blood brother (the rest were half-brothers, of course). In order to test his brothers, Joseph had one of his servants put his favorite cup in Benjamin’s bag—unbeknownst to the brothers. When they headed back to Canaan, Joseph sent a steward after them to retrieve the "stolen" cup. The message was that, with whomsoever the item was found, that brother would become Joseph’s slave while the other brothers could go on home. Well, naturally, the cup was found with Benjamin. The other brothers were beside themselves with grief because they knew what it would do to their father if Benjamin never returned home.

So they all went back and talked to Joseph. Joseph said only Benjamin needed to stay, but Judah explained the situation about Benjamin and Jacob and asked that he be a substitute and be enslaved, rather than the youngest son. This so touched Joseph that he had to go aside for awhile and weep. His brothers had passed his test.

What was the test? To see if the 10 brothers would sell out Benjamin like they had Joseph some two decades before. Were they still so calloused towards their father and brother that they wouldn’t care if Benjamin, too, were a slave in Egypt? No, the brothers had grown to the point where they would not grieve their father again. That’s what Joseph wanted to know.

At that point, he revealed himself to his brothers, much to their consternation, but eventual delight. To shorten the story, Joseph then had his father and entire family move to Egypt, where they stayed, and multiplied, for 400 years.

And that’s how God got the children of Israel into Egypt where He would deliver them under Moses. The twists and turns of this story, the workings of God to perform His will, are more than we can imagine. He uses the hatred of the brothers, the selling of Joseph, the lust of a woman, dreams and the forgetfulness, then remembrance, of a butler, a wise Pharaoh, a deceptive Joseph, penitent men—what else?—to achieve His purposes. Again, it took awhile, at least two decades between Joseph being sold into Egypt and the move of his family to that country. But as I have noted several times in this series, God will not be rushed in doing what He plans for you and me, or for peoples as a whole. We simply do not know what God is doing, His mind is far, far above ours, and our response is to trust and obey, and not try to take uncontrollable matters into our own hands.

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

“Who can say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’” (Job 9:12).

Don't question what He is doing; you will never figure it out.  Trust…and obey. For there’s no other way if we intend to please God and receive the fullest of His blessings.