In Layman's Terms
** If you are a visitor to this page you are likely a Christian. As such I ask for your prayers, along with those of your friends, family, and fellow church members. God has a new direction for me. He has given me a gift, and I ask your prayers that I might understand that new direction so I can use the Lord's gift for His purpose.
Anthony W. Hager, October 7, 2007.
Who is sounding the call in today's spiritual war? 1 Corinthians 14:8
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (KJV) 1 Cor. 14:8
Uncertainty is among man's greatest shortcomings. Success remains unrealized due to a lack of commitment, a lack of confidence, or a lack of faith. But faith, confidence and commitment can only stand upon a firm foundation, a clear and certain purpose. Is it possible that today's church has failed to understand that principle? Is that why Christians seem unprepared for spiritual battle?
Ancient civilizations, including those prominent in Biblical text, were familiar with the trumpet. It was used to relay various kinds of messages, most notably the call to arms. Armies would begin an attack at the trumpet's blast and forces would rally to their city's defense at the same call. A trumpet blast was a warning, clear and unmistakable.
But if the trumpet couldn't be heard or was indistinguishable the attackers would not go forward, or the defenders would not man their positions. The battle could well be over before it began. We can look to recent history for an example.
During World War II the Germans knew that the Allies would eventually cross the English Channel. However, in June of 1944, the Nazi trumpets were uncertain at best. At worst they were utterly ignored. German intelligence didn't believe the Allies possessed the ships necessary to land against the Nazi's famed Atlantic Wall. Furthermore, they missed a weather pattern that allowed a small window of opportunity for the Allies to land on France's beaches, a window that Allied forecasters recognized.
On June 5th Gen. Rommel--hailed by friend and foe alike as a brilliant strategist and tactician--had departed France to visit his wife on her birthday, convinced that an invasion wasn't imminent. The landing came, however, and Field Marshall von Rundstedt ordered German tanks to Normandy's defense. Hitler, however, had the final word on such moves and he was asleep. The order was rescinded pending his approval. By the time the illustrious Fuhrer awoke, it was too late.
There was a descriptive scene in the movie The Longest Day. As a German sentry scanned the fog engulfed channel vague images began to form. When the approaching force emerged from the soup and the bombardment began the sentry phoned his commanders, who insisted that what he was witnessing firsthand wasn't possible. It was possible. The trumpets that warned of the Allied invasion had been muffled and diluted. The Nazis did not regard the danger at hand. Although battles raged for nearly a year Germany's fate was sealed.
Our world is currently in a state of spiritual war. Whether or not our situation is as dire as that of the Germans in 1944 remains to be seen. However, it's undeniable that humanity seeks and promotes evil, all manner of vile imagination and licentious act. We can expect no less from mankind. But where is the trumpet? Where is the clear call to oppose this spiritual invasion?
The Church is the rallying trumpet and should sound the alarm that draws the righteous to battle. It is--we are--failing to send a clear message. We are sounding, at best, a tepid call to action. Our trumpet is uncertain.
The Catholic Church is embroiled in scandal. Supposedly celibate priests are repeatedly revealed to have molested parish children. Anglican and Episcopalian churches have ordained openly homosexual ministers and placed them in high level positions of church authority. Other Christian denominations are debating the same, including the Methodists and the Presbyterians.
Debate also rages within the Church over extending Holy Matrimony to same-sex couples, in clear violation of both Old Testament and New Testament moral doctrines. Abortion is merely a contraceptive alternative and adultery among the faithful is ignored if not accepted. Divorce within the Church is just as common as among secularists. Small wonder that whenever the Church denounces such activities is it accused of intolerance and hypocrisy.
The world appears to have turned upside-down. Yet it has been so since man--through his free choice--broke fellowship with his Creator. The greatest spiritual problems we face aren't “out there” in the world. The greatest problems are “in here,” within the Church itself.
The Church was ordained to be Christ's messenger to mankind. Its purpose is to point a hopeless and groping world toward the eternal light. It is the trumpet, and it is sounding an uncertain call. Small wonder a relative few Christians are preparing for the battle at hand.
Keeping your altar warm takes effort and commitment
“The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.” Leviticus 6:13
There's nothing quite like the physical and emotional warmth that a stove or a fireplace offers. The home fire's presence is comforting; its warmth is satisfying, and the sound of crackling flames welcomes the frozen hand. The charm of a stove or fireplace, and the heat it provides, proclaims “home” with a capital “H”.
I grew up with a wood stove in my home. I can remember coming through the back door after a Saturday of cutting and splitting firewood or a day spent playing in the snow. The heat from our wood stove filled the room, embracing my frost-numbed cheeks, ears, fingers and toes. Clothing damp from a friendly snowball fight, an evening of sledding on a nearby hill, or an accidental tumble into a frosty creek, dried quickly. Even while out in the cold, a thin tendril of pale, gray smoke rising silently from the chimney gave testament to the warmth to come.
But a home heated with wood can get cold quickly when the fire goes out. Between work, school, and other schedules, it was a chore to keep the fire burning sufficiently to maintain a comfortable temperature. Using the stove efficiently meant effort, commitment and perseverance. If we weren't diligent the warmth and welcoming comfort of the wood fire died. If you've heated with wood you can sympathize with our dilemma, and that of the Levite priest who was charged with keeping the fire “burning on the altar continuously.” Even if you've never heated with wood you should sympathize, for this verse from Leviticus depicts our commitment to Christ perfectly.
The fact that we don't present burnt offerings on altars of stone doesn't mean that there is no altar, or that this verse is antiquated or unnecessary. There is an altar consecrated to the glory of God today. It is found in the Christian heart, and it just makes sense to keep it warm.
We've established how much easier and efficient it is to keep a fire going and the stove warm than to build a new fire and heat the stove a second time. It's easier, too, to keep a room warm than to heat it again. The Christian heart functions on the same principle. It is far more efficient to keep our hearts warm, to keep a fire burning on our altar continuously, than to re-kindle a spiritual fire that's been allowed to die. Keep your “altar” warm and it will provide comfort to you and to all who come near, like the fondly remembered wood stove of my youth.
Christians too often consider a verse such as Leviticus 6:13 to be an afterthought, as if it is outdated and inapplicable. It's our mistake, for all Scripture is useful to the follower of Christ. These few words from the Mosaic Law remind us of the need to keep our hearts warm for our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep a fire burning continuously on our altars. God's Word is the fuel for that fire; an ample supply must be maintained. It is the only way we can live for him every day.
All men are created equal, but not identical.
“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:” Romans 12:4
There's little doubt that Paul is referring to the church in this verse, the body of Christ through which Our Lord accomplishes his work and will among men. But we can also apply this teaching to all people in all walks of life. We know that God created all things and that He remains in the creation business. It is just as sure that each man is created in God's image, although not necessarily with equal gifts. Yet every one of us has been designed for a purpose and equipped with a unique blend of blessings and talents that will allow us to fulfill God's role for our lives.
Isn't that miraculous news, that we can be equal and yet totally dissimilar? Where would mankind be, and how boring would be life itself, if we were absolute equivalents in every way?
God grants to some of his children the skill of communication, with that skill as diverse as the people who deploy the gift. He may manifest that skill in the orator, who possesses a unique ability to speak with a dynamic and persuading voice. Such people are equally comfortable speaking to the ordinary man on the street, in a one-on-one situation, or to a thousand of the world's most powerful and influential leaders. Another equally adept communicator may not be able to speak publicly at all. However, that person has received a gift for manipulating language through the written word. They can chose and align words to create the perfect sentence and connect them to form the consummate paragraph. Ultimately, through writing, the blessed author can relay a message that touches far more people in a shorter time period than even the orator.
God may grant someone the ability to solve complex problems. This visionary person can see through the façade, the nonsensical and the worthless, going straight to the heart of a matter. Their keen insight produces solutions when others can find naught but despair. Still more are gifted in the sciences, are aggressive leaders, loyal followers, or cautious and thoughtful planners. Each and every one of them is essential to fulfilling man's role as caretaker and subjugator of God's created world.
The world in which we live and the church in which we serve Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, cry out for these varying qualities and abilities in order to function and flourish. Without them the church could not achieve its purpose. It couldn't manage its assigned task of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without communicators and theorists, leaders and followers, planners and doers, the work of Christ would grind to a halt. The same is true for our nation's prosperity.
In truth, the differing aptitudes of various persons aren't at all unusual. We need not “celebrate diversity” in order to recognize and appreciate the unique qualities that God has bestowed upon our neighbors and our selves. We need merely to accept them as an integral part of life--as normal and elemental as drawing our next breath or drinking a tall glass of cool, clear water--and develop them to the utmost of our abilities. Then and only then can we know true peace, success and fulfillment, whether it be in the spiritual or physical sense.
Jesus set the example for bearing persecution.
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” John 13:1
The human body can endure more physical pain and mental anguish than we realize. Spend an hour or so with a World War II, Korea, or Vietnam veteran. You'll quickly learn that they endured more hardship than they thought possible. They answered a call to forego comfort and self for country and family, things in which they believed. Yet no soldier wants to suffer or die. Christians have faced a similar situation since Christ's ascension.
James--the son of Zebedee--is the only apostle whose death is recorded in Scripture, having been killed at the command of King Herod. However, he wasn't alone. Church history says that the other disciples, aside from John, also met gruesome ends.
Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Achaia, Greece. Tradition holds that he hung there for two days before he died. Bartholomew was flayed and crucified upside-down in Armenia. Peter and Simon the Canaanite were also crucified. Thaddeus and Paul were beheaded. Matthew died by the sword; James the lesser and Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, were stoned; Thomas was speared.
Over the years Christians have been impaled, burned, fed to lions, and used as human torches to light Nero's garden parties. How would we, the modern Christians, react if we faced such abuse? Maybe we would accept martyrdom for the name of Christ if we knew death would be quick and painless. But what if we faced the same death that our Savior faced?
In reality, it isn't death itself that most Christians fear, although we certainly have a love for life and a desire for self-preservation. We fear the possibility of pain and agony, or the knowledge that death is imminent and we're powerless to stop it. We know from our key verse that Jesus wasn't so different. He knew he would soon die, and he knew the nature of the death he would suffer. He understood the extreme anguish of the Father's abandonment, the lingering pain of the nails, the struggle for each breath that crucifixion wrought, and the public humiliation.
Jesus Christ also knew why he was here and was faithful to the end. But that doesn't mean that he wanted to suffer. That doesn't mean that he wanted to die. We know this from the prayers he offered the night of his arrest. Jesus didn't covet the pain that awaited him any more than we covet pain. Yet he recognized that his mission of salvation was far, far greater than self.
Although man is created in God's image our actions alienate us from Him. When we try to serve God our sinful, selfish flesh betrays us. Christ faced the same human nature that we face, but he was also God. He submitted to the Divine even when his humanity wanted an easier path.
If the perfect Christ preferred a different, less painful death, why should we think that we can stand in the time of trial? We can't, at least not alone. Beginning with the apostles there has never been a Christian who faced martyrdom single-handedly. A Christian's courage comes from the spirit within.
There's no guarantee that we'll escape persecution or death for the cause of Christ. Let us not be ashamed if we fear that prospect, for not even the Savior desired an agonizing death. However, we can face persecution if we faithfully accept God's purpose, relying on Him, and dedicating our life to a mission greater than self.
Christians don't serve the God of Rules.
“Touch not; taste not; handle not, which all are to perish with the using, after the commandments and doctrines of men?” Colossians 2:21, 22
Generally speaking these columns are based on a single verse of scripture, with this case being the rare exception. It is rarer still that a contextual reference is needed. Such background information often defeats the purpose of writing these articles, which is to promote the stand alone truth and application of a single Bible passage. This case is a bit different and a brief summary is prudent.
Paul is writing about man's religious doctrines. Pick a religion--even Christianity, if you must consider the faith a religion--and you'll find man imposing human rules and virtues where they aren't applicable.
In false religions and cults this human doctrine is the sum of the equation. Lacking a foundation to support their beliefs, the “faithful” must concoct all manner of rule and regulation to maintain the appearance of holiness. Too often those stipulations come wrapped in an attractive package. Some cults and religions espouse unimpeachable personal characteristics: kindness, humility, morality and purity. Yet those traits lack a divine foundation, leaving them hollow and void. They are like ornate doors concealing dark and empty rooms.
The cult mentality takes center stage when we consider such doctrines, often carrying sinister images of sexual abuse and suicide, or visions of white robes dancing through airport concourses.
Cults are rife with stringent regulations that must be followed to the letter. “Enlightenment” comes from fully adopting the cult leader's demands and living according to the mandates of the order. Indoctrination and isolation are the norm, along with mass suicide. Jim Jones presided over the murder/suicide of more than 900 people in Guyana's jungle. Heaven's Gate led 38 people to commit suicide when the Hale-Bopp comet appeared, under the impression that they would join Jesus on a spaceship. It sounds loony, perhaps laughable. But it's actually a sad, sad situation.
Resisting the self-fulfilling prophecies of doomsday cults is easy for most people. However, more mainstream religions also incorporate rules and doctrines that must be followed to “please” god. Parishioners may be required to shun modernity. Perhaps they must wear certain clothing or pray at specified times while facing a certain direction. They may be required to reach some higher plane of consciousness, attainable only at the peak of a Himalayan mountain.
The more mainstream and devotional a religion appears the more likely it will be accepted, unlike the suicide cults. Yet none can reconcile a sinful man with a righteous God. Man's religious impositions will fade, doomed by their repetitious nature. They cannot pass eternity's test for they are the product of the finite mind. Man's rules, while they may lead to an exemplary life by human standards, cannot please God or produce salvation.
Even for Christians, who are to live perfectly through faith, placing laws and rules above faith and obedience can cheapen the relationship with the Lord. However, that's not an excuse to shun God's righteous commandments and sin freely, as some renounced First Century heresies suggested. We must understand that the only hope for living righteously rests on faithful submission to the Holy Spirit, not human rules and understanding.
Only the eternal words of the Living God can stand the test of time. Humanity's spiritual concoctions and additions to the worship of God are doomed to fail, whether part of a cult or an “accepted” religion. Such human doctrines will succumb to the next fad or movement. They will change and adapt in the futile struggle for viability. Only God and His plan will stand the passage of eternity.
God's plan doesn't require our submission to human opinion, theory, doctrine, imposition, or rule. In fact, we cannot fulfill God's Law at all without the help of the Holy Spirit. Our duty is complete submission. Let Him do the rest.
It's easy to be thankful for blessings. But what about trials?
1 Thessalonians 5:18
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
You'd be hard pressed to find someone who isn't thankful for the good things in life. Even the most ardent secularist will occasionally express appreciation for what they have, even if they don't give the praise to God. Thanksgiving Day is the perfect time to reflect on life's blessings and the gracious Creator who provides them. Let's do it, but with a twist.
I consider it a great blessing to live in the United States. We are free to express our opinions without undue fear of government reprisal. We can pursue any goal we care to pursue, even those that aren't worthwhile, and to create our own unique reality. Our prospects for education, success and prosperity are boundless.
Americans can participate in unarmed rebellion every two years. Without the burden of war, destruction and death we can overthrow our government and replace it with one more responsive to our wishes. And remember, we get exactly the government we demand and deserve.
On this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful that God allowed me to be born an American.
I am thankful for what God has done for me individually. First, He gave life to my body, but primarily for His redeeming that life by the blood of Christ. I am grateful for a mate who isn't a desperate housewife, posting racy videos on the Internet or trolling the personal ads. God has blessed me with two sons--age 14 and 8--who do well academically and athletically, and are generally well-behaved.
My home is dry when the rain falls, cool when the temperatures reach 100 and warm when they're below freezing. My family has food to eat, clothes to wear and beds for sleeping. During this period of drought, I'm thankful for a deep well that provides our home with cool, clean water. My sons, my wife and I enjoy good health. And while I'm not crazy about gasoline's rising price, I am thankful it's available so I can easily visit family for a holiday feast.
For all of these personal blessings I am beholden to God this Thanksgiving Day.
Little effort is required to thank God for such obvious blessings. Even the weakest faith is strong when the seas are smooth and the destinations are predictable. However, our focal verse tells us to be thankful in every situation. Gratefulness is more difficult when we're distressed or uncertain.
Last spring I left an evening job for one during normal daylight hours. Within two weeks the job fell through and thoughts of returning to the former position produced an indescribable dread. I knew quickly that God had used the new job to remove me from one He no longer wanted me to fill, and a peace ensued.
I began to write full-time. We've lived on my wife's income, our savings and what few articles I've actually sold. It was the right decision, and one I don't regret. But there's a reality to face. Savings only goes so far. And although a stack of rejection notices are a great learning experience they won't satisfy the monthly bills. My family faces uncertainty and yet I'm to give thanks for everything. No, it's not easy. But it's also not optional.
This Thanksgiving Day I am grateful for the efforts and setbacks I have expended and experienced this year. I'm thankful for the opportunity to see my boy's play ball and for the simple pleasure of being home with my family every evening. Such times have been all too rare during my adult life.
I'm thankful that God wouldn't allow my return to the status quo, to a reliance on the familiar. I'm thankful for each column and article that resulted in a rejection slip and each resume that a prospective employer ignored, for each brings me a step closer to God's purpose. I'm thankful that He has a plan for my life even while I'm struggling to discover it. And when prosperity returns I'll appreciate it all the more.
Anyone can give thanks when life goes according to plan, when the barns are full and the future is bright. This Thanksgiving Day, and every day, we should be thankful not only for comforts but for our trials and uncertainties, too. It isn't the jewelry display case that refines the gold; it's the fire beforehand.
Are you serving Christ, or the enemy?
“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” Titus 3:9
How many Christians truly consider Satan? He is our adversary, yes; our foremost opponent. Satan is trickery personified, the author of lies and the master of deception. He is also thoroughly beaten. Yet the devil is one smart cookie, and he is certainly no quitter.
Satan was defeated when Christ died on the cross and rose on the third day. But he still pursues victory, or at least seeks to add as many souls to the ranks of the eternally defeated as possible until he meets his certain demise.
Lucifer, the age-old liar, is hard at work making hay while the sun shines. The worst part is how he often dupes God's people into helping him with his harvest. Is that a harsh thought? Surely it is, but a harsh thought is frequently based on a harsh reality. Time and again God's people have twisted the Holy Scriptures in ways that circumvent His divine purpose.
The Jewish leaders during Christ's time were famous--perhaps infamous is a better term--for adding rules and regulations to God's Law. They asked Christ foolish questions, the answers to which they would have known had they dedicated as much time to contemplating God's teachings as they spent manipulating them.
Unfortunately, Christians aren't much different today. We often succumb to the perils outlined in Titus 3:9. Religion becomes so entrenched, such a part of our lives, that we totally forget spirituality, which is the essence of authentic worship. We debate and quarrel over trivialities of law and doctrine, becoming blind to the Church's mission. The nuances of Christian living become so important that we lose touch with the basic Gospel message, which renders us impotent in fulfilling the Great Commission.
We are Christ's disciples, his ambassadors to a world filled with sin, destruction and death. Our great purpose isn't to be correct about all things spiritual but to point out God's intolerance of sin and the salvation from that intolerance found only in Jesus Christ. We needn't spend endless time arguing in defense of God, His word, or His morality, as if we are His defense attorneys. He is more than capable of defending Himself.
The heart of the believer should focus on proclaiming the coming judgment of a righteous God and the redemption available during this Age of Grace. When the Church becomes obsessed with regulation, statute, observance, or hierarchy, it is primed for failure. We cannot fulfill our purpose while carrying this self-imposed baggage.
Does this mean we shouldn't defend the Holy Scriptures? Of course not! We know it is God's message to mankind and it is useful, reliable and true. But let's also remember that God's moral law is of little value to someone who doesn't trust. What sense is there in believing that unbelievers will let God's word rule their life? The lost soul must accept Christ before they can accept his moral prudence.
Our purpose isn't to publicly debate theological doctrines or inconsequential questions. It's not to argue our spiritual family trees, or to haggle fine points of Christian living while a lost world looks on. These discussions center on us and accomplish nothing.
We can analyze Christian theologies inside the Church, among believers. However, when we are before the world, where our true light shines, we're more effective when sharing a simple Gospel message of salvation through Christ or judgment for unrepentant sin. If we bring our doctrinal differences outside the walls of the church we confuse the Gospel and push the lost away from Christ. It is then Satan whom we have served, not our risen Lord.
The cure for the faltering family.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22
Divorce rates and instances of unfaithful couples have risen dramatically over the last four decades. Alright, so that's not a news flash, and the causes for marital discontent are as innumerable as the sands of the sea. Promiscuity, pornography, finances, child-rearing pressures, and work addiction are foundational to marital problems. Thanks in no small part to the technology age we have added a new wave of marriage-eating bacteria, such as Internet dating, online gambling, chat rooms, phone and cyber sex, and heaven knows what else.
Each and every one of these temptations has contributed greatly to the American family's deterioration. But perhaps the greatest contributor to the escalating divorce rate is a misunderstanding of this simple verse from Ephesians.
Since the 1960s we have allowed feminists, who generally have more words than brains, to define this profound directive as sexist and domineering. It's as if a wife submitting to a husband is the equivalent of being sentenced to a twisted form of medieval servitude. Barefoot and pregnant, that's what Paul is preaching in Ephesians 5:22! Not quite.
Paul's admonition is based on a very reasonable assessment of how the two sexes think and act. God made us men and women, and He had a purpose for so doing.
In general, men are more inclined to approach a problem logically and practically than are women. The male is less emotional and likely to be more objective when deciding how to tackle a specific problem. Women, conversely, tend to make decisions based on how they feel about a situation. Females have a strong sense for guarding and nurturing. Neither set of qualities is more important than the other. In fact, both are essential to a stable marriage and a healthy family. But men and women remain different, with diverse roles to fulfill.
This short passage contains four words that are the key to making its teaching viable, “as to the Lord.” These words confound secularists, for they cannot comprehend the depth of their meaning. Quite simply, this verse imposes more pressure on the husband's authority than on the wife's submission. If husbands will fulfill their responsibility within the marriage their wives will submit to them voluntarily. And to be worthy of the wife's submission the husband must live as Jesus Christ lived.
The Bible mentions no wife for Jesus Christ, although secular attempts to deny his deity have linked him to Mary Magdalene. But suppose Christ had been married; what type of husband would he have been?
It's safe to say that Jesus wouldn't have been an overbearing husband. He wouldn't have verbally or physically abused a wife. He wouldn't have belittled her in public or in private. He wouldn't have come home drunk from a strip club, abused drugs, or gambled the mortgage payment on the Super Bowl. He would've harbored no grudges, nor would he have been given to envy, rage, or unwarranted anger. But how can Jesus establish such an example for us when he had no wife himself?
In fact, Jesus does have a wife--the New Jerusalem--which is the church. Christ loved the church so much that he gave his life for her redemption, and the saints willingly submit to his authority. Jesus loved mankind enough to hang on a cross for our sins, to give eternal life to those who will repent and believe on him, and to establish an example for us to follow in all aspects of our lives.
Ladies, a wife who submits to such a husband isn't bound like the contemporary version of an indentured servant, no matter how loud the National Organization of Women may claim otherwise. Men, if you will love your wives the way Christ loves his bride, they will submit to you voluntarily, just as the church submits “to the Lord.”
The enduring lesson of Nineveh
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“And 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.” Jonah 3:10
Forgiveness is a unique subject. It can be the most sought after treasure in a person's life, and the most elusive. There's no profit in gaining the entire world if we lose our self in the process. When forgiveness is lacking, we are lost.
Every man, woman, and child needs forgiveness. We have--in some way or another-- betrayed our spouses, parents, children, employer, or other trusting partner. When we do so a little bit of us dies. We need their forgiveness, their restoration, and for the most part we'll receive it if we'll only ask.
However, far greater than the bonds we break with our family, friends, etc., is the bond we break with God. Each sin we commit against a neighbor we also commit against Him. Our greatest need for forgiveness comes from our Lord, and what a debt we owe to Him. Think of everyone with whom we've broken fellowship. Of them all, He has the greatest reason to be angry with us and to hold a grudge.
God has the grounds and authority to pronounce judgment for each and every one of us, for both the good and the evil man is subject to Him. There is ample evidence to condemn our actions and proclaim a guilty sentence. Even so, with His power and discernment so great and perfect, mercy rules His being.
When Jonah's message brought the Ninevites face-to-face with their sins they called out in shame and repentance. The king removed his royal robe, donned sackcloth, sat in ashes and fasted, as did his officials and all the people. The city made a 180-degree turn from their sinful ways on the hope that God would refrain from sending destruction upon them.
God, whose condemnation was commanded by Nineveh's sin, responded not with a heavy hand but with mercy and forgiveness. This is God's nature, and it is just as prevalent today as it was in Jonah's time. More so, really, considering that we are now under the grace of Jesus Christ and not the Law of Moses.
With such compelling evidence of God's forgiving heart, why don't more people experience His cleansing, as the Ninevites did? God has promised not only to forgive our sins but to also wipe them from His memory. Since our Holy God cannot break His word, who is at fault when we fail to experience both the forgiveness and the peace we desperately seek? It's an unpleasant thought, but the fault lies in each of us.
Our mission is clear and our part is simple. We must recognize our sins, confess them to God, ask His forgiveness and leave those sins at His feet. Then we will know not only the forgiveness that the Ninevites experienced but also the surpassing peace He has promised. Yet, so often we take up the sinful trash that He has emptied from our souls and carry it away with us. We are no less forgiven, but we haven't left our burden at His feet.
Pride can prevent mankind from accepting God's salvation. But, once we're saved, the greatest hurdle to experiencing His peace may be the ability to forgive our self. We can know forgiveness and salvation through faith and acceptance. However, we will only know His unimaginable peace and joy when we leave our evil ways behind, as did the Ninevites. We must be willing to humble our selves before Him and leave our forgiven sins at the foot of His throne.
Face your fears with God's strength
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2 Chronicles 20:16
“To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel.”
Fear is one of humanity's strongest emotions and is definable in more than one way. Fear can be an overpowering, even crippling, emotion produced by an anticipated real or perceived danger. It's unlikely that I would fall from a rooftop. But, if you want to see absolute proof that imagined fear can become actual fear, put me on top of a tall building.
However, fear isn't always motivated by danger; it's not always about being afraid. It can also be defined as apprehension or anxiety brought on by uncertain situations. A young boy or girl may fear their first date with the same realism that an Old West cattle rustler feared the gallows. Yet, they wouldn't miss their first date for all the gold that is, or once was, in Fort Knox.
I experienced such apprehension while serving as an assistant baseball coach. During a game, instruction was given to a young player who returned an unwarranted and disrespectful response. The proper remedy would've been to take the player aside and inform him, in no uncertain terms, that the attitude was unacceptable. However, I lost my temper and several past incidences came to an instant boil. The point was made, but not in the proper way.
The next game was three days away and there were some anxious moments in the meantime. Would the other parents, most of whom knew me well and were somewhat familiar with the situation, understand? Or, would they tar and feather me? The myriad possibilities produced anxiety, a fear or dread of the unknown. Well, admittedly, I knew it wouldn't go as far as physical torture and no matter what happened I could go home following the game. Jehoshaphat and Judah didn't have that option.
Judah stared squarely in the face of several hostile armies. Not only was their country threatened, the covenant land given to them by God, but perhaps their very existence. No hope for victory could be found in their army's might. There was a very real reason for fear in the land of Judah.
Imagine their relief when the Spirit of God came upon Jahaziel, telling the people that their fight belonged to the Lord and not to them. Yet they had to face the source of their fear. They had to show faith in God's promise. Judah went out to meet her enemies in faith and God delivered, just as He said He would.
God's deliverance was on vivid display at the wilderness of Jeruel and it serves as a lesson for believers to this day. Just as the Lord fought Judah's battle He will fight our battle. We can be victorious through His strength when we're following His will. We can have confidence in God whenever we face a fearsome situation, for He is there and has promised to protect us.
However, His protection doesn't mean we can avoid all of life's unpleasant, uncertain, or fearful situations. He may require us to come face-to-face with our anxieties. To witness his deliverance we must be willing to trust His guidance, then go out to face our enemies. There, on the edge of trust, He is with us, just as He was with Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah.
I survived that next game. In fact, everything was fine between me and the player in question (who played his best game of the year), and nary a parent cast the first stone. I asked God's guidance, and then I went out to face the source of my anxiety. He delivered me, just as He said He would. Won't He do the same for you?
God's patience serves His glory.
“For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.” Isaiah 48:9 (KJV)
Beating a habit or addiction is an arduous task under the best circumstances. I know from first-hand experience, for I was once a user of smokeless tobacco. When my son Noah was a toddler I hid my habit by calling snuff “Daddy's medicine.”
One evening as I sat in front of my computer preparing to indulge my habit Noah said, “Daddy, you going to take your medicine?” When I replied in the affirmative he stated, rather proudly, “When I grow up I'm taking that medicine.”
You want to talk about an arrow through the heart! I was face-to-face with my poor example. I closed the lid and tossed the nearly new can in the garbage, kicking a 13-year tobacco habit cold turkey. That was 10 years ago and I haven't taken a single dip of snuff since. Whenever I'm tempted, and it still happens, I recall my son's words and my responsibility as a Christian parent. I'm sure my kids see many negative influences when they watch my life, but at least I did the right thing once.
However, the fact that I had success in quitting tobacco doesn't mean it came easily. Beating a habit or addiction is tough at best and can be downright impossible alone. Sometimes we need help from other people.
A drunkard may seek help for alcoholism from Alcoholics Anonymous or myriad other treatment centers and programs. Similar programs and support groups are available for battling drug addiction, sex addiction, or fingernail biting. People that face these problems and take action may be credited with recognizing their problem and seeking a remedy. But they can't become too self-congratulatory, for it is a blessing to find such help before self-destruction.
Neighbor, although I sought no outside help, I didn't quit tobacco alone. It was God--and a forest full of toothpicks--who delivered me from that vice. Without Him, I wouldn't have succeeded. God remained patient through my many failed attempts at quitting tobacco and now He receives praise for my accomplishment, just as our key verse says. He takes the same approach with a greater problem, one to which every vice imaginable is but a symptom. That problem is sin.
Look at it this way, if you're walking a trail of sin and you stop and repent, do you have the right to congratulate yourself? You can be pleased with your decision, for that decision is yours; God doesn't force anyone to repentance. However, more than happy and self-congratulatory you should be grateful that God gave you the opportunity to repent.
This will come as a shock to most people, including Christians, but God owes us nothing. We can't fool God and we are defenseless before Him, save for faith in His Son. No man can hide from God, neither can anyone escape His all-seeing eye. God can do what He pleases as He pleases, for He is the righteous judge. He need not refrain for our benefit but for His own sake.
We should take neither pride nor credit for overcoming a temptation or conquering an addiction, just as we can take neither pride nor credit for turning to Christ. It is for God's name, God's sake, and God's glory that He opens the way for our victory. It is for His praise that He restrains His wrath.
God's disciplined judgment.
3 I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.
Raising children requires discipline. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” the old adage goes. This means that a child must receive punishment, in some form, to correct bad behavior. It's a concept that's as old as humanity itself, and Biblically confirmed in Proverbs 13:24.
What's the first image to your mind when you think of “spare the rod?” If you're like me, it's either being sent to the woods to cut your own hickory or an encounter with a belt or paddle. We think of child discipline as the time-old spanking, and many parents there are (although probably not enough) who'll still switch a backside at the appropriate time. Other, more contemporary methods are timeout, grounding, and revoking privileges, all of which are effective punishments to a certain extent.
However, for child discipline to be effective parents must be disciplined in their discipline. That may sound like a mouthful, but not if you chew it slowly.
Parents must be in total control, totally disciplined, when correcting children or a spanking can become a beating. We must resist sending a message via unwarranted or excessive punishments. Sometimes punishment must come swiftly, surely and harshly. At other times discipline should be delayed, but it must always be completed or parents lose credibility.
Too often we'll pronounce punishments that go unfulfilled. We say it, we threaten it, and we promise it, but we don't follow through. Our Heavenly Father doesn't work that way.
What God plans or promises He delivers, whether it is a blessing for faithfulness or a judgment for sin. God will make good on His promises at the appropriate time. Oh yes, this is definitely beyond our understanding. But isn't that true of God's ways in general? Just because we don't see the results of His judgment or the fruits of His blessing immediately doesn't preclude their imminence, which creates a perilous situation for the unrepentant.
When a parent delays punishment a child may think they've gotten away with their transgression. In many cases they're correct and greater disobedience is the result. People think the same of God when He doesn't act within a conceivable human timeframe. That false sense of security is extremely and eternally dangerous.
God warned Noah of a coming judgment, which wouldn't arrive for more than 100 years. Since Noah built the ark without the aid of power tools and home improvement warehouses that time span is quite likely. Imagine the ridicule Noah endured from his apathetic neighbors while God delayed His judgment during the construction period. Even when the work was complete and the time for judgment was at hand God relented seven days before shutting Noah and his family inside the ark.
God told Abraham how his descendents would suffer in bondage and how their masters would be ultimately overthrown. This was fulfilled when the Israelites fell to Egyptian servitude and were delivered 430 years to the day from their enslavement. Egypt received her ultimate judgment at the Red Sea when the waters consumed Pharaoh's chariots.
Old Testament prophets told of a coming Messiah who would be the world's salvation. Those words were completed 1000 years later in a small, unimportant stable in the small, unimportant town of Bethlehem.
God proved His faithfulness in each case, though passing time may have left mankind asleep and unprepared.
Two thousand years have passed since that Bethlehem baby was crucified, buried, arose and ascended with the promise that He would come again. As Isaiah wrote, God will fulfill His declarations. Suddenly, at a time unexpected, they will come to pass and too many people will be found unprepared. Don't be the child who thinks God's delay means you've escaped His rod.
Meekness and weakness aren't synonymous.
2 Timothy 1:7
7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (KJV)
Would you consider meekness a desirable quality? It's likely that you do, especially if you're a Christian, and God's Word confirms the conclusion. King David wrote that the meek will inherit the earth and enjoy an overflowing peace. Jesus, while delivering the Sermon on the Mount, reiterated and confirmed David's inspired writing. What's more, Christ set an example of meekness to guide your path. But does it mean that you should be tepid and weak?
Jesus described himself as meek and modest in spirit. Despite being God in a human body he didn't exalt himself as would've been his due. Although he was the King of kings and the Lord of lords, he entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey.
Ancient Middle Eastern customs considered the donkey a humble animal. When a king approached a city riding a donkey it was a sign of peaceful intentions. Conversely, horses were used in warfare. For a king to approach a city on horseback was a sign of aggression. Yes, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king, but as a king on a peaceful mission, not as one seeking exaltation or personal glory. Christ deferred his proper due until a more appropriate time so God's purpose and glory would be magnified.
Jesus offered no resistance at his arrest. When he healed a leper he took no credit, instead instructing the grateful man to keep the miracle secret. Even at the transfiguration, when any lingering doubt about Christ's Lordship was dispelled, he charged his disciples with silence. He was meek in trouble and in power. Could you remain so humble?
Jesus Christ, who was worthy of arrogance, exemplified gentleness and humility. Sometimes Christians equate the meekness that Christ taught and lived with weakness. What an error, for Christ was anything but weak.
What did Jesus, the son of an unimportant Nazarene carpenter, say to the learned and wise religious leaders? “Woe unto you . . . Hypocrites!” he said. He called them blind fools, serpents, and vipers. The pious scribes and Pharisees, the teachers and keepers (and distorters) of the Law of Moses Christ said were dead in their sins. He called them murderers, telling them plainly how they would persecute and kill those sent in God's name. Now neighbor, those words aren't exactly high praise--nor are they the actions of a weak, timid, or cowardly man.
There was no weakness in Jesus Christ when he single-handedly drove the merchants and moneychangers from the temple courts and intimidated the chief priests. Christ's example is one of strength, courage, and assertiveness tempered with the knowledge of a greater good and a higher calling.
Christian, you compromise your witness, influence and the Gospel message when you equate meekness with weakness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A spirit of power is available to you, along with the ability to make reliable judgments and rational decisions. The Holy Spirit gives you the discipline and the understanding to use these gifts wisely so that your Heavenly Father may be glorified.
How can you live this odd combination of spiritual assertiveness and personal humility? You can't! But thank God, for He has made it possible. God has given you an aggressive nature for doing His will and defending His commands. Miraculously, He also grants you a meekness that allows you to love others as Christ loves you. Do not confuse the meekness required to properly deflect glory from you to God with a weakness that renders impossible the fulfillment of His supreme purpose.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19, 20).” You'll recognize these words as the Great Commission. It's hardly a task for the fainthearted, is it?
God isn't afraid to prove Himself. Based on Matthew 28:6
6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (NIV)
6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (KJV)
Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That's the simple, straight forward gospel message. Do you believe it, or do you merely pretend? If you do believe, you have everlasting life. But if you're only pretending so as to present a “righteous” façade before man you have condemned yourself, at least to this point. Not everyone who calls “Lord, Lord” has believed and accepted.
Mankind is naturally skeptical. Sometimes our sinful nature drives that skepticism and trust becomes difficult. We like to see proof, tangible evidence, before taking a leap of faith. Yet many people consider it sinful or disrespectful for a mere man to ask God for signs or explanations. What a pity, when God Himself knows our need for evidence, welcomes our questions, and understands the weakness of our faith.
We can approach God with our concerns and our misunderstandings. He is strong and secure enough that we can ask our tough questions. “Come now, and let us reason together saith the Lord,” through His prophet Isaiah. Abraham reasoned with God, even bartered with Him, over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. That didn't turn out so well for Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham became the father of many people.
Gideon asked God for a sign not once but twice, and this after God had sent his angel to Gideon and had spoken to him in His own voice. Some of the most prominent men in Biblical history dared to reason with God or to ask for proof of His message, and they were greatly blessed.
John and Peter were among the first disciples Jesus called. They traveled with the Lord; they lived with him, and they saw him heal the lame, the blind, and the deaf. Jesus removed fever from Peter's own mother-in-law in the presence of both Peter and John. They were at the temple when Jesus drove out the moneychangers and foretold both his death and his resurrection on the third day. They were the first disciples on the scene that first Easter morning.
Christ had risen, just as he said he would. With all the disciples knew of him and everything he had shared with them concerning his purpose, do you not think they should've immediately recognized what had happened? Yet the Lord's angel didn't instruct them to go immediately and tell the other disciples. Instead he invited them to see for themselves that the tomb no longer held the Risen Savior. God knew their hesitancy and proved Himself. Not because He needed to validate His power and purpose, but because He loved Peter and John, His creation, and desired their belief. He wants the same from us today.
Man has no right to make demands of God, for we aren't worthy of His acknowledgement. Yet, in His grace and mercy He does acknowledge us for a season. Friend, if you're struggling with the gospel message ask God to make it real and understandable. If you're a Christian and unclear of God's purpose for your life, don't fear asking for a sign or clarification. He has provided both to His people before. Is there any doubt that He will do so again?
Jesus gave his life for you, to forgive your sins, and to join you unto him. If you have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior your eternity is secure. If not, then why?
The Light of the world.
20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.
20 Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Human beings love light. We are drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Few are the people who prefer stumbling about in a dark place, groping for a familiar reference. Instead we'll flip on the light switch or carry a flashlight. Why bump into the furniture, step in a hole, or fall in a ditch when light prevents it all? Businesses install lighted signs to attract our attention. What's more, light can even affect our moods and attitudes.
You may have experienced an air of gloom during the winter months. Days become shorter and provide less sunlight, and the sunlight itself loses intensity. Cold, rainy, and snowy days drive us inside and we get a little down, a little depressed. We may get a case of what's commonly known as the “winter blahs”.
Sometimes this condition is so prevalent that therapists will treat it with artificial light. At its most extreme it's diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It seems there's a disorder for everything these days so make what you will of SAD. Still, there's little doubt that light can improve our mood, and natural light, God-made light, is vastly superior for improving mood than is man-made light. If God's natural light can lift our spirits, how much more so His spiritual light?
Mankind lives is a world fraught with trouble and pain (Job 5:7, 14:1). At times our humanity will surrender to pain, opening the door to gloom and suppressing our spirit. It's as if we have the spiritual “winter blahs”. How can we deal with the sorrows from financial setbacks, poor health, or the death of a loved one? Brothers and Sisters, we can regain a positive outlook when life turns sour.
Through Isaiah's writing God has promised His people a sun that never sets and a moon that never wanes. It's far more than the normal light of the daytime sun or the nocturnal moon. It is a perpetual source of mood-enhancing, soul-lifting light. It is God's eternal, spiritual light, reigning supreme over sorrow's darkness and crowding the weight of sin from our soul.
If natural light can improve our mood then surely His light can mend our spirit. We need not fear or worry; only accept and believe (John 14:1, 14:27). His light lifts the soul and revives the wilting spirit. Sadly, while mankind seeks light to improve mental and physical outlook we often cling to darkness in the spiritual sense, for men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
God hasn't promised that faith will make life a bed of roses. God's light isn't a magic blanket that makes our troubles disappear. Jesus himself was described as a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), and promised his followers that we can expect adversity, too (John 16:33, Rev. 2:10). However, His light helps us endure and overcome those hardships; hardships need not overcome us.
Jesus Christ is our light therapy. He is the sun that never sets and the moon that never wanes. He is our everlasting light (John 13:46), bringing our days of sorrow to an end.
For rich or for poor.
22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (NIV)
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. (KJV)
When I became a Christian I admitted my sin before God. I believed that Jesus is God's Son, the perfect lamb, sacrificed for my transgressions. I then made that decision public at a revival meeting on Friday, March 23, 1973. I can't recall a vow of poverty being part of the deal, though life seems to work that way sometimes.
When a rich man asked Jesus about eternal life, the Lord told him to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. We know from our topical verse what happened. The man went away dejected, for he had great wealth. This exchange raises some interesting questions. Does Jesus intend for his followers to live as paupers? Or, did the problem arise because the rich man had allowed his wealth to take top priority in his life?
It's often said that money is the root of all evil. This is where we miss a key point, for it is the love of money, not the money itself that brings problems.
Abraham was known as a friend of God, yet he was rich in cattle, silver, gold, and servants, wealthy beyond the means of most men in his day. Jacob, the patriarch of the Israelites, was a wealthy man. Job, too, was a man of vast fortune, who lost everything only to see it restored double at God's hand. And what about Solomon, who may have surpassed them all? These examples make it difficult to conclude that wealth itself equals separation from God.
Why did Christ make such a seemingly burdensome request to his wealthy visitor? Perhaps he was attempting to remove an obstacle that limited the man's ability to love and serve God. This man faced a choice, he could place God above his riches, where He belongs, or he could cling to the pleasures of this world. When you think about it, we face the same choices today. Far too often even Christians fail that test.
It's interesting to consider what might have happened if the young man had said, “Yes, Lord,” and rushed away to follow Christ's instructions. Is it beyond reason to think that Jesus may have stopped him, satisfied his faith and priorities had passed the test? Suppose he followed the Lord's directions and Jesus did not stop him? What then? He may have seen God work in his life and bless him in ways the human mind cannot imagine. Perhaps God would've restored his wealth two-fold, just as He did for Job.
No, this theory can't be proven accurate to this particular situation. But we do know that whatever we sacrifice for the glory of God doesn't escape His watchful eye.
God will test His people. We will face tests and we will be tried. This doesn't necessarily mean that our faith and obedience binds us to perpetual poverty. Many of the Bible's greatest people were men of means, wealth, stature, and power. In each case they loved God more than their wealth. Christians who view financial success as incompatible with the Lord's purpose do so in error. Wealth becomes sin only when it takes Christ's proper place as Lord of our lives, as it had for the man in Mark's Gospel.
Let us seek first the kingdom of God, and then allow Him to bless our efforts as He deems appropriate.
Separate observance from worship.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (NIV)
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: (KJV)
During the pre-grace period, the Old Testament, law and observance governed God's people. In order to maintain fellowship with God they presented all manner of sacrifice, observed religious festivals, and kept rules concerning the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-35).
The Jewish people sacrificed unblemished calves for sin offerings, and made burnt offerings of rams (Lev. 9:2). They prepared unleavened bread mixed with oil for peace and thank offerings (Lev. 7:11, 12). Various rules and stipulations applied to these and other sacrifices (Lev. 7:8; Num. 10:10; Ex. 29:27).
The Festival of Weeks, celebrated in the 3rd month, was a time of sacrifice and thanksgiving for God's harvest. During the 7th month Jewish families would spend a week living in booths, somewhat like today's camp meetings. This was called the Festival of Tabernacles and it served as a time of thanksgiving and to memorialize the Israelite's journey to Canaan. Purim was celebrated in the 12th month. It was a time of feasting and gift-giving commemorating the Jews deliverance in Queen Esther's day.
However, the sacrifices, feasts, and observances themselves didn't justify man. It was the faith behind the actions that brought sanctification. Even Abraham was judged righteous because he believed (Gen.15:6). The Old Testament observances and Mosaic Law indicated how far short man falls from God's standard for holiness. They still proclaim that point today. The law confirms our need for a savior, who came as Jesus Christ.
The Law of Moses doesn't bind Christians like a slave is bound to a master. Instead it serves as a reminder of our sinfulness in light of God's perfect holiness. Through the Old Testament scriptures and Mosaic Law Christians are drawn closer to Christ, constantly reminded of the guilt Jesus bore for us.
Christians need observe no ritual or festival to please our Heavenly Father, save for baptism (Matt. 3:16; 28:19) and the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Acceptance is due solely to faith in Christ, just as Abraham was justified thousands of years ago. That's not to say that observances and the like are totally unworthy. Believers observe the Lord's Day, Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving as an expression of love and gratitude to the Father. However, we need not recognize or observe these occasions from a sense of duty or in a vain attempt to appease God's wrath. Such religious observance will not save.
The fact is that God's anger and fury isn't so much with us, His creation made in His image (Gen. 1:26). God's anger is directed toward the sinful nature that dwells within us and separates us from Him. What a comfort is it to know that Jesus forever satisfied God's judgment on Calvary's cross! No sacrifice, ritual, law or ceremony is required, only our faith expressed in love and worship.
We must take care that our witness expresses the faith within us, and that our actions cause no man to stumble (Rom. 14:20; 1 Cor. 10:32). However, we should allow no man's use of dogmatic rule or ritual to judge our relationship with God.
Why do good people die young?
1 The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. (NIV)
1 The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. KJV)
At first look it's easy to see this verse as prophesying the church's rapture. This is especially true when we relate it to other rapture scriptures, such as Matthew 24:40-41, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. These passages all point toward God removing his people sometime before the tribulation period. It is a plausible interpretation.
In Isaiah's writing devout men are taken away and those left behind fail to understand. But the rapture will come unexpectedly, for no one knows that day or hour. So, like most Biblical passages, there is another application.
There is at least one experience common to all mankind. Each of us has known at least one good and decent person who died prematurely. We are left with far more questions than answers. We wonder why death snatches a person in the prime of life, when there seemed so much to live for. Personally, I've seen this happen on at least three occasions.
Dub Tate was as fine a Christian man as ever lived. Anyone who talked with Dub was soon talking about Jesus. Christ was the core of his life, and he didn't mind letting you know it. Dub led the Royal Ambassadors at my church. He coached my RA ball team to the South Fork Association championship during my last year in the program.
Dub was a loving husband, a dedicated father, a deacon, a teacher, and a friend. He was fit, active, and healthy. He died from a sudden heart attack in his early 50's. There was no sign, no warning, just death. Why was such a good and giving man who led such a beneficial life taken away?
Barry Youngblood was less than 50-years-old when he died in his sleep, his wife by his side. Barry was active in church. He was regular in his attendance and served the Lord and the church faithfully. Left behind was a sweet wife to ponder questions for which there appear no answers. Left behind was a pretty teenage daughter. He didn't see her win a national cheerleading championship. She's left to navigate the vulnerable and impressionable high school years without her father's guidance. Again, you wonder why.
Eddie Wallace was an adult when he gave his life to Christ. Once he accepted the Lord he became an integral part of the church. He served as a deacon. He also served on the budget and nominating committees. You well know that those are two of the most difficult, thankless and time-consuming positions in the church.
Eddie was a successful and energetic businessman. In fact, he was rather wealthy. Yet, he never flaunted his playthings. Whenever I spoke with him he appeared genuinely humbled by his success, invariably giving thanks to God. He was also quite generous. It was widely believed that he gave substantial offerings to the church in times of need, and to missions. He never called attention to his giving. No one could accuse Eddie of being the Pharisee praying on the street corner.
One night he lost control of his motorcycle and opened his eyes in eternity. He, too, left behind a beautiful daughter and a teenage son. Worse still, it was his son who found him shortly after the accident.
Why were Dub, Barry, and Eddie taken away at life's pinnacle? Perhaps Isaiah's writing provides an answer, one that we can use while awaiting the church's rapture.
Are you clairvoyant? Can you see the future? Sure, you can plan for the future based on past experience and gain at least some idea of how events may unfold. But it is at best an educated guess. Any reputable financial planner will tell you that past experience doesn't guarantee future results. The point is that you aren't clairvoyant and neither am I. We don't know the future. But God does!
God knows what we face tomorrow, next week, and next year. Thus He knows our coming joys and successes, and our approaching trials and failures. Maybe the key to why good people die at what seems an inopportune time is found in the last line of our text.
In my mind Dub, Barry, and Eddie died far too soon. In your mind, your friends did too. But we don't know what our friends may have faced had they lived. God knew what lay ahead. Is it beyond belief that He may have spared them great suffering from an unavoidable catastrophe simply by taking them into His eternal glory?
I know this is impossible to prove. You may look back and see no event that justifies this conclusion. However, the fact that God took them could have changed subsequent events, preempting the otherwise unavoidable disaster. We'll never know, short of eternity, what hardships were averted when God called our friends home. But we can have faith that God sees beyond our sight to a reality beyond our understanding. Maybe we can take comfort in that knowledge, too.
Our efforts reflect whom we serve.
22: Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. (NIV)
22: Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: (KJV)
Modern Christians may see this verse as insignificant. Slavery is rare in predominantly Christian societies today. However, we do know slavery existed in Old Testament days and that the Law of Moses addressed the treatment of slaves. Slavery also existed during Christ's life. Jesus addressed the issue of slavery in an unusual way, encouraging slaves to honor their service to their masters.
Quite frankly, I don't think Jesus was condoning slavery in his teaching. In Isaiah 61:1 the prophet told how God chose him to “proclaim liberty to the captives.” God's directive to Isaiah was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. However, slavery was a reality of Jesus' day, and he wanted slaves to realize that a higher calling, a higher existence, was waiting. Men, whether bond or free, were to express a hope above the worldly experience and so were to conduct their duties, even as slaves, for the greater glory of God. Yet we are all slaves to some extent.
Jesus himself taught in John 8:34 that anyone who sins becomes its servant. Essentially our humanity makes us slaves to sin. Not that we should willingly serve sin, but he who redeemed us from sin, rendering it a former master. Christ is the Christian's master, having purchased us from sin. We are to serve Him. However, to make this case in light of our key text is to stretch that text somewhat. Paul instructs slaves to obey earthly masters. Christ is our heavenly, eternal master. So, if this text applies to earthly masters how can it help us live our daily lives?
We have no authority to change scripture. It is God's message. Who is man to alter its meaning? So, since most of the modern world neither practices nor condones slavery, is this passage irrelevant? Hardly, for Paul also wrote in II Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is God given and useful for doctrine, correction and encouragement. Therefore, this verse has an applicable meaning in modern society. Perhaps applying this passage's truth to our lives requires us to change not the meaning but the application.
Paul teaches slaves to work honorably, for the right reasons. Slaves were not to honor their masters with good work only when they were being watched or for the possibility of reward. Slaves were to serve their masters for God's glory. Suppose we were to substitute worker or employee for slave or servant, and bosses or foremen for masters? Now we have a modern illustration, one that can speak the underlying truth of this passage without changing the meaning one iota.
Have you known a co-worker who produced top quality work… as long as the boss was watching? But, when the boss wasn't present the co-worker's production slipped and the quality of their work deteriorated. Have you also noticed that this person is most likely to grumble about their job and gripe about management's foolishness?
No one to whom a worker is accountable -be it a department head, a district manager, a board of directors, stockholders, or customers- can watch a worker all of the time. This verse teaches today's Christian that we must honor our supervisors with our best efforts, even when those efforts aren't recognized. We must do this because Jesus is our ultimate master, our great boss, and his back is never turned. When we remember this we will produce our best work at all times. We will produce our best work for our own sense of satisfaction and pride in workmanship, not for the praise of our boss or company. Most important, we will produce our best work so that we reflect well on our true boss, the Lord Jesus Christ.
No matter our level of wealth or our professional standing we can take pride in our work if we give our best effort at all times. We can take pleasure in knowing that we have used the gifts our Creator has granted, and done so for His glory. It is called accountability, and it's a quality becoming far too uncommon in both the Christian and secular worker.
Who is man to advise God?
13: Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?
13: Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him?
How can we humans, with finite mind and comprehension, understand a God whose ways are not our ways? “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD,” ironically through the prophet Isaiah (55:9). We are encased in a corruptible shell. Our nature leans toward the easiest path, which is most often the path of evil. God, by contrast, is perfect. He has no corruptible shell for He is spirit, which we know from the fourth chapter of John's Gospel, verse 24. We cannot understand God, or his ways, in our own power.
When we come to grip with God's superior intellect we also understand how deep and powerful are His words. Each nugget of Biblical truth is applicable in multiple ways, to multiple situations. A single verse read and grasped alone can teach a great truth. It can instruct us in His ways. Conversely, that same verse when read and understood in relation to the surrounding passages may convey a different truth. Both revelations can be factual, practical, inspirational, and useful. Yet those truths can be unrelated, conveying different depths of meaning or levels of understanding.
Mankind, we must realize that everything we know and understand about God is given us by God Himself. He can reveal His knowledge and purpose to anyone He chooses, from the most experienced Doctor of Christian ministry to the newest of believers. Don't think this is meant to discount seminary or divinity training and study; nothing is further from the truth. It does indicate that God can speak through the layman to convey an important lesson, learned from a single verse, just as He can speak through the most exhaustive theological analyses. For an example we'll look to Isaiah 59:1-8.
The overall passage speaks to man's sin. Verse four tells us that man doesn't seek justice with honor and integrity. Attempting to defend our iniquity is an empty lie, for our hearts are set on wrongdoing. However, when we read verse four alone it is a stinging rebuke of many tort lawyers practicing in America's courts today. Do not many lawyers ignore justice in pursuit of legal victory, shunning integrity in favor of shallow and misleading arguments?
It is evident that even our most learned actually know very little. The more God's word is pondered the more a quote attributed to Einstein is proven correct, “The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.” If, then, we know so little, how can we expect to instruct God?
Vast amounts of God's Word remain mysterious to even the most comprehending mind. What He has revealed to us is often inconceivable. Explain, for instance, with absolute certainty Revelations 21:21. Heaven's street is described as pure gold, like transparent glass. How can we envision, much less understand, transparent gold? God showed this street to John, who saw it with his eyes, and yet he could not clearly convey his vision. So how can we, who have not seen, picture the Heaven's golden street?
That which is incomprehensible for us is simple for God. He can create a street so majestic that we can't contemplate, much less envision, its existence. Yet, we try to impose our will on Him? What nonsense!
God doesn't need our instruction and advice. Not only does He know His eternal plan, He also knows His plan for us. What's more, God knows where we fit into both. Can there be any doubt that our lives would be better if we'd listen to Him and follow His lead, rather than trying to act as His instructor?
Pursuing an impossible goal.
22: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (KJV)
22: And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)
Only the most disciplined and focused of people can continue to work on a project they can't complete alone. Such a task is not the same as refusing to acknowledge the impossible. Perseverance in that case is foolish. But continuing to work on a task the fruition of which is beyond our life and power is the essence of foresight and faith.
This principle is the founding block for the Church of Jesus Christ. Through him, men and women of faith continue working to perfect his church while knowing full-well that it will not happen until after his Second Coming. What keeps the Christian builder going is the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us see beyond the limits of human constraints to a time of promises fulfilled. But this is applicable to more than just the church.
God is not working through man only to establish the church in its earthly, or eternal, state. He wants more than a place of worship; He wants to establish each believer. Just as God builds the church through us, He also builds us. Each and every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is being developed as a place of worship for the Almighty God. We are His temple, his habitation. He lives in each of us.
Friends, our humanity will not allow us to see the completion of God's perfect work during this life. But through diligence and persistence we will, by God's power and grace, become what He wants us to be. We will become useful to Him in this life, a suitable habitation from which His message can flow to a world in need. Someday we will become perfect through Him.
God is working on His people, those saved by His Son Jesus, so that we may be acceptable to Him. He finishes what He starts, even when that task seems impossible. If we are to follow his example we must finish what we start, even when the finish cannot be reached through our power alone.
Apply the “KISS” principle to salvation.
14: because by one sacrifice he had made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (NIV)
14: For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (KJV)
You have heard of the “KISS” principle haven't you: “Keep it simple, stupid?” Yes, you've heard the phrase before; everyone has heard the phrase before. So, why is it that we humans are so adamant about complicating every activity and process? Why do we elevate problems to their highest degree instead of boiling them down to their base element? I guess we'll never know the answer, at least not beyond conjecture. But the premise is no less true.
Christianity is a perfect example of this human condition due entirely to our weak faith. Even among born again believers, people having asked Christ into their hearts, there are those who don't fully accept his gift in the unconditional manner in which it is offered. It's as if there is something more we can do, or a missing piece we can add, to a work that is already whole.
Some Christian followers maintain that a believer can lose their salvation. This idea depends on a Christian's sinful behavior or backsliding having the power to separate us from God once more, since God cannot accept sin into His Holy Presence. This is the thinking of the law. Yet, even before Mosaic Law we know that Abraham was justified not by law or works but by faith. If, then, salvation comes through faith in God's work, how can man unravel that which God has woven? If man possessed that power there would be no need to worship God, for he would not be omnipotent.
Jesus made the perfect sacrifice, and he made it once for all who would believe. Through accepting Christ and repenting of our sins we are considered perfect forevermore. Each time God looks upon our guilt, He sees it through the blood of His Son and our stains become white. Although we may endure hardship related to our transgressions we are, in essence, credited for now being what we will be when we enter God's Eternal Kingdom.
Our time on earth is merely a process through which God is spreading His redemptive work and, simultaneously, making us holy. When we leave this world His work of holiness will be completed in His Glory. It's a done deal… signed, sealed, and delivered.
There is no need to complicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given man the opportunity to be saved by grace, through faith, and not of works lest any man should boast. It is as simple as taking God at His word and accepting that our sins are eternally forgiven if we will simply trust Him to complete that work in us. Salvation is just that simple. It only becomes complicated when we try to impose our flawed and terrestrial conditions on the perfect and supernatural work He has performed.
No one gets away with sin
2 Samuel 12:14
14: But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die. (NIV)
14: Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. (KJV)
God is not mocked. No man can hide his ways or thoughts from his Creator. This is a simple truth, one that most Christians understand very well, and it is illustrated in this account from David's life. So, why does it seem that evil often does go unpunished, or even rewarded?
How many times have the wicked prospered while the righteous suffer? It seems a fact of modern life that double-dealing, treachery, debauchery, and deceit produce success and fame. On one hand, honorable people who fear God and serve him struggle with every circumstance. On the other hand, the more vile and perverse a person lives the more life seems to go their way. Just take a look at celebrity life.
One any given day you'll find Brittney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or Nicole Ritchie involved in some sort of illicit behavior. Yet, instead of resulting in rejection, it seems their fame skyrockets due to acts for which we would punish our teenagers. Paris Hilton is another example. Celebrities of all types promote all manner of loathsome immorality, and they continue to find success and public acceptance.
Life can be discouraging. But we can know that God is not mocked, although He may remain silent at times.
This sad episode in David's life, a man after God's own heart, isn't included to alter his legacy or defame his achievements. It is here so we can learn the destructive cycle of evil desires and disobedience, and to show that no one escapes God's watchful eye or is exempt from his judgment.
A chance glimpse of the bathing Bathsheba spawned David's lust. The lust led to adultery, which impregnated another man's wife. These sins built upon themselves, producing lies and deceit that led to the planned death of a subordinate, Bathsheba's husband Uriah.
The child born from David and Bathsheba's adulterous union did not survive, as the prophet predicted to David. It should serve notice that no one “gets by” with anything in the sight of God, even though it may seem like they do. Each and every sin, great and small, public and secret, are know to God. Even our thoughts, such as David's lust for Bathsheba, do not escape his watchful eye. Everyone is subject to His authority and judgment.
David's actions dishonored God before unbelievers. He was known as a credible man of God and, in this case, he didn't provide an honorable witness for Him. Nothing could save him when God called him into account. Despite his wealth, power, stature and fame he paid a price for his sins.
Sometimes the price of sin is paid outwardly and publicly. Other times no one knows the price an individual pays for their sins. We do, however, know that a price is paid. If God didn't grant an exception for the king of Israel, why should he grant one for us? We will pay a price for our sins, and so will people who seem to “get by” with their transgressions. But the good news is that the price doesn't have to be eternal.
The ultimate price, the eternal price, was paid by Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross, buried in the borrowed tomb, and arose on the third day. God never promised that we wouldn't suffer the consequence of our choices on earth. He has promised that we need not take them into eternity.
Though we may live obscure and mundane lives compared to other people, if we have latched onto this truth we are wealthier by far than the rich and famous.
Whatever we do, God is a step ahead
9: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (NIV)
9: Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (KJV)
All of us -every man, woman, and child- needs comfort and encouragement from time to time. Everyone faces uncertainties and anxieties. Are we good enough to succeed? Are we thoroughly prepared? Do we have the knowledge and expertise to see our tasks through to the end? These questions and doubts have entered everyone's mind at one time or another. Everyone has experienced inadequacy, either real or perceived, at some point.
For a child, a looming math test will produce enormous amounts of insecurity. A college student doubts their ability to complete their doctoral thesis. They are swamped, surrounded by the research and the books, to say nothing of the notes from each source. How can this tangled web of information transform into an intelligible document that still retains the writer's personality?
Farmers worry about excessive rain. Then, when the rain stops, their concerns shift to drought. Perhaps no one experiences such angst as does the sales professional while making that long, solitary trek toward the prospect's door. Will the occupants offer acceptance, mere tolerance, or rejection accompanied by a flood of expletives? Having spent a brief, and altogether unsatisfying and unproductive, time in sales I know this firsthand.
Man frets about such things to the extent that inadequacy and doubt become a normal, if not particularly desirable, fact of life. Inadequacy and doubt can be intimidating, threatening, and often humiliating. But they don't have to be overwhelming or lonely.
What does God tell us to do when doubt, fear, and discouragement arise? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged,” He says. If He is for us, who can be against us? We should, therefore, face our obstacles with strength and bravery. We need not fear, nor is there cause for discouragement, because He is with us when we seek and follow His will.
God is there when the teacher hands the math test to the fifth grader. He is there when the college student is researching and writing the thesis. God knows the needs of the farmer even better than the farmer himself. He is in step with the salesman approaching the client's door. It is when we pursue goals in our strength, shunning God's will and purpose, that doubt takes root and failure looms.
If only we realized that we are not required to provide strength, intelligence, action, or courage. God asks us only to be submissive to His calling, willing to follow His plan, and faithful to His leadership. If we can provide these three qualities, all born of faith, He is ready and able to do the rest.
Our abilities are only as strong as our faith
14 The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life.
15 The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life.
16 Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day," declares the LORD. (NIV)
14: Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself:
15: Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself: neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself.
16: And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the LORD. (KJV)
Amos paints a rather pessimistic picture, doesn't he? Apparently there is no security, no strength, no escape, and no hope in the face of a coming judgment.
The fast runner will not be able to escape the advancing armies. Though they may run their speed will be insufficient. They will not deliver themselves, for their trust is in their ability.
Strength, individually or militarily, won't be adequate when God brings his wrath upon a rebellious people. Nations will fortify their defenses, and it is wise to do so, but to no avail. When God has determined His course no amount of human power or might will alter His action. Military force, technology, and training will be insufficient when man has pushed His Creator beyond His limit for tolerance, which is extensive but not boundless.
Not even the rider of the horse will evade his enemy. In modern terminology it may be the rider of the tank, armored vehicle, or plane. Soldiers and armaments will provide no defense, nor will their mechanisms. When man has pushed God to His limit, these things will not defeat His judgment. They will neither deliver nor protect.
When the runner's speed fails to carry him to safety and the strong and mighty, in person and force, falter, what of the courageous?
Some individuals are fearless in the face of danger. They are unaffected by the possibility of harm, or even death. These brave soldiers become the battlefield heroes, for they are the ones who attack fortified positions single-handedly. They are warriors who hold their positions against all odds, facing overwhelming forces with an unreasonable and indefinable courage. Their purpose is clear in their heart and mind. Failure is not an option, and they will pursue their duty at all costs.
Yet, when faced with God's righteous and powerful presence, they will shrink and flee. Their bravery will be stripped and their carefully concealed weakness exposed. They will run, naked before their Maker.
What hope do we, mere humans, have? The speed of the swift is slowed. Strength is made weak, and confidence is swallowed up in insecurity. The strong nation cannot present an adequate resistance. Weaponry, bravery, and numbers will wither like grass under the scorching desert sun.
None of these qualities or abilities is weak in themselves. All of them are necessary for a people, a nation, to survive and prosper. Yet, while impressive to man, they are nothing to God. They cannot prevent, restrain, or escape God's judgment.
Still man trusts these abilities exclusively. We think our bravery, our speed, our cunning, our military and technology, can protect us from all harm. What fools we are, for they are not our ultimate protection. They are vanity in His sight, a gnat to be brushed aside.
It is time God reclaimed first place in our lives, and in the life of America. Then, to that faith, all these capabilities will be added, just as they have been in times past. However, when we continue to trust our strengths we are welcoming disaster. If God would not overlook Israel's rebellion, though they were His chosen people, why should we think He will overlook ours?
We should be thankful for our nation's military. We should be thankful for our troop's strength and bravery. We should be thankful for the swiftness with which we can deploy and withdraw forces when necessary. But we must remember that it is for naught without God.
He strengthens strength and hastens swiftness. He bolsters courage and multiplies force. He encourages the warrior in his trial. It is God who provides the strength to stand. As Paul to church at Rome, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
It's time we remembered the source of our strength.
We work in vain unless God is our contractor
1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
1: Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
America is a land of great wealth and success, and American tastes reflect those achievements. People seek larger and larger homes and are willing to sacrifice their future to that pursuit. Despite the financial risks this remains a personal choice and should be decided privately.
In reality, there is nothing at all wrong with a large house if you can afford one and choose to spend your money in that way. No, there's nothing wrong with owning a large, opulent home… unless that home owns you.
Unless you have a large family, and most Americans don't, you have no real “need” for the five bedrooms, three bath homes with the three car garage, a kitchen, pantry, dining room, breakfast nook, living room, reception area, family room, game room, play room and den. Desire, not need, determines most such home designs. We build not for need but for status. However, your need isn't the point, for need is arbitrary and has different meanings to different people. You must determine need for yourself.
Even so, homeowners should consider the home, no matter its size, as a material treasure. It's no different than a car, truck, boat, motorcycle, or whatever plaything you simply can't live without. You work hard to build that house and obtain those pleasures, and yet there is a catch. If you build your home solely upon luxury, on your strength, you have gained but futility. Your foundation is shabby at best.
What if we look at the “city” and its “watchman” as a nation and its defenses?
It is not our policemen who protect us from the criminal element. Policemen aren't likely to be there when a crime is committed. Their job is to investigate, identify, and apprehend suspects after the fact. The fire is already burning when you call the fire department, and you won't call the paramedics until you're hurt or ill. These are remedies. They aren't preventatives and their protective effect is small.
America's military, troop strength and preparedness are second to none. We have the most advanced military technology in world history. We have Apache helicopters to provide close air and anti-armor support. The F/A 18 Hornet is a versatile, carrier-based, super-sonic jet capable of a wide array of combat operations from fighter to medium attack bomber. The Air Force's B-2 Stealth Bomber can penetrate enemy territory undetected, even to the point of delivering nuclear payloads.
There are F-15s, F-16s, and the technologically advanced F-22 fighters. Somewhere in the developmental stage is the F-35 Lightning, which may make all of the above obsolete. We have missiles ranging from the shoulder fired Javelin to the Peacekeeper ICBM. There are numerous combat vehicles, ships, submarines, helicopters, airplanes, jets, missiles, rockets, and satellites. In the developmental stage is a system to defend against missile weaponry that an enemy might possess.
However, if these are the only watchmen to keep the nation secure then their watch is futile.
God our Father is the builder of sound homes and the protector of great nations. No matter how grand your home may be. No matter how intricate its design or advanced its security system, you labor in vain if the Lord isn't the centerpiece. Our weapons, troops, and training can provide no defense if our security rests not in God. Our homes will provide neither peace nor contentment if not built by the Master.
Everything begins with the Lord. We must trust Him to build the home. We must trust Him to watch the city. If we do not trust the Lord first, the other things we seek to provide happiness and security will never provide the happiness and security we seek.
Ask God the tough question
41: Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (NIV)
41: Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (KJV)
As Christians we serve a king unlike any other ruler the world has ever known. Throughout human history the vast majority of kings were unchallenged, unchecked, and unquestioned rulers. Anyone bold enough to question those kings was often rewarded not with an answer but with an execution. Our King doesn't treat us this way.
Our King welcomes our questions. He wants to know our concerns. He longs to make His word and will known to us. This passage from the Gospel of John opens a question I have often pondered. Perhaps you have, too. Can it also answer that question?
What eternity awaits people in remote areas, people neither touched nor reached by the outside world? What happened to the countless souls of tribesmen who lived in the Amazon, Darkest Africa and pre-colonial America, where the news of Jesus was unknown? What is the eternal destination of isolated people who never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not even once? Think about the number of people who have lived this way over the years. What is their relationship to God? While it's true that this verse doesn't address the question directly, it can open the door to some interesting thoughts.
In the first sentence Jesus says a blind man isn't guilty of sin. The notion of physical blindness can be quickly dismissed since such a person can still “see” the spiritual concept of good and evil. They can also hear how Christ's sacrifice paid the price of sin. But, if a man has never heard the Gospel how can he accept or reject its message? Will he be held accountable for rejecting what he has never known or had the opportunity to learn?
By now you should notice that questions are being posed but no answers are provided. I don't know how people that have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ are judged by our Heavenly Father. Some observers stress an implied understanding, that being the innate concept of God that lives in each human being. Perhaps that concept leads to a salvation by faith similar to Abraham's in Genesis 15:6 and revisited by Paul in Romans 4:3.
Is it possible that Christ addressed the situation in this statement to the Pharisees? Jesus assigns responsibility to those who claim to “see,” meaning people who know God's Word and understand its declarations on good and evil. Exposure to God's message holds us accountable for our response. The Pharisees, learned men of the Old Testament, fit this description. They knew Mosaic Law and the prophecies concerning the Messiah. They could see, yet they rejected what they saw and their guilt remained.
Now, there remain the people who are truly “blind,” having no knowledge of the Gospel whatsoever. When such a person dies, are they accountable for rejecting a saving message they have never heard? Could it be that Jesus reveals his saving message to people who respond to that inner knowledge of God and the need for a relationship with Him that was mentioned earlier? Since such people are “blind,” are they not guilty of sin?
I don't know that we can answer this question, at least not with our frail and limited knowledge of God and His purposes. We can, however, recognize that Christians are responsible for acting upon the Gospel's message. Christians “see” God's salvation through Christ and cannot claim to be blind. The same is true for anyone who hears the Gospel and rejects its truth.
The lesson in this verse isn't found in the theological debates, faithful assertions, or unanswerable possibilities that were raised previously. To focus exclusively on those points misses the greater truth. Our desire for answers to deep spiritual and scriptural questions doesn't offend God. He isn't sitting on His throne, lightning bolt in hand, patiently waiting for us to ask a question about Him or His Word. In fact, He welcomes such exchanges. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD…” in Isaiah 1:18.
Of course, we must be willing to listen to His answers.
Little words mean a lot
2 Timothy 2:16
16: Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. (NIV)
16: But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. (KJV)
It has been said that a frog dropped in boiling water will hop out immediately. However, if that same frog is placed in a pot of cool water, which is then heated slowly, he will sit there and boil to his death. I don't know this to be a scientific truth and it should be understood that I have not attempted to gain proof through personal experiment.
Whether or not this tale is factual is immaterial; it serves as a useful transition to another analogy, that of the slippery slope. Once we set foot on the slope and the slide begins it can be difficult, often impossible, to stop. We may not even realize we're sliding until we slip off the edge. Like the frog, we do not recognize the trouble we are in. If we do, it may be too late to alter the outcome.
Sometimes an ungodly word can appear such a trivial, unnoticeable event. We don't appreciate the use of a few off-color words as morally problematic. We even condone such language occasionally… you know, to accentuate a story or enhance a situation. What could be the harm in sharing a semi-obscene story with the boys at work, or a risqué joke in the gym locker room?
It is the first instance of temperature change that sets the frog on his way to boiling. It is the first step onto a slippery slope that sets the slide in motion. So it goes with the “minor” sin. It doesn't seem serious at its onset. Yet it represents us ignoring God's perfect will, breaking our fellowship with Him. Once that fellowship is broken, once that heat increases, once that slide begins, we are on our way to greater and greater sin.
If we were to commit a sudden, unplanned act of absolute debauchery, or use vile and despicable language, the likes of which the Devil himself would not claim, we would be appalled upon reflection. Just like the burned frog we would jump from the scalding water. When Christians plunge defiantly into a sinful activity we are overcome with shame and guilt. We confess our sin to God, beg forgiveness, and run from further temptation. We are hopping from the boiling water and scrambling away from the slippery slope. But what if the sin weren't so blatant and instantaneous?
Suppose, Christian, you have an attractive, young co-worker. Your standard, friendly conversation begins to take a new direction, a flirtatious direction. There are no perceivable adverse affects. In fact, the banter is enjoyable and welcomed. This acceptance leads to exchanges of a more suggestive and provocative nature. Erstwhile friendly lunches now find you sitting on the same side of the booth. Soon you're entering the restaurant arm in arm, and the rendezvous end with physical contact. The lunches become dinners, the dinners become dates, and the dates become... you can see where this is going.
You are slowly boiling in the pot, sliding down the slope. Catastrophe awaits and you are oblivious to its presence until it's too late. You never meant for things to get this far. How did you come to this point?
It was the little words, that godless chatter. It was those profane and vain babblings. Indeed, it is the “little” sin that enslaves.
Jews didn't crucify Jesus… we did!
25: He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
25: And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
It is easy for people today, both Christian and non-Christian, to belittle the Jews for their attitude toward Jesus. They demanded the release of a dangerous, murderous rebel. They rejected the presence of the Messiah they had long anticipated. Jesus had taught them in their synagogues, from the writings of Moses and the prophets, with an authority they had never experienced. They had witnessed Jesus healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and causing the lame to walk. More important than all this, they knew he was innocent.
To see their decision from a modern perspective simply apply this analogy. Suppose America had the choice of releasing from prison either Billy Graham or Charles Manson… and chose Manson.
We would never do such a thing, would we? We wouldn't choose a vile and murderous criminal over someone who lived a just and exemplary life, would we? Before answering, look at this verse in a different light.
We know Barabbas' background. He represents a choice rooted in evil. Jesus lived perfectly, sinless. His miracles were unequaled. His teaching was spiritual, logical, and irrefutable. Jesus represents the opposite choice from Barabbas, the choice of good. Now that we face a choice between evil and good, which do we generally choose?
Even the most devout Christian will experience as much or more failure than success. We defile our Savior and our witness with our foul words and dirty jokes, or our apathy towards both. We demean spiritual liberty with public intoxication, excessive materialism, jealousy, pride, gossip and selfish greed. Even those of us who live the pious public life demean our Christian walk privately.
How many Christians have committed physical adultery, known only to them and their accomplice? How many have committed mental adultery, which Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 is equivalent? How many Christians secretly view pornography, thinking no one will know? How many harbor malicious hatred toward an enemy, or bathe their words with falsehood and slander?
When we look at the choice between Barabbas and Jesus as a choice between evil and good we find that we are little different from the Jews of that first “Good Friday.” We raise our hands and cry, “Lord, Lord.” But the way we live shouts, “Crucify him!”
Don't be too quick to judge Jesus' contemporaries. When we point a finger at them we also point a finger at ourselves. The choice of Jesus or Barabbas is the same choice of good or evil that we face each day. If we are honest we must acknowledge that we release Barabbas far more often than we release Jesus.
Mark 6: 42, 43
42: And they did all eat, and were filled. 43: And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. (KJV)
42: They all ate and were satisfied, 43: and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. (NIV)
Anyone who attended so much as a children's Sunday School class will immediately recognize this passage. It's from Jesus' feeding of the 5000 men by the Sea of Galilee. You'll recall how Jesus took the two available fish and five loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to the multitude.
Each man in attendance ate until their need was met. Additionally, there were women and children present. Would the Lord not also have fed them? The number of people Christ fed at the shores of Galilee may have been twice that mentioned in Scripture, making the miracle all the more amazing. And in verse 43 we see that there was plenty left over. In fact, there was more left over than existed at the beginning.
I accept this story as a literal account, meaning that I believe Jesus took the small amount of food and literally fed more than 5000 people. First, I believe it because the Bible records the event in a historical context, not in the context of the parable teachings so common to Christ's ministry. This is written not symbolically, but as an actual event. Second, there were eyewitnesses to this event beyond Jesus' closest friends, the apostles. Had the story been fabricated, or simply exaggerated, witnesses would surely have stepped forward to refute the account.
The greatest lesson of this miracle isn't the miracle itself. It's not even that Jesus wasn't bound by natural physics, amazing as that is. The lesson is his limitless ability to exceed the situation. Everyone took not only all they needed but all they wanted. Yet, they could not exhaust the Lord's physical bounty, the Lord's power, or his love and compassion. You know what? Neither can we, and it's an awesome realization.
Jesus is not only capable of satisfying each and every human need, he also satisfies our spiritual needs, too. We cannot exhaust his supply of goodness and faithfulness. No matter how often we call on him, no matter how much we rely on him, he is more than capable to not only meet but exceed the needs we have. Nothing we face is too hard for him to overcome.
Let's not make the wrong assumption; Jesus isn't a genie in a bottle. We shouldn't expect to rub the Bible and see Christ come out in a cloud of smoke to grant our wishes. He is of far greater value, for he will not only supply our needs to an extent beyond what we can imagine, but he will save us from our wants as well.
We should never fear taking our thoughts, concerns, needs, fears, and praise to him. He is never too busy to listen. We are never too bad for him to care. And, we can never exhaust the depth of his providence. He is trustworthy to provide your fish and your bread. You will find that you are not only satisfied, but that the more he provides the more there is available.
1 Peter 3:3
3: Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; (KJV)
3: Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. (NIV)
3: Do not let your adornment be merely outward -arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel-… (NKJV)
For every married man there was something about the wife that first attracted attention. Since no person can know another's personality immediately we can assume that physical appearance, in some form, played a significant role in catching the husband's eye.
When you first laid eyes on your wife there was something about her that caused you to pause and look again. Maybe her face was a thing of beauty, perfectly shaped, with just the right amount of make-up in just the right places. She may have presented the figure of a goddess, complete with firm breasts, curvaceous hips, and a flat belly. Even the subtle bounce of a woman's hair, the sweetness of her smile, or the tender glow of her eyes can hold a man entranced. He is consumed by her outward features, unable to focus on anything other than the object of his eye.
Such qualities demand attraction and attention, even desire. In some ways they are the qualities of lasting relationships, but not when they are the sole source of a woman's beauty. Think of beautiful celebrities and Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Pamela Anderson will come to mind. All three are gorgeous women, displaying all physical qualities a man can dream. Now, how would you like to be married to one of them?
Britney Spears troubles, especially recently, are well documented. The same for Lindsay Lohan, who seems determined to toss her beauty, career, and life into the gutter. Pamela Anderson? Please! As blonde and voluptuous as she may be, who wants a wife who married the likes of Kid Rock and Tommy Lee, and who poses in lettuce bikinis for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? These women display an outward appearance that is undeniably attractive, but there is no depth of character.
All people, men and woman, should attend to their appearance as much as possible. Mankind was made in God's image, His highest creation. It only makes sense to care for the outward appearance. However, if that is the only attraction on which a relationship is built it is doomed to fail. The inner beauty of the wife is of greater value. Such a woman's presence transforms a house into a home and a temporary attraction into a permanent relationship. She provides peace, acceptance, and sanctity to her family.
The key to understanding this concept is the word “merely”, found in the New King James translation. This implies a place for physical beauty, which is a sign of respect not only to the husband but to God. We are led to believe that Sarah was a beautiful woman. Why else would Abraham fear that King Abimelech would kill him for her sake? Esther, in chapter two of Esther, was shown to be beautiful woman. And vivid descriptions of physical beauty permeate Song of Solomon. Outward appearance is important, but not all-encompassing. There is much more to a wife's beauty than shiny hair, silky skin, and sparkling jewels. These are only the wrappings that draw the potential husband to the ultimate prize, which remains concealed for a time.
The appearance of a beautiful woman is not unlike receiving a gift, wrapped in the finest paper and tied neatly with elegant ribbons. It draws attention and consumes the mind. However, if the prize concealed in the attractive package is a dead and rotting animal, what joy is there in the receipt? Will the attractiveness of the package remain valuable, or tossed aside and forgotten?
A pastor, preaching a revival message on this same subject, once said that there was nothing sexy about a flannel nightgown. Proverbs 21:19 and 27:15 teach us that a woman lacking inner beauty is a pestilence and a curse. In combination we learn that a wife should endeavor to achieve her best appearance, outwardly and inwardly, to please her husband. And husbands, you should live so as to earn your wife's efforts.
10: When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert, when I saw your fathers; it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved. (NIV)
10: I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved. (KJV)
It is written, a fool says in his heart there is no God. How can anyone who reads this verse from the short book of Hosea be such a fool?
God refers to the foundation and discovery of Israel as something new, delightful, and unexpected. It is like a traveler finding sweet grapes in the heart of the desert, or something of value in an unexpected place. The forefathers of Israel were to God like “seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.” Israel's foundation was the breath of spring, fresh and alive. When Israel was new it embodied the potential for growth and transformation into a useful, pleasurable, and fulfilling nation. But the time came when Israel's “fruit” turned sour. They gave their efforts to ungodly works and idolatries. Therefore their hearts became as wretched as the works they practiced.
Doesn't this also describe a backsliding Christian? When we are saved, when we make that initial commitment to follow Christ, we are a treat to the Lord. We are something new and exciting, filled with the potential for growth and usefulness. The world is before us, the fields are white and the harvest is ready. But how many Christians reach the potential that excites God like “new fruit?”
Too many Christians, though saved, compromise their spiritual potential with corrupt and worldly values. Some pursue worldliness openly and willingly. Other believers sink into that abyss slowly, over the course of time, possibly without realizing how far they have drifted from God. One day they look up and recognize that they have abandoned Jesus and have no idea how they arrived at that point.
This verse holds a dynamic and persuasive sermon for the right preacher. But for this purpose there is but one simple point to be made about God's Word. Every bit of it -every book, every chapter, every verse and every word- is useful.
Hosea is a small and mostly overlooked book from the Old Testament. It doesn't receive the reverence that the books of Moses or the Major Prophets, such as Isaiah, demand. It isn't as glamorous as the Gospels or Paul's letters. Most people must search the table of contents to find Hosea. Yet this single verse from a book most Christians have never read paints a vivid and undeniable portrait of Israel's history as well as the human nature of Christians themselves. Like nuggets of gold hidden in the mountain stream, God planted deep lessons and truths throughout His Word. But, sometimes, we must dig for them.
Prospecting, digging in areas other people don't bother to go, reveals the greatest wealth. Can a man look at this strategically located, intricately planned and somewhat hidden, verse of scripture and say in his heart “there is no god?” Yes he can… but only if he is a fool.
1 Peter 2:7
7: Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.
7: Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, (KJV)
We are the stones that God uses to construct His eternal church. Just as a brick mason adds to the wall brick by brick -each one making the wall longer, taller, and stronger- until the structure is complete, so does God add to the church. And, just as the mason begins with a first brick, so the church must begin with a first stone. That stone is Jesus Christ, which the Bible refers to as the cornerstone.
But what does it mean that to some the stone is precious and to others it is rejected by the builders? First we must determine who the builders were and what they were trying to build.
The builders were the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day. The structure they were attempting to build was a system of religious teachings, laws, doctrines, and practices. These laws were extensive in Old Testament Israel and demanded of Jews during the time of Christ. However, there was a fatal flaw in their effort. Their religious doctrine became polluted with the ideas of man more so than the ideas of God. There was no solid cornerstone was used in the construction, thus the structure could not and will not withstand an eternal test. God must be worshiped in spirit and truth, not in rule and law.
It is sad and ironic that the Jews were the builders who rejected the cornerstone. They were God's chosen people, the ones who received the Law of Moses and through whom the Savior was born. And yet, so consumed were they with religious symbolism and public piety that they forgot what they were building. They rejected the cornerstone, the promised Messiah of whom the prophets had written and they had longed. Their efforts to serve the God of Israel were based not in His truth but in their minds.
God proclaimed Jesus to be the foundation, the cornerstone. He is the first brick. It is upon Jesus that His eternal kingdom is built one stone, or believer, at a time. This is a testament to faith, not adherence to law or ritual. In order to become a part of God's building we must have faith that His cornerstone, Jesus, can support the weight of the growing church throughout eternity. This is elementary to Christianity, for we cannot come to God through our strength. The individual stones, or believers, cannot uphold the church. We must be based on the cornerstone.
4: …he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope. (NIV)
4: He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. (KJV)
Isaiah wrote these words 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet they describe the life, mission, and accomplishment of the Messiah with uncanny accuracy. Not only do they affirm Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, but Isaiah as God's prophet to Israel. And how did Jesus fulfill Isaiah's words? Let's look at it.
Isaiah said this predicted deliverer would not fail or be discouraged in his mission, and Jesus did not waver in his cause. No matter what Jesus faced he invariably triumphed over the temptations of the human flesh, remaining devoted to his Holy purpose.
Jesus was ridiculed and rejected in his hometown. He was demonized by the religious leaders of the Jewish Temple, many of whom attempted to stone him on various occasions. Despite his good works and unquestionable teaching he was reviled and rejected by his people, those he came to save. Yet he persevered.
The temple leaders plotted his arrest, and tried to accomplish that task several times. They tried to entrap him, asking loaded questions intended to cause contradiction in his words, acts and doctrine. They failed as often as they tried. They roasted Jesus for eating with sinners, healing on the Sabbath, and a variety of innocuous accusations intended to destroy his good name and public standing. Yet he did not waver.
Ultimately the Jewish leaders lied about him and his activities to the Roman government. Public outrage was fanned with bogus charges of blasphemy. A kangaroo-court of a trial followed in which he was condemned wrongly and sentenced to suffer the worst form of death in all of human history. Yet, even as he was led away as a lamb to slaughter, he wavered not. He sustained the beating, the humiliation of hanging on a cross, the insults and abuse hurled at him by the very people he came to save.
Jesus Christ -perfect in thought, word and deed- persevered to the point of accepting on his spirit the imperfection of all humanity. He became sin in the eyes of God so that you and I could escape the consequences of our willing and unwilling sin. He did it without so much as a whimper of protest or a word in his defense. There was no hesitation in his acceptance of death or his resurrection, and there will be no hesitation in defending us before God.
When you and I stand before the Creator of all things -dirty, ashamed and without excuse- Jesus will not waver in showing his hands and feet to the Father and saying “this one belongs to me.” He hasn't faltered or failed thus far, and he will not falter or fail until the perfect Kingdom of God is fully established for all eternity.
God knew this before laying the world's foundation. He revealed this promise to his servant Isaiah, and fulfilled it in the strength and unflinching dedication of Jesus Christ.
3: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (NIV)
3: Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (KJV)
Why does it seem that we can never get what we want? Happiness and satisfaction eludes us no matter what we do or how we try. We can murder and covet, yet not attain what we seek. We fight and make war, yet there is no contentment. Such acts are the result of man's misguided and futile efforts. The greatest reason we never get what we want is simply because we do not ask.
We know that we can ask of God and it will be done. We see this in James 4:2 and from Jesus' words in John 14:13. We may ask anything we desire and Christ will do it so that our Father in Heaven may be glorified. We can ask God for a new career; help with our schoolwork, the proper mate, marital happiness, even prosperity. We can ask Him to open His will to us. These things can and will be done for us by Jesus our Savoir for the honor of God.
So why, when we ask, do we so often receive not? Well, for starters, the fact that Jesus will answer our prayers doesn't mean he is some sort of Aladdin's Lamp. We can't rub a Bible or a cross and receive three wishes. We must ask in Jesus name for our prayers to be heard, and that means asking in his will also. In turn this means a willingness to accept his answer. That can be extremely difficult for us. As is true with much of our knowledge of scripture we tend to hear only the part that makes us happy, as if God were a puppet on a string. The rest of the words become expendable.
Too often we ask of God for selfish reasons. We want our needs met more than we want God's plan fulfilled. We want God to make life easy and convenient for us. We ask of God so that our lives will be pleasurable. His purposes are quickly secondary to ours. What gall we must have! Why should we expect God, the Creator and owner of everything, to answer our prayers when this is our attitude?
Overcoming self is a difficult task; no honest man has ever claimed that it isn't. This is true for even the most ardent Christian. How hard must it be for the worldly minded? We have not for we ask not. But if we ask and still do not have, it is time to inspect our motives. Jesus has promised to give us anything we ask. How great could those rewards be if only we placed Christ above self?
Amos 7: 1-3
1: This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king's share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up.
2: When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
3: So the Lord relented. “This will not happen,” the Lord said. (NIV)
1: Thus hath the Lord GOD shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king's mowings.
2: And it came to pass, that when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.
3: The LORD repented for this: It shall not be, saith the LORD. (KJV)
Somewhere, at some point in time, each and every one of God's people has felt alone and without direction. All seems lost and God is far from us. We pray, but there is no apparent answer. We hope, but there is no change. We count God's promises, but we find no deliverance. It seems we can't find our way, the right way, and all life's circumstances are stacked against us. Even to the point that it appears God himself is our adversary.
Does God turn against his people or does he merely discipline those who are his, much like a father disciplines his son? I think the second analogy is a superior depiction of God's love for his people. Where would your teenage son or daughter be if you neglected to instill discipline and morality in them? Why should we think God will not instill discipline and morality in us?
In this passage from the prophet Amos we find God planning to punish Israel for their sins. Grasshoppers will destroy the crops thereby creating a shortage of food, perhaps even famine. It is a dark time for the descendants of Jacob, just as times often seem dark for us, especially when we have sinned against God. But there is a message of hope in this short passage that should ease the soul of the believer.
Amos offered prayer. And what happened? God sympathized and did not carry out the judgment he had planned. And this isn't the only time we see God relent from judgment when man offered sincere repentance.
Jonah ran from God. He suffered greatly for his decision. He was tossed overboard in the midst of a violent storm. He was swallowed by a great fish. Yet, even in the depths of his despair, when he called on God he was heard, forgiven, and delivered from the belly of the “great fish.”
God told Abraham that he would destroy Sodom due to the wicked nature of its inhabitants. Abraham prayed for deliverance, with humbleness and humility, seeking God's mercy for any righteous citizens of Sodom. Essentially, he bargained with God until God consented to spare Sodom if only ten righteous people could be found. We know how that ended. But we also know God was willing to forego his plans, and would surely have spared Sodom and Gomorrah had ten just men been found.
Of course, God's repentance is conditional. In each case, our repentance and forgiveness is involved. And that must begin with our willingness to come before God, admit our failures, and seek his mercy. In this passage we learn that it is never futile to call out to God. He may not always allow the consequences of our indiscretions to pass away. But he is faithful in his forgiveness, and will help us deal with the results of our failures. Who knows? He may see fit to let us off the hook.
7 They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.
8 The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
7: And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them.
8: So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.
There is no record of Jesus' words in either of these passages although he was highly active in the situation. And his actions in these two passages teach us several things without him uttering a recordable word.
First, we should give thanks for what we have even when it seems inadequate. Obviously the little food available wouldn't feed more than two or three men. Yet Jesus gave thanks for it and the need was filled. When we face shortfalls, and it seems that what we have won't satisfy what is needed, our natural tendency is to complain. What might happen if we followed Jesus' lead and gave thanks for what was there instead of griping about what wasn't?
The second lesson is to act in faith. The disciples knew the few loaves and fishes weren't enough to feed the great multitude before them. But they gathered and distributed the food anyway, just as Jesus instructed. Do you ever wonder how many blessings we miss because we place our faith in what can be seen and explained, instead of in God?
Sure, some detractors may point out that the disciples saw him perform this miracle before when he fed the 5000. They knew from previous experience that Jesus could fill the need. But have we not seen him work in our lives also, just as the disciples had? And yet, so often we still lack the faith to trust him with our needs.
Third, Jesus can provide more than we'll ever require. He took a meal meant for a few men and fed 4000 people, and had seven baskets left over. We cannot deplete Jesus' ability to provide. No matter how much we need or how much we take or how much we request there will always be more than an abundant supply. So approach the Lord`s table with a spirit of boldness, not timidity. We can never ask for more than he can give.
This idea is exemplified by a story from my experience in Navy boot camp. There was a saying at the galley, "take all you want, eat all you take." This told us that there was plenty to eat and we could take all we wanted, but we should not waste what we took. How much more is that applicable with Jesus? There is plenty in his "galley" and we can fill our plate without concern for the supply. But don't you think we should use what we take?
Fourth, we can witness without speaking. Remember the lack of red words? Jesus doesn't speak at all, and still he teaches us so much. We don't have to be great speakers to teach others about Jesus. All we need is a willingness to be used. We can teach others about the love of Jesus without long, eloquent speeches, or without speeches at all.
Fifth, God's word is a resource to be mined. Its teachings aren't always readily at hand. The obvious point in Mark's account is Jesus' capacity for the miraculous. But had we stopped there we would have missed the other lessons we addressed.
Look at it this way. If you put your shovel to the ground and immediately struck gold, would you stop there? No. You would place the gold in your pocket and continue digging, hoping to find more. Don't stop with the first nugget you find in a particular verse or passage of scripture. The gold underneath the surface may be purer and more valuable than that which was readily available.
13… for, “Everyone who calls son the name of the Lord will be saved. (NIV)
13: For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (KJV)
These words provide an abundant source of contentment and comfort to the Christian. “Everyone” and “whosoever” are all-inclusive. Their presence indicates that any person -regardless of their past or their present- can come to Jesus, be forgiven, and receive eternal salvation. But there is a key word in this verse, and to ignore or misinterpret that word is to miss the basic premise of the Gospel.
Take special account of the word “calls” in the NIV and “call” in the King James. The usage implies a person has reached out to Jesus, making a conscience effort to express their faith. While God certainly forgives freely through Jesus Christ, forgiveness does require an act on our part. That act is expressed faith. We “call” on Jesus. That means we have taken a step beyond merely knowing who Jesus is.
The logical theologian understands that merely knowing about Jesus is insufficient. Hearing the story of Jesus' birth isn't enough. Hearing about the miracles he did isn't enough. Knowing he fed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, or that he was arrested and crucified, or even that he lived again isn't enough. Recognizing Jesus as a good man or a historical figure and teacher isn't enough. Each of these can be accepted and believed without expressing faith that he is the Son of God, the Messiah.
Even the knowledge that Jesus is God's Son won't take us where we need to go. Look at the 8th chapter of Matthew. Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the country of Gergesenes. When he arrived he was confronted by two people who were controlled by a demon, devil, or some form of evil spirit. Those evil spirits cried out, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?” Plainly the evil spirits recognized Jesus as God's Son. And did Satan not know that Jesus was the Christ while tempting him in the desert?
Satan and his legions know these things about Jesus to be true. They know Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. They understand that he will come again to destroy their evil work, and punish them for their evil deeds. What is the difference between their knowledge of Christ and the knowledge that delivers salvation?
You'll notice that Satan never submitted to Jesus, even after his temptations were rebuffed. Never did an evil spirit submit to Jesus. Sure, they may have begged for mercy, such as asking to be cast into the herd of swine. But they never “called” on the name of Jesus. There is the difference between knowing who Jesus the man was and knowing who Jesus the Lord is.
Salvation is based not only on knowing that Jesus is God's Son, but on submitting to him in faithful repentance. This is what is meant by “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Salvation can be likened to a drowning man calling out to the only person capable of rescuing him. When pride prevents that man from calling for the needed help he will sink beneath the waves. Who will he have to blame?
Recognition is only half the battle. Satan and his angels know who Jesus is. There are untold millions of people on earth today that know the story of Jesus and how he lived. They know his miracles. They may even respect him as a good and just man, worthy of emulation. But they do not call on his name because they have not submitted to his authority. For someone to submit to Jesus requires the denial of self and the decision to accept a promise that is, thus far, unseen. This is faith, and it is expressed when one “calls on the name of the Lord”. Therein lies the key to salvation.
1 Thessalonians 4:11,12
11 make it your ambition to leas a quite life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you,
12, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (NIV)
11: And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
12: That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing. (KJV)
How many people in the modern world strive for recognition? They can't do a work of any kind without making sure proper credit is given. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, businessmen, the wealthy, the destitute; all seem driven by the need for recognition and public approval. What a shame, for in their unending push for such things they miss life altogether.
Think of the stresses that accompany such a lifestyle. Your life is constantly exposed to public scrutiny. If not, people forget about you and your notoriety wanes. The time comes when there is no privacy. And, after so many years of self-promotion and demanding attention, when you try to achieve some form of normalcy you are viewed as arrogant and aloof. But, in reality, you made that bed yourself.
What is the public perception of the meddlesome busybody, or of the lazy and dependent? Does anyone have a high opinion of such people? The nosey person -the one who is constantly telling others how to live, what to do, where they went wrong, and what they should have done different- gains a reputation that leads to avoidance. And dependency casts a person in the image of a freeloader.
Don't misunderstand and think this passage from God's Word means to seek mediocrity, or that we shouldn't help other people when they are in need, or that we shouldn't seek assistance with a real problem. That's not the case at all. God gave us gifts and talents to use. He wants us to succeed. He also gives us a community to help and to receive help from.
Let's take a look at this passage and see if we can determine the benefits of pursuing a quiet life, minding our own affairs, and providing for our own subsistence.
To pursue a quiet life means far less stress and headache. It doesn't matter if you are rich, poor, or in between. Anyone, regardless of status, can seek such a path if they so desire.
Take a wealthy person for instance. Walking in the way of the quiet life means less notoriety. But less notoriety also means fewer chiselers and swindlers to deal with. A wealthy person who seeks the quiet way will have friends who like them -not their money- and will continue to like them regardless of their finances.
There is no need to maintain a phony appearance or impression. There are no critics waiting to pounce on any miscue, and their failures do not become fodder for the supermarket tabloids. Actively cultivating positive publicity brings with it the exposure of negative publicity as well. However, a quiet life doesn't mean your labor and actions will remain totally anonymous. The public will naturally notice and appreciate your positive actions. But, for a quiet person, your failures are far less likely to draw attention. And why would anyone want to be Paris Hilton?
A sure way to lose friends and develop a negative reputation is to poke an uninvited nose into other people's affairs. That`s not to say we should ignore the problems of our friends and it certainly doesn't mean we should deny help where it is needed or asked. But, other than in those conditions we should simply mind our own affairs.
Christians are to be helpful people, not meddlesome busybodies. The latter not only reflects poorly on us but also on Christ, and harms our opportunity to be his witness.
Additionally, tending to the business of other people naturally leads to gossip. Any person who will force their way into another's life is quite likely to spread what they learn. Thus, not only do they fail in solving problems, they exacerbate them. They involve everyone with whom they share their inside information. People begin to take sides based on incomplete information. Soon, what may have been a small matter has become a huge rift within a family, a community, or even a church.
There is also a danger to the meddler. Most people resent unsolicited involvement and advice. It doesn't take long for a meddler's reputation to become solidified. They are shunned -or at best, tolerated- by people that were once their friends. But this is only part of the risk. There is the possibility of physical danger as well.
Suppose you were to stick you nose into a marital, professional, or personal affair. Knowing that the buttinski cannot help telling what they have learned they open themselves to hostility from the involved parties. Once those you are "helping" perceive that you have figuratively stabbed them in the back they may respond in the literal sense. Exposing a person's infidelity, embezzling, or private addiction, can open the busybody to retaliation.
It is said that idle hands are the devil's workshop. And idle hands may lead to the kind of attitude we discussed above. So stay busy. Do your work and you won't have time to become involved in what's none of your business.
Working with your hands doesn't necessarily mean doing manual labor. You don't have to be a carpenter, or a welder, or a truck driver, or whatever work is generally thought of as "manual". It simply means to make your own living.
You responsible for your survival. I know this is a total contradiction to the politics of the day, wherein everyone's a victim. Many people think they can live any way they want and, when things go awry, their neighbor is duty-bound to bail them out. Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this attitude. Yet, though this mentality is widespread, it is un-Biblical and inaccurate.
The people who were trapped in New Orleans were as much victims of their own mentality as they were of the storm. For five days Gulf Coast residents were told of the storm's path and the danger it held. Yet many people there relied on others to provide for their safety and survival. We saw the result on the evening news.
Sure, I know there are true hard-luck stories. Some people need legitimate help. But more often than not personal and financial hardships result from a lack of preparedness, from an unwillingness to "work with your hands". A willing person will generally find a way.
There is no guarantee that success or fortune will result in a good reputation. Walking with your head up will result in a far better reputation than will fame. Have respect for yourself and you are more likely to receive respect from others. In the process you will gain some measure of freedom and independence.
Don't take this to mean that you'll never experience problems. No matter how hard you work or how conscious you are in minding your own business you will have a problem somewhere. But the recipe for a rewarding life and a satisfying reputation is found in this passage. Follow it and your chances for contentment increase greatly.
23: …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (NIV)
23: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (KJV)
The word "all" is generally considered an inclusive term. "All" encompasses everyone, the entire group, collectively. "All" of us want peace, prosperity, a place to live, and food to eat. "All" of us want to be liked, to have friends, to be respected, and to be accepted. "All" of us want those same things for our fellow man.
Adopting this understanding of the word "all" can even help us to absolve our guilt. It can be easy to betray God's instruction when we see that "all have sinned". If everybody`s doing it, how can God be angry at our personal failures? How can He hold us accountable for failing to be sinless when He, Himself, says all have sinned?
God knows that the forgiven Christian will sin, for even the Christian is a part of the inclusive "all". Nothing is now off-limits. We can't be perfect. We are already forgiven for all sins past, present and future. And understanding that everyone -Christian and non-Christian, alike- sins, we might as well enjoy our selves, right?
To get Paul's point -actually God's point- from this verse we must be willing to understand personal responsibility. Yes, all have sinned. But "all" refers not to the group, but to the failure of each individual member within the group to live up to God's standard of perfection. The message is not that everyone sins and thus no one is accountable for individual actions. The message is that no man has or will stand perfect before God.
Where does this leave us? And what should we make of the "all have sinned" statement? Should we throw up our hands in defeat? Should we then live as we please, knowing we cannot meet God's perfect standard? That's what He's telling us, isn't it? To accept this interpretation is to focus our attention everywhere except on God. That is not the purpose, meaning, or application of the verse.
Such a shortsighted focus is a prime example of how "all have sinned". If we read this verse collectively we miss the true meaning, and may see it as an excuse for our sins. In truth, God used Paul's hand to contrast His perfection with our flaws. Taking this approach leads us not to excuse our sins as a normal part of humanity but to realize the gap between His righteousness and our sinfulness.
No human being can stand before God for all human beings have sinned. "All" refers to every person within the group of humankind, separately. Even the most exemplary individual cannot stand proudly in triumph before His throne. No one can earn God's justification through works, for human works are nothing in His sight. No one can resist enough temptation, or help enough people, or follow enough Biblical instruction to be excluded from God's definition of "all".
This verse contrasts God's complete perfection to each person's imperfection, highlighting the individual need for forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It does not convey the idea that since no one can live up to God's standard they are, therefore, released to do as they please.
11: Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. (NIV)
11: Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (KJV)
Too often we Christians make serious mistakes about how Satan operates. We see his work and attitude being bold as brass. In reality he is a subtle enemy who seeks to maintain the ignorance of men, preserving their destruction. In the case of the redeemed his purpose is to corrupt your witness.
Satan is exceptional in both cases. His perseverance and persuasiveness is astounding. Human beings, acting in the flesh with reliance on our wisdom, can defeat him occasionally at best. His schemes and subtle working can prevent even a saved person from experiencing the full happiness of salvation.
It is wise to ask how Satan can move the Christian toward acts that blatantly violate God's work in us. A proper description may be incrementalism, and an example is in order.
Part of the marriage commitment is the physical relationship between a man and a woman. It doesn't have to be pro-creational; it can be solely for the happiness and fulfillment of the couple. But as the marriage progresses what often happens to that desire?
One or both spouses may lose their physical attractiveness. Hair may turn gray, or turn loose altogether. Wrinkles appear. Formerly firm areas begin to sag, and flat areas swell. Perhaps the rigors of life -work, kids, friends, etc.- consumes our energies until desire is gone. When the fire is quenched in this way the door is open to Satan. Sometimes, if the rift is wide enough, he may use the situation to lead one spouse toward adultery.
However, on most couples Satan will act with a subtlety that leaves the couple thinking they are still honoring God. He may introduce sin, and then repackage it in a way that makes the couple think they are doing the right thing.
Suppose he tempts our stagnant couple with an adult movie, in the privacy of their own home. Then, when the seed is planted, he begins to justify the action with examples of righteousness.
"God doesn't intend for you to experience the sexual disconnect you are experiencing", he might say. "This movie will heighten your arousal for each other." Carry this forward and the logic of Satan's arguments are quite clear.
The couple will not stray from each other. There will be no adulterous affair by either party, at least not in the physical sense. There's no wife swapping, no swinger's club, no wild orgies, no third person invited to share the couple's bed.
"This is just a tool", says Satan, "to break the tension and rekindle the fire. Doesn't God want you to enjoy the physical pleasures of marriage?" He might further qualify his temptation by encouraging you to avoid hard-core erotica.
"Shun that stuff," he might say. "Pick a soft movie with a theme of romance. What could be wrong with that?"
Satan's argument is compelling to the human mind. The couple is in their own home with their own spouse, alone. The public Christian witness will not be compromised because no one will know about the couples' choice of entertainment. Now, see how shrewdly Satan can move, even in the lives of believers?
In truth there are many ways that surrendering to this temptation can compromise a Christian witness. First, God knows what we do even when friends and family don't. Second, even the slightest sense of internal guilt can harm our external witness. But the last reason may be the most significant.
If we follow Satan's advice and no one finds out we may become emboldened. We may think we can expand our "sensuality" to other areas with impunity. After all, we got away with it once. Why not again? What harm could there be in exploring another avenue of physical enjoyment?
Soon that third person may be in the couples' bedroom. Maybe they will visit one of those swinger's clubs, just to see what it's like. It's the old slippery slope analogy. Descend far enough and by the time you realize you are falling it's too late to get back up the hill. It's just as true in this case as it has ever been.
Just as with any acts of man, you and your spouse must decide what movies you'll watch, what friends you'll entertain and what clubs you'll join. Each married couple must decide how best to enjoy their spouse's physical favors. The wise couple will look beyond their desires and justifications, just to be sure they aren't grounded in a devilish plot.
10: Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. (NIV)
10: Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. (KJV)
We've all heard someone reminisce about how things used to be. Chances are, we have done so our selves. And remembering the "good ol' days" isn't unwise in itself. Neither is wondering what it would have been like to live in a bygone era. I myself have fantasized about living in the Old West on many occasions.
Some people long to relive the time of their youth. Others desire a time before their existence.
The former group may recall fishing on a quiet pond with their grandfather, hunting with their dad on a crisp, autumn afternoon, or playing with childhood friends. The later may look nostalgically at that Norman Rockwell vision of America. They desire to be that shirtless, barefoot, young boy -clad only in overalls- on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Or, they envision themselves as the untroubled little girl, with the lacy dress and pigtails, skipping merrily along to a friend's birthday party.
We remember or learn only the good things about the "good old days". Conveniently, we ignore the trials and tribulations. In the present, our human nature tends to focus solely on the hardships we face, often to the point of not appreciating or even recognizing the blessings we receive. Ironically, at some future point, our present will become our "good ol' days", and we'll fondly remember the blessings we now fail to notice.
Now, why does Solomon declare it unwise to ask, "Why were the old days better than these?" Perhaps it is best to answer that question with a couple of questions.
Does God not have a purpose to accomplish? Does he not have a proper timetable for His plan? If these questions can be answered yes -and I believe they can- then it becomes logical that He would place us at the proper time in history in which we will achieve the greatest good.
People who spend their time yearning for the past fail to focus on the present. They miss not only the olden era -the deceptive images of peace, happiness, and tranquility- for which they long, but also the time they have. What kind of legacy can a person leave when they have failed to live at all? Worse yet, such a person will totally miss God's purpose for their life. This is a certain recipe for disappointment.
There's no evil in memories; they serve us well. Memories can keep us pointed in the right direction. But, like most activities, they can become evil if used in the wrong way. It is when memories compromise our current life that they become a liability. We can't serve God in the past; we must serve God in the present. If we live in the past we will not serve Him at all.
Our view of history is selective. We look at earlier periods as times of carefree joy and happiness because those are the memories we retain or the images we have created. The lack of wisdom comes from wasting our present trying to capture what never was.
2 Peter 3:10,12(b)
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
12(b) …the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (NIV)
10: But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
12(b) …wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (KJV)
It is difficult to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV these days without hearing of man's impending doom due to global warming. Al Gore has preached that we have only ten years left to avoid epic catastrophe for the last twenty-plus years. Scientists tell us Greenland's glaciers and ice caps will recede to levels not seen in over 130,000 years due to man-induced global warming. They never tell us why ice coverage was at that level then, or why a natural explanation is out of the question now.
I'm no believer in man-made global warming, at least not to the catastrophic level decried by the shrill rants of Al Gore and the Sierra Club. Perhaps man's activities contribute to some change in the environment -no one advocates wanton pollution- but not to the extent claimed by global warming doomsayers. Temperatures have risen and fallen before due to natural cycles. There's no reason to believe that cannot happen again.
However, in these two verses of Second Peter we may see man's hand in the ultimate global warming. Peter writes of the end times, when God will bring life on earth to an end and establish His ultimate kingdom. Look at the scenario in which Peter prophesizes the demise of planet Earth.
The heavens will disappear in a roaring fire. The elements will be laid bare by fire and melt in the heat. That sounds a little like the globe will warm somewhat, doesn't it? What's more, it will be caused by man's actions. Maybe we need to rethink the previously stated opposition to man-made global warming. But not in a way the environmentalists and their savior, Al Gore, would approve.
God will bring the age of man to a close during a time of great sin and crapulence. Mankind of that time will have no understanding of God and His laws, nor will they acknowledge Him. Man will be steeped in sin of every kind. There will be murder, theft, idolatry, promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, and every other form of vile inclination derived from the depths of man's soul. And, man will attempt to legitimize his indiscretion.
Let's ask our selves a question, "What segment of mankind today best exemplifies tolerance toward these actions?"
There is a segment of society that coddles murderers. Instead of insisting on justice for the taking of life, they preach "rehabilitation", making it possible for the act to be committed again. Instead of condemning stealing they seek a "root cause", which invariably devolves to the condemnation of capitalism and work ethic. It's just unfair for some to have more than others, even though that's been the case since the dawn of man.
Who are the greatest accusers of wealth? And are they not the ones insisting that everyone have everything they want in the name of some undefined "fairness"? These people not only condone theft but also insist that the government become the prime perpetrator of thievery. In so doing they have made idols of all that is produced by man's hand.
Is this same political affiliation not also the one promoting a total disregard for the time-proven concept of morality? They would have us believe that young people are no different than animals. Their promotion of self-indulgence is climaxed by their insistence on worshiping the condom. And if that god-like piece of latex should fail? Well, there's always abortion, isn't there?
This segment of society deems it quaint and archaic to respect the bounds of matrimony, and their tolerance of promiscuity naturally extends to adultery. Not only does the promotion of promiscuity in young people lead to a lack of control naturally resulting in adultery after marriage, it also promotes a culture where adultery is acceptable. After all, sex is a natural act. How can such a pure expression of love be immoral?
They champion homosexuality in the same manner, falsely labeling such relationships as a "family unit". The oddity is that opponents of homosexuality do not desire incarceration for its practitioners. But advocates of the "lifestyle" would jail those deemed "intolerant" toward this pure, normal and consensual relationship.
Are you beginning to notice what segment of society, what political affiliation, fits these indications? If you said liberals, go to the head of the class. Funny, but they are also the one's lecturing the rest of us on how our actions are causing the planet to warm toward destruction.
If God is correct, man's sinfulness will cause the earth to "melt in the heat". Here is a clear view of man-caused global warming. Not due to the industrial age, your air conditioner, or your SUV, but to man's rejection of God's instruction. All those activities hailed as the functions of an enlightened society are the cause of heat that will melt the earth.
Does anyone, other than I, find it ironic that the people who point fingers at us are the source of the ultimate form of global warming?
11: Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (KJV)
11: Say to them, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (NIV)
Oh, the perception of God's retribution. So often man views Him as sitting in wait, biding his time, to catch us in one little sin so He can inflict horrendous vengeance on His Creation. And God's judgment is absolute. He has the authority and the right to condemn our disobedience and rebellion without recourse. But look. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
This is good news for everyone. We all fall short of God's glory. His standard is total perfection, which we cannot reach in our human frailty and miniscule faith. But God isn't sitting in wait, like a spider on a web, for us to become entangled in sin. He isn't waiting for us to make a mistake so He can devour us.
God's judgment is a last resort. He will deal with sin, sometimes by methods of punishment. Yet He takes no satisfaction or glory in destroying the wicked. It is His desire that all should repent and live, not retain their evil ways and die. Since He finds no happiness in the death of the wicked it stands to reason that the death of the wicked comes at their hand, not at the hand of God.
He gave us a way to avoid the consequences of our transgressions. He gave us a Savior -His only Son, Jesus- who lived perfectly and paid the price for our sins. If we reject His offer, who do we have to blame for our ultimate destruction but our selves?
In addition to the eternal lesson this passage can teach us, it also instructs us on how we are to react to the sins and lifestyles of others. Do you take satisfaction in the adulterer who loses his or her marriage due to infidelity? How often do we say, "They got what was coming to them"? The same thing applies to the homosexual who contracts AIDS, or the murderer who is condemned to die.
This isn't to say that those people aren't getting what their choices merit; they certainly are. People who dance willingly to the tune of sin should not be surprised when the fiddler demands payment. And believers should never excuse sin or the retribution it demands. In fact, we can support the notion of retribution without taking self-serving satisfaction in the same.
There are consequences to actions. A person who drives drunk and hurts him self did, indeed, invite that circumstance. The same can be said for the adulterer, the homosexual, or the murderer as mentioned above. But recognizing that rebellious acts beckon undesired results, and understanding that the affected is not necessarily a victim, is much different from reacting with jubilation.
Poor choices will bring poor results. People must live and die with those choices. As Christians, the "house of Israel", we can appreciate the divine course that administers consequence for action without taking personal satisfaction in the demise of the sinner. If God Himself, being perfect and Holy, takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner, what right do we have to rejoice over their destruction?
19: But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. (KJV)
19: Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding." (NIV)
The original use of the quoted text, by Moses, is a prodding condemnation of Israel. Moses is telling Israel that a separate nation will make them envious and angry. The implication is that an unknowledgeable nation, a people without an understanding of God's Laws, may be closer to God than were the Jews. The reason is the worship of the heart, not the self-righteous observance of rituals.
Paul used Moses' words to point out the Jewish rejection of the prophesied Messiah, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Obviously the Jews knew about the Messiah. They possessed the head knowledge, yet they lacked the spiritual comprehension of the Messiah's significance. Again, they were more concerned with ritualistic legalism than with expressions of faith. Can this admonition be applied directly to Christ's church? I think so.
Many Christians, of modern and ancient times, serve Jesus more through technicality than through loving obedience. I'm not questioning the salvation of such people, for their conversion experience is beyond my ability to debate. But, perhaps, like Israel in the time of Moses or Paul they are serving the Lord ritualistically more than spiritually.
I don't want to dwell on these scenarios, for I think Paul's words can speak not only in the aforementioned ways but also to America's current situation with Islam. Look at the verse again, this time replacing Israel with America. Have "they that are no people" not provoked us? And are we not angered "by a nation that has no understanding".
Friends, our Islamic enemies are not a single nation. Instead, they are a people who are "no people", confined by neither boundary nor treaty. Within Islamic states there are adherents to the brutal nature of the militant Muslim just as there are some who are repelled by the cowardly actions of the suicide bomber and terrorist. It is a fractious and contentious network. We are at war with a people who are not a people, so to speak.
The fundamental Muslim shares many common threads of morality and decency with we of the Christian faith. They view God as above all things human. They are opposed to promiscuity and sexual deviancy. They accept and promote the often-ambiguous concept of traditional values. But those similarities end quickly when one notices that a large portion of Islam believes they possess an Allah-given mandate to "kill the infidel". It is that foolish position -a position without understanding- that prompted their attacks against America, and our returned anger.
America has without question been "provoked by them that are no people", and made "angry by a nation [people] that has no understanding".
My point is not that we have an enemy in Islamic militancy. Everyone with a mind can see that truth, which may explain why so many liberals oppose fighting these maniacs. The point is how differently a verse of Scripture can speak to us in light of current situations. God's word is not alive in terms of subjection to man's desire for vindication. It is alive in terms of how a single passage can address more than one topic.
These words spoke to the people of Israel in the days of Moses. They were reiterated to Paul's contemporaries, who were rejecting Jesus even as the Gentiles (the people without understanding) were accepting the news of the Messiah. And now they can be just as surely applied to our nation's struggle against Islamic terrorism, albeit in a different sense.
Chalk the versatility of this passage up to the complex mind of God, which is far superior to the juvenile mental meanderings of even the most sophisticated human thought.
22: For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
Sin entered the world not by God's design but by man's unwillingness to submit to His authority. While men like to blame the woman for the introduction of sin, and woman tend to blame the serpent (Lucifer), the responsibility for man's fall rests on both. Eve willingly accepted the word of evil, and Adam willingly accepted the word of Eve. Neither can be said to hold more responsibility than the other for we are all responsible for what we do with our lives. Thus, by course of man's sin, we all experience the pain of our foolish actions.
Considering that sin cannot exist in God's presence there must be a consequence to disobedience. Eve's sin resulted in painful childbirth. It has been passed through each generation of humans since that time. A pregnant woman experiences extraordinary pain and suffering.
The examples of sin and consequence are as uncountable as the sands of the sea. But, despite our error and willful negligence, God has not abandoned humans. There is a purpose to suffering being the natural result of sin.
What is the biological, physical product of the woman's pain? What good comes from it? Through her agony there is physical renewal. Through her distress God produces a fresh, innocent, human life.
Sin brings a painful consequence for all mankind, not just delivering mothers. People who may seem totally unrelated to a sin's origin can often feel that suffering. Surely we will experience anguish when we disobey God. Oh, we may get by with our indiscretions for a time. But, at some point, there will a price to pay. There is the Good News. Renewal can be found on the other side of the pain.
The suffering of sin serves a useful purpose to the wise heart. It steers us back toward God. Christ accepted our eternal punishment when he died on the cross. The sins of the believer are forever forgiven by Jesus' death and resurrection. However, if there were no human pain involved in disobedience we may not understand when we have failed God. The suffering of our disobedience points us back to Him.
Creation groans and travails in pain as the direct result of our individual and collective sins. Those pains serve the purpose of directing us toward forgiveness in Jesus. He is the new life we receive after our suffering, just like the baby born of the woman's travail.
10: And 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.
Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the "whale", which the Bible actually describes as a large fish, not necessarily a whale. No matter. Our purpose here is to analyze how a specific verse can speak to us about God's nature, judgment, and forgiveness.
In verse 10 of chapter 3 the city of Nineveh is described as repentant, as having "turned from their evil way". Do you ever wonder what was their "evil way"?
Nineveh was a large city of Assyria, a great military power at the time. It's easy to comprehend their war-like behavior. No doubt they were a rather bloodthirsty lot, dedicated not only to the defeat of their enemies but their total annihilation as well. The Assyrians were feared, and the only logical way for the Ninevites to be considered a great city among the Assyrians would be to excel at the art of battle.
You can also imagine their idolatry. Most nations of that time worshiped some form of god or goddess, perhaps both. We can picture the Ninevites gathering around a shrine before marching toward battle. A person, if blessed with any small portion of imagination, can see them around a fire, bowed, praying or chanting to a statue, a pole, or some form of created object.
What about their personal life? Was Nineveh the cesspool of immorality that made Sodom and Gomorrah infamous? I don't know that for sure, but in my mind I can conjure images of human sacrifice, "religious" festivals rife with debauchery and sexual immorality, all in the name of pleasing whatever "god" they thought would grant them military victory.
Of course, most of this summation is pure conjecture, drawn from sins of other Old Testament cities and nations that earned God's judgment by their acts of wickedness. And I'm sure some Bible scholar could describe in intricate detail the depth of Nineveh's collective sin. But beyond the nature of Nineveh's sin, and the fact that God will judge sin, is a more significant revelation that brings peace to our souls.
We all sin, and one sin is enough to separate us from God. In that light not even the most God-fearing, church-going, evangelical follower of Jesus Christ can claim a lack of kinship to the Ninevites. If we focus only on the sins of Nineveh we make our lives appear better in human terms, but not in the terms set forth by God.
The beauty of this verse, and the entire work of Jonah, is not to paint a vivid picture of sin but of forgiveness.
God saw what Nineveh did, and He sent Jonah to warn them of impending destruction if they continued on that path. So, what did the Ninevites do, from their king to the lowest of peasants? They "turned from their evil way". The Ninevites took God at His word, accepting His condemnation and repenting of their wickedness, at least for a time. And God forgave them, had compassion, and turned from His plan of destruction.
This is a clear indication of how Christ works salvation in our lives today.
We are sinful, perhaps not to the degree of the Ninevites, perhaps more so. But our sin separates us from God, for He cannot tolerate sinfulness. And God gave us a chance quite similar to the chance He extended Nineveh.
Our sins, like Nineveh's, invite God's judgment, yet they open the door to His salvation. As Jonah preached a message of judgment with the option for redemption, so did Jesus preach to us. If we, like the king of Nineveh and his subjects, will accept God's condemnation of our sin and believe His words we can be forgiven. We are given a choice.
God proved His love for the people of Nineveh by sending a message of hope to the sinful people. He showed his compassion by accepting their repentance and displayed His forgiveness by not bringing the immediate destruction He promised. What a picture of Jesus, his perfect life, his willing death, and his resurrection.
God gives us a chance and we make the choice. It's not too late for any living person to turn from their sins. And it's not too late for our nation to turn from our sins. God has proven His willingness to forgive if we will prove our willingness to repent.
Who would ever have thought Christians should follow the example of Nineveh?