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Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.

God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.

We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.

Salvation has three tenses:

  1. I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
  2. I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
  3. I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.

God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.

Men and Mirrors

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.

If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.

So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)

Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.

Watch your Mouth!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”

It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”

I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!

He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.

He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)

So, what kind of behavior befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts it:

27 
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.

(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.

Practical Holiness

Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?

I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.

Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)

But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.


Different Kinds of Trials

Different Kinds of Trials

© C. O. Bishop, January 2020

James 1:1-4, 12-16

Introduction:

There are two large groupings in scripture, under the heading of “Temptation.” We need to see the differences between them and how to respond to each.

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.


James addresses himself (primarily) to the Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution, as well as those who had been scattered by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. He makes no further explanation, but plunges right into the purpose of the letter: He knew they had been through a great deal of hardship: first, by persecution from Gentile nations for being Jews; and now, from other Jews, as well as from the Gentile nations, for being followers of Christ. The first three centuries of the Church age were riddled with horrendous persecution against believers…and the Church grew stronger under that load.

In modern English, James calls it “testing”. KJV says “temptation”. The old English word “temptation” did mean testing. But the nature of the test depended upon the source of the testing. I wish there were two different Greek words for the two types of trials, but there are not: the Greek word is exactly the same for both: “peirazo”…”to try, prove, or test.”

So, we will come to see two general categories of trials: one meaning “hard experiences,” the sort experienced by all humans: (1st Corinthians 10:13 “…such as is common to man”,) or possibly harsh treatment from others because of our position in Christ.(1st Peter 4:12-14) The other is a specific “luring away to do evil:” it is temptation to sin. James says God is never the source of this sort.

When I read verses 2-4, I see one kind of testing, which will:

  • Make me strong,
  • Develop endurance (KJV “patience”) and
  • Help me mature as a believer.

But, when I read verses 13-16, I see that God is not the author of testing that “lures us away to do evil,” though, ultimately, He is the One who allows it to happen. When I consider the trials and testing of Job, for example, it is clear that God allowed Job to undergo terrible trials; but God was not the one saying “Curse God and Die!” We need to consider the type of trial, as well as the source. Consider the two categories as either “trials for training,” or “temptation to sin.”

Trials for Training


My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

So, under what circumstances should I consider trials to be a joy? “When” I fall into various trials. (Always.) This is in reference to the “hard times”. Sometimes they are literally from God, as a training discipline, just as an athletics coach prescribes calisthenics or weight-training, or roadwork, to toughen an athletic contestant against a coming trial—the next wrestling match, perhaps, or even the Olympic games. Such training is never easy; it is not intended to be easy. It is intended to produce strength and stamina, and increased skill, in some cases.

Sometimes they are just the normal “hard times” of life…which we endure as an honor to our Lord who endured far more than we ever will.

It is important for us, as believers, to grasp the idea that the way in which God chooses to strengthen us against hardship and to prepare us for coming spiritual battles, is through teaching, then testing, more teaching, more testing, etc. If we truly accept this concept, then the trials do become a source of joy, as we know that we are being strengthened for God’s Glory. We learn endurance by enduring. It is interesting to me that athletes know this, and accept it; and good athletes do not find a hard, grueling practice to be frustrating, but rather exhilarating. They know that they are getting strong, and the way they endured that testing has proved it!

So the admonition is to find joy in hard times, knowing that we are gaining endurance, and that we are to allow endurance to complete its work, and not short-circuit the process by fighting against God. Once in a while a member of a sports team will forget that the rigorous training is for his betterment, and will begin accusing the coach, saying that the workout is unreasonable, or misguided. In the case of a human coach, such an accusation could possibly be true, though as a general rule it is not. But in the case of God, the ultimate source of all true wisdom, the omniscient source of all our sustenance and hope, such an accusation is clearly unfounded. We can always be confident that His will for us is perfect…even when it is painful or even fatal. We don’t like that idea, but Job 13:15 says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” 

Many believers have been brought back into a right relationship with God through a deadly disease. They were forced to look at life differently: no longer carelessly; and the result was that they repented of their wandering, and they walked with God for the time they had remaining. Was that fun? Absolutely not! Did they recognize God’s Grace, in bringing them back into a walk of faith, with Him? Apparently they did.

I received a message, last year, about a young man (the son of a friend) who was diagnosed with leukemia. He was told he probably had a very short time to live. But they began chemotherapy, and six weeks later, he was in remission. Did he still have leukemia? Yes! Would he live, though? It was possible, but there were no promises.

But his comment was that, “I guess it took something like this to bring me back to the things that are important. But it may take some time, because I’d gotten so far away!” He saw life differently because of that trial, and chose to allow his disease to drive him closer to God, rather than railing against God, and becoming bitter. As a matter of fact, a few months later, the disease came back with a vengeance, and killed him. But, for the few months he had left, his life was transformed and both he and his family were at peace.

Sometimes hardships are just to equip us so that we can be a comfort to others who are in similar trials. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 gives a number of very positive reasons why we might endure hardships. Seven are easy to see, as they are spelled out for us:

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;

11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.


Thus, when the trial (whatever it is) is not a “luring away to do evil”, we are to accept it as a trial in which we can rejoice, because we are “on God’s team,” and He is giving us a workout.

Temptation to Sin

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

This is the other type of testing…and it is not from God. We are told that the believer has three great enemies in this life:

  1. The World (The system of government, business, values and thinking that is common to unbelievers.)
  2. The Flesh (The old sin nature…usually called “the flesh” in scripture, but not meaning the physical body.)
  3. The Devil (Yes, this is the person called Satan. He is not a mythological creature, but a real enemy, with deadly intent toward us.

Any of these three enemies can be the source of such “luring away to do evil.” Our old sin nature is in full agreement with the other enemies, and is the “enemy within the gate”, so to speak.

The World around us will offer us the fruits of immorality, or the immoral acts themselves, and the people act very friendly, accepting and accommodating when making the offer. Bear in mind that the specific plan by which the Moabites and the Midianites attempted to destroy Israel was to send their most beautiful women to invite the Israelite men to feasts…which turned out to be idolatrous worship-feasts to the heathen Gods of Moab and Midian. They hoped to corrupt Israel, and bring down the judgment of God upon them. And, in a way, it worked: thousands of Jews died in the resulting judgment from God, and the Moabites were cursed, as well. Balaam, the traitorous prophet, who had counseled them to corrupt Israel, was killed along with the Midianites who died in the fight. (Numbers 31:8, 16) People want you to join them in their sin. (“Come on! Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! Everybody does it!”) The World is not “a friend to Grace,” the old hymn reminds us. And joining them in their sin will still not earn their friendship.

The Flesh, Our old Sin Nature, often called “the old man”, or the “carnal mind,” and sometimes “the heart”, is in full agreement with the other two enemies. It joins in the attempt to deceive and corrupt us. The only way to be sure that we are not being deceived by our sinful heart, is to continually, daily, submit our thinking to God’s thoughts, as recorded in His Written Word, so that we can recognize falsehood, and reject it; recognize temptation to sin and reject it, recognize wrong patterns of thinking, and reject them..

The Devil, also calledSatan, is not omniscient, but he is well-versed and practiced in the art of deceit. He knows how to “get to us”, so that we will say “Oh, follow your heart! You deserve to be happy!” and so fall prey to his snares. What do we know, from God’s Word, about the heart? (Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”) God says that our heart is THE most likely thing to deceive us. So where will Satan most likely strike? He will offer us our “heart’s desire.”

This is why James begs his readers, “Do not err, my beloved brethren!” It is so easy to fall prey to such a deadly and invisible enemy. The only place a sheep can be safe is when it is close to the Shepherd. We need to learn to walk with Jesus, the Great Shepherd.

So, then, when the temptation is a “luring away to do evil”… when it is temptation to sin, how are we to respond?

Defense against Temptation

There are several layers of defense: The first is not one we would choose in the flesh: We find it in 1st Timothy 6:11 “But thou, O man of God, flee these things!” If there is a way to turn away from the temptation, and get away from the lure, then do so. We are not to dwell on the evil, longing after it. Jesus said if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart! So, the outward failing is not the only issue. Desiring it, and not fleeing the temptation is the key issue.

Another one, obviously, is to have already memorized enough scripture to do as Jesus did, and answer with Scripture. When Satan attempted (Matthew 4) to coerce Jesus to go outside God’s direction for his life, Jesus answered with the written Word, and defended himself in that way. The scripture is referred to as the “Sword of the Spirit”…and a sword can be both an offensive and defensive weapon.

We need to remember that when an enemy is attacking, we are to respond as befits soldiers, since God says that we are soldiers: He has given us armor, and tells us what it is for:

Ephesians 6:10-18 outlines the armor of the Christian, paralleling the physical armor of the Roman soldiers of that age. He first reminds us that the “enemy” is not other humans, but rather the forces of spiritual wickedness; then he lists the armor. The first five are entirely based on God’s Word, and His trustworthiness; the last two require some work on our part, in order to be useful, and readily available:

  • He begins with the Belt, possibly because the other items were hung from and depended upon that belt: He says we are to “stand fast”, having our loins girt about with truth. Everything depends upon the truth of God’s Word. If I am convinced of the truth of God’s Word, I have a good start toward a proper defense against the attack of the enemy. I need to believe God more than I believe anyone or anything else.

  • Next, the Breastplate of Righteousness, which is entirely dependent upon the truth of God’s Word…not our actions. The only righteousness, here, is the righteousness of Christ…not our own good works! (2nd Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9) His righteousness, not ours, guards our hearts and our lives.

  • The Shoes…the secure footing offered by the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. This is the only place this phrase is used. He did not say “the Gospel of Christ”, or any of the other phrases regarding the Gospel of Salvation. He means the “good news” that we have eternal peace with God (Romans 5:1), and the fact that God is eternally backing us. God is not angry at the church. Being confident in our relationship with God gives us the courage to face the enemy, and a solid footing from which to fight.

  • The Shield of Faith, with which we are to “quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” This is easy to forget: I can become solidly entrenched in good doctrine, know I’m saved, absolutely believe the Bible is God’s written Word, but completely forget the critical issue of a faith-based relationship with God. Don’t forget the shield! He says, “Above all, taking the shield of faith…” We walk by faith, not by sight! (2nd Corinthians 5:7)

  • The Helmet of Salvation protects your head; your mind: If you are not convinced, in your own mind, that God’s promise of eternal life is good, then you will spend all your energy worrying whether you are good enough, whether all your sins are really forgiven, etc., and you will become entangled in the notion that your salvation is ultimately secured by your good works, not God’s Eternal Grace, and His Eternal sacrifice for you at the Cross. This is critical to your thinking, your confidence and your joy. You need to know you are saved, by the promises of God, not just “hope so.”

  • The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This one takes some work: reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it, in order to have it within easy grasp, and ready to use as an offensive or defensive weapon. If you are not really familiar with God’s Word, then He cannot bring it to your mind to defend you against doctrinal attacks; nor can you use it effectively in evangelism. Sharpen your sword by improving your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word.

  • Finally, Prayer is our link to God himself: our line of communication. By it, we are commanded to call for help for one another as well as ourselves: Even the Apostle Paul asked for Prayer on his behalf. Notice that he prayed for boldness to preach…not comfort or safety. It is instructive, to take note of the things for which Jesus and the Apostles prayed. Somehow their prayer list looks quite different from ours, as a rule. Prayer also takes time and practice, in order to be confident and effective.

We are told to labor in prayer, and to labor in the Word and doctrine. Prayer and Bible Study are critical in Christian service, as without them we will not only be ineffectual, but misguided, as well.

Conclusion

We can see, then, that trials and temptations are of two different types:

  1. The kind that makes us strong, because it is from God, and
  2. The kind that seeks to corrupt or destroy us, because it is from the enemies of our soul.

How you respond to any of these trials will determine the end result. You will either come out with joy, knowing that you have handled things well, or in shame, knowing you failed to respond appropriately. Neither result affects your standing with God. If you have been born anew as His child, God will never cast you away. But failing to walk with Him and to respond well to testing will definitely affect your happiness and peace.

Lord Jesus, help us to embrace the reality of our lives, knowing that the trials are part of your plan for our benefit. Help us to glorify you by our actions.


The Rapture of the Church and the End Times

The Rapture of the Church and the End Times.

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

Daniel 9:21-27; 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-17; 1st Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; 1st Corinthians 15:50-58; 2nd Corinthians 5:1-9; Mathew 24, 25:31, ff; Revelation 20:11-15, etc.

Introduction:

Several times, recently, a question has arisen regarding the Rapture of the Church, the physical Resurrection of the bodies of believers, and the End Times, as a whole. For this reason, I chose to spend some time on that subject, today.

There are hundreds of verses in a wide range of places in scripture, giving us information regarding these things, so we are only going to touch on the key passages, in this study, but it still involves a good deal of scripture reading, before we begin to discuss particulars. It is important that we hear the evidence before drawing conclusions. We will begin in the book of Daniel, reading the only timeline given in the Old Testament, then proceed to the New Testament explanations:

Daniel 9:21-27

21 Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. 23 At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.

24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

2nd Thessalonians 2:1-17

1Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. 16 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 17 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

1st Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

(4)   1But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

(5)   1But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.


1st Corinthians 15:50-58

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Old Testament Prophecies

The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning the Messiah, the end times, and especially the coming Kingdom, and a peculiar thing called “The Day of the LORD.”

In Isaiah 11 and other passages, we see the blessed state of those living in the Kingdom age, and that it is all predicated upon and a part of, the Day of the Lord. In Amos 5:18-20, we see the warning that the Day of the Lord is a time of darkness and death, of destruction and punishment, and terrible tribulation. In fact, the passage in Amos is specifically a warning directed to those who missed the point of the “Day of the Lord,” and thought it would all be blessing.

In Daniel 9, we see a timeline which begins with the command to rebuild Jerusalem (not the temple) and runs through the end of the tribulation, as we see by reading the companion book, the Revelation. The oddest thing about this timeline, though, is the fact that it completely leaves out the Church Age!

Daniel gives a timeline of 70 weeks of years (it literally says “seventy sevens”) starting at the command (given in Nehemiah 2:6) to rebuild Jerusalem, and running into the death of the Messiah, at the end of the 69th week (seven plus sixty-two; I have no idea why it was divided in this way.) That passage describes the death of the Messiah, in Daniel 9:26, and transitions directly to the tribulation period, describing the Antichrist, who makes a seven-year treaty with Israel, and breaks it after three and one half years. We read about that in the New Testament, in Revelation 11-13. Then it describes the fact that the Antichrist will stop the temple sacrifices, and defile the temple, making it desolate. Jesus described this as a future event, in Matthew 24:15, so we know this passage does not refer to the historical event (in 167 B.C.) when the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, sacrificed a sow on the altar in the temple. 200 years after that event, Jesus said that the prophecy in Daniel was yet to come!

The importance of the passage should not be overlooked: It not only tells us what is to come, but makes it clear that none of that prophecy involves the Church age at all! The Messiah was to be killed at the end of the 69th week of Daniel. The church age began after the death of the Messiah, at the day of Pentecost, and will end before the seventieth week begins. How do we know?

New Testament Explanations

In 1st Thessalonians, we see a similar timeline, but this one has no clear starting date, just an event which we call the Rapture of the Church (though that word is not used in Scripture, any more than the word “trinity” is used there) and a description of what immediately follows:

1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes the Rapture of the Church, and the transformation of our physical bodies, whether we are alive or dead. Notice that it says those who have already “fallen asleep in Jesus will be returning with Him, while those still physically alive will be caught up to meet Him. (1st Corinthians 15:51, 52 underscores this idea, explaining that it will be an instantaneous change.)

But, bearing in mind that the original manuscripts had no chapter and verse divisions, see what immediately follows, in 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11—what had just occurred was the catching away of the Church. What Paul describes next is the beginning of the Tribulation, and he says that this is the beginning of the Day of the Lord! So, what portion of the Day of the Lord could be described as occurring like a “Thief in the Night?” Only the Rapture of the Church! All the rest of it is completely spelled out and multiple warnings are given. But as a householder waking up and discovering that he has been burglarized during the night, the World will see the Church evacuated in an instant, and it will be too late to escape the coming Judgment.

Incidentally, we saw, in 2nd Thessalonians 2:11, 12, that those left behind who have already rejected the Gospel will not get a “second chance to believe,” as suggested by the popular “Left Behind” series. God says that they will universally believe something false about what has happened (we are not told what that falsehood is), specifically “so that they ALL may be damned who believed not the truth” (future judgment because of past unbelief.) There will be millions who do believe during the tribulation, but not a single one who rejected the Gospel before the Rapture will believe it afterward. That is very sad, but absolutely true.

So, giving further thought to the passage in 1st Thessalonians 4, we may have questions about “So…where have the dead in Christ been, up until His return?” To begin with, notice that in 1st Thessalonians 4:14, it says that they will be coming “with Him,” when He comes for the Church. They have not been “waiting in the graves.” Their bodies may be in a grave (or not), but the spirit departed and was immediately with Christ. How do we know?

What about the Dead in Christ?

Turn to 2nd Corinthians 5:1-19, please.

1For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.


Notice that we are assured that when this body is gone in physical death, we immediately will be clothed upon with immortality…some sort of “resurrection body”… in which we will live until our old bodies are also resurrected and permanently glorified at the Rapture of the Church. While we are looking at this passage, please notice that, in 2nd Corinthians 5:1, we are told “…if our earthly house of this tabernacle (speaking of our physical bodies) were dissolved….” It does not say, “…provided your body receives a proper Christian burial,” or any such thing. People whose bodies were burned up in a fire, or eaten by wild animals, drowned, and ultimately consumed by scavengers on the ocean floor…or simply rotted away completely in a grave, during the countless years when there was no modern embalming…are all treated equally.  

God has no problem reconstructing our old bodies in perfect condition, recognizable by all who knew us, thus fulfilling the promises of Scripture. (Also the warnings of Scripture: on the day of the Judgment of the Unbelieving Dead, God will have no trouble bringing them out, to face the Great White Throne Judgment. But the people who are fearful that a missing limb (or a cremated body, or something) will somehow leave them a cripple in heaven are worrying without a cause: this specifies that if our earthly body ceases to exist, we have a resurrection body supplied immediately. And the passage in 1st Thessalonians 4 assures us that all believers’ bodies will be reconstructed or transformed, instantaneously, at the Rapture of the Church.

What happens after that?

There is sometimes also a little confusion, as to what occurs after the Rapture. So, let’s have a look: In 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11, we saw that the Tribulation period will begin with the catching away of the Church, “as a thief in the night.” This is in full agreement with the warning Jesus gave in Matthew 24, where He also said that “these things are the beginnings of sorrows…as of a woman in childbirth…” and that it was to come “…as a thief in the night.”

Notice, too, that in 1st Thessalonians 5:3, it says that “…when they shall say ‘peace and safety’, then shall sudden destruction come upon them and they shall not escape.”

“When…then” is a time clause: so, what is the key in everyone’s minds, worldwide, to achieving world peace? Resolving the Middle East conflict! The conflict around the Nation of Israel, specifically. World leaders for 60 years have tried to “broker” peace in the Middle East. But in Daniel 9:27, we see that the Antichrist will actually make that peace treaty: a seven-year peace treaty. And he will break it after 3-1/2 years! So…when will the world heave a collective sigh of relief and say ‘At last! Peace and safety’? When that treaty is signed…and we will be gone!

A seven year tribulation (Revelation 6-19) will occur, here on earth, in our absence, culminating in the Lord’s Return, the judgment of the Living Nations (Matthew 25:31, ff.) The Kingdom Age will begin after His return, which will last for 1,000 years, but it will end in the destruction of the unbelievers who will rebel at the end of that time, after which will immediately follow the destruction of the old earth, and the Great White Throne Judgment of the unbelieving Dead (all in Revelation 20.) A New Heaven and new Earth will be created (Revelation 21, 22) and the eternal state will begin, about which we know very little detail, except that sin and suffering will forever be a thing of the long-forgotten past.

So…Now What?

I would encourage each of you to look these things up in your Bible, and understand them more thoroughly: don’t just take my word for any of it. God wants you to know these things for yourselves, and to use them to comfort one another: He says so, over and over!

Lord Jesus, help us to absorb the truth of Your Word, so as to be able to find comfort in these troubling times, and not be overwhelmed by fear, anger or depression. Allow us to comfort one another and offer the same comfort to those around us, in the person of Christ.


What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

© 12/25/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016 Revised 12/19

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

I took some time off from work, to spend Christmas with my family. When I get back to work, people will greet me in friendly fashion, and several are sure to ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?” It is almost a rhetorical question, since the expected answer is always “Yes”, though qualifiers are acceptable. Expansion on what was good or not so good are also acceptable. But we are expected to, at most, tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”

So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who were present the Night of the Lord’s birth. What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?

We sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plain!” Were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings, etc.” and we usually forget that they were possibly as much as two years away on Christmas morning…not part of the show at all. We say “Shepherds quaked at the sight”, and sing all manner of songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and Mary and Joseph, and…most of it is very pleasant fiction. Let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?”

What were the Angels doing?

What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!) Let’s read and see: Luke 2:9-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a bit of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the LORD? In the Old Testament, it was the preincarnate Christ!) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds. The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them good news (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?”), of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people. (The Gospel)” He went on to announce the birth of the Savior; Christ the Lord. He told the shepherds to go and find the baby (Not Mary; not Joseph: the baby!) and told them where to look, and how to recognize Him.

Immediately there appeared with him a multitude of other angelic beings (the heavenly host—heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!”

And then they were gone! Just disappeared into the sky!

But what were they doing, by God’s command? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6; “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the baby!)”

The Angels were worshipping the baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, or anyone else.) Now: who is the only one (according to God) who can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So this is part of the recognition of, and part of the teaching of the deity of Christ.

The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger. They knew Him for who he was.

They were not distracted by His infancy, or his appearance of helplessness. They knew who he was, and worshipped Him as their own Creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) They were not impressed for better or worse, by the surroundings, nor the other people present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!

What was Mary doing?

What should she be doing? She was a young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby. She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, and was probably pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told that she even saw or heard the angelic army worshipping her baby. She evidently heard about the events through the shepherds, as we see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

How did she feel about the surroundings? We aren’t told…but even in that culture, a woman wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, in that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal.

How do we know the manger bed and all the rest were not normal? The Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherd as being the signs by which they would recognize the baby. Why would he give the shepherds things that were completely common, as signs by which to recognize the Savior? The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the Savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told.

Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her baby. And the visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group; figure out what they were going to do next, when these grubby shepherds burst in the door, looking for a baby dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And there he was! Did they give Mary special attention? Probably so. Most people give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the baby was who they had been sent to find, and He was the One with whom they were primarily concerned.

What was Joseph doing?

We really are not told, but, consider this: He was evidently an older man, as we see him apparently gone, well before Jesus began His ministry. Joseph was freshly out of work, as he had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, in Galilee, which is where he had lived and worked, because of the new rule from Caesar. He was eighty miles from home, and a very poor man.

Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work. He may have also been thinking back to the visit he had had from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior. That has to have been a hard time, as the neighbors were looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant…or worse, that she herself was immoral and he was just choosing to cover for her. The stigma was there, and would not go away. Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but there was no one to whom he could turn for a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even ostracized him. We really don’t know. All we know for sure are the facts, as revealed in scripture.

What were the Shepherds doing?

That is one about which we are told a fair amount: They were minding their own business, caring for flocks at night, in the open field. Possibly having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or walking around the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit. When God steps into the picture, everything changes!

That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate in all the hymns about the birth of Christ. They were scared to death! Isn’t it interesting that all the people who really saw angels or met the pre-incarnate Christ, or saw the Lord in his glory, were not “feeling all happy and blessed:” they were afraid! Why is it that today all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a wonderful, peaceful experience it was, just flooding their souls with Joy? My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they say they experienced. The ones who really did were terrified, pretty much without exception.

The disciples in the boat, when Jesus calmed the storm, didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! We didn’t know you could do that!” They had been afraid they were all going to drown. These were seasoned commercial fishermen, who were masters at small boat handling, and had been in storms before… and they were seriously expecting to die, in this storm! But when they woke up the Lord, and asked Him to take a hand, he calmed the storm; and far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said, “what manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the very presence of God than they were of death itself.

So, when the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night all their lives (How would you feel dealing with wild predators at night, with only a stick or a sling, or a sword, maybe, or some other rather primitive weapon to protect yourself and the flock?) But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel. His first words were to set aside their fear so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the person of Jesus.

The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! (If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd!) But they were commanded to do so, and they did. Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock.

They went to Bethlehem, and hunted through stables until they found the Lord and Joseph and Mary. They told others around the area what had happened, about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally went back to the flock, leaving an amazed village behind them, and having great Joy in themselves, at the privilege they had shared.

They were glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and the fact that all had been just as they had been told to expect. They thanked him for fulfilled prophecy, in other words. I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Micah 5:2 comes to mind, though: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise, and others. If they had expanded from that beginning and considered who that was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, either, really.

What are You doing on Christmas?

We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a time of joy and peace…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded his people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating…they didn’t forget why they were there.

I think it is important that we give some time to considering who Jesus really is, and the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, he was the Creator … He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know,” I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We are looking back from the vantage point (and the safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it. If she had seen him as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby? She couldn’t have seen Him that way! But I feel it is imperative that we do! It is vital that we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and be blessed by the Grace which God has extended to us. We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. We are not dragged in as an orphaned waif, and simply “called” his child: we are born into His family by the new birth, and live eternally as his child…his real child, born of His Grace.

When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene”, and look far enough ahead to see the Cross, and the tomb, and the resurrection. We need to look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign. We need to look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was really going on that first Christmas.

The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels…and they knew that better than anyone: They worshipped the newborn king! They guarded his humanity (though He certainly needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God.

We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our Savior; God in the flesh, our only advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. In our case, relationally, the fact that He is our Savior takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace. This is not a “seasonal” thing. His Grace has been conferred as a permanent gift, in Eternal life.

The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too, especially because we know who He really is, whereas they only knew a little. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas. And we can be a part of extending that joy to the rest of the world around us. If we really know Him for who He is, and really believe the true Christmas story, then sharing it with others should be the most natural thing in the world.

Also, none of the people in the story just “went back to normal” after that night. It was not a “seasonal thing.” It changed their lives forever, and they shared it with others, just as we are called to do. We need to rise above the pattern of just “putting the decorations away, and getting on with life.” He is the Life! We are not supposed to “get over” what He is doing in our lives, but rather we are to grow deeper into that relationship, and allow it to bear fruit.

Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see you in your Glory, and to worship you as God. Allow us to love you in your humanity, but to look beyond your humanity and to worship and love you as the faithful Creator. Allow us to serve as witnesses to your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts.


Finding Comfort in Christmas

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop

All in reference to Luke 2, comparing with other scripture.

How do we really feel about Christmas?

To those of us who have lost loved ones, as well as those who suffer from depression, or have experienced the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the very worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that “Santa Claus is coming…” and it is all these unfulfilled expectations that cause the feelings of disappointment, grief and depression that frequent the holiday season for many people; especially those grieving the loss of loved ones. There is a reason why police and emergency medical personnel refer to this season as the “suicide season.” There are more self-inflicted deaths in the country during this season than at any other time.

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those responsible meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and we have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today….

The Birth of Christ:

Consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, in fact. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. There was no tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed…” the only “gift” in view was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten Son…” (We don’t think of it very often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did arrive, remember; they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of that first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked to have her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone like that to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? Do you think a stable would have been his first choice as a place for his young wife to give birth? And the shepherds? They still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. No day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or ham, or whatever. Just… great joy. Why??

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand all of it? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (He was!). But they also thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their later disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and His faithfulness.

What was the Promise?

We have forgotten what was really promised, and how we are to take part in it. There is no promise that we will live lives free of pain. Quite the opposite…we are told that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) That’s not what we really wanted to hear, huh?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God prescribed a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent. We discover later, in the New Testament, that the plan was actually laid before the Creation: God knew what was going to happen, and He prepared in advance.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given right about 400 years before his birth), when, if they were actually reading and studying God’s Word, they pretty much knew all that was supposed to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today, though (as we do) they had all the information.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little lambs were pointing forward to the One True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

When Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some understood the intent; most did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about being the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation, for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that number who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve” (Judas Iscariot) and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike, and was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother. (We don’t know the names of the few who stayed and watched, but He does.)

He was lent a tomb by a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea) who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his close disciples, and on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily. And He promised to return in the same manner: PhysicallyBodily.

We, who do find comfort in the reality of Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised coming again.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised, personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father. We trust in Him to do all things well. We trust in Him to give what is best, even when we think things ought to proceed in a different way.

How do we Receive that Promise?

How can one take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God: He is never going to give up on me, even if I fail miserably in my attempts to serve Him. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive.

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. There are some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift, it is a never-ending source of joy—it’s not “seasonal” at all. We simply have to choose to rest in that gift, and to experience the peace, hope and joy He brings.

So, to each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish you a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.


What does it mean to “Glorify God?”

What does it mean to “Glorify God?”

© 2019 C. O. Bishop

Psalm 50:7-15

Introduction:

We often read in the scriptures where someone is said to have “glorified God” in response to something they saw, or because of a grace they had received from God. But we are not told specifically what that means. So, let’s take a look and see what we can find out.

To begin with, a dictionary definition might include something like,

  1. To praise and worship (God). (e.g. “music is used to glorify God”) or,
  2. To describe or represent as admirable, especially unjustifiably. (e.g. “a sport video glorifying violence”)

So, we can see, perhaps, that the verb, to “glorify” may be related to the verb, to “worship,” when applied to God, and at least to “ascribe value” or to “hold up for praise”, or to “exalt,” when applied to anything at all. And, in that case, it could be done appropriately or inappropriately, and it could be neglected or omitted when it really was appropriate.

With that simple definition as the backdrop, let’s read some scriptures that shed light from God’s point of view:

Psalm 50:7-15

Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.

10 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. 11 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. 12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. 13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: 15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Obviously, this passage is directed to Israel, before the time of Christ, and refers to their sacrifices. Remember that these particular sacrifices were dictated by God… this is not some home-baked religious ritual that the people of Israel came up with on their own. But God is correcting their thinking regarding why He demanded those sacrifices. God is not “hungry!”

All of the blood sacrifices were dictated as a covering for their sins! Leviticus 17:11 spells out that the blood was given by God “…upon the altar, as an atonement (covering) for your souls.” The Hebrew word translated “atonement,” is “kophar,” meaning “a covering.” So they should have known that the blood was not “feeding” God. They were not satisfying a “need” in His life.

He says, “If I was hungry, I wouldn’t ask you!” He owns the entire universe; He knows every creature on an individual basis. We have a need for forgiveness and deliverance from our guilt and our sins, and He has provided that deliverance through a blood sacrifice, beginning clear back in Genesis 3. And He confirms that concept in Hebrews 9:12, 22, saying that “by his own blood he entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” And “…without the shedding of blood there is no remission” (speaking of our sins.) And finally, in Hebrews 10:4, he flatly states that “…it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.

So, what we have is a deliverance to which believers looked forward from the initial fall of man into sin, up until the Cross, and to which they have looked back, ever since the Cross. And what did God say about that deliverance there, in Psalm 50:15? I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

There it is, then! If God has delivered me from my sins, then it is incumbent upon me to glorify Him with my life! So, we are back to the question in the sermon title: What does it mean to glorify God? How can I best do that?

What does it mean to “Glorify God?”

Matthew 5:14-16 says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” So, in this case, our lifestyle is to honor God, whether we do or say anything specific or not.

Matthew 9:8 says that the crowds, having seen Jesus heal a paralyzed man, glorified God for having giving such power to a human. (They did not yet see Jesus as the incarnate God—God in the flesh—but they did recognize that only God had the power to perform such a healing.) So they praised and worshipped God because of the good thing they had just witnessed. This was a good response, given the limited light they possessed. They did not glorify Jesus, but that was because they did not recognize Him for who He was.

Another passage, in John 9:28-38 is the healing of the man born blind. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being ungodly, and a charlatan. “28 Then they reviled him (the healed man), and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. 30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.

31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. 32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. 34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? 36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

So, believing God, as Abraham did, is the beginning of glorifying God. Hebrews 11:4 says that it is impossible to please God without faith. The healed man, who had been born blind, believed in Jesus, and, in response to that faith, and in gratitude for the healing, worshipped Jesus! He had already spoken in defense of Jesus, and had been slandered and ostracized for his words. Now he had the privilege of being led to faith by Jesus in person, and worshipping at His feet…in person! Not everyone has that privilege, but each of us has our own opportunities to either: respond to Jesus in faith, thanksgiving, praise, and worship… or not to do so!

What about Negative examples?

Sometimes it helps to consider the opposite, in order to explain some concept. So, let’s look at Daniel 5:22, 23

Daniel was lecturing Belshazzar, the king, and reminded him of how God had humbled Nebuchadnezzar, and how Nebuchadnezzar had repented under the chastening of God.

22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:”

He said, “…and you knew all this, but did not humble yourself. Instead, you exalted yourself. You lifted yourself up, instead of lifting God up. And, to compound the error, you defiled the holy vessels of His temple. You deliberately used those holy vessels to offer praise and worship to idols.”  If you remember the story, you know that judgment fell that night, and the city was overthrown, and King Belshazzar was killed. So, through that story, we can see that “lifting up one’s self” (instead of exalting God) is the opposite of worship. (Remember, too, that, if you are a believer, God has made you holy!) Using that which God has declared holy, to do unholy things, is the opposite of worship; it does not glorify God. Think about who you are, and to whom you belong. Are you using what God made holy to accomplish wrong things?

What should we do, then?

Notice, back in Psalm 50:14, that the command encapsulated in that passage is “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High.” So, there is a proper response to God’s Grace and His supply: Thanksgiving is one such proper response. Taking Him for granted is not. When we gripe over the supply of God in our lives, we are doing the same thing as the Israelites did in the desert; complaining that they did not like Manna. A sister in the Lord, here, heard me voice my discouragement about life’s trials, and said, “Chet! You are just telling God that you don’t like manna!” She was absolutely right! I confessed that I was sinning, and not giving glory to God for His supply. Since then I have tried to daily recognize His sustenance and blessing, and, to honor Him as the Master. (I’m still working on that, by the way.)

The latter half of that verse is important, too, though: it says “Pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Carry out the responsibilities that God has given you. Keep the promises you have made. Maintain the relationships He has given you to maintain. Remember that the One to whom you are accountable is literally the same God that Moses met in the Tabernacle. This is not some spiritual fairy-godfather or a cosmic vending machine. “Put your prayers into the slot, and pick up your blessings below!” That is a blasphemous idea, isn’t it? And yet we often relegate the Lord to just that position. We do not take time to feed on His Word, nor to fellowship with Him, and give Him the attention He so richly deserves. Even without our position as born-again children of God, doesn’t the creation around you cry out for glory to the Creator?

Think about the experience of Moses, walking into the Tabernacle to commune with God: He could see the Pillar of Cloud hovering over the Tent of Meeting. He had often seen the Pillar of Fire by night. He had met with this specific God on Mount Sinai and had seen His supply throughout their march through the desert. He had eaten the manna, day by day, along with everyone else. But there was never a time when he became “bored” with God. He approached the Tabernacle knowing that, inside that tent, he would meet with the Creator, in person. I do not know what Moses physically saw, but he did not see the LORD face to face. God forbade it.

Abraham, on the other hand, did see Him face to face, but it was only in the person of the pre-incarnate Christ, God the Son, appearing as a man. And he also gave full honor to his Creator, though he pleaded with him for the life of Lot. Abraham never took lightly his relationship with the sovereign God. He gave Him full honor and glorified Him with his life.

But what about the believers who became “casual” about their relationship with God, or who did not take seriously the responsibilities associated with that relationship? Remember Samson? He was far too cavalier in his walk with God, and ended up blinded and working for the enemy. There are other examples, of course, but I especially am grateful for that particular example, because believers today, too, can become blinded to the hand of God in their lives; blinded to the liberating truth of God’s Word, and end up unwittingly working against God, and supporting the cause of their enemy, Satan. That is a sad fact, but it is definitely true.

We can end up so far sidetracked, and caught up in the pursuit of goals that have zero eternal value, that we completely lose sight of the priorities of God, and our commitment to put Him first. We can become critical of those who are at least attempting to follow the Lord, and decide that they are the “bad guys,” even, though, if we are to carefully consider their actual words and deeds, we would be hard-pressed to accuse them before the throne of Grace. And yet, that is what we end up doing. And who do we know, from scripture, to be the “accuser of the brethren?” It is Satan, himself. Revelation 12:9, 10 refers to Satan as the accuser of the brethren, among other things. So, at the point when we begin to accuse other believers, believing them to be somehow the “bad guys,” even if we are accurate in seeing their faults, we are doing Satan’s work for him: We are dishonoring Jesus by accusing His children.

How can the World rightly Judge the Church?

This sounds like a trick question, but it really is not! Jesus actually gives the World three things by which to judge the Church, and they are correct to do so:

  1. Love: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples…” John 15:34, 35
  2. Unity: “…that the world may believe that thou hast sent me…” John 17:21
  3. Good Works: “…that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” Matthew 5:15, 16

If it is clear to the unbelieving World that the believers do not love one another, and that the believers are not in unity, then the World is within their rights to doubt the message, even though they condemn themselves in doing so. Further, if they watch the behavior of believers and see that we frequently act more irreverent toward God than do many unbelievers, then they will not glorify the God of the Bible, because they can see that those who claim to be His children do not honor Him either.

In Romans 2:24, the apostle Paul addressed this idea with those who claimed to be faithful Jews, saying that the gentiles blasphemed the name of God because of them. What a sad commentary on their collective testimony! And I have known many unbelievers today, who have become completely disgusted with the overall behavior of those who claim the name of Jesus, and who violently blaspheme God because of it. Does that excuse them for their rebellion against God? No, it does not! But it does implicate those who steered them away from the Savior by their behavior. I desperately desire to never turn an unbeliever away from Jesus by my words or actions (or by my lack of such.)

We need to focus on the Person of the Living Christ, knowing that He is the Creator, the sustainer, the Savior… and the Judge. We need to make His written Word a priority in our lives, not just a “stated preference.” We need to make obedience to His Word, including the prime directive to “Love one another” a matter of conviction in our lives…not just a matter of “convenience.” We need to consider at all times how our behavior will affect the world around us, and ask ourselves “Will this Glorify Jesus?” Because, whether we remember it or not, that is what we are here to do!

Lord Jesus, by your Word, and by your Spirit, please mold us into your likeness, and draw us into such a close Love-relationship with you that we will constantly glorify you with our words and behavior and Love one another so that our testimony will shine in this dark world. Teach us to walk with you daily, and honor you in all things.


Lose the Baggage!

Lose the Baggage!

© 2019 C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 12:1-4

Introduction:

Quite some time ago, we went through Hebrews eleven, and saw the various results of faith in the lives of the Old Testament believers. Some saw great miracles. Others were bereft of all their possessions and loved ones, and were hounded across the land, hiding, and just trying to survive. Still others were tortured and executed for their faith, dying horrible deaths.

The very last phrase (Hebrews 11:40) states that we are part of that same group of people; the household of faith…and we can expect similar things, to one degree or another. Remember, too, that chapter twelve is a direct continuation of chapter eleven…So, let’s see what it has to say:

God’s Witnesses to Us

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A lot of readers think this means that we have a great cloud of people watching us. That is not the point of this passage at all. Witnesses bear testimony. That is why we want eye-witnesses when something like an accident has happened. We want them to tell what they saw. We saw in Acts 1:8 that Christ has chosen us to testify on His behalf, for the benefit of the hearers. Our testimony to others is a witness to the truth and power of the Gospel. But we need witnesses, too, to testify to us of the faithfulness of God. These witnesses in verse one are letting us know that God is faithful and that he is worthy of our complete faith and obedience. They are not “watching us”, but rather are testifying, across time and space, to encourage us to trust and obey God, just as they did.

There is nothing at all in Scripture to suggest that the folks who have gone on to be with the Lord have “nothing better to do than to sit around and watch us fumble around trying to walk with the Lord!” They are literally in the presence of the living God! Why would they waste even a moment looking at my bumbling attempts at obedience? It’s too sad to be a comedy, and too ridiculous to simply be a tragedy. And, honestly, compared with seeing, and worshipping the glorified Christ, surely it would simply be an utter waste of time. Those people are physically, visibly with the Lord! They are only remotely concerned with life on earth. They have better things to do! But their lives still bear testimony to us. So who are these witnesses, and what are they really doing? They are the ones listed in Hebrews chapter 11, among others, testifying to us, by their own already-completed lives, that the Christian life can be done!

(There is an old joke that asks “Why did the Oregon chicken cross the road?” The answer: “To show the opossums that it can be done!”) Through God’s written Word, those saints who have gone before us are all eternally testifying to anyone who will listen, that we can trust Him, and that we, too, can live by faith, and walk in obedience to God. Think about the specific examples He chose for witnesses: Almost all the ones he named or alluded to were people with fairly serious failures in their lives. They were not “Super-Christians” by any means. This is definitely a case of “If they can do it, so can we!”

So, Lose the Baggage!

On the basis of their testimony, we are called to lay aside whatever is entangling our feet, and every parasitic weight with which we have chosen to burden ourselves. Isn’t this race difficult enough without carrying all the baggage we each tend to haul along with us? Isn’t it easier to run when you don’t have your feet entangled in some sort of muck, mud, or rubbish? God calls us to set aside the baggage: examine your own life, and ask yourself honestly, “What baggage am I carrying in my heart, that keeps me from freely serving God?” Am I still holding grudges that keep me from God’s Joy? Am I afraid of losing some possession, so I will not give it up to God? Do I really distrust God so much that I can’t rely on Him to provide His joy in my life? Do I really treasure the clutter and broken toys of the self-directed life so much that I will cling to that wreckage rather than to lay it aside in favor of the God-directed life?

Every one of those witnesses in chapter eleven is telling us to do these two things:

  1. Lay aside the baggage, along with the sin that so easily besets us; and
  2. Run with Patience—endurance—stamina, the long-distance, cross-country race that is set before us.

It is not a sprint. It is a lifelong up-hill slog, over rough country: but He is beside us, step by step, the whole way. We can find great encouragement by reading about the lives of those who have gone before, and accepting their testimony as positive encouragement: But, for our prime example, we are called to “look to Jesus:”

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As you are learning to “look unto Jesus”, don’t miss this little phrase: “…the author and finisher of our faith.” What does that mean? How is Jesus the author and finisher of our faith? Though faith is always a personal choice, God laid the foundation for that faith in the Person of Christ. He is the author of faith. He is also the One who moves to perfect its work in each of our individual lives. We are drawn along to trust Him more, as we walk with Him. We grow in our faith, as we learn to obey Him. Who accomplishes that growth? Jesus does!

If you have ever raised a garden, whether flowers or vegetables, you know that the most you can do is plant the seeds in appropriate soil, at the correct time of year, in a place where they will get an appropriate amount of sunshine, and then water them faithfully. But God is the author of life! If the seeds you planted do not germinate, there is nothing you can do to correct that problem except to replant with better seeds, and, hopefully, early enough to still be able to take advantage of the growing season. God is always the author of life and growth. God, the Son, is the author and finisher of our faith.

Jesus stated in John 12:32 that if He himself should be lifted up from the earth (in crucifixion) He would draw all men to himself. His sacrificial death for our sake is the lure of faith. He applied that “drawing power” to the entire human race, through the preaching of the Gospel. We either believed or did not: but the one who provided the object of our faith, the reason for faith—is Jesus. And He did so for the Joy that was set before Him.

So, what was the “Joy” that was set before Jesus? For what prize would he consider it worthwhile to endure the Cross? What future joy was only attainable by enduring the shame and brutality of a Roman execution by crucifixion? What was He hoping to gain? He was purchasing the Bride! He counted His relationship with us to be that Joy, along with the Joy of His relationship with the Father. How do we know?

1st Peter 1:18-20 says, “…ye were not redeemed (“bought back and set free”) with corruptible things as silver and gold…but with the precious blood of Christ…foreordained before the foundation of the World, but manifest in these last times for you.”

Did you get that? Jesus, the Lamb of God, was ordained to death before the World was created! That is why Revelation 13:8 refers to him as “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter makes it more specific: the plan for the salvation of Man was made before the creation, not simply before the Fall of Man. And the plan was specifically that He would redeem us (Greek verb lutroo—“bought for the purpose of being set free”) by His own blood.

Paul took note of this in Acts 20:28, speaking of “…the church of God, which He hath purchased (different Greek word, periepoieomai, meaning “to acquire”) with his own blood.” And we see in Ephesians 5:26 that Jesus has cleansed that church “…with the washing of water, by the Word,” in order to present to Himself a spotless Bride.

Finally, in Revelation 22 we hear the voice of the Bride with that of Christ, inviting sinners to salvation. This holy partnership is the Joy that Jesus counted so precious that he willingly endured the Cross, and despised the shame as being beneath his attention.

That is hard for me to understand; because, frankly, we are not that attractive, as sinners. We all have been enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and He changed us, giving us a new nature. But the fact remains that while we were enemies, He chose to love us with the agapé love and to extend His Grace to us as a free gift. And, even after we have been born again into the family of God, we are called his “sheep”, and, as far as I can see, we are just about as attractive as the four-legged variety. Very contrary creatures, at best; stinky, not too bright, and utterly defenseless against predators. (Yep…it fits!)

More Baggage to Lose

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Occasionally, it has really bothered me when someone who absolutely does not know about a subject in which I have been thoroughly trained, argues vehemently that I am wrong about it. I wanted to justify myself, and “pull rank”, or something: to prove by my credentials that I am more of an authority on the subject than they are.

But Jesus came to us as One who is literally God in the Flesh…fully omniscient, and all-powerful, yet temporarily setting those prerogatives aside, in order to live as a human. And, in that “diminished” state, though still fully God, and Holy beyond human imagination, while He was quietly carrying out His eternal plan, He endured not just “contradiction” in the sense we know it, which is just one “ignorant human” calling another human “ignorant:” He also endured the verbal and physical abuse from the people who claimed to serve and honor Him (these were His own people!) cursing him to his face, and denying everything he said. Even accusing him of being a slave to Satan, the real enemy of their own souls.

Could Jesus have “pulled rank,” so to speak, and called down fire from heaven, as Elijah did, to burn up all of those who sought to kill him? Or, couldn’t He have cursed the people, as Elisha did, so that bears would come charging out of nowhere, and tear them up? Of course, he could have! But, actually, that is kind of the point, here: if He, who could have defended himself against all His enemies, and He who is the author of all righteousness, chose to endure, for the sake of those sinners (that’s us, just in case you are thinking, “yeah, those nasty Pharisees…!”); If he endured it all, for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of the eternal souls of the sinners he cared for, and the eternal reward to come, shouldn’t we do the same? I have no righteousness of my own: none at all, in fact, beyond that which He has imputed to me, so I can’t even claim that I am any better than those who speak against me. I am a sinner, too! (There is some more baggage to lose! The right to self-justification, and self-vindication.)

I also have no power or authority to force them to stop maligning or mistreating me, which is probably a good thing; but, remember: He did have all power, and He chose to set it aside for our sake. As it is, He warns us to not seek vengeance. He is the judge, and will make things right in His time. So I am to endure hardship, for testimony’s sake, and for the sake of the souls of the very people acting as my adversaries. And God counts that obedience to be precious in His sight.

Where do We Stand?

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Evidently those specific people to whom he wrote had not been physically wounded, so far. There certainly were those in the early church who had been martyred for the sake of the Gospel, and others who had been beaten, and wounded, as Paul himself had been. Evidently these believers simply had not. Neither have I.

There is a passage (Galatians 6:17) where Paul points out that he “bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He was apparently referring to his countless physical scars from beatings, stonings, scourgings, and more. But he was aware that, as is my own case, these particular believers had never been physically wounded for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they did receive such treatment later on, or, perhaps not. But I can take this personally, and know that I actually have had a pretty easy time; I really have nothing to whine about, though I frequently do so anyway.

He goes on to point out that they had a long way to go in their relationship with God, too. Part of our whining happens just because we really don’t understand the purpose of God, which is working out in our lives.

That sort of thing can happen on a very common earthly basis, as well. I remember being moved from one job to another, at work, once, when I had been there for less than a year: I was alarmed, because I thought it meant I was not doing a good enough job where I was. I asked what was wrong, and why I was being pulled off that job. The supervisor patiently informed me that nothing was wrong, that I was doing fine, but he simply needed me elsewhere. I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but had no choice in the matter. As it turned out, I was moved more and more frequently, as my skills grew, until I looked forward to it, seeing each new task as a fresh challenge, and each new assignment as an indication that my supervisors were confident in my ability, skill, and reliability. And the result was that I got better and better assignments, building special projects, teaching others, and testing the skills and abilities of other employees.

So, what we saw in Hebrews 11:40 was that God reserves better things for our future than the things we have lost through following Him. Joseph the patriarch was not happy to be kidnapped, sold as a slave, accused of a crime he did not commit, and thrown into prison…but he served God faithfully, and, yes, God had something better in store.

Should we, therefore, expect that that “something better” will be delivered in our lifetimes? Not necessarily! Remember the people in Hebrews 11:36-39! They specifically did not receive the promise during their lifetimes. And God says they held out for His best, and got something better! Hold on! Lose the baggage, but don’t lose hope! The best is yet to come!

Lord Jesus, teach us to find our Joy in You, and not look for happiness in our circumstances, so much as to look ahead to your reward.


More “Problem Passages”

Discipleship versus Salvation

Luke 14:26, 27, 33; Luke 9:62 “Ye cannot be my disciple.”

“…cannot be my disciple” Several things listed, none of which have anything to do with salvation…all have to do with priorities, and choices. “Discipleship” means putting the call of the Master above all other concerns.

The God who commands that one love his neighbor as himself, love his brother as God loves him, etc. is definitely not requiring that a disciple not love his family. He only warns that the choice may sometimes be costly.

Think now; in a Jewish society, a patriarchal society, where virtually everything was governed by how Dad and Mom felt about things: what do you suppose their reaction might have been to their son following Jesus? Do you think they might accuse their errant son of “hating” the family? And, in terms of how one made choices, it might look that way, seeing a young man (or woman) turn his back on all he had been taught to love, value, and revere, and walk after an itinerant preacher who was rapidly gaining momentum as a radical.

Being a “disciple” means following after—it means “adhering to the teaching of”, “subjecting oneself to the discipline of”. It means modeling oneself after a particular teacher’s method, lifestyle or whatever is in question, to become as much like them as possible. In the eastern religions this is still a common idea, and every guru has his disciple or perhaps many such.

In the Christian experience discipleship has become somewhat of a lost concept. We still use the word, but it usually has little to do with completely setting aside whatever you did before and completely following the one whose disciple you have become. We have replaced the concept of “disciple” with the idea of a “dilettante”—a dabbler. A “Weekend Warrior:” Someone who lives whatever way they usually do, but on Sunday! vroooom! Wow, listen to those “Christian Soldiers” revving up their “Crusader GT Sports-Utility-Bibles.” Sounds almost blasphemous, doesn’t it? That is NOT how a disciple is supposed to live. We are called to forsake our old lives, and live the way Jesus calls us to live. We are called to live that way every day, not just Sundays; all the time, not just when it is convenient.

Now, is discipleship the same for everyone? No, I expect not. Joseph of Arimathea was still wealthy, as was Nicodemus, when they took Jesus’ body to the tomb. The only rich person Jesus counseled to “give it all away” and come follow him was the rich young ruler whom Jesus knew had a problem in the area of covetousness…the love of money. I wish we knew what later became of him. But Jesus did tell the rich to change their priorities.

Position or Condition:

The issue of Discipleship is not a positional question—Salvation is a positional issue—you are either In Christ or you are not, and it is a permanent crossing-over from death into life—you cannot cross back. Once you have “passed over from death unto life” (John 5:24) you “shall not come into condemnation,” period. From the moment you place your faith in Jesus as your savior, you have eternal life: Jesus says so.

Discipleship, however, is a conditional issue…you can be a disciple and walk away. You can fail as a disciple and still be God’s child. You can fail as a disciple, and be restored to fellowship and service. So, in the Luke passage (and other similar passages), the issue is service, not salvation. If you are not willing to put Him first, and to set aside your own ambitions, goals, dreams, etc., then you cannot be his disciple. Does he still allow his disciples to have fun? Sure! But diversion is supposed to be just that—diversion—not a lifestyle. We have given ourselves over to what we want for so long, in so many ways, that any tiny service seems “sacrificial.” And I know that the desired “balance” is hard to define, but I strongly suspect that none of us have never gotten “too extreme” in our commitment.

Warnings in the Book of Hebrews

Hebrews 2:3

How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation…?”

The context in this case is the whole book of Hebrews…I do not say this facetiously; the whole book seems to address a mixed group, most of whom are Hebrew believers, and all of whom are professing believers; much like the local assembly today.

There is a repeated warning, beginning with this verse (Hebrews 2:3), and gaining strength throughout the book, that those who claim to have placed their faith in the Messiah need to realize this is a one-way street…you can’t go back and “just be Jews” now…that way has ended for you. This is seen nowhere more strongly than in the passage in Hebrews 10:26, where he states that “there remains no more sacrifice for sin…” If the Jewish professing believer decides that Jesus’ blood is not God’s chosen sacrifice, he can’t go back to the Old Testament figure anymore, because Jesus is the One to whom all the figures pointed…he is the real deal! If He is to be rejected, then the figures are of no further value. There is no more sacrifice, as you have rejected the only sacrifice. Jesus is “Plan A”—there is no “Plan B.”

In Hebrews 2:3, however, the warning was against neglecting to actually place their dependence on Jesus as their full and final payment for sin. Salvation is not a rosebush, or a pet goldfish, which, if neglected, will surely die…the only “neglect” that could affect their position (remember that Salvation is a positional truth) is neglecting to enter in at all. It is possible, for example (though highly unlikely,) that Noah could have had a day during his year-long float on the Ark when everything was so calm and normal-seeming that he forgot about the Ark entirely, and neglected to tend to any of the pressing concerns aboard the Ark. The Ark was not dependent upon Noah’s faithfulness, but upon God’s faithfulness. Noah didn’t design it, God did. Noah built it under God’s direction. And the most important thing of all is that God closed the door. If there was anything for Noah to do, it was in relation to the animals, not the Ark itself: there were no sails, rudder, or oars. Noah had no control over the Ark at all! And, Noah was secure even if he totally forgot where he was. (My guess would be that he never did. That had to have been a pretty intense year.)

Can we think of an individual in scripture who did neglect the opportunity to place his dependence upon Jesus, and ultimately failed to do so? In John 13:10, 11, Jesus identified Judas as such a person: Judas was never saved, even though he had been with Jesus, along with all the other disciples. Ironically, he was a disciple, in the sense that he was chosen by Jesus, and he “followed” Jesus. But he never confessed his sin and his need for a savior. He never believed the message Jesus brought, and never was cleansed by His Word. Compare John 15:3. The other disciples were cleansed by Jesus’s Word.

So, in Hebrews 2:3, the warning is to professing believers; that they should not neglect the opportunity to secure themselves in Christ, and step on into a faith-relationship with Christ. I realize there will be many who disagree, and that is OK. Much argument within the churches is founded upon such questions, and I am not trying to further any such arguments, but rather to give some firm footing to the believers.

Hebrews 3:12-14

Interestingly, this one, though it sounds more severe, is actually less severe. Keep in mind that the remote context the writer refers to is the story of the children of Israel, as they were in the desert for 40 years. These people had all been “under the blood of the Passover,” they had all been under the cloud with Moses, and they all had crossed through the Red Sea, and had seen the Egyptians drowned. They had all fed on the manna, and had all been supplied water out of the Mighty Rock (which according to 1st Corinthians 10:4, actually was Christ). I would have to say these folks were all believers, but they still were sinners, and they frequently rebelled (as do I). And God judged their unbelief, in that they were not allowed to enter into “His rest” (the land.) Notice that this verse is definitely to believers—the brethren.

The Land is not figurative of Heaven, but rather the normal Christian Life, here on earth. We are supposed to be living a fruitful life, victorious in battle (no fights in heaven, today, folks…but there are lots of them here on earth….), reproducing spiritually, and honoring the Lord with our lives. But we are all still subject to failure. The Land (the fruitful life of the disciple) is something that Believers desire to enter into on a daily basis. Heaven is something every believer will enter into, ready or not. In Heaven, there is no chance of failure, no further cause of fear. Our sin natures will be gone forever, and we will never sin again. We will be completely like Jesus in character.

Departing from the living God is not something that you can literally do, as a believer, according to Romans 8:35-39 (…remember that you are a created thing—a creature—you cannot separate yourself from Him.) But in terms of fellowship, it is not only something we can do, we do it frequently, because of sin. Most sin is based on unbelief, pride, or self-will. all sin has the capacity to break fellowship. If we allow bitterness to creep in, because of circumstances, then we question God’s character, and the seed of unbelief begins to bear fruit. At that point, we are no longer feeding on the Vine of Christ (John 15:5), and cannot bear his fruit. We will only bear the natural fruit of our sin nature, until we return to fellowship, via confession. (1st John 1:9)

Hebrews 4:1

Therefore, on the basis of Hebrews 3 and all the history to which it referred, Hebrews 4:1 is an admonition to not fail to enter into the rest God still offers. We see in verse eleven that it takes work to enter into God’s Rest! We labor to enter into His Rest. Jesus completed all the work of salvation at the Cross. The Old Testament word “shabbat” meant “rest,” but specifically the “give it a rest” variety… “stop working.” The Jews had to stop working because God told them to do so: Jesus stopped because the work was complete! (Remember? “It is finished!”) So how do we enter into that rest? We enter in by faith, recognizing that the work of salvation is complete, that we have eternal peace with God, and that our position in Christ is secure forever!

Jesus is our rest…our true Sabbath! We do not want to miss out on the day-by-day Peace and Rest of walking with God in Christ. That is the admonition of Hebrews 4:1. But the one that really scares everyone is in Hebrews 6…so let’s go there.

Hebrews 6:4-8

This is a perfect example of a place where it becomes terribly important to read the whole context: When I just read the problem passage (6:4-8) I could easily conclude that it is possible to lose one’s salvation, and, that having done so, it is impossible to be restored. (Many people come to the first of these conclusions, but miss the point of the second.)

But when I begin in Hebrews 5:10 and read through 6:12, I see some serious differences:

The recipients were believers, whom the writer (Paul, I believe) was taking to task for having failed to mature as believers should: he says that they should have been teaching others by now, but instead, he says that they have actually regressed into spiritual babyhood, and need to be retaught, from the beginning. He says they can’t handle solid food, but are reduced to needing milk again.

Then, in chapter six, he begins to state the foundational things they should have already grasped and from which they should be moving on. (All of them sound fairly advanced, from our point of view…but he says those are baby-food!)

Then the writer changes the pronoun regarding whom he is talking about: In 5:11-6:3, the first and second-person pronouns are used, denoting the writer (though he uses the first person plural…perhaps there were others with him?) and the recipients.

But in verses 4-8, the pronoun changes to 3rd person: “those, they, themselves, it, etc.” He describes some person who is evidently not a believer at all, but who has joined with the believers, and has become saturated with the teaching, but has never owned the Savior for himself. He agrees, perhaps, that “Jesus died for the sins of the World,” but can’t clearly state that “He died for ME!” Judas was in this category, by the way, and there have been many other such persons throughout history. Jesus himself confirmed that Judas had never become a believer, in John 13:10, 11.

The description of the apostate in Hebrews 6:4-8, at first reading, sounds like a believer who has failed. But there is no mention of faith…only experience. Remember that Judas was sent out with the other disciples, two by two: he healed sick people! He cast out demons! He may have even raised the dead! He was there amongst the other eleven, and he not only saw the miracles, but was given authority to partake in them! He tasted of the good word of God; he tasted of the powers of the world to come! But he never trusted in Jesus as his own savior. After he left to go and betray Jesus to the Jewish leaders, Jesus told the remaining eleven disciples that “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3) Judas had heard all the same words the others had heard: but he had never responded in faith!

So, what is there in this context that lets us know this is a true understanding? Read verses 9-12! The writer changes the pronouns again, and goes back to “Ye, you, we, etc.” He calls the recipients “brethren,” and says that he is convinced of better things concerning them “and things that accompany salvation” (meaning that what went before did not necessarily accompany salvation.) Then he goes on to assure the believers that God has not forgotten their faithfulness and good works…and encourages them to not be lazy about their relationship with God, but to press on!

There are several other passages the enemy frequently uses to trip us up, but these are a few that are commonly encountered.

We will try to come back and address the remaining “frequently misused passages at a later date.


Good News…and Bad News

There’s Good News…and Bad News!

© 2013 C. O. Bishop THCF 9/15/13 Revised 2019

Introduction:

The phrase, “there’s good news…and bad news…” has come to be a frequent joke in our culture. It invites the listener to reply “Ah…give me the bad news first…” (Or, in some cases they want the good news first.)

But the reality of any Good News is that it virtually always implies the possibility of some contrasting Bad news. For example, “Well, the good news is that I found a job…” What’s the bad news? Is it only the fact that the speaker was previously unemployed, or is there some hidden feature of the new job that the listener will not like? Is it a split shift, extremely low pay, long commute, or what?

We mentioned some time ago, as a real-life example, that there was an antivenin developed in Australia that covers about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes. Wow! That’s great! So, what’s the bad news? Obviously, Australia has about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes! (Actually, it turns out there are far more: about 140…so, it was really bad news!)

What’s the Bad News and Good News for Believers?

So, what is the “bad-news/good-news” issue for believers? The good news is that there is lots of it; so much good news that we haven’t even learned it all. The bad news? It is that we have to learn that good news so that we can make use of it. A friend of mine, not a believer, made the comment “You can only connect the dots you have.” That is a fairly profound statement. It really applies to nearly every aspect of life. In 2 Peter 1:4, it says thatGod has given us “exceeding Great and Precious Promises” by which we are told we can “become partakers of the Divine Nature.”  Wow! That is good news! How can there be bad news in that verse?

The bad news is that largely, either we are ignorant of those promises, or, worse, we are ignoring them. You can only connect the dots you have. Jesus said (John 14:26) that when the Holy Spirit came (remember he was speaking to his disciples before his crucifixion) that He (the Holy Spirit) would teach them all things, and “bring to their remembrance” all things whatsoever He (Jesus) had taught them. Can I apply that promise to myself? Yes, in a limited sense: limited only because I do not have to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer at the moment of salvation. But the “catch” is this…if you never allow Jesus to teach you anything, because you are too busy watching TV, working on projects (guilty, Lord!) or socializing, working, whatever…then the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much to work with. He can’t “bring to your remembrance” things you have never learned. There is no promise that God will mystically reveal all things to each of us individually. Quite the opposite: He has revealed himself through the Written Word, for over 3,500 years of history, and commands us to go there to learn from Him.

Notice that when Jesus addressed the issue of spiritual thirst, he did not say, “Thirsty? Just stay right where you are, and I’ll bring you a cold drink!”  No! In John 7:37 he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!” If you want wisdom, you go to God and get it. If you want peace, you go to God and get it. In fact, virtually all the “exceeding great and precious promises” alluded to in 2nd Peter 1:4 are such that they require the believer to seek the face of God in order to appropriate those gifts.

Hebrews 11:6 states that “Without Faith, it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” If you want a relationship with God, it requires some diligence. He requires that you come to Him, personally, to receive his blessing. That is not the same as just attending church, by the way. Any unbeliever can attend church. But only a believer, who has not only been born again, but who has currently confessed his/her sins (1st John 1:9), and is deliberately seeking fellowship with the living God (1st John 1:7; “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from all sin.”) Only that person can enter the Holy Place by way of the Person of Christ (Hebrews 10:19, 20; “having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh…”), and approach the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16; “let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”).

Yes, the privilege is there for each of us who has received the Lord Jesus as our Savior. But it takes work to use it effectively.

The Good news is that we have that privilege of approaching the Throne of Grace. The Bad news is that we don’t use it much. Our relationship with God is supposed to be a very personal thing… and by that I do not mean “private,” so much as underscoring the fact that it is the Person of Christ we are relating to; not just a concept. So, as we are reading His Word, we can talk with him about it, and ask for insight, confessing that we really don’t understand much about it. We can study his Word, knowing that we have an assignment to apply it, as his ambassadors.

If I am assigned a job at work that requires some study, then my reading is not casual, nor is it just “skimming” to get the gist of a story, but it is focused, and intent upon learning my new job. Part of our new relationship with Jesus is the fact that we have a new job. How are you going to respond to the new assignment? Are you taking it seriously, and striving to learn how to faithfully discharge the new responsibilities? Or are you just kicking back, watching the clock, and waiting for the lunch whistle? Do you even have a clear idea of what the job entails, and where to find the instructions as to how to perform your duties?

What is your assignment, anyway?

The New Assignment

When Jesus left this world, his last words, repeated several times in different locations, and different circumstances, were “Ye shall be witnesses unto me…”; “Go ye therefore and teach…”; “Go ye into all the World, and preach…”, “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” 

When a human supervisor gives an assignment, we take heed—we take steps to get it done, knowing that we will be held accountable for how we spend our time. Usually, too, with human supervisors, we are held accountable for the results. But in the case of our assignment from God, we are only being held accountable for the obedient response, not so much the result. Jesus did say that the Father is glorified when we produce fruit. It is evident that he was speaking of the fruit of saved souls and changed lives, because he specified that the fruit would remain. But Jeremiah, who saw very little fruit in his ministry (possibly only two people), had a much better walk with God than did Jonah, who unwillingly instigated a huge revival in Nineveh.

Consider, too, that when a human loved one, or a close friend, dies and makes a dying request—a “last request”—we consider it a priority to go and complete that request if it is at all possible. Jesus gave His last request about five times. Is that request a priority, to you?

Our instructions regarding that task are fairly simple—go tell people the Good News regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the fact that His blood completely paid for the sins of the human race. The Good News that any person who will place their faith in Him can have the free gift of eternal life now, today, not waiting, while doing religious things until they die, hoping they can be “good enough” to receive eternal life. Eternal life is a gift; not a reward.

You know how you received Jesus as your Savior, or you certainly ought to; and you can tell that much, at least. You can learn a few key scripture verses to show a person, so they can see for themselves, in the Bible, how to be saved. And, the fact is, you can tell them that “there is Good news…and Bad news.” That is a concept they can relate to: they run into it often, in daily life.

Good news and Bad news of the Gospel

The bad news is that the whole human race is guilty before God, and headed for destruction. The Good News is that Jesus has purchased a pardon for the whole human race, with his own blood, at the cross. God’s righteousness is satisfied with the sacrifice Jesus offered. The work is done!

Let’s look at two scripture passages, both spoken by Jesus:

John 3:17, 18 “For God sent not His Son into the World to condemn the World, but that the World through Him might be saved. He that believeth in Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Can you see some good news in that passage? God did not send Jesus here to condemn us! That is good news! The bad news is that we are already condemned as a race, because of sin, and even though Jesus fully paid for the sins of the whole world, the current condemnation remains because we have not placed our trust in the name of Jesus. So, there is good news and bad news…both very simple and clear.

How about this one: John 5:24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my words and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

There is a lot of Good news in that one: it says we can have eternal life now (notice the tenses in this verse). It says “has everlasting life,” not “will have”. It also says that the person who has received this promise will never be condemned (that’s future tense.) It also says that the person who has received this promise has passed from death into life (in English that reads as if it were a simple past participle, but it is actually even better—it is “perfect tense”, meaning that it is an event that occurred in the past, and has permanent future results.)

So where is the Bad news in that verse? The only bad news is that if you have either not heard the Gospel, or, having heard it, you have not believed it, then the three “good news clauses” of that promise are not yours. You do not have eternal life, you are still under condemnation, and you have not crossed over from death to life.

Isn’t that a pretty simple concept? Can’t we offer it to those around us? It seems to me that it is so simple we have no excuse not to do so. So: if the message is that simple, why are we given a whole New Testament from which to learn the job?

Laboring to Rest

Remember back in the book of Joshua, when the people were to enter into the land? These folk were the offspring of the ones who had not entered in, because of unbelief, and God had referred to that entering in as “rest”. He said they “could not enter into his Rest, because of unbelief.” The land was the rest, in that context. The land was given to the next generation of the people of Israel, but they had to fight every step of the way to lay hold of it! People frequently misinterpret this “crossing over the Jordan” as being analogous to dying and going to Heaven. It is not at all referring to heaven. Heaven will be the cessation of all strife: the Promised Land had to be fought for, to gain entry at all, and then they had to fight to take possession of every hill and valley, after they entered!

We have been given a whole New Testament because the majority of it is telling us how to live as God’s people. The “job” itself is fairly simple. But how to live in such a way as to consistently honor God, and to walk in constant fellowship with the living Christ, is anything but easy. There is a battle going on, and the enemy does not want us to enjoy our “rest” in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 says you have already been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. But Ephesians 6:10-18 says if you want to experience those blessings in this life, you have to deliberately engage in the spiritual battle that surrounds the Christian reality. We are to feed on the written Word; feed on fellowship with Jesus the Living Word, and to live by faith, obedient to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 4:11 says that we are to “labor to enter into His rest.” That is the character of the Christian life: laboring to enter into rest. Jesus completed all the work of Salvation at the Cross, and He offers us tremendous blessings. But it will take continuous work to see the full blessing of God in our daily lives. Why continuous work? Because it is an uphill battle. Our old sin nature is still with us, and the World around us is still at odds with the purpose of God, and Satan is still alive and well on planet Earth. The Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible, unless we allow Christ to live through us. And to do that requires a constant struggle against our old sin nature.

But Galatians 5:16, referring to that old sin nature, makes it clear that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.

Just take it one step at a time. Seek the Face of God, through Bible study and Prayer. Learn the job: read your “Employee’s Manual” (meaning your Bible, of course), and take seriously the living trust that has been given to you, to tell others about Jesus.

Let’s start becoming the Men and Women of God that we are called to be, serving as the ambassadors He has ordained us to be. This is the Call of God for every believer!

Lord Jesus, draw us into a closer, more personal relationship with yourself, and allow us to see the people in the World around us through your eyes: to see all of them as precious souls for whom you died. Fill us with the Love of God, so that we overcome our reluctance to share your gift of eternal life with others. Make us fruitful in your Grace, in Jesus name.


Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

© C. O. Bishop 2012. THCF 11/18/2012 revised 2019

Introduction:

We are presented with so many choices in the world today; some of them clearly good…perhaps some clearly bad, but very few regarding which we can say “This is ultimate Good—there is no evil in it!” When we read the news, we are hard-pressed to tell who are the heroes, and who are the villains. When elections come around, we feel that we are offered only a chance to choose between deeply flawed individuals, neither of whom is clearly a “Good Choice”, but of whom neither is so clearly a bad choice that everyone sees it that way. Few today are even willing to admit there is such a thing as intrinsically “good or bad; right and wrong”. We are expected to see everything through the lens of public opinion, and its collective “morality” or lack of such.

What about History?

In the beginning, God presented things to Adam in a world of living color—thousands of varieties of plants, all of which were edible and healthy; a host of animals, none of which were dangerous; and only one rule; but that one rule was Black and White: obey or don’t. Live or die.

We may scoff at such a story from our “so-sophisticated,” modern point of view, but the fact remains that there are only two possibilities regarding that story: it is either true or it is not. My believing it does not make it true—your disbelieving it does not make it untrue—it is either true or not true, on its own merit. This statement is applicable to every bit of God’s Word, the Bible.

The Creation story is either true or untrue. If we hedge, and say, “Well, it’s partly true…”, then we are really conceding that it is a lie… no better than folklore, or mythology. Or we must declare ourselves wise enough to discern which parts of the Bible are true, and which are not.

When Noah entered the Ark, there were only two locations: inside or outside. All inside the ark were saved by virtue of their position inside the Ark. All outside were doomed by virtue of their position outside the Ark. Nothing else really mattered at that point… the folk aboard the Ark might be seasick, terrified, regretting the choice to go aboard, afraid of the dark, the noise, the movement—but they were safe, whether they felt safe or not. Those outside might be educated or ignorant, noble or base, old or young, sick or healthy, strong or weak—but they were all doomed. The matter was essentially reduced to “Black and White” by their own choices.

The Genesis Flood either covered the whole earth or it did not—the Biblical account is either true or it is false. The continents either broke up after the Flood, with human witnesses, as recorded in Genesis 10, or it did not. The Biblical account is either reliable or it is not. Isn’t it interesting that Moses recorded the fact, after the breakup of the super-continent by about a thousand years; about 1500 years before Christ…and modern science took until the last century or so to even notice it, and until the last fifty years or so, to prove it!  But it was recorded by human witnesses when it happened, according to Genesis 10:25.

Either Moses took the Israelites, 2-1/2 million strong, across the Red Sea, as Exodus 14:29 says, with the waters “a wall to them, on the right and the left”, or he did not. And either the Egyptians were drowned by the returning waters, or they were not. It is a “Black and White” choice.

Either God has shielded Israel during the last 4,000 years of history, or He has not. The attempts by enemies, to wipe them off the face of the earth, have been plentiful…and have failed every single time! These things all can be checked in secular history. Humans like to put a “naturalist” spin on things, and “explain” God out of the picture…but the Bible has an immaculate track-record of historical accuracy—and of prophecies being fulfilled to the letter.

So, What about Prophecy?

The prophets are very clear regarding the nature of God’s Word—it is either true or it is not:

When the prophet Elijah, in 1st Kings 18, gave his challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah, he did not offer any middle ground. He said, “…if Baal is God, then let him be God! If Jehovah is God, then let him be God…don’t hesitate between two decisions! Choose a side! Make a choice!”

He gave the 850 men who claimed to be prophets of their Gods the first opportunity to prove their actual status as the mouthpieces of a deity: they ranted and chanted, pranced and danced, cut themselves and howled to their God. But there was no answer! The test had been agreed upon: the real God had to send down fire and burn up the offering. And their Gods didn’t seize the opportunity! There was no answer! When Elijah finally took his turn, he called once, and God answered in a torrent of supernatural flame that burned up the stone altar as well as the offering. There was no middle ground. Either God would respond, or he would not. But He did!

The prophet Micaiah, in 2nd Chronicles 18, effectively gave himself a death-sentence, when he prophesied the death of King Ahab. He was immediately put in prison, to await the return of the angry king. The king disguised himself and went into battle incognito, but was killed in spite of his deception. He never came home to carry out his wrath. There was no “gray area:” either an angry king was coming home for vengeance, or a dead king had fallen under the wrath of God.

When Jehoshaphat was king in Jerusalem, according to 2 Chronicles 20, he was given notice that an invading army (several nations together, actually) was about to attack. He knew he was not able to defend against such a host, and went before God in the temple to ask His protection. He called on all of Judah to fast and pray with him. A prophet (Jehaziel) was sent to tell him the news that God was taking full control of the battle—the king and the people of Judah were not required to fight, but only to watch. Jehoshaphat believed God, and responded by banding the people together, with the temple singers in the lead, praising the beauty of holiness. When they began to sing, God ambushed the invading army, and they began to fight amongst themselves, with the supernaturally-complete result that not a single one of the invading troops survived the melee. Now, if the prophecy had been false, Judah would have been doomed—they had no “plan B”. They were utterly dependent upon the promise of God. Either the promise was true, or it was false. “Black and White!” But, like the God who gave it, the promise was good!

What about other Choices?

Before he died, Joshua told the people to make a choice—to follow the Lord or not—but that he and his household would follow God. There were only those two choices. The decision was Black and White.

In the instances we already listed, the men and women of God chose to trust God’s Word, and obey. They were declared righteous by faith, but their faith resulted in obedience, and, in those particular cases, obedience saved their lives.

We can trace through the Biblical history and see that Israel, as a nation, was constantly faced with Black and White choices which they inevitably blurred into Shades of Gray…and when they did, they eventually were confronted by God with the fact that they had simply chosen to disobey. There were no “Shades of Gray,” except in their own imaginations! They deliberately blurred the truth until it was unrecognizable by reasonable people, and then they loudly advocated a “progressive” path away into darkness, idolatry, rebellion, and spiritual blindness. (Does that sound familiar? Have we seen a nation doing something similar today?)

But think back: who was the first to “blur” the Black and White Truth of God’s Word into a multi-shaded gray mirage that turned out to be a deadly lie? It was Satan, speaking through the serpent in the Garden: He said, “Hath God surely said….?” Then he misquoted the truth so as to “paint it gray.” Eve tried to answer truthfully, but she was not familiar enough with God’s Word to give a clear answer. (We are not told why Adam did not speak up, though he was evidently there, too.)

But, once the doubt had been sown, the Deceiver proceeded to flatly contradict God. The trap was set: the two innocent people must either retreat into God’s Word, and walk away from the temptation, or continue to flirt with death. They did not flee to God: they believed the tempter, and chose to disobey God. And we see the results daily in the news and in our own lives, today.

So, with what choices are we confronted, daily, in our lives today? They really can be just as “Black and White” as the choices we have listed, if we see them in the light of God’s Word. Sometimes they certainly seem to be in various shades of Gray—but are they really?

Some Choices are very clear:

  • Either Jesus’ blood is sufficient payment for my sins or it is not.
  • I will either place my trust in His atoning death, burial and resurrection or I will not.
  • Either God has established one way of salvation through Jesus Christ (as Jesus himself so clearly stated) or He has not.
  • If there truly are “many ways to God,” then Jesus is not even one of the ways, because He himself said that there is only one way, and He himself is it. There is no plan B! So that would make Jesus a terrible liar, and not even “a” way to God.

Isn’t it interesting that Adam and Eve had only one way they could disobey God and be lost… and that ever since that moment, there has only been one way to obey God and be saved?

What about my daily decisions as a believer? Well…I will either love my neighbor as myself, or not. I may choose to see it in a whole spectrum of “Shades of Gray,” but God calls it Black and White: I either commit myself to the good of those around me, or I choose to ignore them, and meet my own needs to the exclusion of theirs. Does that enslave me, then, to the whole of humanity? Are my needs to be completely ignored; never to be considered? The answer to both questions is “No! I am to serve God, and to be available for His use at all times. When he says “go” I must be listening—when he says don’t go, I also must be listening. God does say to feed his sheep. He does not say “break down the fence and invite a herd of wild pigs into the garden.” In fact, he gives certain boundaries to giving, and to service. We might see that as “Shades of Gray”, but the real question is still Black and White: “Will you—or will you not—obey God?”

For example: when God says that you should daily be feeding on His Word, and desiring the sincere milk of his Word, and maturing to feed on the strong meat of His Word…hiding his Word in your heart, that you might not sin against Him…do you choose to daily feed on His Word, and work at memorizing at least some key passages? Regardless of the reason why; if you choose not to do so, you are choosing to not do what He said you needed to do. That is a Black and White decision. One by one, day by day, we set aside the choices God asks us to make, and we use up the time He has given us in which to serve Him.

Sometimes it may be difficult to know exactly what to do. We tend to say, “Well, now, there is a ‘shade of gray’ for you!”—but is it? If both choices are potentially good, then perhaps it really echoes the host of “living-color” choices that were offered to Adam. He had millions of things he could do, and was given a free choice as to what he wanted—except in that one forbidden thing. We are given countless choices, too—and many of them are perfectly acceptable. God does not dictate a single path as “His will for the believer.” He gives a general direction, and, if we are willing, He will frequently lead us step by step—but if we are refusing to do the things he commanded…which are NOT optional, then why should we expect the “direct leading of God” in the comparatively inconsequential things of life…or in anything at all, for that matter?

If you know that God has commanded you

  • to study your Bible,
  • to pray continually,
  • to rejoice evermore,
  • to give thanks in all circumstances, and
  • to offer eternal life to those around you, by sharing the Gospel with others:

and you are not doing those things, then it seems a bit unreasonable to expect God to lead you step by step in the regular and common trials of life. You already demonstrate that you really are not interested in His will. You would like to know it, so that you can consider doing it, but you are not committed to doing it no matter what it may be, because you are not doing the things you already know are his will. You have “painted” them all in Shades of Gray, and are choosing not to see the Black and White issues of God’s authority. I know this, because I have done it too!

What about Repentance?

How can we change our patterns, then? Are we doomed to continue our bad choices? God says that we can start with confession. 1st John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That’s pretty Black and White, don’t you think? If you see that God is correct in pointing out the error of your ways, then agree with Him! That is what confession is! Agree with God, concerning your sin, and accept his forgiveness. Then begin again to search his Word daily, to feed your new nature on the sincere milk of God’s Word; to pray continually, and to apply the scripture to your daily life. God is pleased by the mere effort, and will meet you in your attempt, and help you to walk with Him.

Conclusion:

Down through all the ages, God has called for his people to turn to him in prayer, in repentance, in confession, and renewed obedience. He is still calling today: Don’t be distracted by the World around you. In 1st John 2:15-17, God says “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

Whether you know it or not, the world is passing away, and the only thing that will stand is God’s Word, and those who believe it. The only thing that is eternally relevant is his Word. The bottom line in our choices must not be “is it convenient, is it financially or socially profitable, is it popular, etc.”, but “Does it honor God?” And, “Is it in keeping with my God-given job as an ambassador of Christ?”

Please think carefully about the choices you are making. They are not really Shades of Gray. Some choices are “living color”, as God has given you free will to choose most things in life. But the rest of them are Black and White!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, and allow us to see the clear choices you put before us every day. Help us to choose to serve you with our lives, and not to be deceived by the Enemy.