Author Archive

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.


Dwelling and Abiding

Dwelling and Abiding

© C. O. Bishop January 2019  THCF 2019

(Read aloud) Psalm 91:1 & Psalm 15:1-5 (compare John 15:3-12)

Introduction:

“To dwell”, is to live, or to stay in a place; a “dwelling,” as a noun, is a place where people live. “To abide,” is to remain; to stay, or, in some usages, “to endure.” Sometimes “Abide” and “Dwell” are nearly synonymous.

God used David to make some statements about the verbs “abiding,” and “dwelling:” sometimes they are essentially the same; sometimes one results in the other.

Psalm 91:1 says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” We might ask, “How do we dwell with God?, and What does it mean, to abide?”

If I were to use contrasting words to point out what the scripture does not say, I could point out that the passage does not say, “He who occasionally visits the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…”. Nor does it say, “He who goes there seasonally to celebrate a family tradition …etc.” It says that the one who lives with God will find his life overshadowed by the presence of God.

If you want your life to be overshadowed by the Lord’s presence, then you need to dwell where He is. Center your life around his person and presence. Psalm 37:5 says, “commit your way to him.” The result will be that He is the one who accomplishes his work through you.

How do we Dwell with God?

Psalm 15 poses the question, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy Holy Hill?” The issue is, “Who has the right to stand before God on a continuing basis?  Who will God accept as a constant companion?” Amos 3:3 asks a similar question; a rhetorical question: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (The implied answer is “NO!”) So…assuming that I am already born again, if there is a disagreement between me and God…I have to change my mind (repent—metanoia) before I can walk with him again…and before I can “Abide in His tabernacle and Dwell in His Holy Hill”. The result is a lifestyle change. Look at what the psalmist lists as the normal standards for such a person:

  • He that walketh uprightly. This is a general statement about character—all that follows will reflect this reality. You are either walking uprightly, or you are not. There is no middle ground. It is a moment-by-moment reality. Either you are or you aren’t.
  • And that worketh righteousness. This is a general statement about works—good works are the result of righteousness. They can be proactive, overt acts, as well as reactive or passive behavior.
  • And that speaketh the truth in his heart. That is where truth has to begin…being honest with God and oneself. Confession plays into this, as well as how we respond to those around us. It means being sober and honest with ourselves and with others, and with God. Romans 12 speaks of a man not thinking more highly of himself than he ought, but to be sober—to see himself clearly.
  • He that backbiteth not with his tongue. (No gossip or slander. Even when it is true, gossip is wrong.)
  • Nor doeth evil to his neighbor. (No dirty tricks, or underhanded dealings. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. No taking advantage of them, in any way.)
  • Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. (Ever say bad things about other people? Accuse other people? Or join forces with those who do? Do you get offended against someone because of gossip you listened to? Bear in mind that the Scripture identifies the one who is the “accuser of the brethren”, in Revelation 12:10…it is Satan himself!)
  • In whose eyes a vile person is condemned. (This is not license to be judgmental. What do you think of your old sin-nature? Now, there’s a vile person for you! See Jeremiah 17:9 – “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” , Romans 8:7 –“the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”, and Ephesians 4:22 – “That ye put off concerning the former way of life the old nature which is being corrupted according to the deceitful lusts”. While you are there, and considering the enormity of your own fallen nature, however, please read Ephesians 4:24 –“…and that ye put on the new nature, which after God is created in righteousness and true Holiness”…that’s how God sees you.) On the other hand, every unsaved person in the world is already condemned, according to Jesus (John 3:18), so our response to a “vile person” should be to remember they are lost, and extend the offer of Eternal Life to them. Yes, they are condemned…and God wants to fix that! We cannot pretend to fellowship around the person of Christ with an unbeliever, but we can definitely and deliberately extend his forgiveness to them.)
  • But who honoureth them that fear the Lord. (Who do you seek to fellowship with? Who are your friends? Who do you respect…and treat with respect? King Jehoshaphat got in trouble with God because he was making allegiances (friendships) with the enemies of God. He repented, changed his behavior, and God honored him. 2nd Chronicles 19, 20)
  • He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not. (If it turns out that keeping your word is going to cost you heavily, do you keep it anyway? Or do you try to “weasel out,” and make excuses? God is impressed with people who keep their word, even when it hurts. He wants us to keep our word, and take our commitments seriously.)
  • He that putteth not out to usury. (The legal rule on this was that they could not charge interest on a loan to a fellow Jew…the principle is that we are not to profit from someone else’s loss or misfortune. There is not a problem with interest-bearing investments or bank accounts, etc. See Luke 19:23.)
  • Nor taketh a reward (bribe) against the innocent. (The principle, again, is not perverting justice; not subverting the cause of an innocent person, for the sake of a bribe. Bribery is always seen as sin, in scripture. Sometimes a gift of appeasement—a peace-offering— is approved, but never to corrupt justice, or get something by wrong means.)
  • He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (The idea behind this concluding promise is not that the person who walks in persistent obedience to Christ will never suffer misfortune, but rather that he/she will never fall prey to temptation and sin.)

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand: every believer can fellowship with God, but we begin with confession, and follow up with obedience, in order to maintain fellowship. He is not demanding perfection out of us: Jesus did that for us. But He is demanding a willing heart, to learn His ways, and to walk with Him.

John 15:3-12 How do we Abide in Christ?

This passage is usually remembered as being the “discourse of the vine and the branches,” which is accurate, of course, but it seems a little shallow, in terms of understanding, if that is all we see. The issue here is Abiding. We are not talking about vineyards, here. We are talking about the core issue of discipleship—abiding in Christ—walking with Him, obeying him: becoming his hands, feet and voice on Earth. That is what the passage is about. Verse 5 is a key verse, in that Jesus clearly, unequivocally states that apart from Him we can do nothing. Not “less” or “lower quality” or anything comparative in nature: he says, “Nothing!”  Our work is a complete failure if He is not the source. Compare Psalm 127:1 “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Jesus makes it completely clear that this is literally the case.

At the end of John 14, Jesus had left the upper room of the last supper, and was headed for Gethsemane, teaching as he walked. The eleven remaining disciples were with him, as they passed through the ancient vineyards between Jerusalem and Gethsemane. Then, in John Chapter 15, He used the vines as an object lesson:

v.3: He is speaking to believers: “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you…” He is changing what he said in chapter 13, where all twelve were present and he said: “You are not all clean.” Judas had gone to carry out his mission. He was the only one of the twelve who never owned Jesus as his savior and master. He was never saved, never cleansed. The eleven were cleansed by believing Jesus; by trusting his word. The point I am trying to make is that this passage about abiding is only to believers. This has nothing to do with how to get saved or how to stay saved, but only how to bear fruit as a believer. It is critical that we understand this fact.

v.4: Abiding is necessary for fruit-bearing, as a principle of life—this is true in a vine; and true in the believer’s life.

v.5: Jesus alone is the source of nourishment. Apart from that nourishment, no fruit is possible. (There are two kinds of fruit—spiritual offspring and the fruit of the Spirit. Both are impossible apart from abiding in Christ.)

v.6: A non-fruit-bearing believer is rejected by men (not God). The World (and the Church, sadly) rejects a testimony that does not bring visible gain. This is not a reference to a believer losing his salvation. People reject failure, and brand as failures those who are not bearing fruit. In terms of literal grape-vine branches, such limbs are cut out and burned. The Old Testament man, Lot, stands as a good example of how God sees a non-fruit-bearing believer. There were definite consequences for his sin, and unbelief—yet, in 2nd Peter 2:6-8, God says he was a righteous man. Keep that in mind!

v.7: Abiding produces a productive prayer life. Abiding involves the Word of God in us. (Compare Psalm 119:9-11; Psalm 1:1-6) Bear in mind that it takes active feeding on the Word to have it in us at all. We have to choose to feed the new nature. One result is that our prayer life becomes productive. In 1st John 3:22, John points out that a fruitful prayer life is a direct result of obedience.

v.8: It glorifies God when we bear much fruit. Remember there are two kinds of fruit. One is a daily outpouring of God’s grace through us in what is called the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22, 23—the other is spiritual offspring. (See John 15:16…the fruit of the Spirit is transient, at least from human perspective; sometimes we display it, and when we are carnal we most certainly do not. Spiritual offspring are the other sort of fruit; they are a heritage to future generations. This is the fruit that remains. Compare John 12:24. Jesus was speaking, regarding his own death: He said“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” This is the fruit which is people, born again to eternal life. Jesus died to produce this fruit. We share the Gospel to bear this fruit.)

v. 9: The Agapé love is the key, here. Agapé is the committed love that is characterized by action (1st Corinthians 13) and focuses on the well-being of the recipient, not the source. It was best exemplified at the Cross.

v. 10: How do we “abide in his love?” We do so by obedience to his Word; keeping his commandments—see John 15:34, 35.

v. 11: His commandment, if obeyed, results in Joy.

v. 12: The commandment, of course, is, “Love One Another.”

This applies to the Agapé Love being poured out between believers, but also to the sharing of that love, through the Gospel, with the lost world around us.

Conclusion:

Jesus says if we want to function as his friends, then we need to focus on doing what He commanded regarding the people around us. We must be committed to functioning as the Friends of Christ:

  • Abiding in His Word,
  • Abiding in his Love
  • Seeking to obey His Word.

This is what David was talking about in both Psalm 15 and Psalm 91. Notice that none of it is a “Lone Ranger” experience…it all involves how we deal with people around us. There is no such thing as a Christian Hermit, in God’s economy. Yes, people are a pain…but do you really think they are more so to us than we must be to the Holy God of the Universe, who is truly worthy of perfect obedience? And yet, He chooses to respond to them in Agapé love, but, sadly, we do not.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating: “the Christian life isn’t difficult: it’s impossible if you insist on doing it in your own strength.” Jesus himself says so: don’t fail him by attempting to obey in the flesh. It simply cannot be done. If you do not allow the Holy Spirit to love the unlovely through you, it simply will not happen. God says that your old nature not only is not subject to Him, but it cannot be subjected to Him. (Romans 8:7)Only the new nature, under the dominion of the Holy Spirit, can live in such a way as to please God.

Ultimately, then, the Christian life is a series of choices, moment by moment, day by day: “Will you, or will you not abide? Will you or will you not obey?”

Choose to walk with Jesus: abide in Him, and be the person he has created you to be. What does this look like?

  • You dig into God’s Word, daily, so as to give the Holy Spirit the tools He needs to change your life. Feed on it! Immerse yourself in it!
  • You submit yourself to God through obedience to His Word.
  • You pray for God to make you usable in His service.
  • You pray consistently for the Church and others.
  • You look for (and use) opportunities to share the Gospel with others, so that they may be saved from their sins, and have eternal life.
  • You consistently treat all those around you with the Agapé Love. (1st Corinthians 13)
  • You daily, moment-by-moment, remember that you are an Ambassador of Christ.

By the way, all of us are concerned about the small size of the church today: well, this is how the church is supposed to grow—individual Christians telling others about Jesus Christ— one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. Not just “inviting your friends to Church”, but rather inviting them to Christ; taking personal responsibility for the message that has been entrusted to you. Paul said that he had a debt to all, to offer them eternal life through the gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16

Be the ambassador you are called to be: walking with Jesus, feeding on Jesus, and serving as His hands, feet and mouth. That is what discipleship is all about.

Lord Jesus, fill us with compassion for the lost, and the overwhelming desire to serve you with our lives. Place us into your service and love the world through us.


Why is Biblical Christianity different?

Why is Biblical Christianity different?

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Introduction:

There are millions of people in the world who frequently express the opinion that “Really, all religions are the same—they are just different ways to arrive at the same goal—different paths to the same God.”

We need to do some thinking about that statement—is it true? What about when one religion says there are potentially millions of Gods, and another says there is only one God? Are they still the same? (Cp. Isaiah 43:10, 11 re. Mormonism, Hinduism, etc.)

What about the morals taught? Doesn’t that make them all the same, essentially? Don’t they all basically tell you to “be good”? and, what about their scriptures? Aren’t they really very similar? How can we say the Bible is really different? How can we know that what Jesus had to offer is different than, and superior to every other religion throughout History? (Book of Mormon, Bhagavad Gita, I Ching, Quran, etc.) 

Comparative Analysis

In comparing two ideas, it is very well to compare the similarities, but it is imperative that one consider the differences, too, before committing oneself to a decision.

Let’s take a physical object lesson:

I have two clear liquids in two identical glasses. They are both clear, colorless liquids, and I know that water is a clear, colorless liquid; therefore, they both must be safe to drink, correct?

That is ridiculous reasoning!” you say: “Many clear, colorless liquids are not safe to drink.”

OK, then, let’s analyze them a little—it turns out they both have hydrogen and oxygen in them. Aha! Water has hydrogen and oxygen! Therefore they must be safe to drink! Right? No, that is wrong, too! Many liquids have hydrogen and oxygen—what we really need to ask is, “What are the differences here?”

Suppose, then, after further analysis, it turns out that one of these glasses contains H2O, and the other H2SO4 – to speak plainly: one is plain water, and the other is battery acid. The similarities, in this case, are surely trivial compared to the differences! The differences could be fatal.

Compare the Differences:

Let’s attempt to examine world religions in light of the differences between them, rather than the similarities. Incidentally, if anyone is interested in some additional study along these lines, I can heartily endorse Fritz Ridenour’s book, entitled “So, What’s the Difference?”

The difference, ultimately, between one religion and another may not be simply “How is it to live by?”, but rather, “How is it to die by?” What is the eternal result? (A Scarlet King Snake and a Coral snake look very similar: same size, shape and colors…but one is harmless, and the other is a deadly, in spite of its beauty.) What is the eternal result of what you believe?

One of the key issues God asks us to consider is the issue of Sin: How we deal with sin will, in the long run, determine where we spend eternity. Let me make that more personal—“How you deal with your sin, will in the long run, determine where you spend eternity!”

Ezekiel 18:4  says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.”; and Ezekiel 33:13 says, “ When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.” So let’s think carefully, here!

Different religions take starkly different approaches to the topic of Sin, and they can be divided into four broad categories.

Dealing with the question of Sin—four categories of religions:

  1. There’s no such thing as sin—there’s nothing intrinsically right or wrong.” This is a relatively rare stance, because people know instinctively that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and they feel guilt when they do wrong. (Interestingly, most are fine on the theory that there is nothing intrinsically right or wrong, but they usually recognize when someone has wronged them.) Taoism seems to fit this category.
  2. “Sin exists, but God is so loving and merciful and kind that there is no judgment for sin, except the consequences in this life, and your own guilt and regrets, etc. So, don’t worry about sin, just do the best you can, and try to be good, and God will take us all to Heaven eventually. God doesn’t punish sin. Some modern churches have embraced this idea. But this is still not especially common, because people also instinctively know there is judgment for sin. Judgment IS coming.
  3. “Sin exists, and God hates sin, so you must work incessantly to overbalance with Good the sins you have already committed, so that you can earn His forgiveness and acceptance. (And, by the way, we will tell you what you need to do, and how much you need to pay…to us!)” This is by far the most common line of thinking, and is prevalent among most cults as well as most organized religions, whether “Christian” or “pagan”. We all want to think there is something we can do to improve. Almost all religions fall into this category.
  4. “Sin exists, God hates sin, and there is nothing you can do to undo the evil you have done, or to earn God’s forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Either Jesus’ blood at the cross is sufficient, or we are lost.” As far as I am aware, Biblical Christianity stands alone in this category. Galatians 2:21; 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, 17, 18

Another thing regarding which various religions differ, is the teaching regarding Human effort:

“Do”, versus “Done”

Virtually every religion of the world emphasizes the things you must do to earn a right standing with God. Works-oriented religions continually point you to something you should do, with dire consequences for failure, and/or huge rewards for success. The problem with that sort of scheme is two-fold.

  1. It is Man-centered—“What can I do to please God?
  2. It is usually a bottomless pit; it never says, “Enough; you have succeeded!” Some religions side-step this problem, by saying, “Well, here are seven (or some other number of) things you must do, in order to inherit eternal life and God’s blessing.”  Then a person simply goes after those things, as if they were “merit badges,” and when he has attained them all, he is in! He has (someone’s) guarantee that he has eternal life waiting for him. But many works-oriented religions will solemnly tell you that you cannot know that you have eternal life. So you work and work, and you give, and you serve, and you pray: and you hope that you have been good enough to pay for all the sins you have ever committed. But you can never have true security.

In contrast, Biblical Christianity is Christ-centered—God-centered. It doesn’t ask the question “What must I do to please God?” so much as “What has Jesus Christ done for me, to make me pleasing in God’s sight?” Ephesians 2:8-10 makes the works issue clear. We do good works as a result of having been born again into God’s family. I am to act like a child of God because I am one, not in order to become one. All the work necessary to make the believer acceptable to God has already been done, at the Cross. Religions say “Do!” Jesus says, “Done!John 19:30 “It is finished!” 

Man’s Authority, versus God’s Authority

Most world religions produce a hierarchy of human authority, (Popes, cardinals, archbishops, abbots, priests, monks, prophets, gurus, etc.) through whom the believer must go, before they can “get to God,” and through whom God’s will is to be revealed to the believer.

Jesus set aside all those things by becoming our eternal High Priest, and by making every believer a full priest in the Body of Christ. Each true believer is already a saint, has already obtained eternal life, and is already eternally guaranteed a position in Heaven. That believer is also a priest, with the task of offering sacrifices acceptable to God, in the form of prayer, thanksgiving, and praise. That believer also has the responsibility of searching God’s Word to find God’s direction in life, and acting as an ambassador for Christ to a lost world.

This is not to say that God does not provide human “shepherds” for his people—but those shepherds do not stand between the believer and God. Every believer has free personal access to the Father, through Jesus Christ, alone.

Biblical Christianity does not set up roadblocks between believers and God (1 Timothy 2:5)…in fact, when the veil in the temple was torn, during the crucifixion, it was specifically to say, “The way is open! All who come by way of the Blood of Jesus may come freely, and without ceremony!” (Hebrews 10:19-22) 

“Religion” versus “Relationship”

God isn’t interested in “religion”, in the sense we see it used in the world: Biblical Christianity is to be a real, living relationship between two real, live persons—God, and You!

God is not an “idea”—He is a person. He is a Spirit, of course, but a real live person, as well, and He desires to know you personally, on every level.

Spiritually? Absolutely! Jesus said that God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in Spirit and in Truth. (John 4:24) God wants to “hone” us in this area, “refine us,” so that we are sensitive to Him, and quickly responsive to His leading. (Psalm 32:8, 9)

Intellectually? Sure! He wants you to learn with the mind he has given you, and glorify Him with your mind, and the words you say, the very thoughts you think. This could be in Bible knowledge, learning the “nuts and bolts” of how God’s word fits together and chasing down remote ideas, in obscure passages. (2 Peter 1:5-7) But it could also refer to pulling together outside information, demonstrating the truth of God’s word. (In science, math, history, culture, language, etc. Psalm19:1-6; Romans 1:19, 20) Remember that knowledge is for the purpose of conduct.

Emotionally? Yes! Jesus clearly felt joy, anger, sorrow, pain, etc. during his earthly life, and He doesn’t ignore these feelings in us. He relegates them to their proper place—a response to facts and faith—but He definitely wants to minister to us in sorrow and in joy. The Christian life is not a zombie-like existence outside the reach of feelings. Nor is it a life of slavery to feelings. We are frequently called upon to act in spite of our feelings, in obedience to God’s command. (Matthew 26:39; (Jesus’ example) Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:39-43 (The thief’s example)) Emotions are a genuine part of the Christian life, but they are not to reign over us.

Physically? Yes! God wants to be Lord of our lives in all areas. He wants to be able to bless us in all areas. He wants our lives to reflect His character in all areas. He answers prayer affecting all areas of our lives, and He wants us to submit all those areas to His will, as well. He definitely calls us to a life of holiness and service in our bodies, as well as in heart and mind. See 1st Corinthians 6:19, 20

Materially? Yup! God gives us many gifts, but He never wants the gifts to take priority over the giver. It’s no accident that Jesus chose wealth as the example he used, when he made his famous statement, “No man can serve two masters…ye cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24)

We give as a form of worship, but it is also in obedience, acknowledging that the source of all our sustenance is God himself. When we hold back, and say, “Well, I can’t afford to give to God…” we are forgetting that it all came from His hand. But even our giving isn’t a matter of slavery to a creed– in the New Testament, though it all belongs to God, it is also all free-will giving. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) You have to determine before God what is right to give. It’s part of the relationship.

Restoring the Relationship

God gives us the means by which to maintain our relationship, in fellowship with Him—1 John 1:9 says all we have to do, when we realize that we have sinned, and that our fellowship with God is broken, is to confess our sins to Him, and he will forgive us, and restore the fellowship. Notice, again, that this is something between God and us—it isn’t dependent upon a human intercessor —Jesus Himself is our intercessor. 

What about You?

If you are not sure how to enter into this relationship with God, I would count it a privilege to sit down with you and try to answer your questions from the Bible. But this relationship requires a personal response from you. No one can force you, but, on the other hand, no one can do it for you, either. You don’t have to come alone to God, but you alone can choose whether to believe or disbelieve His Word.

Jesus says, “…he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him who sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into Life.” (John 5:24) That promise is to you!  

All He asks you to do is hear and believe—place your trust in His finished work at the Cross. The choice is yours. There are folks all around you who have made that choice, and would love to help you, if you need someone to encourage you. But the choice is only yours.

So, let’s review:

Human Religions Biblical Christianity
1. Deny, trivialize, or attempt to work off the Sin-debt. 1.  Places full dependence on Jesus’ perfect, complete, final payment for Sin. Romans 3:25
2.  Say, “You must DO….”. 2.  Says, “Jesus has DONE….”  John 19:30; Hebrews 10:12
3.  Have a hierarchy of human authorities and/or intercessors. Believers do not have direct access to God. 3.  Has one mediator between God and Man. Christ alone intercedes between believers and the Father…and every believer has direct access to God. 1st Timothy 2:5
4.  Are just that: Religion— with creeds, catechisms, rules, and regulations, but no life, and ultimately, no hope. 4.  Is a Relationship, of Faith, Love, and obedience to a personal, Living Savior who is our Life, and who is our Eternal Hope. Ephesians 3:17-19
5.  Are fine enough to live by, for the most part, but they are Hell to die by…Jesus said He was the only way to God, and God confirmed it. (John 14:6; Matthew 17:5) 5.  Is humanly impossible to live by, but He doesn’t ask us to do it ourselves. He lives through us by His Holy Spirit indwelling us. (Galatians 5:16) We are offered Eternal life to have now and enjoy forever. (John 11:25)

Remember–“How you deal with your sin, will in the long run, determine where you spend eternity!” How you deal with sin depends on what you do with Jesus Christ:

You will either choose to depend on Jesus’ shed blood, as full payment for your sin, (Romans 3:25) or you will choose to trust something else, or perhaps just deny the problem entirely. But you have to choose. No one else can do it for you. Please choose wisely. Eternity hangs on your decision.

Lord Jesus, help us to continually see the stark differences between what you offer and that which the World offers. Help us to see the difference between the leading of the flesh, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Feed us on your Word, so that we will grow strong.


Born Again! What Now?

Born Again! What Now?

© 2019, C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 1:23-25; 1st Peter 2:1-5 cp. John 1:12, 13; John 3:3, John 5:24

Introduction:

We often hear people talk about being “born again.” Even secular writers and singers will use this phrase, usually only to describe some sort of life-changing experience or epiphany. But the question we want to address is, what did Jesus mean, when He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”?

What does it mean when the Bible talks about being Born Again? Is it just religious talk for becoming a church-goer? There was no church, as we know it, in Jesus’ time, so it can’t have been as simple as that. Nicodemus was already a staunch, important member of his synagogue.

How does a Person become Born Again?

In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he was born again, he could not see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it…and he addressed both ideas…seeing the Kingdom of God, and entering it. Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus meant. Jesus explained that a person would receive eternal life by believing in the Son of God.

In verse 14, He reminded Nicodemus of the mass invasion of venomous snakes threatening Israel, as a judgement for sin, under Moses. God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent (bronze is a symbol for judgment, in the Bible) and to hang it on a pole, up high, so everyone could see it. If a bitten person looked to that bronze serpent on the pole as God’s solution for the snakebite, they would not die.

In verse 15, Jesus concludes that, in the same manner, people who look to HIM as God’s solution for sin, will not die…that “Whosever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He reiterated that truth in verse 16, saying that This was God’s Love being offered to the whole world. He also pointed out (in verse 18) that whoever chooses to not believe is already condemned, not “waiting for condemnation,” and that the issue is the unbelief. Remember, the folk who were bitten by the venomous snakes were already bitten…and without help they would die. Those who looked to God’s answer to sin, lived…those who rejected Him died.

In verse 36, the writer concludes that, “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Does that really answer the question of “how” a person can be born again? Actually, yes, it does, but it is spelled out more clearly in John chapter one. John 1:11-13 says that “He (Jesus) came unto His own and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Now, that passage will bear some examination:

  • Who were these people, called “His own”, who rejected Him? It was the nation of Israel. As a Nation, they emphatically rejected Him, at Jerusalem. Were there individuals who received Him as their Savior and their King? And even some Gentiles who recognized Him as the Promised Messiah of Israel, and who willingly chose Him as their own master and Savior? Yes, of course there were! And those few who received Him are the ones to whom this passage refers! So what does it say about them?
  • It says “to them gave He power to become the Sons of God”
    • The word “power”, in this passage, is translated from the Greek word “exousia”, meaning “authority.” Those who received him were given the authority to do something, much as one who has become a member of an organization has the authority to enter into a secure building where they are assigned to work. But in this case, the thing they are authorized to do is to “become” a “Son of God.”
    • The word “become,” in this passage, is translated from the Greek word “genesthai.” That word, even in modern Greek, means “to be born!” They were given the authority to be born again!
    • And, interestingly, the word translated “sons” is the Greek word “tekna”, which literally means “born ones”…we would say “offspring”. But the Scottish language has a word, “bairns,” which is an exact translation of this word. It literally means “born ones.” There is a different Greek word that means “sons,” in the sense of “heirs.” We will talk about that one a different time.
  • “To them that believe on His Name.”
    • These people are listed as those who believe on His Name. They have placed their trust in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for their salvation, just as those people who were snake-bitten placed their trust in the power of God and looked to that bronze snake on the pole.
  • Finally, he says that those “born ones” were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
    • Not born of blood: this is not a flesh-thing…it is a spirit thing. Your “blood-line” is not in question. Your spiritual father is in question. At one point (John 8:44) Jesus pointed out that his antagonists, the unbelieving Jews, were not children of God, but of Satan. They were behaving like their spiritual father.
    • Not born of the will of the flesh: this is not the result of two people cohabiting… no physical interaction affects this. And there is nothing “accidental” about it.
    • Not born of the will of man: This is not even human in origin. It is from God.

So the idea of being “born again,” as Jesus expressed it to Nicodemus, is entirely the result of God offering eternal life on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, to those who receive Him as their Savior. It is completely personal, in the sense that it is not a “group activity.” It is addressed on a one-by-one basis, as each person sees himself or herself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior. The people in Jerusalem, in Jesus’ time, were indignant that He saw them as sinners. They saw themselves as “the best of the best,” and just about as perfect as people could be. And, honestly, Nicodemus was right up there with the best of them…but Jesus told him that unless he became born again, he was lost.

What is the Result of Being Born Again?

We already saw that believing in Jesus as one’s Savior is how one becomes born again. But what is the result?

John 5:24 makes a promise, with no disclaimers, no qualifiers, no “ifs, ands or buts.” Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life.”

Notice that He lists two conditions to the promise:

  1. Hear His Word: You do have to hear the good news that Jesus died as full payment for your sins. No one just comes up and shakes His hand and says, “Hey, I’d like to join your group!” That is effectively what Nicodemus seemed to be attempting to do. But Jesus told him that there was something that had to happen, first.
  2. Believe on the One who sent Jesus. Ultimately, we either place our trust in God’s solution for sin, or we come up with some sort of “do-it-yourself” plan of salvation. God’s solution is the preaching of the Cross: in 1st Corinthians 1:17, 18 we are told that the preaching of the cross is how God saves people. They either believe the message or they don’t. So, if we decide to “circumvent the cross,” and find some other way to approach God, then we are not believing on Him who sent Jesus to the Cross…we are believing that our own wisdom exceeds the wisdom of God.

So, if those two conditions are met: we have heard the message, and we have chosen to believe God, rather than believing some other source, then what does the promise hold for us? The Promise has three clauses:

  1. We have eternal life…that is present tense. Notice that it does not say, “…he that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me will someday have eternal life…” It says “…hath everlasting life!” Now! Not “someday, if you are good.”
  2. We will not ever be condemned by God. This is future tense: He does not say, “…is not condemned now, but, brother, he’d better stay outta trouble!” He says “…shall not come into condemnation!” There are no disclaimers, no exceptions, and no escape clauses!
  3. Finally, he says that we have passed from death unto life. In English, this sounds as though it is a past participle, meaning that something “has happened at some time in the past.” But, in fact, it is perfect tense, meaning that it “happened at some time in the past with permanent results for the future.” In contemporary language, it means “It’s a done deal!” There is no way of becoming “un-born-again!”

These are tremendous promises. There are some who try to short-circuit the promises, saying, “Well, you know, if you continue in sin, God will still reject you!”  Or, they might say, “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!”  (I have heard both of these statements.) To say such a thing makes Jesus a liar! He did not offer Himself an escape clause, or any way for Himself to renege on His promise. He made a solid promise, and all He asks us to do is step into the promise, by faith.

And the results are eternal.

What Now?

What do we do once we havebeen born again? Is that all there is to it? “I’m saved, so now I can kick back and wait for Jesus to come?” What does God say that He wants us to do?

Turn to 1st Peter 1:23. We are going to read from verse 23 through into chapter 2, verse 5.

He says that we have been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever. Do you remember someone referred to as the Word of God? A Person, called the Word of God? If you remember John 1:1, we read there that “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….” and then, in verse 14 of the same chapter, we saw that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth.” So, Jesus is the Word, by whom we have been born again. We heard the Word, received and believed the Word, and as a result, we have been born again, by the Word of God, who is living and abiding forever.

And what does He say to do about that? Read on into chapter 2: he says for us to lay aside our petty gripes, and politics, and hypocrisies, and (see verse two) “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.”

Feed on the Word!

God wants to feed his babies! He insists that they be fed on His Word! That is why we only teach from His Word, here at True Hope Christian Fellowship. His Word is “sheep food,” and we are called to feed the flock of God! But every believer is called to deliberately, and personally go to God’s Word to be fed!

  • If you don’t have a Bible, we will get you one!
  • If you can’t read, then you can go where the Word will be read publicly.
  • If you have trouble understanding, then you must go to where someone will teach you at your own pace, and explain at a level where you can completely grasp it, and continue to repeat it until it sticks!

You, personally, are called to feed on God’s Word. Your teachers are called to feed you, but you have a personal calling to feed on God’s Word…and why? So that you can grow thereby…that you will grow, spiritually, as a direct result of feeding on God’s Word. That you will become stronger, and healthier, and able to feed others, as well.

What are the Long Range Results?

Look just a bit further: verses 3-5 point out the long-range results.

Since we have tasted of the Lord’s Grace, and have approached Him as the “Living Stone” on which all of God’s kingdom is built, we have also become the “living stones” of His temple, throughout the whole world. He indwells us, individually, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

But as a group, He says that we are the Temple of God (1st Corinthians 3:16), and, here in this passage, He says that we are “a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ!”

Now, if that sounds mysterious to you, then I’d say that you need to feed on God’s Word until you understand not only what it means, but what your part in that “spiritual house and holy priesthood” really is. What does it mean when it says that you are a priest? What does it mean when it says that you are to offer up spiritual sacrifices? You need to learn these things.

But, right now, the only question you have to ask yourself, is “Have I been born again? Have I really trusted Jesus as my savior? Have I placed my trust in His blood sacrifice as full payment for my sins?”

Then, if you are sure that your trust is in His finished work at the Cross, and not your own works, then the next step is to feed on His word. He commands us to desire the sincere milk of the Word. We will try to whet your appetite, here, but the best way to get hungry for God’s Word is to actually feed on it! The more you eat, the stronger your appetite will grow.

Conclusions and Decisions

When you first heard the news that Jesus died to pay for your sins, you had a decision to make: “Will I believe in Him, trusting in His finished work at the Cross, or not?”

Having made the decision to receive Him as your Savior, you now have a decision to make, every day: “Will I set aside everything else, and deliberately spend time reading God’s Word, so that I can grow…or not?

The results of both decisions have eternal results. The decision to believe the Gospel, and receive Jesus as your Savior resulted in your being born again, eternally secure as God’s Child.

The decision to feed on God’s Word, resulting in the growth you experience here, will allow you to serve, and do the things God has called you to do, here on earth.

And that will result in eternal rewards.

The decision is yours, every day. What will you do?

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to desire to feed upon your written Word, so that we can be molded into the likeness of the Living Word. Raise us up to be the men and women of God that you have called us to be.


Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

© C. O. Bishop 7/22/2019 THCF 8/11/19

Introduction:

Probably most people, hearing the term “Cat’s Ear” would normally assume I was talking about the feline auditory system…but, in fact, I am referring to something even more arcane—the plant (or weed) called “Cat’s Ear”…sometimes called “False Dandelion,” though that is not its name.

You might ask, “Why would I try to take a lesson from a weed?

Good question! In fact, I would not have thought to do so, either, except that one morning, recently, I was driving off somewhere, early in the morning, and (because my lawn mower has been down for repairs, for a while), I could see thousands of weeds blossoming in my yard. Most of them looked like dandelions, except they all possessed branched, wiry stems with multiple blossoms, unlike the hollow stems with single blossoms that characterize true dandelions. And, what caught my attention, as I headed due east, out of my driveway, was that every single one of those little golden flowers was twisted around to face directly at the rising sun! I remembered a song about sunflowers turning their gaze upon their god (the sun, in the song), at morning as well as evening, and wondered whether these little blossoms would do the same, following the course of the sun, throughout the day.

When I came back later in the day, they had all turned to follow the sun, as many plants do. But these are not stately sunflowers…these are weeds, from nearly everyone’s perspective. But something about them caught my attention, and I began to wonder what else was true of them. We frequently hear people admonish believers to “blossom where you are planted!” Well, no human planted these hardy weeds…but neither did they have a choice in the matter. They are a wind-borne seed, producing seed-heads chock-full of little parachute-like seeds, which blow and disperse on the breeze, and, wherever they fall to earth, they simply take root …or die.

Now I was beginning to think more clearly, remembering the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) as I considered what other lessons might be in this little weed. Consider:

  1. They have no choice about where they are planted.
  2. Wherever they land, provided there is soil and water (and not necessarily an abundance of either,) they dig in, and put down roots, aggressively reaching for water and nutrients.
  3. They persistently try to bear fruit and reproduce after their kind, hoping to send a fresh crop of Cat’s Ear seeds blowing in the wind, thus fulfilling their mission, to “be fruitful and multiply”…and most generally, they eventually succeed!
  4. No one particularly wants them, wherever they are: they are nearly universally scorned and rejected, and every attempt is made to discourage them. But they persist…they persevere!
  5. Mowing does not kill them: it only postpones their reproduction.
  6. To those who are willing to see it, they actually have a beautiful, vibrant yellow blossom…but few see it that way.
  7. And, finally, they constantly focus on the Sun. Their faces are turned toward Him, regardless of circumstances.

Parallels in Faith

Probably most of you have already seen the parallels to which I am alluding. But let’s consider them anyway:

Choices—mine, or God’s—or both?

I did not get to choose my place of birth, nor the gene-pool from which I was drawn, nor a host of other circumstances which set me on my way in life. God chose all these things for me.

But I did get to choose how to respond to those circumstances. I was not born to affluence, nor was I reared by a godly father. My mother did her best to set my feet on a right path, but like many young boys, I rebelled. No one forced, me either way. But there were “voices,” all along the way, of relatives, friends, writers, evangelists, and so forth, who kept shining the light of God’s Word into my life, at one level or another. And, I know that there were people praying for me, too, so that my heart was being moistened by the prayers of the believers, and the kindness of the believers who loved me in spite of my unloveliness. In Acts 17:26, 27 Paul preached that each of us has been placed by God so that we have an opportunity to respond to the call of God at some level.

So, within the circumstances in which I was planted, I had to make choices based upon the information I had. Eventually, I “chose life,” as God begs every person to do. Deuteronomy 30:19 says that we have a choice between blessing and cursing, between death and life…and He concludes, “Choose Life!”

Growth is also a Choice

How I responded was up to me. God does “cultivate” the seed, and encourage us to take hold and grow, but we have to make a choice. In 1st Peter 2:2, Peter commands the new believers, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” This is a command to all believers. We are to choose to hunger after God’s Word, and feed upon it so that we may grow thereby. We grow by feeding on God’s Word!

And it is by choice that we dig into His Word, “putting down roots,” as it were. Colossians 2:7 admonishes the believers tobe“rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith…” Ephesians 3:17, 18 addresses that same concept, being a little more specific; that we are to be rooted and grounded in Love, so that we will be able to comprehend along with all the believers, the full magnitude of our relationship with the Lord, and to fully experience His love, which surpasses the bounds of knowledge. Even the Proverbs make it clear (Proverbs 2:1-8) that unless we hunger after God’s Word, and His Wisdom, we will not understand Him, nor His provision in our lives.

It is part of the normal Christian life that we hunger for God’s Word, and deliberately choose to feed deeply upon His Word. It is fascinating, to me, that He refers to Himself as being the “Word.” Not just once, but several times. John 1:1, 14 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” and later, when He returns to Earth (Revelation 19:13,) He is called “The Word of God.”

It seems to me that how we respond to the written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately the way we also respond to the Living Word of God, Jesus, the Savior…our Master.

Consider how those little weeds all put down a deep taproot…and when drought comes, they survive, where other plants dry up and die!

We are called to bear fruit!

Jesus said that this was what we are ordained to do: (John 15:16) “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (By the way, lest you think that this “ordination to bring forth fruit” was only for the apostles, remember that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) told them to teach us to “observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them!”) (In science, we call that a “chain-reaction!”)

So, these little cat’s ear plants don’t have to be told! They just dig in by their nature, in harsh circumstances, and force that little taproot down between rocks, or clay soil or even in cracks in pavement, and find the nutrients they need, so that they can grow, so that they can bear fruit, and multiply! And, that is what we are called to do, as well! The problem is that we have a choice to make, but they just do it, because that is their nature! We are afraid of public opinion, and so we close our mouths, rather than sow the seed of the Gospel.

But we are definitely called to “be witnesses,” to tell what we know about Jesus, the Savior. To share the bread of life with anyone hungry enough to receive it! To pour ourselves out as living sources of the water of life, so that anyone who thirsts will be drawn to Jesus. Jesus Himself made that offer, in John 7:37, 38, saying “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (That’s us!) Are you looking to share that bread of life, and extend the living water to other thirsty souls? Or are you holding back? Remember who sent you, and what He told you your purpose is: to bear fruit and bring glory to the Father by so doing.

The World will hate us, just as they hated Jesus!

1st John 3:13 Says, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate thee!” This echoes what Jesus said, earlier, that the World will hate the believers. (John 15:18) says that “if the World hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” You see, we are “weeds”, to the unbelieving world! We are an “invasive species” from their perspective! And, indeed, we are “in enemy territory!” The adversary of our souls, Satan himself, was cast down to the earth. He knows that his own eternal destruction is coming, and he is determined to take the human race with him.

Jesus said that we are “in the world, but not of the world.” We are a foreign irritant to the world system of thought. If they could be rid of us, they would do so. I saw a bumper sticker, a year or so ago, saying “Come the Rapture, we’ll have the whole Place to Ourselves!” It was very sobering, and sad, to see it, because it was clear that the writer knew of the New Testament teaching that the Church will be removed from the Earth, and that he or she not only rejected it but mocked it, saying, in effect, “Good riddance! We will have a great time after you all are gone!” Sorry, no! It is going to be the very worst period of time in the history of the earth!

Notice, however, that “hating the weeds” does not eradicate them. Poisoning the weeds works, but it is dangerous, as we frequently kill desirable plants in the process. We are an irritant to the World, and they will continually try to eradicate the Gospel.

Someone recently pointed out to me that if the Bible was just a myth, or a fairy-tale, no one would have a problem with it. No one burns people at the stake for the sake of Cinderella, or Snow-White, or even Santa Claus! They went on to say that there are currently 52 nations on Earth where the Bible is a forbidden book. There is a focused attempt to eradicate the Person of Christ from all public fora, even here in the United States, as well as from schools, and social media. It’s strange: you can spout off about any sort of conspiracy theory you want, and no one will bother you. Join the “Flat Earth Society”, and, though people will mock you, no one will persecute you for that belief, though it is patently false.

You see, the problem is Jesus! He is the actual object of their hatred. So, if you are being hated along with Him, you are bearing the Cross along with Him. Be blessed! You are right on course! Does that mean it will “feel good” to be rejected and maligned as fools and falsely accused of all sorts of wrong? Nope. But, like the Cat’s Ear weed, we persevere! We persist. We “soldier on,” knowing that we are indeed the soldiers of Christ, and, as good soldiers, we are called to endure hardness. (2nd Timothy 2:3)

Persecution has always strengthened the Church

We don’t like persecution, and we fear it…but, historically, the persecution always had two very positive effects:

  1. Persecution scattered the Church, as they fled the persecution, but every believer, wherever they went, spread the Gospel to their new surroundings, just as weed seeds are scattered by the wind, and spread the weeds to new locations. Acts 8:4 concludes the account of the first persecution, saying “therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.”
  2. Persecution purged the church: Jesus predicted this in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:21), saying that there are people who gladly respond to the Gospel, but in whom there is no real root, and when persecution arises because of the Word, they are offended. He actually demonstrated the “falling away” idea in John 6:60-66 where He had concluded his teaching about the Bread of Life, and many of those who had been following him said “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” and they went away. He asked his apostles, “Will ye also go away?” and Peter said, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” You see, the apostles persisted! They pressed closer when things got hard. The false brethren will usually drop their pretense when things get rough. So, the core that is left are the real believers, and to them will be drawn others who see the light of their lives and respond in faith.

There is a Beauty in the Church

Not everyone sees the believers as fools or hypocrites. There are some who see the transformation of our lives, and recognize that something real has happened. And they are drawn to it, because they see the person of Christ reflected in our lives. But not all will see us that way. Don’t expect people to respond kindly to your kindness, or respond lovingly to your love. The fact is that most will not receive us well. Consider how they responded to the Lord Himself.

But Jesus is working a transformation in His Bride, the Church, and there will come a day when all will see the beauty of the Bride. The reason we don’t see the beauty of the Cat’s Ear blossoms, as well as that of the Dandelions, and the European daisies, and the Clover, etc. is because they persist in growing in places where we would rather they did not grow.

The Church, regardless of the blessing it bestows upon the world around it, will never be welcome. We are “not of the World!” Try to not allow the World to coerce you into seeing the Church as a whole, through their eyes. Does the church have faults? Yep! It is made up of saved sinners, and every one of them has faults. Also, there are those who have infiltrated the church, and pretend to be believers, but, in fact, they are not. So some of the sins that we are accused of are actually committed by those who have no connection with the head at all. In biological terms, we might call them a parasitic organism, or, perhaps a cancerous growth. But the World sees them as “Just another Hypocrite!” and condemns the entire church and Jesus with them. Try to avoid being influenced by such thinking. You would not reject your precious child because she contracted head-lice. You would deal with the lice, and love the child.

Focus Your attention on the Son!

This is the bottom line for each of us! We are to follow Jesus, not each other. We are to focus our attention on the person of Christ and allow Him to deal with the circumstances around us. Even other believers are not to be our focus. Peter asked Jesus (regarding John) “What shall this man do?” (John 21:21) Jesus effectively told him that it was none of his business, and that he (Peter) was to follow Jesus!

It was such a powerful testimony to me, to see the dawn breaking over the weedy lawn, and to see that, without exception, the army of Cat’s Ear blossoms were turned to greet the rising Sun. They did not do it as a “group exercise:” every single one did it because it was in its nature to do so, whether in a group or alone.

How would it affect the testimony and behavior of the church, if every member of every assembly was as fully focused on the person of the Risen Christ, as those simple little weeds are upon the rising sun? Give this some thought, and meditate upon God’s Word. See if you can be drawn, as they are, to set your affections upon Him, instead of all that surrounds you here on Earth.

Lord Jesus, fix our hearts and minds upon yourself, so that we no longer see ourselves as the center of our existence, but readily, continually recognize our utter dependence upon you. Change us into your likeness, and lead us to follow in your footsteps, in Jesus name.


The Call of God

The Cleansing and Call of the Servant of God

© C. O. Bishop, 6/29/2019

Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction:

Last time we met, we discussed the coming Judgment, and how it will affect Jerusalem, particularly; but how it will affect the Gentile world as well. The scripture transitions directly from God’s pronouncement of Judgment upon Jerusalem, Judah and Israel, into the cleansing and call of Isaiah the Prophet. We find this passage exciting because it gives a glimpse into the unseen world of angels, and to the throne of God. And we ought to find it so—it is exciting. But there is much to learn here, too.

This is apparently the personal call of Isaiah. It would be nice if everyone got this sort of dramatic call, I suppose…but we shouldn’t get clamoring too much to get what Isaiah got—tradition says he was executed, by being cut in half under a crosscut saw. The prophet’s life was not easy. Most of us have simply the general call of God’s Word (which He says is personal to all those who believe) and we have the Great Commission, which is also to all Church-age believers.  Isaiah did not have those things, so he got what he got. Let us learn from it what we may.

How did Isaiah see the Lord?

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

In verse 1, we get the time-frame—“the year that King Uzziah died” (in some passages he is called King “Azariah,” too, so don’t get confused if you run into that name). So, in the year King Uzziah died (approximately 758 BC), Isaiah saw the Lord. Notice it is NOT all caps—this is the Hebrew word adonai, meaning “master,” or “lord.” It was definitely God he was seeing, as the next verses will make clear (God the Son, in fact, as we learn in John 1:18), but the reference in verse one says that He was the Lord— the Master— and it has not yet mentioned His name. It describes Him as being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. We need to see Him this way! Primarily the fact that He is “High and lifted up!” We have been taught to see Jesus as our “buddy,” or our comforter, and protector, and, He is all of those, but we tend to forget the fact that He is the Almighty God who created us, and the Judge of all the earth, who is above all, and who knows all, and who understands the real thoughts of our hearts, not just the ones we pray. We need to see Jesus in his supremacy!

How do the Angels see Him?

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Verses 2 and 3 tell of angelic creatures called seraphim (plural of seraph, which means “burning one.”) This is the only place they are even mentioned, but they are evidently powerful spirit-beings, angels of some sort, worshipping God, and yet unable to look on His face.

They hid their own faces (and feet—what is that about?) and cry out… what? “Love, love, love, God is Love”? No! So powerful are they, that their voice moves the doorposts of the temple, and fills the house with smoke: and, yet, what do these mighty six-winged creatures see as the primary attribute of God? What impresses them so, that they hide their faces and cry out one to another exclaiming about it? His HOLINESS! (“Holy! Holy! Holy, is the LORD of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory!”)

It is interesting that in our culture we have focused on the Love of God to the exclusion of His holiness, His righteousness, and His judgment…which may explain why we do not fear the judgment of God, nor worship Him for His righteousness. We fail to understand the enormity of the Grace of God, because we also fail to understand the Holiness of God, and the depth of our own depravity and sin. How can we see Grace as a marvelous thing, when we take lightly the Holiness which calls for justice, and the sin which calls for judgment? If we take sin lightly, then we must also take Grace lightly.

How can we turn this around?  How can we regain a proper view of the attributes of God, the Creator and Judge of all the earth—The Ruler of the universe, both seen and unseen? The only way I know is to go to God’s Word and continually see Him as the Master, High, and lifted up, then confess our blindness and foolishness, and pray God will open the eyes of our hearts.

Self-Judgment

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

What was Isaiah’s response (verse 5) to having seen God? Did he start a televangelism program, and strut around on a stage, telling everyone what a wonderful experience it was, and describe in great familiar detail all that he saw, and all the intimate things God told him? Did he boast of his own special relationship with God, as witnessed by his vision? No! He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a dead man, because he, an unclean sinner, had seen God. This is the true response of those who have seen themselves in the light of who GOD really is…they drop all pretense of personal worthiness, as they are completely overwhelmed by the Holiness of God.

It is interesting too, that what Isaiah was most concerned about at that moment is the fact of his “unclean lips”—now, I don’t know specifically what he was guilty of, but I know that I fall down in that area, too. I frequently say unwise things. And James 3:2-12 tells me that the whole human race has the same problem.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Evidently it is a more serious matter than we tend to think it is, too—in Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things He hates—and three of them have to do with the mouth.

16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaks lies
  • He that sows discord among brethren

Notice too that it isn’t just what comes out of the mouth, but the root of the matter, which is our corrupt heart: “A heart that devises wicked imaginations…” Give that some thought: What comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart. Jesus said that, too: (Luke 6:43-45)

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

We may make our excuse that “we live in a corrupt world,” and that “we are constantly affected and influenced by what is around us:” Remember that Isaiah lived in a sinful world, too, just like you and I. But God could still cleanse him and use him. He can do the same with you and me!

God’s Cleansing

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Remember that Isaiah was already a believer. He had depended upon the blood-sacrifices, as God’s chosen means by which he could be saved. This traces all the way back to Genesis chapter 3, and the covering God provided there, and to the Passover Lamb, under which all of Israel huddled, to be saved from the Judgment of a Holy God. So this passage is not about Salvation: it is about the sanctification of a believer.

Verses 6 and 7 say that an angel flew with a coal from the altar, and laid it on his mouth. Remember that the altar was where God’s chosen sacrifices died. Compare it to the Cross of Christ, where God’s Chosen Sacrifice died, once for all time: Has God been allowed to cleanse your mouth, via the Cross? Is the truth of the Cross having enough effect in your life to transform your speech? To eliminate gossip, foolish talk, coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)—and cruel, mocking comments? Perhaps the cutting humor that we call “banter” might be displeasing to God. We certainly don’t see Jesus talking that way.

Consider how a “coal from that altar” might affect you. In Isaiah’s case, it purged his sin; whatever the sin of his mouth was, God said he was cleansed by the coal from that altar. Shouldn’t it do the same for us, who are actually indwelt by the living God? So far as we know, Isaiah did not have that privilege. We need to allow the Cross of Christ to cleanse our hearts, and change what comes out of our mouths. He said He came to save us from our sins; not just from the penalty of our sins. Shouldn’t His blood begin to cleanse our thoughts and words, as well?

God’s Call

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Then, Isaiah heard the call of God—not before. If you want the call of God in your life; if you wish to be used of God in a meaningful way, first allow the Cross to cleanse you, transform you, and prepare you for service. Verse 8 says Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (A little glimpse of the Trinity there, see it? “Who will go for Us?) Isaiah didn’t wait to ask what the mission was—he wanted to be used by God, and he immediately volunteered.

This is the kind of volunteer God wants and can use: one who has come to the Cross for cleansing, and who does not ask what the task might be before deciding he wants to serve the living God. He chooses service, and then asks “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

How About You?

Is your life something that God can use? And if not, are you willing to confront that fact at the Cross, and repent? Are you willing to drop all reservations and ask God to make you usable? If you are, then the path to fruit-bearing is open to you. If not, then the path to fruit-bearing is filled with obstacles, and you cannot expect to see God use you. God uses those who are willing to be cleansed, even though they live in a sinful world.

God’s service has the reputation of paying low wages. In Hebrews 11, God lists the “heroes of the faith,” but he reserves his highest praise for those who lost everything in His service, and were left destitute. He said “the World was not worthy of them.” It is true that sometimes the “wages” in this world, for serving the Living God, seem paltry. We look at the lives of the various prophets, and see that they were not only not wealthy, they were not even comfortable, as a rule. We have to consider the end of the story, though. In both the case of the “successful” sinner, and the case of the impoverished servant of God, the apparent prosperity or lack thereof is fleeting, when compared to eternity. Think of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke chapter 16: Which life would you rather have? We want to have it both ways: we want to be prosperous in the World, and prosperous in ministry. It isn’t impossible, of course, but it is truly uncommon; as the World rewards its own, as a rule and we no longer belong to the world. Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that they hated Me first.”

(John 15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

So we needn’t expect the world to reward us for behaving like Jesus…they hated Him, and will hate us, too, for belonging to Him. Remember who you belong to; remember who you serve. We are not supposed to be looking to the World for approval, or recompense; nor, especially, for direction, or guidance. Our Master is the Living God, just as Isaiah’s was, and all the prophets. And, no, the “salary” in this world may not seem particularly impressive: But the “retirement” is literally “Out of this World.” We live in hope of eternity, not a comfortable, easy life, here.

There is no question whether you are called to serve God. Every single believer has that calling. How do I know?

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The only question is whether we will choose to heed that call. What can we do, then, to choose the calling of God?

Choosing the Calling of God

Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” We need to change our minds regarding our life expectations, and what we call our priorities. We need to change our minds about who is really in charge: If Jesus really is your master, then His priorities should be your priorities.

Jesus said, in John 14:21, He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, if you place yourself into that promise, by choosing to live in obedience to Jesus’s commands (love God, love one another, offer that love to those around you…etc.) then Jesus has promised to make Himself known to you on an ongoing basis. If on the other hand, you choose your own priorities over His, then He will seem quite distant, and your vision of His will may become so dim that you no longer are sure of the path before you.

Begin by confessing where you really are, in your life: Go to God’s Word. See His Holiness. Confess your sins, and receive His cleansing. Then; allow Him to make you useable in His service, not holding back for the sake of security and comfort. Truly, the rewards are worth the hardships.

Lord Jesus, give us the Wisdom to understand your word, to confess our sins, recognizing that we have no worthiness in our own flesh, but to hear your call, and respond in faith, saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” We desire to walk with you, in fellowship, and in service. Please draw us into that reality, so as to glorify yourself in us.


The Coming Judgment

The Coming Judgment

© C. O. Bishop 2012 (THCF, June 30, 2019)

Isaiah 5:1-30

Introduction

I have consistently found, when reading the book of Isaiah, that it is difficult to read it and NOT think, “This is talking to us! The United States!” But it isn’t, really—it is specifically about and to the nation of Israel. On the other hand, I think it is entirely appropriate for us to read—and tremble—as we realize how fully it applies to our country, and to us as individuals, as well.

Chapter 5—a land blessed beyond all others—but not bearing fruit.

1Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:

And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.

What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?

And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:

And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Verses 1-7 tell a parable, comparing Israel and Judah to a carefully cultivated vineyard that brought forth bad fruit, regardless of the care of the husbandman. God declares that He had cause to expect good things from Israel, as they had been blessed beyond any other nation. But they had NOT responded well, and that now He, God, would not only withdraw his blessing, he would specifically take away His defense, and allow her enemies to despoil her.

The Causes for Judgment:

Greed

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.

10 Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah.

Verse 8 is apparently in reference to the practice of buying up all the land they could afford, to give themselves huge holdings, specifically so that they could separate themselves from others. I had initially misunderstood this to mean that overcrowding kept adding houses next to other houses until no one could be alone. But it is the opposite—the rich preying on others, gobbling up farms, and houses, to make a huge estate for themselves, so that they could be alone in the earth. Verses 9, 10 go on to say that these “great houses” would become desolate, with no one living in them, and their land unproductive.

Carousing and Entertainment

11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.

Verse 11 talks about “party animals”– people whose chief “reason to be” is to drink and carouse. This has been a consistent problem in the human race for all time. Sometimes more than others. I have heard people brag about being a “party animal.” There is nothing wrong with eating or drinking, but either can be taken to excess. We have eating contests and even beer-drinking contests in this country. Evidently they had similar problems there (Compare verse 22).

Music is another thing that can be abused, right along with the food and drink. It seems that these people valued entertainment as a whole, more than they valued the work of God, and the things He has done. Ezekiel 33:30-33 makes this same complaint, that even the preaching of God’s Word had become simply a means of entertainment. I remember a Missionary speaker telling how, after a sermon, a woman came up to him saying, “Oh, Preacher! I was moved! I was stirred!” But, as she saw his eyes light up as he opened his mouth to reply, she blurted, “But I’m not going!” She had enjoyed the emotional stirring caused by good preaching, but had no intention of allowing it to disrupt her life. And that is exactly what Ezekiel 33 is talking about. We love to be stirred and to experience the thrill of good music, a good book, a good sermon, a good meal, etc., but we are not interested in having God’s Word actually move us out of our comfort zone.

Idolatry

God says we tend to rejoice in the works of our own hands (musical instruments, in this passage, but it could be anything—race-cars, toys, possessions, human honor and achievements…), but we tend to not honor Him for the works of His hands, nor consider and honor His activity in the world today. We look at the world, and say, “Isn’t ‘mother nature’ amazing!”, and, as a nation, we have learned to reject any notion that the creature has a Creator. We say, “Wasn’t that an amazing coincidence!”, and deny the possibility of Divine intervention. Evidently the problem is not new. In fact, one of the final warnings before the second coming, in Revelation 14:7, is to “fear God, and give glory to Him, the Creator”. So the continuing problem, during the entire course of Human History, is that we deny God the honor that is His, and we honor ourselves or even Satan (in various guises), in God’s place.

Final Reason for Judgment:

13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

Verse 13 says “therefore…” (because of what went before) “…my people Israel have gone into captivity.” Remember that this passage was written around 760 years before Christ—about 160 years before the captivity came from Babylon, and about 40 (or more) years before the Northern kingdom fell to Assyria. But in the eyes of God it was already a done deal. “Therefore, my people have gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.”(Knowledge of what? Of Science? Vintnery? Warfare? Sin? No, rather, because they had no knowledge of God and His statutes.) Their honorable men are famished; spiritual starvation had weakened the nation. The multitudes are dried up for thirst…the living water of God’s Word had been ignored or denied them, until they were utterly dry. Does that sound familiar? How many people today are really “filled up” with God’s Word?

Result of Judgment

14 Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

15 And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled:

16 But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.

17 Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat.

So, in verse 14, still because of the listed sin, Hell (sheol— the grave, the place of the dead) has opened wide, to receive the countless dead that would soon enter. By the way, remember that this prophecy reaches beyond just the contemporary judgment and touches the end times. In the Revelation, we see that one half of the world’s population will die during the great tribulation. The captivity of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar is just the “firstfruits” of God’s Judgment.

Verse 15 points out that this judgment applied to all walks of life (the “mean man” is the “common man”…not people who are “mean to others,”) and that no one could expect to escape, but that (in verse 16) He, the LORD of Hosts, would be exalted in the judgment…That the God who is Holy shall be shown to be holy, in Righteousness;  it will show that Judgment does not reflect poorly on God, but quite the opposite—it exalts Him, as that is who He is—The JUDGE of all the earth (Genesis 18:25).

[Judge of all the earth? Who does John 5:22 say is the Judge? (read it) Just for a moment, consider John 1:18– “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared him.” This Judge, exalted in the Judgment, is Christ!]

We will soon observe some important things about God’s character…we saw, back in Genesis, that God was the Creator, the Lawgiver, and the Judge, beside being the sustainer, protector, master, etc. But we will see which of God’s attributes takes precedence over all the others.

The Recipients of Judgment

18 Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:

19 That say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!

20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:

23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

He pronounces judgment on a series of groups of people—He says, woe:

  • To those who drag sin along with folly and deceit and keep wickedness moving. (There are many who have their “pet sin” and go far out of their way to draw others into that sin, or to force others to approve it.)
  • To those saying “Judgment is coming? This I gotta see! Bring it on!” There are unbelievers who are excited about the news of the coming judgment, and seem to overlook the fact that it will also affect their own life.
  • To those who call evil good and good evil, that replace light with darkness, and call darkness light, trade bitter for sweet, and vice versa. We humans try to redefine sin, and make our wickedness seem good.
  • To those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight. They think they are really too smart for God. “Only fools believe the Bible…” 1st Corinthians 1:23 Points out that the Gentile world consistently sees the Cross as foolishness.
  • To those who are champion drunks—they brag about how much liquor they consume, and how “sophisticated” their taste in liquor has become.
  • To those who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the righteousness of the righteous. This could be the blatant taking of bribes, or just the cronyism that gives favors to friends, at the expense of the rightful expectations of those who have earned those rights. It might be at a government level, a civil organization level, a corporate business level, or even in private dealings. If a man is willing to turn a blind eye to evil to benefit the doer of evil (or himself,) and not to stand for what is right, to defend those who have done right, then he is guilty of this charge.

24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

25 Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly:

27 None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:

28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:

29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.

30 And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

Verse 24, 25—Judgment has been coming regularly for these things, because they have cast away the Law of the Lord of Hosts, and have despised the Word of the Holy One of Israel. His Word and His Holiness take precedence over all else. The judgment isn’t over yet—in verses 26-30, He brings swarms of enemies against them, overwhelming the land, and bringing utter ruin.

The judgment spelled out in verses 25-30 was to be partially fulfilled in the armies of Babylon, though He does not name them until later. Ultimately, it will be fulfilled during the Great Tribulation, as we see in Zechariah 14:1-4. We see a hint of this, in the continuing use of the phrase “in that day.” This phrase, denoting the coming “Day of the LORD,” was first mentioned in Isaiah 2:12, and is referenced all the way through the book.

So, the fulfillment of the Judgment which Isaiah predicted ran from about 600 BC in the Babylonian captivity, all the way to the second coming of Christ; and then he predicts the blessings throughout the Millennial Kingdom age, as we began to see in chapter 4. This book is one of the most far-reaching prophecies in the Bible.

Personal Application:

How does this affect the Church, today? Can we apply the principles in any way, so as to make use of this chapter today? We know that the passage is specifically addressed to Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, and the inhabitants thereof, but, we want to see how to address sin in our own lives, so that God does not find it necessary to chasten us as his erring sons. We are the Church, not Israel, but, as those who are “dead with Christ, and risen from the dead with Him,” it seems we should be able to apply His Word to our daily lives.

  • Perhaps all it will do is to make us take a closer look at the sin in our own lives, because we can clearly see that God’s Righteousness and His Judgment are not to be trifled with.
  • Perhaps it will drive us to examine our tendency toward self-justification…the tendency we have toward excusing our own actions, even when they are plainly wrong.
  • Perhaps it will lead us to not so strongly look forward to the coming Judgment, as every single one of us knows people to whom it will mean an eternity without Christ, and without hope. (Yes, it means release for us, but it will mean utter destruction for most.)
  • Perhaps it will motivate us to look for opportunities to turn others back from that destruction, since that is precisely what we are called to do.
  • The Great Commission is for all believers: we do have a responsibility to offer eternal life to others, and to love them as Jesus does, and to forgive them as He says to do.

Isaiah 5 is God’s response to unbelief and rebellion. Such things should not be part of our lives, but the fact is that they often are. At minimum, we can take our warning from this passage and confess our sins, and seek to walk in obedience to the Risen Savior.

Next time, we will see the call of Isaiah, to a specific ministry. Please notice that, according to Romans 8:28-30, if you are a believer, then you, too, are already called. You are not to wait to be stunned by Jesus on the road to Damascus, or be devastated by His Holiness, in a vision, like Isaiah, Daniel or John. You are already called to serve. Let’s get with it!

Lord Jesus, please help us to focus our attention on you, the Holy God and Savior, rather than upon our own desires and goals. Re-mold us into your image, and redirect our steps to walk with you.


Ultimate Blessing

Ultimate Blessing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Isaiah 4:1-6; Revelation 1:10-18

Introduction:

Last time, we completed chapter three, and saw how God was going to purge Jerusalem of her sin. We saw that it could have been referring to the Babylonian captivity, but that it certainly had reference to the Great tribulation as well.

Chapter four skips all the way past the Great Tribulation, and addresses the blessedness of the surviving remnant in Jerusalem after the Lord’s return.

When we study God’s Word, especially when studying the prophetic writings, we must look for the correct, Biblical interpretation, before attempting to find appropriate application in our own lives. In other words, we must ask: to whom is this written, or regarding whom? What are the circumstances under which it is written? When was it written? (In what time period?) Are there any clues as to when the prophecy (or promise) is to be fulfilled? Exactly what is being prophesied, or promised? Are there conditions under which things could change? (For example, if there is a warning of coming judgment “…except ye repent”, does that mean there is a possibility of escaping judgment, if the recipients change their behavior? It certainly had that effect in Nineveh, didn’t it?)

So, beginning with those standards of study, let’s read Isaiah chapter 4. (Read all of it)

To Whom is this written?

As we read, we will keep in mind that, according to verses 2, 3, 4 and 5, these promises are to Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel, not the United States, Great Britain, or some other country. There may be application in our lives at one level or another, but the interpretation is definitely to the Jews, not any Gentile nation, nor even to the Church.

Where will it happen, and When?

Chapter 4

1And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

The prophecy in verse one could (possibly) still be in reference to the Babylonian captivity (because of the scarcity of men, after the siege and evacuation), but verse 2 makes it clear that the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be at the beginning of the Millennial kingdom:

In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.

Verse two predicts that “in that day” the “branch of the LORD” will flourish (in reference to the returned and reigning Messiah), and that the fruit of the land would be excellent and beautiful for the remnant of Israel, who survived the tribulation. This is the “remnant” of whom God will speak over and over again: those Jews who survive the tribulation, and enter the Kingdom alive, in their natural, physical bodies.

Verses 3-6 make it clear that this is specifically in reference to the physical return of the Lord… the entire city of Jerusalem will be under the Glory of God, and every living person therein will be called Holy. When? “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion.” At that time, every single living Jew will be a believer, and will be utterly devoted to his or her Savior. Where? In Zion, the City of the Living God.

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

So the judgment that happens during the Tribulation period is for the purpose of purging and cleansing Israel, making her holy, and preparing her for the purpose He had announced from the beginning, that she should be holy, and a kingdom of priests. Remember, as we say this, that the Church is to be kings (plural) and priests. Israel is to be a kingdom (singular) of priests. The two are not the same.

What will happen?

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

We want to be especially careful in applying these sorts of prophecies—this is only in reference to Israel and Judah, and any misapplication can result in some bad theology. The closest proper application will be that at that same time, every living Gentile will also be a believer (this is immediately after the “judgment of the living nations” described in Matthew 25:31, ff). But the Gentiles will NOT be “called Holy”, and will NOT have the special supernatural blessings that will be in Jerusalem. Life will be better than at any time in history, all over the world, but the Jews in Jerusalem will be under the special blessing of the presence of the ruling Messiah.

Are there Applications for today?

In terms of today, in the Church age, I can think of no physical application, except to say that having Jesus residing in your heart is great, and an absolutely necessary result of your salvation: but having Him presiding there—reigning there—is greater still…and is what God wants for each of us, day by day. Jesus will be physically residing in Jerusalem, and reigning from there, over the whole world. I want Jesus to reign from my heart over my whole life. It is entirely possible for a believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, by the person of the Trinity, actually, to still be in active or passive rebellion against his or her Master. This would be a spiritual application of a physical reality.

I can also see some further spiritual application: in verse 5, he says that “a cloud and smoke by day, and a shining of a flaming fire by night” will be upon every dwelling in Jerusalem. Remember that, when the tabernacle and the temple were first built, God promised that he would literally move in, and live there. The smoke and the fire from those two edifices were to show everyone that God lived there. He did move in, and the glory of God shone out so brightly that no one could come near the place. (Exodus 40:34, 35; 2nd Chronicles 5:13, 14) In the Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom, He will live in ALL the dwellings…how does that apply today?

(See John 14:16, 17; Romans 8:9)

John 14:16, 17
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Romans 8:9
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

So, we can see that every single believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God…no exceptions.

Why? What is the point? And, if it is so important, then how ought the world to know it? (See John 13:34, 35; Philippians 2:15, 16; etc.)

John 13:34, 35
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Philippians 2:15, 16
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Notice that, in the Philippians 2 passage, Paul gives us some idea about what it means to “shine as lights in the World—holding forth the Word of Life.”

We are not just to be “fine moral examples,” or “upstanding citizens,” though those are also expected. We are to be a constant testimony to the saving Grace of God.

Jesus addressed this idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), saying, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.

Our Love for the brethren and our good works in general ought to stand as a constant testimony to the living reality of God’s saving Grace in our lives. And, our words should match our life.

The Revelation Confirms It!

Oddly enough, in the opening chapters of the Revelation, God again refers to the churches as candlesticks. They are the light holders…the lamps. Collectively, we are called to be lights in the world…lamps, shining in a dark place. Jesus Himself is the actual source of the Light.

Revelation 1:10-18

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.


The candlesticks (lampstands) are representing the Church at large: we are not the source of light…we are holders of the light. (Think back to Matthew 5:15; the man lighting a candle is God, in the person of Christ. Jesus is the light of the World. But where does he put that candle? On a candlestick! Each assembly of believers should be a light in their community.

In Philippians 2:15, we were told that we are to shine as lights in the world. And how? Philippians 2:16 says that we are to” hold forth the Word of life.” Who is that Word of Life? According to John 1:1, Jesus is the Word, and according to John 1:4, 5, Jesus is the Light, and the Life. The Gospel of Christ is the Word of Life we offer to the World, while we hold the light of Christ.

So the Light in the midst of the candlesticks, there in Revelation 1:13, is Christ… the lampstands, or candlesticks, are the churches (plural), and collectively, they are the Church, proper. The reason we separate the two ideas (singular and plural,) is that (as we will see in chapter 3) individual churches can fail, and be removed as lights in the world. The Church as a whole is held in place by God until we, as a whole, are removed at the Rapture of the Church.

The fact that there were seven candlesticks speaks of the completeness of the Church: there were many other churches within the Church at large. The number “Seven” is frequently used to indicate completeness, and it shows that the whole body of Christ is in view.

The Gold speaks of intrinsic value. Keep in mind, as we see the flaws in churches(plural,) that in spite of their flaws and their failings, they are still solid gold, in God’s eyes. Even when we see the stern warnings to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we need to remember that GOD said they were solid gold! When you feel tempted to be dismissive of another believer, for whatever reason, remember that they are precious in His sight.

The golden implements and vessels of the Old Testament temple were still holy to God, even when enemies had physically stolen them and used them for unclean things. (God judged Belshazzar in the book of Daniel for that very crime.) An individual church may become unusable, because of sin, but all the born-again believers in that church are still God’s holy people, and He will keep them, chastise them, correct them and recover them for His own glory, even if it means taking them home. Jesus has never lost a single lamb of His flock!  He himself makes that claim in John 6:39—“ And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Those are precious promises, aren’t they? Now, if I had to depend upon my own works to save me or keep me, I’d be lost: it is as simple as that! But Jesus says He will not lose a single one of us…and He says that we are precious in His sight. He calls us to choose holiness, and to lay our lives before him, daily, as a living sacrifice, so that every moment is to His glory.

Israel has a promise of great things to come: we have even greater blessing: we are the Bride of Christ, collectively, and are currently indwelt by His Spirit! Israel will be seen as a priesthood for God in the Millennial Kingdom, and marked, physically, by the column of smoke by day, and fire by night, from every residence in Jerusalem. We are to be priests in the World today, marked by Love and good works. We are to hold forth the word of life, and to shine as lights in a dark world, meanwhile, as it says in verse six, we are also to find in Him our only shelter against the trials of life: the heat of day, the cold of the rain, and the power of the storms of life. Find our shelter in Him, and offer that shelter, His Love and Grace, the light of life, to all those around us.

God help us to do just that!

Lord Jesus, change us from the inside, and make us able ambassadors of your Grace. Purge us of the fears and bitterness and anger that shackle us; the sins that so easily weigh us down, and free our hearts to serve you with Gladness.