Posts Tagged ‘fear’

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

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

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

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

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

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

What were the Angels doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was Mary doing?

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

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

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

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

What was Joseph doing?

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

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

What were the Shepherds doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are You doing on Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Day of the LORD (1)

The Day of the LORD, Part One

© C. O. Bishop 3/30/2019

Isaiah 2:6-22

Introduction:

We have been studying through Isaiah, and are already up against some of the central themes of the book: the awful Judgment and Holiness of God, as well as the Grace of God, and His desire to reason with fallen Man.

Isaiah is distraught at the wickedness of Israel, and begs God to not forgive them, as he sees that all the coming Judgment is fully deserved.

Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.

Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots:

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

The remainder of the chapter promises the coming judgment on Judah, reminding all readers that it was specifically because she has forsaken her God, and sought her sustenance from everyone and everything except Him. In verses 6-9, Isaiah is speaking to God, commenting on the spiritual condition of the nation, and the reasons for the coming judgment. He specifically lists all the things upon which they have depended instead of God—and the things in which they have found pleasure instead of God’s values. He complains that from the least to the greatest, they have all bowed themselves to idols, as a nation (not excluding the possibility of a righteous remnant, which God says will always be there.) So, Isaiah begs that God not forgive them. This is an interesting insight into how a man of God may see the holiness of God, and demand retribution for sin.

In Luke 9:54, 55 (Read it), two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John, wanted permission to call down fire out of heaven to burn up some people (Samaritans) who rejected Jesus. But Jesus rebuked the two disciples for the idea, saying that they were wrong, and that He had not come to destroy lives but to save them. So, I need to recognize that even wicked, self-centered enemies of God (whomever they are) are still folks for whom Jesus died.

In the Psalms, there are many examples of “imprecatory prayers”, where the Psalmist called for judgment on sinners. Yes, Judgment is coming, but it will be in God’s timing, and under His righteousness, not our self-righteous indignation. The coming Judgment has a name, in fact: it is called “The Day of the LORD”, and it is first mentioned here in Isaiah 2:12.

The Name of the Coming Judgment

The Day of the Lord becomes a powerful theme in all the prophets, as we begin to see the various parts of it, and how widespread its effects will be.

10 Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.

11 The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

12 For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

13 And upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

14 And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

15 And upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall,

16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

17 And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

22 Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

In verses 10-22, he speaks to the people, outlining the coming judgment. He says that all the things they have depended upon will become worthless. Looking at verses 11, 12 and 17-21 we see that the Judgment in question is the culmination of the Great Tribulation. Three is no other time when all the earth shall be judged in that fashion, and in the Revelation, he describes just such fear and trembling, and attempts to hide in the rocks.

What is the Day of the Lord?

The Day of the Lord, mentioned here, and many other places, begins with the removal of the Church-age believers from the earth, as seen in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Read it). But then (1st Thessalonians 5:1-3 (Read it)) it immediately transitions into the tribulation; next, the second coming (Zechariah 12:1-10; 14:1-15), the Kingdom age (Zechariah 14:16-21) and finally the ultimate destruction of planet earth (2nd Peter 3:10-12). All five aspects are clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments. The immediate judgment coming upon Judah is very minor, compared to the ultimate judgment described here, though I am sure that they saw it as pretty major.

God says Judgment is coming (both immediate and ultimate), and that it will affect absolutely everyone (not just the Jews), and remove from them all the things they have depended upon and found foolish pleasure in. Verse 22 says that above all, they need to quit relying upon humans…which would include dependence upon themselves. (Cp. Proverbs 3:5-7) Part of our sin nature, our incurable arrogance, is that we continually trust ourselves over God, even though we have proven untrustworthy time and time again. Now: Am I advocating piously “trusting God” as opposed to going to a doctor? No! I trust that God will guide the doctor, and, unless I know a solid reason to do otherwise, I usually take the doctor’s advice. Do I mean, when I am forced to respond to a legal summons, that I should “just trust the Lord” and not get the best lawyer I can afford? No… I am to pray for God’s guidance, and look for the most honest and competent, intelligent legal counsel I can find. But my dependence is to be upon God.

The story has been told (countless times, I guess) about a man who was trapped by rising floodwaters. He sat on his front porch roof, and a boat came by, with a man offering to take him to higher ground. He piously replied, “No; I am trusting God. He will help me!”

The water rose higher, until he was on the peak of his upper roof, when a larger power boat came up, and the pilot offered to take him to high ground. He was frightened, but clung to his “faith” and said, “No, I am waiting on God!” Finally, when he was clinging to his chimney, and about to drown, a helicopter hovered overhead, dangling a ladder, and offering help. He made his final choice, to depend on God, and finally was swept away by the flood.

He appeared before God, and asked, “Why did you not save me? I trusted in you!” God replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What did you want??”

I do NOT think that the command to not place our trust in Man is an order to abandon sensible behavior, but rather to allow God to define what sensible behavior is. A hospital employee may say, “This child will never have a normal life, you need to have an abortion.”—and we should feel quite secure in saying, based our understanding of God’s principles, “No, I will not kill my child…I will give him the best life I can, and, though it may not be much, I will not deny him the right to live!”

Someone else may say, “Well, I would never stay married to a person like that…” and it may be that we feel the same way. But, we must have the conviction to do as God leads, not man. Marriage is sacred, and not to be lightly disposed of, though God does recognize both divorce and remarriage, according to John chapter 4.

The same things are true in Business, Politics, and Church Government. The “bottom line” must not be “Does it work?” or “Is it profitable?”, but, “Does it Honor God? Is it obedient to His revealed Word?”

As far as we know, the only two times Joshua got into any trouble were the two times when he simply forgot to ask God what to do. He thought he knew the answer, and went off to battle at Ai, when, in fact, there was sin in the camp, and God would not have allowed them to go to battle at all, without having dealt with the sin. So, 36 men lost their lives in a fiasco at a very small city. (Joshua 7)

The other time, he was fooled by the Gibeonites, because he trusted his eyes, and did not seek God’s counsel. (Joshua 9)

Joshua was a good leader and a good soldier. He made decisions on a daily basis that affected the entire country, but he also kept very close accounts with God, and, as a rule, he was always where he was supposed to be, and doing what he was supposed to be doing, because he walked closely with God and had His constant guidance.

That is what we need, too, as we approach the end times: we need to keep close accounts with God, and seek God’s constant guidance. We cannot see our deadly enemies, in the spiritual battle around us, but we are given some things we can do to be on guard. The first, is: follow Jesus! (The closer the better!) The second is that we are to arm ourselves as He directs us, and learn His wisdom from His Word, as part of that armament.

The battle is not ours, but we are in it, nevertheless. We need to take the coming judgment seriously, and live as those who have been freed from a death-sentence.

Lord, help us to see the coming judgment, as you have described it, and live to free others from the destruction to come.


What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

What Does the Bible Teach us About Faith?

© C. O. Bishop 9/30/17 THCF and Cornell 10/1/17

Hebrews 11:1-10

Introduction:

At the end of the tenth chapter of Hebrews, we saw the warning to not fall back into formalism or legalism, but rather to step forward into faith. The writer stated that “we” (the believers) are not those who “draw back unto perdition”, but rather, we are to be “them that believe, unto the saving of the soul.” This contrast is set up for us to clearly see, that, regardless of the question at hand, or the challenge before us, the choice is the same—will we believe God, or not?

Human reasoning is very attractive, and, under submission to the Word of God, it actually can result in good decision-making. The problem is that we do not tend to submit our thought processes to the light of God’s Word, so we are easily snared by the World’s way of thinking, because our own hearts are also extremely deceitful.

Secular Humanism demands that we deliberately cast off any reference to the Light of God’s Word, and look at the World exclusively from the perspective of Human reasoning. The results are consistently disastrous, as History has shown us by countless examples. But, as a race, we humans persist in believing that “We have the answers to all problems, and that given just a little more time, we will fix everything”! Now there is a statement of Faith! In spite of all evidence to the contrary, and the observable decline of human behavior, we still think that we humans can produce righteousness, and truth, and peace. Does that sound…reasonable? Given the thousands of years of failure, and given that our most impressive “advances” have been in technology, which, invariably, are soon turned to weapons of one sort or another, by which to rob or kill or spy upon each other, do you really think that we will escape our human predisposal to sin? Our predisposal to lust, and violence, and deceit, and theft?

The World demands that we place our faith in a wholly unreliable demi-god, Man! (Or in any number of false Gods, who all deny Christ.) And those who refuse to believe in Human Sovereignty or in one of the various World Religions, are routinely cast aside, ridiculed, abused, and often killed. Jesus says for us to turn our faith to Him, and be saved from our sin, thus addressing the root problem that all the other deny. So, perhaps the question we ought to be asking, is “What is Faith?” And then: “How do I place my faith where it will do the most good?”

What is Faith?

1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This verse is frequently quoted as a “definition of faith.” This is not a definition of faith, any more than “God is Love” is a definition of God…this is a statement of the value of Faith, to the believer: the effect it has on the believer’s life. If I say “my car is how I get to work every morning,” you would correctly understand that I use my car to get to work. But that does not define an automobile; it only describes a particular effect it has in my life.

Faith is believing: simply put, that is all faith is. Godly Faith is believing God. Godly Faith is believing God enough that it changes something in our behavior. Godly Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. That definition is borne out is every single statement in the following verses. (“By faith, so-and-so did such-and-such…”)

Faith is not a “force”, or a “power” (though it may free the power of God to work in our lives….) It is not a “muscle” that needs exercise, as some have taught. When we “exercise faith,” it simply means we consistently apply it, just as, when we say that someone needs to “exercise good judgment,” we mean that they need to apply wisdom.

The Greek word for “faith” is the noun “pistis”. The infinitive Greek verb “to believe” is “pisteuo”. Both pistis and pisteuo come from the Greek root “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded.” The people named in this chapter were persuaded that God had called them to do certain things, or to believe His Word regarding certain things; and they were persuaded enough that they did them! They believed God! It was always an action, motivated by belief.

We can believe wrong things, and the result will be wrong behavior. We can believe self-serving things because they are attractive to us, and then act on those beliefs because they serve our self-will. We are masters of self-justification, and self-deception. But, we have a choice as to where to place our faith. Placed properly, faith does have the described result in the believer’s life.

The Old Testament believers allowed faith to have a proper effect upon their lives, in that they believed God, because He was counted trustworthy. The result was that, for them, faith was “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”

God’s Testimony; Our “report card”

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

The eternal testimony of God regarding the men and women of faith, is that they believed God. That is a Good Report! That is the “report card” that God applied to their record. Regarding Abraham, God said, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) This passage is quoted and used in Romans chapter 4, to teach Salvation by Grace, through Faith. There are some things regarding which Faith only calls for believing God about something he says to be true. The creation is one of those things. See the next verse:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

Here the writer give a single example that shows how faith might not only be evidenced by an outward action: The writer says that they chose by faith to believe in the creation account, as revealed by God in the book of Genesis. We can (and do) still make that choice today, but it will become increasingly difficult to do, as the World has made that particular belief the special target for ridicule, and verbal attacks.

Certain Christian leaders have attempted to “water down” the Creation account, to make it compatible with evolution. Whole books have been written to try to reconcile the incompatibility between what the World insists is true, and what the Bible claims to be true. I actually have one or more of those books, given to me by well-meaning friends or family.

It is always an error to try to make God’s Word more “palatable,” or more “accessible,” by changing what it says. Evolution and creation are simply not compatible. And, that’s OK! Light and darkness are mutually exclusive. In this regard (and others) we are called to believe. In much of life, our belief calls us to change what we do; to take action of some sort. The rest of the examples in Hebrews 11 are of that sort, but before we address them I would like to present one more example of the call to simply believe:

In John 6:28, 29  The people asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” and, instead of listing the ten commandments or anything else that people think they can do to make themselves acceptable to God, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.

Please don’t add to that verse! Just accept it as it stands!

We can believe it or reject it, but that is the standard of faith, as spoken by Jesus. This is the Testimony of God the Son, regarding Faith.

Now let’s look at some of the other type of examples of faith…the ones that call for action. These also constitute the Testimony of God, regarding Faith:

Old Testament Examples of Godly Faith

Abel

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

There are several valuable gems, here:

  • By faith, Abel did …what? A better job of offering a similar sacrifice? No! It says that the sacrifice is what was different! The sacrifice was more excellent! Why? Because he was being obedient to a revealed truth, and bringing a blood That truth had been revealed in practice, by the object lesson of Genesis 3:21, when God clothed Adam and Eve in the blood of the first sacrifice.
  • The writer further states that by that sacrifice, he “obtained witness that he was righteous”…that he possessed a right standing before God. That blood sacrifice made all the difference, then, and it still does. That is how we gain a right standing before God, today, as well: Through Jesus’ blood, applied to our own lives, by faith!
  • Notice, too that it says “God testified of his gifts”…not his “heart attitude” or how he genuflected, or anything else: it was the gift that was in question. God told Cain that if he did right, he, too would be received. But what did Abel do that was “right,” in comparison to which, Cain evidently did wrong? He brought the blood sacrifice, while Cain brought the non-blood sacrifice. God testified of his gifts! It was the sacrifice that was different!
  • Finally, back in Luke 11:50, 51, Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet! What prophecy did Abel make? Here in Hebrews 11:4, it says “by it (that sacrifice) he, being dead, is still speaking.” All the Old Testament blood sacrifices pointed to the coming Messiah. Abel, the prophet, spoke by his sacrifice, and is still speaking today. He points to the Cross!

Enoch

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

And how does one please God? We are told very little about Enoch’s life. There is a tiny reference to a prophecy by him, in Jude 14, and the account in Genesis regarding God taking him off the Earth, so that he did not die. But that is all! The Writer goes on to say,

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

There it is! That is the definition of Faith! Faith is believing. Saving faith places the believer’s hope in the person of Christ and His completed work at the Cross. So (though we really aren’t told very much), at some level, Enoch was a man of Godly faith, and walked very consistently in the light that he had. That is all we know about him. The result was a tremendous thing: God took him out of the world without dying.

Noah

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

“Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.” In Noah’s case it meant he went and got a whole lot of timber, and built a monstrous wooden box—a barge, effectively. I have helped build a number of steel barges about that size, and I have helped build a number of barns, houses, etc. out of wood and other materials. I am grateful that I am not faced with the task Noah was assigned. It was an enormous job, and it is no wonder that it took 120 years to complete it.

Notice, too, that it says he was motivated by fear. The Greek word here is “eulabe-theis”, meaning a devout fear. This is not a common word in the New Testament. Usually, the writers use the far more common, simple word for fear: “phobos, or phobeo”. One is a noun and the other a verb…but you can probably see that this is the root for the English word “Phobia”—and it means “fear”. There is nothing wrong with fear being a motivator. Psalm 19:9 says that “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever.” If fear of the coming judgment moves a sinner to repent and be saved, that is a good thing! If the fear of displeasing ones Savior moves a believer to abandon some pet sin, and serve more faithfully, that is a good thing.

Ann Landers once said, in her column, that she was not a “God-fearing “woman, but a “God-loving” woman. Let me tell you: If you don’t fear the judgment of the Holy God you claim to love, then you don’t know Him well enough to love Him either. The disciples were afraid of drowning, during the storm, but they were exceedingly afraid after Jesus calmed the Storm. That is a Godly fear. (Mark 4:35-41) I’d rather take their example than that of Ann Landers.

Noah was called to build that Ark. I am called to believe God’s Word regarding that flood, the building of that Ark, and the results of the flood, in the world today. I see the geologic evidence in the landforms around me, and I realize that the evidence for a worldwide flood is simply overwhelming: it is all around us. But the World ridicules the idea and it rejects the Author as well as the Message.

Abraham

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Notice all the action words! Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in actions. He:

  • Obeyed,
  • Went out
  • Sojourned,
  • Dwelling

He did things because of his faith: He was called, so he had a specific thing to do. But he did not just sit back and claim to believe. He obeyed! And why? He was looking for the reward. Hope for reward is an acceptable motivator, too! He looked for “a city built by God.” Here on Earth? No, he apparently knew of the coming resurrection, and expected a new body, and looked forward to that redemption. Amazing! And he didn’t even have a Bible to read! Not even a part of one.

Next week we will examine some of the things Abraham accomplished by his faith. But, in the meantime:

What is Our Problem?

Why is it, that with far more revelation available to us, and all the advantages of various translations, and electronic Bibles, and home-study courses, and commentaries, and radio preachers, we still end up being less responsive to God’s Word, not more?

I’m not really sure I can answer that. But it may be worth remembering that, in Luke 18:8, Jesus said “When the son of man cometh, shall He find faith?” (The implication being negative.) Apparently true faith is going to become more and more rare. I don’t know why. But I do know that we are called to believe God, both for salvation, and for our daily walk with Him. Apart from believing God (a.k.a. “faith”), God says it is impossible to please Him. We need to confess our unbelief, and then change the way we think, and learn to Believe God more than we believe our own lying hearts…and to serve Him as those who have been released from bondage.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts. Teach us to believe You and Your Word above all other words and feelings. We realize that our feelings are not an accurate measure of reality. Teach us to trust Your Word implicitly.


The Christian and Civil Authority

The Christian and Civil Authority

© C. O. Bishop, 9/21/2016 THCF 9/25/2016

Romans 13:1-14

Introduction:

We have discussed Christian Living and Relationships. This is an important one: Civil Authority.

Obedience to Civil Authority is Ordained by God

1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. Authority is what is in question, here. Does the government have the authority to rule? The answer is “Yes!” God ordained Human government directly after the flood. That rule has never been rescinded.

God says that if you resist constituted civil authority, simply because you don’t like being told what to do, or because you disagree with what they tell you to do, then you are ultimately resisting God, as well, as He truly is the one who instituted human government as a principle.

Has God occasionally overthrown a government because of its ingrown evil? Yep. He surely has. On many occasions it was done through the intervention of an outside force—another government or nation, taking over the country in question. Occasionally it has been through a military coup, or something similar—one branch of the government assuming all power, so as to eradicate the evil in the whole structure. The odd thing is that, in Biblical history, he often used a more evil nation to chastise his own people. They were more evil because of their morals, etc. but frequently the enemy soldiers knew that they were succeeding in conquering Israel because Israel had abandoned her God. Sometimes the overthrow has come through revolution, but very seldom. Virtually all revolutions are disastrous to the nation, and fatal to the revolutionaries.

Rebellions Usually Come to a Bad End

Let’s compare two revolutions: the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789-1799. The American Colonies’ conflict was forced upon them by George III. They had submitted what was called the “Olive Branch Petition” nearly a year before. It was not only rejected, but the king refused to even read it. He declared them to be rebels, and not his subjects, and invited their enemies to attack them, by withdrawing his naval protection from their shipping. They were left with no choice but to take up arms and defend against all comers.

The American generals, as a rule, showed considerable restraint in their dealings with the British troops. The American Revolution was primarily by believers, and was steeped in prayer, through all the bloodshed of the war.

The French revolution, on the other hand, was a very bloody affair, lasting years, and costing the lives of many thousands of French citizens. The revolutionaries killed anyone accused of being counterrevolutionary, including anyone who was wealthy, part of the church, part of the government at any level including schools. But the revolutionaries were themselves executed later on. They abolished slavery, but as their other excesses became intolerable, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup, and set himself up as “First Consul”; later to become Emperor; and, he reinstated slavery. So, in almost exactly ten years, they went from a bloody revolt, storming the Bastille, and setting a new constitution with high ideals, to having a new, more powerful and efficient emperor, and the original revolutionaries all deposed and dead. Not exactly what they had planned. Incidentally, one of the things they also demanded as part of the new constitution was the eradication of Christianity. Is it any surprise that they did not succeed?

They violently rebelled, killing their old masters and anyone associated with them…and simply gained a new master. Yes, the old regime was corrupt, but those who rebelled were godless, power-maddened, self-serving, murderous men and women.  So, Napoleon simply executed them all, and went on to conquer a great deal of Europe…but that is another story.

The point of all this is that God does ordain human government…and we are not authorized to rebel against it unless (and this is rarely the case)… unless the civil law definitely demands that we disobey God. And, even then, we are not given liberty to stage a revolt, but are commanded to simply stand for God, knowing it will cost us dearly…possibly even our lives.

In general, civil governments are for the benefit of society, and protection of rights to one degree or another, and the promotion of peace. Therefore, in general, they are no threat to godly, orderly people. I have a friend who grew up in the Philippines, under Marcos. The dictator frequently declared martial law, and there were harsh penalties for infractions, and a general curfew to keep people from roaming the streets at night. My friend said the only change it made for him was that he was completely safe wherever he went. The criminal element was suppressed, and lying low. There were soldiers everywhere, and as a result, virtually zero crime. The curfew did not affect him badly, either, as he was going to be home at night anyway.

I noticed in Mexico that, in spite of the incredibly corrupt government, the federal police were quite prompt about arresting thieves or violent criminals. They did not mess around. There were usually three or four in a pick-up truck, all armed with M-16 rifles or something similar. They arrested the perpetrator, tossed him in the back of the pickup, guarded by two policemen with automatic rifles, and took off. It was quite impressive. One could easily see that these were not men to be trifled with. Were they corrupt, too? Probably… but at least on that score they were functioning.

So, in verse 5, Paul says that we are to be obedient to the civil government not only because we are afraid of their authority and the penalties for disobedience, but also as a constant testimony to the righteous character of God, so that, if nothing else, we are left with a clean conscience.

Verse 6 concludes that we are also to pay taxes, even though we do not approve of the government to whom we pay them. Jesus paid taxes, too, and he advised his disciples to do the same. Remember that the two governments to whom Jesus (the Creator and our savior) paid taxes, were both incredibly corrupt, oppressive and evil regimes. We really have no right to complain; but I have known believers who ruined their testimony through tax evasion. If there is a legal exemption available, by all means take it, but don’t try to avoid paying your taxes.

Verse 7 wraps up by stating that there are various levels of government, and we may have to pay various taxes, and show proper respect as well. Respect the position of the Government, and the office of the governor, even when the person holding the office is contemptible. In Daniel 4:17, God says that He places the “basest of men” in positions of rule …which actually explains a lot.

The Supremacy of Agapé Love

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

v. 8-10: says, “No indebtedness except the constant debt of agapé love.” Agapé love fulfills all other law. Love does no ill to its neighbor—thus the law is fulfilled through agapé love.

Now,  I have taken this to be a general injunction against a pattern of indebtedness, as well. “Owe no man anything…” seems to indicate that idea. The question may arise, then; “What is debt?” I am of the opinion that, if the collateral is in hand, so that there is no danger of the lender losing his investment, but there is simply a contractual arrangement whereby an expensive item (a house or land as a good example) is being purchased over a period of time, then it is probably not “debt,” in the sense meant here. But a car loses its value rapidly, and the lender can easily find that a loan is about to be defaulted, when the collateral has depreciated to the point of being relatively worthless. Credit card debt is even worse—the thing purchased may have no collateral value whatsoever. The difference, in the case of a home, is that usually, if foreclosure becomes necessary, the borrower is more likely to suffer than is the lender.

However, Proverbs 22:6 warns that “the borrower becomes the lender’s slave”; so this is not the only warning against indebtedness. But the broader application is that we are not to act in a way that can damage someone else in any way. “Love works no ill to his neighbor…therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

Time to Wake Up!

11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light

v. 11-12 says to wake up and live the way God wants you to live. The time of Christ’s return draws nearer, and we need to make proper use of the time we have left. Live as men and women of God. Paul says that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand”…if he said that, 2000 years ago, then there are only so many possibilities:

  1. He was wrong and was simply way off on his time-frame (nope, that’s not it…), or
  2. He was right, and was referring to the rapture; in which case we are just that much closer to the second coming, today, and we should live accordingly, or
  3. He was right, and it applies to our end-of-life salvation from the effect and presence of sin. In every believer’s life, every day, we are closer to release—graduation— than we were the day before. We should be applying ourselves, knowing that our time is literally running short. The Game is almost over. Press on toward the goal!

He tells us how to do that, in a few words: cast off the works of darkness! (Repent of and renounce the sins that beset you!) Put on the armor of light. (Light dispels darkness…that is the character of light.) If your life is bathed in the light of God’s Word, it will go far toward preventing the works of darkness regaining a toehold in your life.

Make No Provision for the Flesh.

13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Live honestly, as though the light is always shining on what you are doing… because it is! Leave behind the loose behavior and wrong thinking of your past. You can’t get rid of your old sin nature, but you can deny the fulfillment of its desires, and essentially “starve” it. Don’t provide for it. That involves your thought-life, and everything that impinges on it: TV shows, books, movies, music, conversations. Anything that would lead your heart to wrong thinking (and thus lead you to wrong behavior) is an opportunity for the flesh. Sin always begins in the heart.

As a personal example: for me, because of depression, there are many books I will not read and movies I won’t watch, simply because I know what my heart would do with the negative content. Even historical things, sometimes, can be so tragic that I know I could crash into depression through them, so I simply forgo watching them, or reading them. Music that may seem hauntingly beautiful but whose words lend themselves to a feeling of despair, or terminal sadness, irreparable loss, I avoid, because I know my heart will go after the morbid sadness, and swear that “life is hopeless”. Even certain conversations, I have had to simply terminate and walk away, though the other person really meant no harm, because the morbid content was dragging me down. If it is something I can help, or about which I can pray, I can handle it, most of the time. But frequently it is a recounting of some tragedy they heard of, and they are relishing the drama and pathos of the details, but my old sin nature is using it as a weapon against me. So I politely stop the conversation, explaining that it is depressing me. I make no accusation that they are doing so on purpose, and make it clear that my fragility is in question, not their intent.

Each person has areas in which they have to be careful: for one person it may be gossip, for another, anger, especially the so-called “righteous indignation” of hearing about a wrong done to someone else. But God says we are to “make no provision for the flesh”.

Getting too clever with one’s taxes can be a temptation for some. I knew a Christian business man who went to jail for a time because he was convicted of tax evasion. That is a pretty bad testimony, and it lasts a long time. That happened well over thirty years ago, and I seriously doubt he is even still alive…but I would bet I am not the only one who remembers it and grieves over the damage it did to the name of Jesus, let alone what it did to his family.

I knew another Christian man, a pastor, in fact, who was arrested for theft—shoplifting. When asked how such a thing could even happen, he said, “Oh, stealing is easy! I stole the first sermon I ever preached in this church!” There seemed to be no real remorse, except for his having been caught, but he was permanently out of the ministry. He had built a pattern of dishonesty, and it eventually destroyed him. I never saw him again, but I have remembered him often.

All of us can recount stories of people whose lives were devastated by the Enemy, because they themselves made provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. Any foothold is enough for Satan to start his evil work, so we are told to abandon the works of darkness, cast them off wholesale… not just the obvious ones. Satan and his hosts do not care HOW they destroy the work of God. They only want to destroy it, and damage the reputation of God.

I remember hearing about two churches nearly identical in doctrine and practice, but on opposite sides of town, having a fairly public falling-out about “encroaching” on one another’s “territory;” jealously vying for proselytes: filling pews, but disgusting the world around them. All of which may seem justified, if you are the one doing it, but the world sees it as shameful hucksterism; and the competition makes the churches look like competing scams. (Guess what! They were!)

Conclusion:

The church is supposed to be a reflection of Christ. The ugly behavior of believers, especially lawlessness, greed and hypocrisy, can destroy the testimony of Christ in a city or a nation, to the point that the Gospel of Christ becomes a public joke. And the fault lies with the people of God.

Make no provision for the Flesh. It is too easy to accidentally end up blinded and working for the Enemy. Remember Samson? He was literally, physically blinded, and literally, physically working for the enemy. But believers today can become blind to the light of God’s Word, and enslaved to the evil desires of their own sin nature, all the while justifying themselves with the constant lies of their deceitful heart, and playing right into Satan’s hands, doing his work, instead of the work of Christ. We want to avoid that at all cost!

Lord Jesus, lead us in your paths of Righteousness! Teach us to respond correctly to the World around us for the sake of our testimony and your Honor and Glory.