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What Fragrance do you Bring?

What Fragrance Do You Bring?


© C. O. Bishop 2011
THCF 11/20/11 (Not a Recent Sermon…but appropriate for the times.)

John 12:3 and others…

Introduction:

The concept of smells comes up throughout the Bible—sometimes for good, sometimes evil, sometimes simply a matter of fact—identifying something or someone by smell. The first mention, though, comes in Genesis 8:21, just after the abatement of the flood. Noah erected an altar and there offered a sacrifice, a burnt offering of every type of clean animal (remember, the preparation had been made—there were seven of each), and the writer, Moses, states that “The LORD smelled a sweet savour…” and stated that he would never again destroy the world by flood. The literal smell, in this case, was burning flesh…does this tell us God like the smell of death? No—it was the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and worship that provided the pleasing fragrance to God. How do I know? I read the rest of the story. Let’s take a look:

Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17

Notice in these verses, that the blood was dealt with separately. The fat or other specific parts were offered as a worship offering. The blood was for the atonement of the believer—the covering of his/her sins. The burning of the rest of the animal (or in some cases non-animal offerings) were worship…giving God his due. In like manner, Jesus’ blood, alone, is what paid for our sins. His perfect life, and matchless service not only were proof as to who he himself really was, they constitute the perfection into which WE enter by faith. He was “made to be sin for us, (he) who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God, in him.” His righteousness has been made ours.

Virtually all the uses of the words for “an odor” have to do with the temple worship. The Hebrew words, “reach” and “nichoach” both have to do with a sweet smell, and in scripture are used almost exclusively in relation to worship and sacrifices. There are a few exceptions in the case of the Hebrew word, “reach”, as it is used in about eight places as simply an identifier.  In Genesis 27:27, Isaac said that Jacob, in Esau’s clothes, smelled like the field that God had blessed. In the Song of Solomon, over and over, the sense of smell is invoked in blessing one another…either that perfumes of some sort have been deliberately provided to increase attractiveness, or that the smell of the beloved is being compared to some good smell. In Daniel, the comment is made, (after Daniel’s three friends have been brought up out of the fiery furnace) that not even the smell of the fire was upon their garments.

So, where is all this leading? How does the smell of a burnt offering, or a blessed field, or the deliberate application of perfumed ointment apply to us as believers today?

We are called to function as priests in the body of Christ. We are to offer sacrifices, as priests. The sacrifice already offered by the High Priest, Jesus, has already made us clean. But we can still make offerings of service, love, thanksgiving, hospitality, generosity, and praise. The blood sacrifice has been made—the worship offerings are what is left for us to do.

Consider the fact that the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8 had an effect on the object of worship, God, as well as having an effect on the worshipper, Noah. In that particular case, God’s justice was satisfied, and he determined that He would never again destroy the whole world by flood.

In the case of all the Old Testament sacrifices, some aspect of God’s character found satisfaction in the sacrifice, and he was pleased with the offerings. There are Old Testament counter-examples, however, wherein a sacrifice was made, but there was no acceptance found with God. Cain was the first such example—and in his case, the issue was evidently twofold. The first problem was that he had not brought a blood sacrifice. (Non-blood sacrifices were fine, but not until after the blood-sacrifice had been offered.) Worship is only acceptable from clean hands, and the cleansing begins at the Cross. The blood sacrifice, in all ages, looked forward to the Cross. Our communion looks back to the Cross…but faith is what applies it to the heart. Evident from Cain’s response to God is the self-will and resentment against God that eventually led him to murder his brother, and which, we can surmise, initiated the wrong offering as well. In the New Testament we are told that the sacrifice was wrong, but that his heart was wrong as well.

Other examples are given where, on the surface, all was well—the sacrifice was technically correct. But God rejected the sacrifice because of the behavior of the “worshippers” and, in other cases, because they had deliberately skimped on the offering, bringing him sick or damaged animals, or the culls from their flocks.

Still, how does this apply? We don’t bring lambs, today. I’m not even sure I would know a good lamb from a poor one. So what about the offerings we are supposed to bring? Do we actually consider what we are saying when we pray? Are we really thankful for God’s provision in our lives? What about the Cross? Always assuming that you started off there, do you know your way back? Do you ever return to Calvary to give thanks, just for the fact that He voluntarily died there, in your place? Remember the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed. All were Jews except one, evidently, and all were healed by faith, as they went to show themselves to the priest. Jesus extended his healing to them, with his only command being to go and show themselves to the priest. They went, and they were healed en route. Nine went on their way rejoicing, but one, evidently the only Samaritan in the bunch, made it first priority to go back to Jesus and give thanks. In fact, it says he loudly praised God, and fell at Jesus’ feet in worship. Jesus commented on that, and said, in effect, “…funny, I thought I healed ten lepers…but the only one to come back and give glory to God is this stranger.” But then he said “Go thy way. Thy faith hath healed thee.”

And what about our service? Our giving? Do we serve and give joyfully or grudgingly? Or is it a mix? Sometimes I really don’t feel like coming to church Sunday morning…Maybe I just feel like I want a break, or I’m tired, or maybe I am out of fellowship about some unrelated thing, and don’t want to confess it and “wash my feet,” as it were, and then come to the table to feed with the saints. Sad, but that’s the truth. Usually, as soon as I repent and get moving, God adds His blessing. But I have had times that I got there, and was still not OK.

Think about the prodigal son. Bad kid, huh? Ran off and spent up his inheritance, then wants to come back and eat up his brother’s as well, huh? Funny: that is not how the Father saw it. He knew of the failing, but desperately loved his son, and wanted him back. BUT! The older son? That is exactly how he saw his younger brother. And the result was that he would not go in where the welcome home party was going on. The father came out to reason with him, and it turns out that, though the older son had been serving, he was doing so grudgingly (at least ever since “bubba” left home), and not out of a clean heart of love for the Father. The inheritance was still his, but fellowship with the Father demanded fellowship with his brother. Good thing to remember, hmm? Over in 1st John 4:20, it points out that anyone saying they love God, but who is simultaneously hating his brother, is a liar, for a man who does NOT love his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen.? Good question. But we still try to do it, every now and then, don’t we?

Romans 12:1, 2 tells me that I am to offer up my body as a living sacrifice to God. The problem with living sacrifices is that they don’t necessarily “go along” with the plan. Our old sin nature is still there, and still strong, though it has no more authority. I have to daily reconcile myself with the decision to live for God. The Proverbs tell me to cease from my own wisdom. Hard to do—I have all sorts of ideas as to how things ought to work, but they frequently don’t match God’s plan.

Ephesians 5:1, 2 says that we are to be followers, or imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and has given himself to God an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. There’s that thing about “smells” again. And this time, it is directly connected with a command to imitate…to follow his lead. To do as he did.

Revelation 5:8 In the book of the Revelation, the prayers of the believers are depicted as odors.

Philippians 4:18 “ But I have all and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet sacrifice acceptable to God.”  So let’s think this through. Paul was an apostle—a missionary, if you will, out on a hard journey, and, in fact, was at that point, bound in a Roman prison. The believers at Philippi, who loved him deeply, as he had led them to Christ, and had suffered with them, had sent a gift to him…we don’t even know what it was, except that it was “things”…and this was called “an odor of a sweet sacrifice, acceptable to God.” Interesting. No lamb, no prayers, no trips to the temple. Just sending a needed item to a friend in prison. Nothing even “religious-sounding” about it, really. But God said that was the real deal. That pleased God. They were supporting one of the brethren who was doing God’s work. And God liked it!

John 12:3 (also Matthew 26, Mark 14)

I’d like to consider the story in John chapter 12, specifically verse 3. Mary of Bethany approached Jesus while he was at the table with the twelve, Judas included, and proceeded to anoint him with an extremely expensive perfumed oil…evidently a year’s wages worth, in fact, because Judas spoke up and complained that this was a blatant waste, and should have been sold for that much, and the money used to feed the poor.

There are more sermons in this passage than I can count. Thousands have been preached from this passage already. Frankly, I am going to deliberately ignore most of what is there, because I want to point out some things about this offering.

  1. It had no particular practical purpose, except the fact that Jesus said it was presaging his burial. It did NOT feed the poor, or send something to an apostle in prison, nor lead the singing in church, or anything else pious-sounding. It was ministering directly to Jesus. Directly to God.
  2. It was NOT a corporate act—she didn’t form a committee, and announce ahead of time, so everyone could watch. She just did it, in as simple and worshipful a manner as possible. Some of the gospels say it was his feet that were anointed, some say his head…I assume both. But it was his feet she wiped with her hair. This was from her alone.
  3. Though it was not directed at anyone else, everyone there was indirectly affected…some in negative ways, as they were offended. (Some of the Gospels specify that Judas was the one complaining, but others point out that he was only the spokesman—the others agreed with him.) But all of them saw it, and all of them shared in the smell.
  4. The odor filled the house. It affected Jesus. It affected Mary of Bethany. It affected everyone in the building, to one degree or another, and is affecting you today. Jesus was so impressed by this simple act of adoration that he said “Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached, in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told as a memorial of her.” (Matthew 26:13) That has literally been fulfilled, wherever the Gospel has gone.

The acts of obedience, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, praise, and worship that you bring to God are a sweet smell to Him. Sometimes they are practical, as the Philippian gift was. Sometimes they are religious in nature, as the gifts in the temple. Sometimes they are as simple as gratitude, like the Samaritan Leper who was healed. But the fragrance of what you do will affect you, God, and others. For better or worse, the things you do affect others.

In Romans 2:24, Paul rebuked the Jews, saying that through them the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. In Genesis 34:30, Jacob rebuked his sons Simeon and Levi, saying “You have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the land”.  It is entirely possible to bring a bad offering of our lives, and leave a bad smell in the nostrils of those around us, believers and unbelievers alike.

But God says he wants us to smell like Jesus. Read 2nd Corinthians 2:14-16. We are to be a fragrance of Christ, to believers and unbelievers. To those who are receptive to the Gospel and those who flatly reject it. In both cases, we are to smell like Christ. To the one category, we bring the smell of hope and of life. To the other, we bring the smell of judgment and death, even when we say nothing about such things. The world can see the coming judgment in the righteousness of believers. It convicts them.

Consider what things God says about the smell of our lives:

  1. It has to do with our relationship with him.
  2. It can relate His character to the rest of the world (rightly or wrongly).
  3. It is an accurate depicter of our relationship with God, and the character of our worship.
  4. God is the one who declares, ultimately, how things smell.
  5. ALL of us are bringing some sort of fragrance to God, to the church, and to the world.

What Fragrance do you bring? How is it affecting God? How is it affecting You? How is it affecting others? Does it fill the House of God? (Remember that the church, proper—the people of God—are the “house of God”.) Does it fill the sphere within which you live and move? Do you really smell like Jesus? Does your worship please him? Does it please you?

Consider this, as well—had Mary just walked in, and dumped the stuff on Jesus and walked out, it would not have been received in the same way at all. HOW are you bringing your offering? Is your love relationship with God growing stronger, or is it something you have to remind yourself of or you will neglect it entirely?

Give this some thought…What Fragrance do you bring?

I pray that our lives, collectively, will offer the Fragrance of Christ, growing stronger and stronger, as we draw near to Him.


Masters and Mouths

Masters and Mouths

© 4/18/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:1-12

Introduction:

James seems to address two ideas here: Masters and Mouths. But, the admonition is directed to “My Brethren:” to believers. So, since both ideas are addressed to the same audience, and the one leads directly into the other, we will approach them as if they were one idea, simply having a wider and a narrower focus.

The general focus is “how we live,” especially in the case of leaders. Remember that in chapter two that was also the primary focus, where faith had to result in actions. Hypocrisy was ruled out by genuine faith, leading to the “practical” holiness of life which God requires.

“Be Not Many Masters”

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Bear in mind that I am quoting the King James Version…which, in its original form was from 1611. In modern English, especially in the US, we no longer often use the word “master” to mean a teacher, but that was a very common usage, two centuries ago, even in the US. A school-teacher was called a schoolmaster, a person who went from town to town teaching young people the arts of ballroom dancing (once considered an important part of education) was called a “dance-master,” etc. The word for teacher in Spanish is still “maestro,” and such usage is common in many languages. This passage is not a warning to not be an employer, nor even a caution against the (then-common) practice of slave-holding. It is an admonition that one not be over-eager to become a teacher (specifically, teaching within the church…teaching scripture, feeding the flock, equipping the saints, etc.) Why would James extend such a warning? Over in 1st Timothy 8:1, it says that “if a man desires the office of a bishop (“overseer”…same person as an elder, pastor, shepherd, presbyter,) it is a good work he desires.”

The issue is one of being held accountable: see Hebrews 13:17. We elders are going to be held accountable for the results of our ministry, at least so far as it is a direct result of what we did or failed to do. Ezekiel 34:1-10 spells out the job description of the shepherds, and specifically emphasizes their ultimate accountability to God. If you read that passage, and it does not make you think very seriously about the consequences of ministry, for good or bad, then something is wrong with how you approach God’s Word. He makes it a truly serious issue.

The warning here, about “masters” (teachers) bearing a greater condemnation, also could be in reference to the fact that our human observers will more harshly condemn a failing teacher or preacher than they will one who does not hold such a position. (Consider how the news media love to report any failure in pastors, Sunday-school teachers, etc.) And the warning is clear, that we should not be “in a rush” to gain that status, knowing that the risk is there.

But…it is also a warning that God demands more of a teacher or a shepherd. We are held to a stricter standard. The qualifications for leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9 are quite clear, and they definitely lay out God’s standard for Church leaders. They do not say that all Christians have to meet those criteria. On the other hand, they definitely are all character-traits that should be emulated by those who follow. Paul said (1st Corinthians 11:1) to the Corinthian believers that they were to follow him as he followed Christ. Elders, deacons and other leaders are to lead by example, so that others can do as they do, without fear of being led astray. Peter said (1st Peter 5:1-3)that the elders are not to serve as “lords” over the flock, but to be examples for the flock.

The danger of failure looms for everyone, but the results of failure in a shepherd’s life can be disastrous, as others are certainly following. A pastor who winks at worldly thinking will be held accountable for the sin into which members of the flock will certainly be drawn. He taught them that it was “OK.”  The failings in the teachers will be lived out in those they teach. So James addresses the most common failing, here: the mouth…the tongue. And he reminds us that we all fail in this area, so it is especially vital to guard against this nearly universal failing.
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.

The Importance of the Tongue

This sounds like an exaggeration, but James says that if a believer can completely solve the “mouth problem”, he is fully mature—“perfect,” in the sense of the ability to walk with God. James says that if you can control your tongue, you can control everything else, as well, because, evidently, that is the greatest challenge. Then he goes on to illustrate how the tongue is at least indicative of where the whole man is headed.
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!

James uses, as illustrations, a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship; they are examples of how something relatively small can have a huge effect. In a way, it is an “inside out” analogy… in both those cases, the small thing (bit and rudder) are used to physically control, from the outside, a much larger thing (the horse or the ship.) But the tongue is primarily an indicator of what is going on in the heart. Jesus said (Matthew 12:33-35) that a good man brings forth out of the good treasures of his heart that which is good; while an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil. He said that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Interestingly, this is also the passage where the scripture teaches that “by their fruit ye shall know them”. He was referring to false teachers, and the “fruit” was their teaching; their words. What comes out of our mouths is indicative of what is in our hearts.
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.

We need to consider the ultimate source of what is coming out of our mouths: Does it originate with God? And, if not, from where else might it originate? (set on fire of hell?” Is this literal? Or figurative?) Jesus said (Mark 7:15-23) that a man is not defiled by what he puts into his mouth, but by what comes out, specifically because of the source. The evil that comes out of our hearts, and bears fruit through our words and actions, is what brands us as sinners. Paul said, (Romans 8:7) that our sin nature is literally untamable—that it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be brought into submission. So, if my sin nature is the source of what comes out of my mouth, it is guaranteed to be unprofitable, if not downright destructive. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Author of all of the Bible, through the various human writers. So James, by the same Holy Spirit, confirms that the tongue (because it bears the fruit of the inner man…the heart) is untamable, too…and that it reflects our old sin nature (which, in turn, is ultimately fueled by the Evil One, as we see in Ephesians 2:2, 3) Not much fun to consider, is it?

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.

The issue is the heart: Jeremiah, over 600 years earlier had said, (Jeremiah 17:9) that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” So, even in a believer, who is possessed of a new nature which is created holy and righteous (See Ephesians 4:24), the old sin nature, unchanged and untamable, is still there, waiting and yearning to take over and make us a curse to all around us instead of a blessing.
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.

The contrast between blessing and cursing is stark, and very clear: What other kinds of things does God label as “sins of the lips?”

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

So the classification of “what to say and what not to say” could be narrowed to “What, in this flow of words, could minister grace to the hearers?” (By the way, I try to maintain the consciousness that, even “in private,” there are hearers, and watchers. Consider the fact that we are a testimony of God’s Grace and Wisdom to the Angelic hosts, not just to humans.) How is this edifying to anyone? How does it build up someone in their walk with God? Or, conversely, does it actually do the opposite? This is serious stuff, if you consider the potential consequences.

Ephesians 5:4 says, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” (KJV)

  • NASB renders the same passage, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
  • NIV renders it “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

In these passages, Paul lists some things that are simply seen as being inappropriate for believers to say or discuss. We may have a variety of opinions about what those subjects may be, but I am guessing that the things to which he refers, here, are conversations that either make light of, or glorify sin or immorality. He goes on to say that “it is a shame even to speak of those things done of them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) Such things should not be comfortable for us to discuss, and there has to be a very good reason to even broach these subjects, let alone dwell upon them. I have had young believers insist that “swearing can be a good thing” in certain circumstances. I am not the judge: Jesus is. But Jesus is the Living Word of God. How can I rationalize obscenity, off-color joking, or the like, when the Written Word of God tells me it is to be abandoned?

What other kinds of things does God list as sins of the mouth? One he hits on in many places is deception: Jesus labeled Satan as being the author of deception, saying “…he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Give that some thought, when you are tempted to shade the truth.

In Proverbs 6:16-19 He lists:

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaketh lies
  • He that soweth discord among brethren.

I’m not sure that I understand the difference between the first two items, as both seem to deal with lying. But the third one can refer to someone who spreads negative information, even if it is true. Proverbs 10:12 says that “hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” 1st Peter 4:8 echoes that idea, saying that “…love covers a multitude of sin.” It is possible for us to tell the truth, and still be in the wrong, as we have become a “talebearer.” Proverbs 11:13 says “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”

Our mouth can be a source of trouble even when we are telling the truth…when the matter simply should not have been discussed. Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Wisdom is the thing we want controlling our words. Proverbs 31:26, referring to a virtuous woman, says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Those are the things we want to characterize what comes out of our mouths. Wisdom and Kindness!

Incidentally, if we have wronged someone by talking behind their back, and they know it, then we owe them confession and apology, as well as the same to all those to whom we gossiped. But if the “victim” does not know, and we run to them to “clear our conscience”, then we have only burdened them with the knowledge that we have wronged them, and then left them to worry about the potential long-term results of our sin.

That is not a kind thing to do, nor does it undo the damage we have done: instead, it adds to the damage. So, while we do have to go and confess our gossip to those to whom we gossiped, it is very questionable motive that would drive us to also go let the victim know that their reputation has been sullied by our loose mouth, unless there is a real chance they would learn of it anyway, and this might somehow protect them from the potential damage.

One must consider what “Agape” love means: It requires doing things for the benefit of the recipient, without regard to the effect on the doer. That is what Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. If my “confession,” meant only to “unburden my soul,” is going to cause further damage to the victim of my loose mouth, then that is not a loving thing to do. We need to examine our motives, and consider the potential results. There may be times when the only one to whom I can confess is God himself.

It is not Random: It is a Choice.

James goes on to finally compare our speech to a fountain or a fruit tree:

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.

Nature doesn’t hold very many anomalies like the human mouth. A spring would not normally alternate randomly from salt water to fresh, and back again, though I suppose a seasonal change or a tidal change might produce such a phenomenon. But it is certainly not considered normal, nor would it ever be considered a good thing. It would make that spring unreliable to any creature who needs fresh water.

A fruit tree will never “randomly” offer a completely unrelated fruit, though grafting can produce some rather unusual combinations. But there is nothing random about it, and usually, it is considered a desirable thing, where grafting is involved, because someone went to a great deal of trouble and care, to produce that successful graft.

But our speech does swing wildly from very good to very bad, sometimes without warning. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it is a reality that we can (and must) learn to deal with, and, thankfully, one from which we will eventually be free.

In the meantime, we are exhorted to be aware of the danger and to deal wisely in the things we say and do. The words we use and the way we conduct relationships tell the people around us more about the reality of our walk with God than any overt “piety” we may try to display. People need to

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior, to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech,and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak will accomplish either the one or the other.

To leaders, this is an especially serious warning, of course, but all believers need to be aware that we are affecting someone, whether we know it or not, and for better or worse. Choose daily to consider what effect you are having, and allow God to change your thinking and your words.

Blessings upon you all. I trust that we will soon be together again in the building the Lord has provided. Until that time, please try to maintain contact with one another by telephone, and maintain contact with God, in the Word, and in prayer.


Believers, Place Your Bets!

Believers, Place Your Bets!

© 4/15/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 2:12-26

Introduction:

We hear a lot of arguments regarding the twin subjects of faith and works. And that is what they really are: twins! Saving faith produces works as a rule. Works are proof of faith as a rule, but not always saving faith: they may only be proof that the one performing the works wants to please God, or even wants to be seen as righteous by his or her fellow-humans.

Here in James, the single verse (26) “26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” is one of the most misused and frequently misquoted passages in the Bible.  Why? Because we tend to isolate that one idea, and thus sever it from the context in which it is given. Let’s back up to verse 12, at least, and see what is being discussed: Remember that James is speaking to believers. “12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Behavior matters!

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We all get one chance— one life—during which to honor God, and present our bodies a living sacrifice as a worship offering. Once it is over, only that which met this standard will have eternal value. Usually, we only have one chance to make a “first impression” with those people around us, too. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be around folks long enough for them to see that we are not “stuck-up” or rude…but if that is what they really thought, when they first met us, they will probably not come back and give us another chance. Does God see us for what we really are, good or bad? Certainly He does! He is not governed by “impressions.” I am frequently amused by married couples’ testimonies that “when I first met ___, I didn’t like….” Their first impression was bad, but they grew to love one another and eventually were married. Their first impression was wrong, but could have cost them dearly. God sees the truth at all times. He is not the one we are trying to impress, or trying to not cause to stumble, or whatever.

As believers, we have already received God’s Mercy, at the Cross: We are in no danger of His changing His mind, and rejecting us. We are sealed in Christ until the day of redemption, according to Ephesians. But we need to reflect that fact, in reaching out to those around us in a merciful way. Can it backfire? Certainly it can! It did for Jesus, many times. After he fed the 5,000, in John chapter 6; the very next day, those he had fed were back for more; but he offered them the Bread of Life instead, and they immediately turned on him and began to argue, in John 6:30, saying “What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?” (What? He just fed the whole crowd on five loaves and two fishes, and you ask for another sign?)

We have had people ask for money for food, and when we gave it, we saw them immediately head for the liquor store. So, the next time, when someone asked for money for food, we took them to get food. In one case that worked very well…the woman involved was telling the truth: her husband and several children were waiting in an empty lot beside a school, and they were all very glad to see her show up with a large bag full of sandwiches and other food.

But in another case, the fellow asked for food, and we offered to drive with him right then, and buy a meal. He changed his request, saying he needed gas for his car. We offered to go with him to get gasoline…the story kept changing, and we kept offering to meet the stated need, until he was exasperated, and blurted “Can’t you just give me some money?!” He was lying! He didn’t want any of the things he claimed to need. We were glad we had not given him anything, whereas in the case of the woman with the children, we were only sad that we could offer no better help than food.

What is the Connection?

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

We need to see the connection between faith and works, then. James poses the question “Can Faith save?” The real issue is “what kind of faith are we talking about?” Saving faith seems to be the issue, but there are other things we, as humans, call faith.

In responding to this passage, I would like to relate an argument I had with an unbelieving co-worker, nearly thirty years ago: He claimed that he could “create his own reality.” He claimed that his beliefs would control the reality that he experienced.

I replied that he did not really believe that, and that the untruth of his statement was made obvious by how he lived his life: He had to live with the same reality as everyone else. He “placed his bets,” so to speak, upon the realities of this world, the same as everyone else. I said, “If you are in the middle of the road and I tell you a truck is coming, you will get out of the road, just like everyone else. You will not ‘create your own reality,’ in which the truck will somehow not hurt you: You are betting on the reality of death, and saving yourself by moving out of harm’s way.” He had no answer, and the conversation ended. But that same rule is applied here, by James:

What you really believe is revealed by your works. If you really believe your house is on fire, you try to save yourself, your loved-ones and your possessions, unless you are suicidal, and desire to die. Where you “place your bets” is the best indicator of what you really believe.

If you really believe that Jesus is your Savior, your Master and your Judge, then your actions should reflect that, as a general rule. So the logic follows: if you see someone else in need, what you really believe about your relationship to Christ and His lordship in your life will be revealed by your works. (Bear in mind the inherent question, “revealed to whom?” Does God know the truth? Or are we constantly having to again prove to God the reality of our faith?)

The kind of faith that produced a love-relationship with an unseen Savior should also produce a compassionate relationship with the visible people around us with their visible needs. 1st John 4:20, 21 agrees, saying, 2If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The demonstration of the reality of faith is to other humans, not to God. The kind of faith that does not produce appropriate works is called a “dead” faith. We are commanded by Jesus to love one another…a genuine faith should result in a genuine caring for those around us. We should love one another in practical ways, according to this passage.

And, What if we Don’t?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Such neglect is unprofitable and brings a negative shadow on the name of Christ. If we, as believers, don’t even care for one another’s needs, then how can we say we are “brothers” in Christ? Even unbelievers, as a rule, will care for the needs of their families, though perhaps in poor grace, in some cases. Usually, simple cultural norms will demand that a person care for their own immediate family members. Why, then, would it be acceptable to us to not take care of the believers with whom we share an eternal bond of kinship in the person of Christ? That lack, if founded upon a lack of concern, not just ignorance of the need, would show a non-functional faith, at least, and perhaps would give reason to suspect even the validity of that faith…leading us to verse 17, which is closing in on what we wanted to address in the first place:

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Such faith, that does nothing to move the will, and causes no change in action, is a useless, non-functional faith. Is it valid? Only God knows! You see, this whole passage on “faith versus works” is couched in the question of “How can the World see faith? How can people see faith?”

God could see the faith of Lot, though no human could see it. When I first read the account of Lot, in Genesis chapters 13-19, I would definitely have supposed (in spite of his Godly Uncle Abraham) that Lot was simply an unbeliever, whose sins finally caught up with him. But God says, in 2nd Peter 2:6-9, that Lot was a righteous man! I certainly would not have come to that conclusion by observing his works, because, except for one feeble attempt to save the angels whom he thought were ordinary men, he was pretty much invisible, in terms of faith, because his works did not reveal his faith, as a rule. Even his sons-in-law did not believe him, when he tried to warn them of the coming destruction. So, the next verse makes it clear:

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

A man, a fellow human, can only observe faith in action. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow humans. We can only see actions. God says we need works to confirm who we are in Christ, to those around us. Lot’s life was a wreckage that was not only useless as a testimony to unbelievers, but produced enemies to the seed of Abraham, lasting until today. Lot’s sons (by incest with his daughters) were Ben-Ammi and Moab. The Ammonites and the Moabites were bitter enemies to Israel from the beginning, and they still are, today, as they are the people of Jordan, and the Palestinians. It is a sad thing, but “righteous Lot” left a terrible legacy.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Doctrinal soundness” does not replace a living faith. “Orthodoxy” is simply a case of having correct opinions. One can know the truth, intellectually; accept it as fact; be able to recite a catechism or creed, and yet have no personal interaction with that truth. It is certainly possible to have “correct opinions” regarding theology, and still be absolutely an unbeliever.

But remember that James is speaking to believers. All he says, here, is that knowing the fact that “there is only one God” is not the same as having a living relationship with that one God. He gives the example of the demons, who have known God face-to-face, since before the world was created, and yet are eternally His enemies. They know all about the God of the Bible, and are terrified of their coming judgment. We know the bare facts, as we have been told them, but we are indifferent about the coming judgment, and acting as if it will never come.

Genuine Faith will Change Our Life

If our faith is a real, saving faith, it should be changing our motives, and our behavior. We don’t “make that change” in order to “prove our faith.” Genuine Faith changes us, from the inside out, and proves its own validity.

James goes on to discuss Abraham, whom God justified by faith (Genesis 15:6), but whom men justify because of his works. The scripture that says he was justified by his faith, found visible proof in his later works.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

The word “perfect”, here, means “completed”…fulfilled. If we compare Ephesians 2:8-10, we can see that while we are saved “by Grace, through Faith,” and specifically not through (or by means of) works, verse ten makes it clear that we are “His workmanship, created unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So the fulfillment of our faith and God’s Grace, in re-creating us in His own image, is that we are to walk in the good works that he ordained for us ahead of time.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Remember that the word “justified” means “declared righteous.” Bear in mind Who it is, doing the real justification, and who the observers are in this context. In Romans 5:1, Paul states that we have been justified by faith, and that, as a result, we have peace with God. So, looking again at verse 18, we remind ourselves that, in this case, the persons questioning our faith are fellow humans. We can only demonstrate our faith to other humans through appropriate works. Our fellow humans “declare us righteous” based entirely on what they can see. So, in verse 24, we are “justified” or “declared righteous,” on the basis of works, where humans are the judges. We were declared righteous entirely on the basis of Faith, where Jesus is the Judge. (We don’t even like to think of Jesus as being the Judge, but He says He is, in John 5:22) Romans 5:1 addresses our justification before God. James 2:24 refers to our justification before Man. Does it matter? You’d better believe it does! (Remember Lot!)

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

It somehow seems appropriate, in this context, to remember that “dead”, in scripture, usually has some sort of “separation” in view. A body, separated from the spirit of the person to whom both belong, is considered a dead body: no longer functional. A faith that is separated from the works that should accompany it, is considered a dead faith…not functional. It does not mean that such a person has never been accepted by God, necessarily. There are examples in the Old Testament and the New Testament, of people whose faith faltered, and their testimony was ruined, and who, in some cases, lost their physical lives because of their subsequent disobedience. (Lot, Balaam, Samson, Ananias & Sapphira, Demas, etc.) But in each case, it seems clear that they were real believers who simply fell into a pattern of disobedience… and it cost them heavily.

Place your Bets!

Remember that salvation tract (The Four Spiritual Laws) people used to hand out, which began with the statement (true, by the way) that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”? Well, here’s the other side of that idea: “Satan hates you and has a TERRIBLE plan for your life!” Now, if you walk with Jesus, staying close to the Great Shepherd, you need have no fear of the Evil One, at all: He is a defeated enemy. But the Enemy does have an agenda:

  1. Satan desires to destroy your fellowship with God, through distractions, through neglect of feeding on the Word, neglect of prayer, and through overt sin.
  2. He desires to destroy your Joy and Peace, through all of the above.
  3. He desires to destroy your testimony, as bitterness and cynicism begin to replace Joy and Peace, and your works show to others the deadness of your faith.
  4. Finally, if he can draw you far enough away from the Shepherd, he desires to destroy your life, either through the destructive results of the bad decisions made in the flesh or through the consequences of overt sin.

God does not need you to “prove your faith” to Him by works. But your works are the result of what you really believe, and are a pretty good indicator of where your heart really is today. They reveal where you are currently “placing your bets.” They should reveal to you how you are doing, spiritually, and they definitely will let your neighbors, friends and family make decisions about the reality of faith in your life.

Look in the “Mirror of God’s Word, and see yourself! Look at where you are “Placing your Bets,” and see whether that is how God wants you to respond to Him.

So you really believe prayer is important? Then place your bet that way: pray! Do you really believe Jesus is the Master? Then obey Him! Do you really believe you should be feeding on God’s Word? Then do so! Do you really believe you should share your faith with others? Then do so! Where you “place your bets”–what you actually do–reveals what you really believe.

The Lord Bless His Word, and His people as they seek His Face.


Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

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

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

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

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

Salvation has three tenses:

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

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

Men and Mirrors

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

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

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

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

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

Watch your Mouth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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


Different Kinds of Trials

Different Kinds of Trials

© C. O. Bishop, January 2020

James 1:1-4, 12-16

Introduction:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Trials for Training


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Temptation to Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense against Temptation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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


The Rapture of the Church and the End Times

The Rapture of the Church and the End Times.

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

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

Introduction:

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

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

Daniel 9:21-27

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

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

2nd Thessalonians 2:1-17

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

1st Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

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

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


1st Corinthians 15:50-58

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

Old Testament Prophecies

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

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

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

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

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

New Testament Explanations

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

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

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

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

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

What about the Dead in Christ?

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

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

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


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

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

What happens after that?

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

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

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

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

So…Now What?

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

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


What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?

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

Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20

Introduction:

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

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

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

What were the Angels doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was Mary doing?

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

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

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

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

What was Joseph doing?

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

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

What were the Shepherds doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are You doing on Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finding Comfort in Christmas

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop

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

How do we really feel about Christmas?

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

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

The Birth of Christ:

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

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

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

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

What was the Promise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we Receive that Promise?

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings upon you all.


What does it mean to “Glorify God?”

What does it mean to “Glorify God?”

© 2019 C. O. Bishop

Psalm 50:7-15

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 50:7-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean to “Glorify God?”

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

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

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

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

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

What about Negative examples?

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

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

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

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

What should we do, then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can the World rightly Judge the Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lose the Baggage!

Lose the Baggage!

© 2019 C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 12:1-4

Introduction:

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

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

God’s Witnesses to Us

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

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

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

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

So, Lose the Baggage!

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

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

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

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

Looking Unto Jesus, the Perfect Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Baggage to Lose

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

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

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

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

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

Where do We Stand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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