Posts Tagged ‘future’

What About the Future?

Making Plans: What About the Future?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:13-17

Introduction:

We humans are constantly making plans: we have “day-planners” that we carry with us, and business-plans, wherein we predict the future of a company. I am told that US businesses think they are doing well to have a five-year business plan, but that many Japanese businesses have 100-year plans. That boggles my mind, because there are so many unforeseeable changes in the world that it seems impossible to have any sort of serious plans extending more than a very few years. How can one predict market trends, new inventions, famines, plagues, wars, etc.? In reality, we have very little “control” of our lives, though we want very much to think that we are in control. James reflects that reality, and warns us to give God the honor He deserves by confessing that, in reality, He… and only He… is in control of the future. All we can control is our response to that reality.

So, James answers our ambitious, presumptuous, self-confident plans by saying, 13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

It would be an easy shift, to change our thinking, and simply acknowledge that God can confirm our plans or He can change them completely. We could simply say “If the Lord wills…” which could be just lip service. But it does require at least some humility, to say, “I hope to do thus and so, but, ultimately, God is in control, not I.”

The Problem of Self-Direction

16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

We don’t think of our “grand plans” as “boasting,” but God says they are! And each of us has made such plans, at one time or another, thinking we were “taking control” of our futures…but the fact is, we do not have control of our futures. Our lives are completely under God’s control, for good or bad. My wife and I knew a Godly young woman, apparently with her whole life ahead of her. She was married, and had great things planned. But she slipped on an icy walk, and smacked her head: and the bleeding on her brain killed her. Was she in sin? Not that I know of. She was really a godly young lady, and rejoicing in the Lord. But God has the right to take his children home, and it is not punishment! She simply graduated early. She is home with Jesus. It was a surprise, and a shock, but, honestly, isn’t that what we are all looking forward to?

And God says that our “self-centered” desire to be “self-directed”, making us “self-made” men and women, is what is evil, having found its root in the sin of Satan, which we can read about, in Isaiah 14:12-15. 12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

Lucifer lost his position as the “Light-bearer” (that’s what “Lucifer” means) when he sinned. What was the sin? The desire to be self-directed…to be his own master, and thus, ultimately, to supplant God.

He made five statements of self-will in that passage, all exalting himself above God.

  1. I will ascend into heaven (not by invitation, but by presumption)
  2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God (referring to the angelic host)
  3. I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north (referring to Zion: God’s chosen throne on earth)
  4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds (God’s position)
  5. I will be like the most high. (Self-direction is the only aspect in which he could be like the most high…he could not attain to the attributes of deity, but he wanted the position and honor of deity.)

What did all five statements have in common? “I will…”  This is the self-will that set in motion the sin that pervades our human sphere. He spread it to the first Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden, and they lost their position of innocence. They regained fellowship with God through a blood sacrifice, and by faith. We also enter into that fellowship by a blood sacrifice (the Cross) and by faith. But when we sin, even as believers, we emulate the self-will of Lucifer, because we defy the authority of God, and, by our actions, words or attitudes, we declare that “In this small sphere, I am the master! I will make the choices, here, and I will chart the course of my life!”

It is hard for us to think of these things in this way, because we have been taught, all of our lives, that such things are good! “Be your own person! Take charge of your life! Be all you can be! Be your own boss! Throw off the shackles of authority! You deserve the best!” Does any of that sound familiar? Those are all advertisements in magazines, as to how you can tell off your boss, start your own business, and suddenly be in charge of your own future, get rich (or at least richer), and have all the things and the relationships you have always wanted! Interesting, huh?

How does the Enemy attack us?

Do you see how, when Satan tempted and tricked Eve, he attacked through three areas of temptation? Genesis 3:6 says that “When she saw that:

  1. the fruit was good to eat, and
  2. that it was pleasant to the eyes, and
  3. desirable to make one wise,

(then) she took the fruit and ate, and gave it to her husband with her, and he ate…”  The result was the fall of the human race! Spiritually, we all died that day in the Garden of Eden. We were separated from fellowship with God! We have regained our position through Jesus’s blood at the Cross, but we still have our old Sin nature, and can still be drawn away to sin.

When Satan tested Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), he used the same three areas of temptation: food, public status, and riches. But Jesus successfully rejected that temptation, on the basis of God’s Written Word…which we can also choose to do.

There’s an odd thing, here: God calls out those specific things as how the enemy will tempt us, too! (1st John 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” )

  1. The Lust of the Eyes (what I see and find attractive)
  2. The Lust of the Flesh (what would serve to gratify the body)
  3. The boastful Pride of life (What would serve to gratify my sense of self-importance.)

Those same weapons have been used against the human race from the very beginning. And the pride issue, the part of us that says, “I did it myyy way!” (That was a famous song!) is a very common failing, virtually universal among humans. So, with that warning, we need to change how we approach life.

What can I do differently?

Is it “wrong” to make plans? When God says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding…” does that mean it is sin to make plans? Absolutely not! In fact, Jesus addressed that idea in regard to discipleship, saying we need to count the cost, sit down and calculate whether we can do the things we hope for: He gave the examples of one preparing to build a tower, or go into battle, calculating ahead of time whether they had what it took to complete the work, or to succeed in battle.

I have to plan ahead, and make time to study God’s Word, or I will not have the teaching to feed a flock. We have to plan ahead and prepare the soil for a garden, if we want to reap a crop or even have flowers. We have to plan ahead and acquire specific schooling if we want to work in certain jobs or professions. And maybe, after all, we aren’t able to do those things once we take the training. (You can’t be a surgeon, for example, if you always faint at the sight of blood! Or a commercial fisherman, if you can’t overcome motion sickness, etc.)

We each have plans we have to make, and the passage that warns us to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts” goes on to say, “…in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path!” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

So James echoes this idea; that we need to recognize our frailty at the very least: our lives are like a vapor, or a mist, that appears briefly and then is gone. We have grand ideas of things we’d like to do, but the very least we can do is realize how short life really is, and that we simply don’t have time to do them all. (I like to make things. My brother-in-law pointed out, “Chet, you can make anything! You cannot make everything!” Meaning, “You won’t have time!”)

Not all of the ideas we have are worth wasting our limited time on them. But if we start with the confession of our own frailty and the very brief time we have been given in which to function, then we can begin to rethink our values and our choices, and apply the wisdom of God to our plans, seeking His guidance and approval as we go. He says that we need to recognize every day that our plans are subject to His authority, and that things may change suddenly and without warning. (Remember the rich man who was planning to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his crops, as opposed to sharing that bounty. He didn’t know that he was already in his last day of life.)

I knew a Bible teacher, in 1975 (Ralph Hovland, a retired missionary,) who had spent what most would call “his retirement years” teaching the Bible to younger men and women, preparing them for service. He finally was too old to even continue that, so he was going to retire, and he and his wife were going to move to a retirement home of some sort. He was walking down the street near the school with one of his students, Scott Gutmann, and explaining his plans. He concluded with, “But, of course, the Lord could change those plans at any moment!” and at that moment, he suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead! He was called home, as a good and faithful servant. No suffering, no slow deterioration. And the impact it had on Scott’s life was profound! He went on to serve as a missionary as well.

There is nothing wrong with making plans, and we are urged by God to do so:  Proverbs 6:6-8Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

We are given ample instructions as to preparing for an uncertain future: to “…watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh.” Ralph Hovland had done exactly that: he was fully prepared for an uncertain future. It changed without warning.

How should we respond, then?

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Each of us has this warning, so, then, each of us is responsible to take heed. In so saying, James gives us one of the four New Testament definitions of Sin: “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This is where the sins of omission come in: If we know what God wants us to do, and choose to do something else; even if the thing we are doing is not intrinsically “wrong,” it is sin, because we knew we were supposed to be doing otherwise. Sin isn’t necessarily on a list of things not to do: It could simply be doing something other than what we were directed to do.

We need to be looking to God for our direction: in His Word, in Prayer, being alert to the prompting of God, by the Holy Spirit. He never leads contrary to His Word, so that is a “filter” we can constantly apply to our plans. Read the Word and find out God’s Principles!

In this particular passage, it seems that the “good”, is something “good” in the sense of moral rightness, not just “they would like it if I did this.” And, in the second place, it says, “if a man knoweth to do good, and doeth it not…” (Not, just “if a man has a great idea of how to be a blessing to the world around him.”) I do think that there has to be some sense of having been directed by God; either through His written word, or some sort of clear leading.

When Ann and I are moved to give money (for example) to meet a known need, we are both alerted to the need, and, invariably, we have the same amount in mind. We see that as God’s leading. Perhaps there are better ways to approach this, but, between God’s Word and Prayer, I don’t know of any better way.

The Key is Submission to God

The real key in making plans is to consistently be in submission to God as we read in James 4:7, so that He is able to direct our hearts and, ultimately, our paths. Apart from a conscious choice, moment by moment, to submit to the Lord, we can’t be sure we are doing His will, even though we look to His Word for direction. If I have chosen to submit my will to God, and I can see from His Word what I think he wants me to do, then I can be pretty sure I am doing right.

I knew a fellow, years ago (a believer,) who earnestly wanted to do God’s will, and daily sought to lead others to Christ. The problem was that he was an hourly worker, and was trying to lead people to Christ during times when he was supposed to be working: and the type of work (welding) precluded working and talking at the same time. He did not see that he was dishonoring God by taking time during which he was paid to weld (as were the people he was talking to) to try and tell people about Jesus. He was ultimately let go…not for witnessing, but because of not working. (He was actually off in another building, going through the garbage dumpster, looking for cans to turn in for money, when he was supposed to be working.) That is not a good testimony, and it is not being in submission to God. I don’t know if he ever admitted to himself that what he was doing was wrong, but it served to remind me that the things we do have eternal impact, for better or for worse.

In these tumultuous times we are living in right now, we have a special desire to use our time wisely, and to make Godly choices, as it truly seems we are getting closer to the Lord’s return. We don’t want to waste what little time we have left!

We will try to spend some time, soon, talking about these troubled times and how we are affected by them; but for now, regardless of when the Lord returns, the key issue is that we be in constant submission to the Lord, and alert to His direction and leading.

Lord Jesus, please draw our hearts to yourself, so that we are constantly motivated by your Word, by your Spirit, and your Love. Allow us to examine ourselves in the Mirror of your Word, and remember what we see there. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness. Make us the men and women of God you have called us all to be.


The Priesthood of the Believers

The Priesthood of the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 2/24/18; THCF 2/25/18

Hebrews 13:10-16; 1st Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6, 5:10

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews, for several months, and we are finally in the last chapter, where the writer addresses a number of issues, and gives instructions to believers. You may recall that the book had seven comparisons to Old Testament figures, or “pictures,” each showing that “Jesus is Better.” In fact, that seems to be the central theme of the entire epistle.

There were also seven stern warnings, evidently to those dabblers in the faith, who were not fully committed to the truth of the Gospel, nor to Christ as their only hope for salvation. These warnings were dispersed throughout the first twelve chapters. However, most of chapter twelve and all of chapter thirteen has moved on from that theme, and is addressing only instructions and encouragement to genuine believers.

Verse nine of chapter 13 was an admonition to not be “carried about by strange doctrines,” and it briefly addressed the problem of the Jewish (or other) dietary laws, as an example, where legalism is the broader concept. But, moving on from that idea, the writer ties together the specific dietary laws and privileges of the Levitical priesthood, with its limits and the total privilege of the Christian believer.

The Old Testament priesthood offered sacrifices for Israel, some of which also, subsequently, became the food of the priests and their families. But the sin-offerings brought by the high priest were not to be eaten: not by anyone; they were taken away and burned outside the camp, or outside the city walls, in the times of the temple. But many of the sacrifices were definitely eaten by the priests.

Jesus made one sacrifice, forever: He was executed outside the city, and buried outside the city. He fulfilled the prophetic pre-figure of the sin-offering for the people by the high Priest. And he is now our high Priest.

He has stepped beyond the picture, so to speak, into a reality that transcends what all the animal sacrifices could do. They could only cover sins, as the believers looked to God in Faith. The blood of Jesus takes away the sins of those who look to him in faith. We look, and live!

But something that many people miss is the fact that in bringing us to the Father through his own blood, and opening the way to the Father, (through the veil, which, it turned out, was a picture of his flesh, torn at the Cross); in doing so, He has ordained us as Priests, as well. We bring sacrifices to God, and we make intercessions for one another, and for the lost.

We now serve that altar, as well. But the Old Testament priests, who served the tabernacle or the temple, could not transition from the old, physical altar, to the real altar, unless they also received their Messiah by faith. So they have no privileges at all, in this, the true temple.

A New Altar

10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.

Remember that the priests were fed from the sacrifices (not all of them, but many.) And no one else could eat that food. They alone had that privilege. But this situation is reversed: those priests cannot feed at our altar. He goes on to explain why:

11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.

The priests did not eat the carcasses of the animals brought by the High Priest, as sin offerings—those were burned outside the camp. The priests had no right to eat those sacrifices.

12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jesus died as our sin offering. The altar we serve does not include animal sacrifice. It included one Solitary offering for sin, forever. Our worship and service is continually brought to him, but He remains “outside the camp” so far as the unbelieving world is concerned. So that is where we serve Him. We recognize that the genuine service of Christ will never be popular with the enemies of God. Bear in mind, when I use this phrase, the fact that all humans start off as “enemies of God”. Romans 5:10 states that “…while we were enemies, Christ died for us…”

So, to the unsaved, unbelieving World, the service of Christ, at any level, is a repugnant thing. They want it to be “outside the gate”…rejected from “polite society.” We need to embrace that as being simply appropriate. They see us as worthy of rejection: we need to see ourselves in Christ, and recognize that if we are living like him, and not offending by our human follies and sin, but are definitely being rejected because of the Cross, then we must joyfully accept our position in Christ, and understand that our proper place is “outside of polite society,” though those who consider themselves the “polite” ones are actually those who despise Christ.

A New City—our true home.

14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

We know that our citizenship is elsewhere…that our home is elsewhere. We sing “This World is not my home…” and it is literally true. We are just passing through. We are “…pilgrims, in search of a city.” It isn’t comfortable, but it is reality. Embrace reality! This is where we live! We are in Christ, by God’s Grace, and if we want to walk with Him, then we must go where He goes. For the time being, it means we are to be excluded by our co-workers, our neighbors, etc., as “Bible-thumpers, Religious fanatics,” etc. But, for all time, it means we are in Christ. We go where He goes. If he is rejected (and He is), then we should expect to be rejected, too.

In the future, we will no longer be “outside the city.” We will be those inside…with Jesus, in the New City…our new home.

A New Priesthood.

15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Who is it that offers sacrifices, as a part of his job? A Priest does! We are called to be a “holy priesthood” to God. (1st Peter 2:5) Notice that our sacrifices are not only those of praise and thanksgiving: He calls us to do Good, and to share. He counts those things as sacrifices, too, and specifically warns us not to forget the practical side of Christianity. James says similar things, questioning how a genuine spirituality can even exist without a practical outworking of it in one’s life. The answer is…it can’t. The genuine activity of God in a believer’s life always changes the life of the believer, and it always positively affects others!

1st Peter 2:5 says “Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

What kind of spiritual sacrifices? “…the sacrifice of praise to God, continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice…and he says that it is a reasonable service. We are priests, and all we have to offer is our selves. Jesus already made the only offering for sin. We bring ourselves as a worship offering.

Kings, or “a kingdom?”

In Revelation 1:6, the apostle John states that Jesus “has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father….” (KJV) I am not sure why they do it, but many newer translations render this “a kingdom of priests”. The Greek word “basileis”, used here, is also used over in Revelation 17:12, where it talks about “…ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet…” The word there for “kings” (Greek, basileis”) is identical to that in Revelation 1:6, while the word for kingdom is different: it is the Greek word, “basileian”.

The wording in the first chapter (also in Revelation 5:10) makes it clear that our placement as kings and priests (not a “kingdom of priests) is past-tense. It is a done deal. Jesus has already made us kings and priests in Him, and we shall reign (future tense) on the earth. The “reigning” part is evidently future, or at least partly future, but the priesthood portion is current. It is now! We have already been given the dual-duty of serving as an ambassador, reaching out to the World, in the name of the King of Kings, while also serving as priests, offering sacrifices and prayers to the Holy God to whom we belong.

In case you haven’t thought this through, we are the only body of believers in history who have been so described. The Jews in the Millennial Kingdom, living in Israel, are to be called “holy unto the LORD”, and are said to be “a kingdom of priests”. That fits! Israel has always been a nation; and a kingdom is what they have been waiting for. But the Church has never been a nation, and is not looking for a kingdom, but the Bridegroom. The Church is the Bride of Christ. And Jesus, though He is certainly “King of Kings”, is not said to be the “King” of the Church, but the “Head” of the Church. The Church is also the “Body of Christ.” We are not a kingdom of priests, but kings and priests. Romans 5:17 says that we shall “reign in life”. We need to think about that one! Will you choose to “reign” in life, or still be a slave to your old nature?

A New Assignment

We have been given the spelled-out task of being ambassadors of Christ, reconciling the World to God through the person of Christ. Paul says that the job is to be accomplished by the preaching of the Cross…evangelism and discipleship. This is not a slick “sales-job,”, but an honest task of clearly, simply presenting the King, both by our words, and our living example.

Paul pointed out the folly of trying the “Madison Avenue” approach: “…not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect” (1st Corinthians 1:17)

This is not about “clever” approaches, and persuasive presentations. It is about living the truth of Christ in your life, constantly, and speaking the truth of Christ when an opportunity is given. It is about looking for those opportunities, and praying in advance for the opportunities to come. It is about anxiously watching for the chance to share, and yet offering no offense by sharing in a wrong context, or a wrong time.

It is also about being courageous enough to go ahead and take the risk of rejection: we know that the majority will reject the Lord, and likely reject us with Him, but that does not mean we are not to share with them. Jesus died for the sins of the whole World. He said that was what he came to do, and that is what He did. If we have any doubt about that, we need to turn to 1st John 2:2 where it says, “…and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole World.”

This is why the Apostle Paul stated that he was “…debtor, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise…” He knew that his job was to present Jesus to a world of lost sinners for whom Jesus had already died! Jesus, whose blood had already paid for their sins. Jesus, who, being believed in, is God’s only offer of redemption.

Don’t we have that same debt? Since you know that the price of redemption has already been paid, but that, for lack of faith in that blood-sacrifice, people are doomed to a Christless Eternity; don’t you have an obligation to be looking for opportunities to turn people away from destruction?

In the news lately, we heard of a mass-shooting, at a school in Florida. An unarmed security guard confronted the shooter, and put himself between the shooter and the children at whom he was shooting. He died in his task. Meanwhile, it turns out that there were one or more deputies, outside the school, armed, and sworn to protect, who refused to enter the school, but stood outside, listening to people being killed inside.

Which of those fellows would you rather emulate? When they stand before their judge, in whose shoes would you rather be?

We know people are dying for lack of a voice from God. We have to choose whether to be that voice. That is our only job. Will we do it?

A New Future

Our future has already changed. We are secure in Christ. We will be with Him for eternity, regardless of our current failures. But: our eternal reward (not our salvation: not eternal life)– our eternal reward depends on how we respond to Him as our Master.

We will be where He is. We will live through the Millennial Kingdom in our new bodies, and will be given tasks with which to honor the King. However, the kind of tasks we are given (as nearly as I can understand it) will depend on how we respond to our assignments in this life.

We have many tasks, in this life: some big, some small, some seemingly insignificant. But the assigned job, of every believer, great or small, is “Ambassador for Christ”. You may feel that you have been assigned the ambassadorship to the worst hole-in-the-wall, insignificant dump on the planet. But if you are faithful to serve there, then you are honoring God with your life. He doesn’t miss anything. He knows our hearts.

Remember the poor widow, regarding whom Jesus said “She has given more than all the others, for out of her deep poverty, she has given all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of the worshippers. He knows our hearts today, as well.

Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise.” Daniel 12:3 states that “…they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.”

We knew an elderly woman at Cornell Estates, some time ago, who was confined to a wheelchair, due to a stroke and extreme age (100+ years), but she was still actively seeking to lead people to Christ. As we got to know her, we discovered that, when she was younger, she had hosted “good news clubs” in her home…and that today, all the deacons in her home church had been led to Christ in her home as young children, and today are the leaders of her church. Do you suppose she qualifies for these passages? How about someone who has never aggressively preached the Gospel, but who has faithfully lived it, and demonstrated the practical righteousness, that ultimately turned many to righteousness?  I think the same passages apply.

I really do not want to be like those deputies in Florida who stood outside and listened to children being murdered, without attempting to confront the gunman. I want to go ahead and take the risk, and do the job I was called to do.

 

Lord Jesus, give us clear minds to think through our life circumstances, and the courage to face our environments with the mind of Christ. We are not our own masters, and you have given us a job. Give us the Grace, day by day, to be faithful to that job.