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AMAZING AND SOBERING

Some of the most amazing and sobering words in the Bible are found in the minor Old Testament prophet Habakkuk 2:20, “But the LORD is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (ESV). Context is king when it comes to studying the Bible and especially important when one grabs only one verse and expands upon it.

What led up to the words of the prophet about God being in His Holy Temple and that all the earth should keep silent? Do those words offer any wisdom for us today to listen to and heed?

The setting for this very important book in the Old Testament is just before the mighty Babylon overran the nation of Israel or the southern part of the nation called Judah. Habakkuk is seeing the approaching Babylonians and is questioning God as to how He can let an evil nation overrun the one nation that He called His own.

In the prophet’s first complaint, he calls out to God and wonders why He is not answering. It seemed that only evil would prevail and God was not doing anything, or so he thought. God responded to the prayer of Habakkuk by telling him that He was sending a great and terrifying nation who cannot be stopped to exile the nation Judah.

God’s response did not satisfy the prophet as to why all this was happening. So he complained again, but this time telling God of His own character and that it seemed contrary to His own character that He would allow this to happen. But at the end of his second complaint he said, “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1, ESV).

God then answered with words that put the prophet at ease, or possibly unease, with “wait for it” or what I promised many years before will take place. It will take time and My promises will be evident in time. Humility and faith are the two keys in being one who trusts in what God has promised in the past and that it will come to fruition.

The verses adjacent to the amazing and sobering words at the beginning of this article consist of warnings to the nation that will overrun God’s promised nation. These are warnings of dire consequences for those who desire to take the place of God and rule the world for themselves with evil intentions and apart from God. The warnings are clear: this plundering nation might have the upper hand, but only for a short time because “The LORD is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

We are told through these inspired words that God is in control, He is sovereign, over all things that take place to Israel and over all the earth. The Psalmist in 115:3 writes the same truth in different terms, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (ESV).

Jerry Bridges clearly tells us what this means. “God does whatever He pleases. This is the essence of God’s sovereignty: His absolute independence to do as He pleases and His absolute control over the actions of all His creatures. No creature, person, or empire can either thwart His will or act outside the bounds of it” (31 Days Toward Trusting God, Jerry Bridges, NavPress, 2013, p. 31).

All of what has happened, is and will happen, are in God’s plan and under His perfect, peaceful control. Everything that God has promised His children ultimately will come to fruition. We must not fear but humbly trust Him to make all things work out well.

It is easy in this season to become worked up about the future of our nation and the church at large. But God is STILL in His Holy Temple and to make all things right we must keep silence before Him. It begins with the Church of God humbly presenting herself before Him and walking by faith of what He has promised the nation of Israel and the Church.

Allow God to work these amazing and sobering words into your own spirit and then live out what He says to your heart. He will never speak that which is contrary to who He is or His Scripture. Take heart in these days, turn to God and He promises to turn to you.

PULL NO PUNCHES

God is blunt when it comes to telling the truth and He pulls no punches even when it comes to people that are His.  However, the news media of today seem to glamorize the people and issues they are for without the mention of any or many of the negatives the person or issue has.

Innate in man is to make himself look as good as possible even if he leaves out part of the truth.  And it seems to be the same with today’s media; innate in media is leaving out parts of news stories that may take away from their narrative.

God, on the other hand, exposes even His own people when they attempt to circumvent His perfect plan.  He is after His own glory and the joy of His people.  When we get away from pursuing God then we do not get the ultimate joy that we are after.

In the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel 11 we find David, the King of Israel and a man after God’s own heart – lounging at home when he should have been going to battle with his army.

“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he was from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.  And David sent and inquired about the woman.  And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’  So David sent messengers and took here, and she came to him, and he lay with her…Then she returned to her house.  And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant’” (2 Samuel 11:2-5, ESV).

And this was not the end of the story.  David sent for Uriah and brought him back from the battle field in an attempt to have Uriah lie with his wife and thus clearing David from sin.  Uriah had much more character than David in this instance for he could not see lying with his wife while his brother-in-arms were still at war.  David sent him back to the fray and had him murdered.

In the next chapter of 2 Samuel God sends a prophet named Nathan to confront the king with his sin.  God spoke through Nathan that there would be serious consequences to his sin.  The Bible puts it like this: “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in His sight?  You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house.  And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.  For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.  David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’  And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die’” (2 Samuel 12:9-14).

God pulls no punches, He exposes the good and the negative in His children.  He does this so that His children will see their need every day for His presence in their lives.  God exposes sin for the good of the sinner and the showing forth of His grace and mercy.

In the latest World Magazine, and the Dispatches/Human Race section the following article is shared.  Killed: A 23-year-old Baltimore rapper died in an ambush June 25, an hour after hosting a charity basketball game to ‘pray for peace in the streets.’  In what police say was likely a targeted killing, an unidentified man gunned down Tyriece ‘Lor Scoota’ Watson at a busy intersection in broad daylight.  Watson rapped about the streets and drugs, but he engaged the inner city and its kids, advocating nonviolence after the death of Freddie Gray.  His family said he was likely targeted because he was making something of himself and trying to escape Baltimore streets” (p. 8).

After the atrocities in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota the media seemed to play up the police and civilian interaction and it was mostly negative.  It seemed as if the security of our states, counties and cities were taking fire from the media from only one angle.

But everyday crime, which is extremely unfortunate does not get reported.  Is Tyriece’s life less important than those who made nightly and cable news?  Not to God and not to his family – his life mattered as do all lives.

The news media pulls punches by making you listen and watch what brings then ratings.  But it does more, it promotes their stars’ personal agenda and makes the person they back look like the perfect person they would like to see.

God presents warts and all, yet shows how these warts can be redeemed.  We must be informed!  First line of information for a Christian is the Bible.  Second, do not take a story at face value that is pushed by any news media, but read other news sources and find out for yourself what the truth is.

Fortunately, the Bible has been and still is the best source of truth.  To find out truth research is required and curiosity is a good quality to have when finding out any bottom line.

It is good that God pulls no punches because it addresses the realities of the human condition.  Yet, it does not leave you hopeless, but completely hopeful by the person of Jesus Christ.  Until we realize that God has provided ultimate hope through His Son, we will want punches pulled because they hurt when they land.  Jesus has taken the most serious punch the world has to give and that is death but He won that victory but rising from the dead.  Turn to Him today, He wants you to be His.

Bypass Everything and Go Directly to Jesus (Part 1)

By Bill Freeman

One of the greatest lessons we learn in our Christian life is to bypass the entire realm of the flesh and go directly to Jesus and make contact with Him. When we go directly to Christ, we are free from the flesh. We are free from our self. We are free from self-preoccupation. We are free from self-condemnation. We are free from anxiety. We are free from interacting with the impossible realm of the flesh (Rom. 8:8). Our relationship to the flesh is that we died to it and our life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

Bypass Everything and Go Directly to JesusOur interaction is not with ourselves – with self-effort and self-reformation. We bypass the self. When we bypass, Christ becomes our joy. Christ becomes our encouragement. Christ becomes our faith. Christ becomes our living (Phil. 1:21). We interact with Him in everything in our lives. We interact exclusively with Him. We enjoy Him as our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). He is “all and in all” to us (Col. 3:11).

When we receive Him, it is our spirit that is born again. Our dead spirit is begotten of the divine Spirit and comes alive (Eph. 2:1). Indeed, our newly-born spirit becomes the source from which we live as believers. It is into our regenerated spirit that Christ comes to dwell. From this place we contact Christ Himself and bypass the flesh. Thus, our relationship with the flesh is Jesus Christ as He lives in our spirit and as we walk according to spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

When we bypass the flesh, Jesus Christ becomes the Christian life. We look away to Him. Look away from yourself. Look away from your failure. Look away from your bad mood. Look away unto Jesus. Christ is the centrality of everything in our Christian life. He is the Christian life itself in every aspect.

The new birth bypasses man’s flesh

Our new birth teaches us from the very start that God intended to bypass the flesh. In other words, our initial salvation is not a matter of expecting anything to come out of the flesh. God doesn’t save man by any works of the flesh, including improving it, upgrading it, or remaking it (Gal. 2:16). No. God bypasses man’s flesh altogether and starts by leaving the flesh untouched except to terminate and crucify it (Gal. 2:20; 5:24).

In John 3:6 the Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” By using the Greek perfect tense (signifying a present, permanent state) for the word “born,” He conveyed two important facts: first, the realm of the flesh never changes; and second, the realm of the Spirit never changes. The Lord wanted to convey at the beginning of our Christian life that we should not expect any change from the source of our flesh, but always bypass it and go directly to Jesus. The new birth begins a lifelong process of bypassing the flesh, both the good and bad, to go directly to Jesus.

Bypass the “bad” flesh

There are many aspects of the flesh – the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), the will of the flesh (John1:13), the mind of the flesh (Rom. 8:6-7), and the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19), to name a few. The flesh has feelings and reactions, as well as deeds; and many times we are intimidated by these things.

Concerning his own flesh, Paul had to admit, “I am (present tense) fleshly, sold (perfect tense, indicating a present state) under sin … For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:14,18). This statement clearly reveals that the flesh is incorrigible and must be bypassed. Also, in Colossians he warns the believers that if they relate to the evil flesh with a religious flesh they will encounter certain defeat (Col. 2:18-23).

How then can we be related to our flesh, if the flesh cannot overcome the flesh? The answer to this question is found in Galatians 5:24-25: 24 “And those who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” The phrase, “those who are of Christ Jesus,” tells us how we are to be related to the flesh. It is simply by our belonging to Christ Jesus that the flesh is crucified.

To be of Christ Jesus means that you do not have a separate life from Him. You are wholly identified with Him. This means you do not have a separate relationship with the flesh. Because you are of Christ Jesus, you own His relationship with the flesh. His relationship with the flesh is not a long, drawn-out battle with it; rather it is a onetime crucifixion to it. The word “crucified” in Galatians 5:24is in the aorist tense in Greek, indicating that a blow was dealt to the flesh in the past that was decisive, complete, and final. That blow was dealt to the flesh on the cross of Calvary two thousand years ago.[1]

To bypass the flesh is wrapped up in the answer to one question – Are we of Christ Jesus? That is all we need to answer. We don’t need to examine whether or not we have any potential to overcome the flesh. Neither do we need a good record or a string of victories that we can boast in. Nor do we need to look at our condition to see whether or not we feel like a crucified person. We just need to answer one question: Are we of Christ Jesus? If so, we have crucified the flesh. Paul says it – if we are of Christ Jesus then we have crucified the flesh.

In Galatians 5:24 bypassing the flesh is an established fact in Christ Jesus. Then verse 25 shows us the application and experience of this fact: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” To “live in the Spirit” in this verse is equivalent to being “of Christ Jesus” in the preceding verse. Thus Christ, in the realm of the Spirit, is our bypass route. But for this fact to become our experience over and over again in our daily life, we need to walk in the Spirit.

The Greek word for “walk” in Galatians 5:25 is a specific military word, rather than the more general word for “walk” used in other places in the New Testament. It has the sense of “keeping in step with the Spirit.” This could be likened to a group of soldiers marching down the street, keeping in step with the cadence of the drummer. Their steps are very deliberate and specific. It is the same when we walk in the spirit. Christ is dwelling in our spirit. He has already dealt a blow to the flesh. Now we must keep in step with Him whenever our flesh rises up to be fulfilled. This means we take a deliberate and specific step in spirit at the moment our flesh manifests itself. When we keep in step with the Spirit, we allow the Lord Himself to become our relationship with the reacting flesh. We just say, “Amen, Lord, I love You!” Or, call out His name, “Lord Jesus!” Or, take the Word of God as the sword of Spirit and declare it!” By interacting with Him in this way, we keep in step with the Spirit and execute the crucifixion over our flesh.

The main point in dealing with the flesh is to not interact with it. We do not dare to handle it on our own. There is only One who is qualified to handle it, and He was incarnated to do so. He became flesh (John 1:14) and lived a victorious life in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). And now in resurrection He has become a life-giving Spirit in our spirit to supply to us His victory over the flesh. All we need to do is keep in step with the Spirit – pray a little bit, call “Jesus” a little bit, shout to God a little bit, sing a little bit. Just keep in step with the Spirit, and bypass the flesh.

You may say to me, “I can’t overcome my flesh. I have already tried over and over again and failed.” I will respond by saying, “That’s right! Of course you can’t!” If you and I have a relationship with the flesh based upon ourselves, we are finished. We all must come back to Christ – learn to bypass the flesh and then just keep in step with the Spirit.

FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE

This is an age where life is cheap and marriage is disposable. Despite the landscape of shootings, bombings and beheadings, God’s view of life is much different than what the world projects.

Kind David of Israel wrote these inspired and immortal words in Psalm 139:13-16: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

God made each and every one of us; not just in our mother’s womb, but as an integral and essential part of all creation.  We are His crowning creation, for which all else was made.  Given the glory and wonder of natural beauty, how much more valuable must we be to our God, that He considers each of us to be of greater value than all the rest of creation?

This is a deeply intimate Psalm because even before your mother knew you were growing inside of her, God already had begun to form you.  In three weeks from fertilization of the human embryo the heart begins to beat and blood begins its march through our tiny veins.  In the fourth week from fertilization, the nerves, brain and spinal cord are forming.

From these two factual evidences, it is clear that what is in the mother’s womb is a child.  A being initiated through human passion, but finding its true origin in the mind of God in the far past.  God does not make mistakes even when men “go off the reservation” and think they are autonomous from God.  Even then God shows His love for us.

Paul the apostle in Romans 5:6-10 we read these eternal words: “for while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his live” (ESV).

You see all life is precious because life is a gift from God and we are created in our mother’s womb to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.  Jesus showed throughout His life here on earth that He loved children, which inspired the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”

But if we do not consider life precious, we are not on the same page as God.  It would not be incorrect to state that if one is bent toward ending the precious life of a child in the womb, that person is usurping a place of importance above God, stealing the decision of life and death from the One who created life itself.

God does want the very best for all of His precious creation; inside and outside the womb.  He would like it very much if none would have to experience eternity apart from Him in the very deep darkness and abyss.  God is very patient toward us, “not wishing that any should perish, but hat all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b, ESV).

“Repentance” is a turning away from sin (from life lived as you see fit instead of life lived as God would have for you) and turning to follow God.  The humbling reality, is that by confessing that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, will save you.

God so loved you that He sent Jesus so that if you believe in Him you would have eternal life and not perish.  You who are reading this are precious to Him and you are fearfully and wonderfully made as are those in the womb.

God has only the very best for you in mind and “He doesn’t make no junk.”  All can receive Him and if you are reading this right now it is not a mistake.  God led you to read this and He is calling you to Himself.  What will your response be?

ONLY BROKEN PEOPLE NEED APPLY

When you think of broken people what comes to mind?  An alcoholic that dulls his or her pain by throwing back a fifth of this, or a twelve pack of that?  What about a drug addict that just cannot seem to break the need for another hit of meth or whatever drug they use to cope with life’s challenges?  Is this what brokenness looks like?  What do you do with a broken person?

Most of us would attempt to help them in one way or another.  Some of us may ignore them to their detriment and our comfort.  But what does God think of the broken?

According to David in Psalm 51:17 God accepts them.  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  To understand this verse, we must first understand the larger context.

David, who was the greatest and most beloved king in the history of Israel, was also a great warrior and an equally great sinner.  One season of war, when he should have been out with his troops, he stayed at home and looked out over Jerusalem.  When he did, he observed a beautiful woman bathing on her roof; which was a custom of the time.  He sent for her.

Well one thing led to another and she became pregnant with the king’s child.  What makes it worse is that this young woman was also a young wife.  Her husband was a warrior in the king’s army.

To make a long story short, David set this man up to be killed in action on the battlefield.  He then made her one of his wives.  All this, to hide his sin from both God and man.  He failed on both counts.

A man named Nathan was called upon by God to present a story before the king about a man who had sinned before God.  Nathan did as he was told, and when David angrily declared that whoever had sinned so is worthy of death, the prophet Nathan pointed at him saying “you are that man.”

David was broken by the magnitude of his own evil.   He wrote the famous Psalm 51as a result of his confrontation with the prophet of God.  David did not and could not sneak his sin past God; maybe before the people but not God.

The King of Israel could’ve reacted in various ways, but David had a heart for God.  He fell to his knees and pleaded for forgiveness, and the sweet Psalter of Israel sang the song of Psalm 51.

Only Broken People Need ApplyAs he processes his sin before God through agony of spirit, some of the most beautiful words to come as a result of sin flow out of a heart that misses God’s presence.

Yes, David could have “done” a lot of things in an attempt to please God and get himself out of trouble, but he chose to humble himself before God and confess his sin against God to restore the fellowship he had with the living God.

His words reach their crescendo in verse 17.  But what does he mean by these words?

Three key words are “Broken”, “Contrite” and “Despise.”

David had come to realize that he did not “have it all together.”  In fact, life as he knew it became unraveled in an instant, leaving him broken.  He had grown proud and set himself up as an idol in place of God.

There was no sacrifice or good deed powerful enough to expunge David’s sin.  So the earthly king approached the King of kings, and saw clearly, maybe for the first time, that he was nothing without fellowship with God.  David now destroyed the last idol in his life (himself) that kept him from experiencing the intimate life with God that the Creator promised to those who loved Him.

David was not only “broken” but he was also “contrite” or crushed because of his sin against God.  A note here is that all sin is against God as verse four spells out.  When one is contrite, one is emotionally crushed by the weight of their sin.  They have no way out, with God being the only relief for their intense guilt.

Why only God?  Because He will not “despise” the one who comes to Him “broken” and “contrite.”  When you “despise” something it means that you accord little worth to something.  So God does not treat our brokenness lightly, but rather accepts us when we call out to Him; even after we have broken His heart and severed our fellowship with Him.

The first letter that John the apostle wrote to the churches in modern day Turkey states the same thing in different words.  John wrote: “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Maybe you feel 10,000 steps away from God as you read this and you just can’t seem to break free from the sin that has held you down.  You may have been consumed by this sin for so long that you feel God cannot possibly hear you anymore, or worse, care.  But He does hear you, and through the grace of His mercy, those 10,000 steps become merely one…a step back to God.

Come to Him now, though smashed to smithereens and crushed beyond recognition, and you will find a God who will forgive and restore.  He bids you “come as you are” and believe in what Jesus did upon the cross and you will find rest for your sinful and weary soul.  He will make you brand new.  Lay down your pride and accept the reality that God truly gave his Son to rescue the “broken.”

Serious Inquiry Needed

As we roll full ahead into this election cycle, it’s good to rate these candidates not only on their stands on important issues, but also on their character, their integrity (or lack thereof!). No one is, or can be, perfect. Only One holds that position and he never ran for political office. Look at yourself honestly; are you perfect? I know I am not and that is one of my weaknesses; if we are human, then by definition, we are imperfect.

So in our selection of a political candidate we must examine many factors to make the most informed decision possible. When it comes to knowing the only perfect human and His name is Jesus Christ, we must also make a serious inquiry to who He was and is and what He said about Himself and what others wrote about Him. God is not afraid of our questions about Him, in fact He welcomes them.

Where we stumble however, is when we make inquiries about ourselves. Either we are our own worst critic or we seriously overlook our flaws.

Maybe there is a serious issue that we are facing again that we did not expect to, but the first time we prayed about it and He answered. This time we could just go on and not seek the Lord’s favor or answer, but then again we could inquire again of God and see what He would accomplish.

In his Morning and Evening devotional, Charles Spurgeon wrote this for the morning of February 9, it is somewhat lengthy but well worth the read and reflection.

“And David inquired of the LORD” – (2 Samuel 5:23).

“When David made this inquiry he had just fought the Philistines, and gained a signal victory. The Philistines came up in great hosts, but, by the help of God, David had easily put them to flight. Note, however, that when they came a second time, David did not go up to fight them without inquiring of the Lord. Once he had been victorious, and he might have said, as many have in other cases, ‘I shall be victorious again; I may rest quite sure that if I have conquered once I shall triumph yet again. Wherefore should I tarry to seek at the Lord’s hands?’ Not so, David. He had gained one battle by the strength of the Lord; he would not venture upon another until he had ensured the same. He inquired, ‘Shall I go up against them?’ He waited until God’s sign was given. Learn from David to take no step without God. Christian, if thou wouldst know the path of duty, take God for thy compass; if thou wouldst steer thy ship through the dark billows, put the tiller into the hand of the Almighty. Many a rock might be escaped, if we would let our Father take the helm; many a shoal or quicksand we might well avoid, if we would leave to His sovereign will to choose and to command. The Puritan said, ‘As sure as ever a Christian carves for himself, he’ll cut his own fingers;’ this is a great truth. Said another old divine, ‘He that goes before the cloud of God’s providence goes on a fool’s errand;’ and so he does. We must mark God’s providence leading us; and if providence tarries, tarry till providence comes. He, who goes before providence, will be very glad to run back again. ‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go,’ is God’s express promise to His people. Let us, then, take all our perplexities to Him, and say, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ Leave not they chamber this morning without inquiring of the Lord.” (Morning and Evening: A Devotional Classic for Daily Encouragement, Hendrickson Publishers, 2010, p. 80)

Spurgeon is right; before we do we anything, we ought to make an effort to inquire or ask the Lord what He would have us to do. Which candidate to vote for, what job to take, how much to give to help the widow or orphan or person in need, wisdom for the day or whatever you need to inquire of the Lord, then it is a good idea to do it.

When we come to Him in all seriousness of inquiry He will answer us. The key here: are we prepared through repenting of our sins and are we willing to wait and listen for Him? We have a knack for jumping ship prior to finding out the direction of the ship. Let us wait for the Lord for He will give renewed strength and direction for each decision and day. “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Serious inquiry is definitely needed in this world in which we live. To have the most instructive inquiry is for one to go to God and get His mind. Try it and it will be worth it.

THE NARROW DOOR

Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?  And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23-24, ESV).

Narrow doorways are neither convenient nor easy.  If you would take a tour of the U.S.S. York in Charleston, SC you would find the doors separating compartments are quite narrow and not very tall.  Someone over six foot could very well knock themselves out if they don’t duck and turn slightly to one side.

Two words stand out in this verse, strive and seek.  One seems aggressive and the other more passive.  If they are aggressive verses passive then we have something to wrestle with and decide as we consider following Jesus.  Could this be another cost of discipleship passage?

The word for “Strive” in verse 24, is the same word from which we get our English word “agonize.”  Its basic meaning is striving for a goal and the goal is for a few to be saved.  Another way to possibly put this term is “forcing your way into it” (Amplified version of NT).

If you read a complementary verse, 1Timothy 4:10, greater clarity is brought to Jesus’ words.  “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (ESV).  In the context of this verse we see Paul the apostle using an energetic illustration to convey what a good servant of Jesus looks and acts like.

A few verses earlier Paul encourages Timothy to train himself for godliness, to become more like Jesus in an intensely focused way.  When one trains his or her self for an athletic event, success comes from single-minded purpose; a fierce desire to be the best they can be.

Paul further encourages Timothy – “Command and teach these things.  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11-16, emphasis mine).

Paul is telling Timothy to make use of the teaching and wisdom he has gained from Paul, and to serve as an example of God’s grace and power.

Many people compare the Christian life to a marathon and that’s not a bad example, but given the obstacles we face throughout life, an Ironman Triathlon might be a little more accurate comparison.

An Ironman Triathlon is a 2.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon.  And these are done back to back to back.  You would swim your 2.2 miles and then immediately run and change into your biking outfit on the run and then when you are finished with the 112 mile bike ride you immediately switch to your running shoes and run the marathon.  Whew!  It makes you sort of tired just writing about this.

The reason these extreme athletes can accomplish this is because of intense focus and much training.  For the Christian life it is the same way; there must intense focus and much time training in the Scriptures and how to live them out.

Another major difference in the illustration here, is that the training for the Ironman is individualistic whereas training for the Christian life must be done en masse.  We are to live life together, to see growth and maturity and the lessening of the devastating effects of sin in ourselves and each other.  We grow together.

This is called the church, and the church (ecclesia) is plural made one.  We definitely do not live on an island no matter how bad one would like to live like that at times, but the church is made up of many different individuals created by God for a specific purpose.

But what we do have in common is to “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  Let us begin living or continue living as the church and progress to greater conformity to the Author and Finisher of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ!

Perfect Timing

When I was young I loved to watch Figure 8 racing on Wide World of Sports every Saturday.  If you have never heard of this type of racing, it is a mixture of NASCAR and Demolition Derby.  The cars race on a track that is, of course, in the figure of the number eight.

If the driver of a car gets the timing right they will never be hit and have a great probability to win the race.  But if he does not time it right he will be T-boned by another driver where the track intersects at the middle of the eight.  However, another driver and many fans may say that perfect timing is when you get to hit someone in another car slowing them down so they are unable to either finish or win the race.

Personally, not getting hit seems the wisest of the two possibilities.  Perfect timing in any area of life allows for reduction of stress and more efficient completion of an activity or chore.

In Scripture, God is always on time, still is today, and will be tomorrow.  In three different time periods God has been and will be perfect in His timing.  That is what we will see from only three passages from the Bible.

The first time period is the birth of Jesus Christ upon the earth.  In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul teaches the church of his day and ours that God’s timing is the beauty of perfection.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

What Paul the apostle and author of this letter is telling his readers and us is that at just the right time is history God shows up in the person of Jesus Christ.  And He came to deliver mankind out of sin and misery.  He did not come too early or too late but at just the right time!

God knew from before the earth was ever created that Jesus would come humbly on the world scene in the stable and be born to a couple of teenagers who were of no worldly account.  He did this exactly as He had planned in eternity past and as He proved all of this true throughout the Old Testament.  And at just the right time Jesus comes to fulfill all of the promises that God made to Israel from Genesis to Malachi.

The second time period where God shows His perfect timing is the crucifixion of His beloved Son upon a cruel cross.  Sin has devastating effects and nothing shows it more grotesquely than that of a Roman crucifixion.

Acts 2:22-24 Peter the apostle describes the perfection of timing according to God’s standards and time-table.  “Men of Israel, heart these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

Jesus’ death was pre-planned by God to take place a just the right time in history for the good of the world.  The Father sent the Son into the world because of His love for the people of the world because He knew that they could not and would not pay the penalty for their own sins.  Sin is incurable apart from Jesus and the perfect remedy for the fatal disease of sin is the person of Jesus being born at the perfect time in history and then dying at the perfect time in history.

Finally, the future time is planned perfect in God’s ultimate wisdom and foresight.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:9-10).

The reason, according to these verses, that Jesus has not come back yet is that the time is not quite right.  When the perfect time arises God the Father will send the Son to the earth a second time to claim the church.  Not everyone that is to become a follower of Jesus or Christian has become one yet.  God is so very patient with humankind.  He still desires for people to come and believe in His Son and His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual return.

Now it’s in your ball court and the timing is perfect.  It is the perfect time for you to believe in Jesus and receive Him as your Savior and King.  Do it today for there is no time like the present and its perfect timing.

 

Merry Christmas from the Founding Fathers!

Many modern commentators routinely declare that the Founders of our nation were not particularly religious, going so far as to describe them as “deists,” if they had any spiritual inclinations at all.

Like most of the Left’s shibboleths, this one is based on entirely cherry-picked phrases and in some cases, invented statements.  In the spirit of this glorious season, I thought it appropriate to let you hear from the Founding Fathers themselves, just what they thought about God, Christ and Christianity.

Merry Christmas!

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John Adams –

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God. … The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.”

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Samuel Adams –   

“I [rely] upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins. … I conceive we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world … bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace. … We may with one heart and voice humbly implore His gracious and free pardon through Jesus Christ, supplicating His Divine aid … [and] above all to cause the religion of Jesus Christ, in its true spirit, to spread far and wide till the whole earth shall be filled with His glory.”

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John Hancock –  

“That the spiritual kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be continually increasing until the whole earth shall be filled with His glory.”

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Patrick Henry –  

“Being a Christian … is a character which I prize far above all this world has or can boast. … The Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed. … This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one, which will make them rich indeed.”

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John Jay –  

“Condescend, merciful Father! to grant as far as proper these imperfect petitions, to accept these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior; unto Whom, with Thee, and the blessed Spirit, ever one God, be rendered all honor and glory, now and forever. … The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts. … Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

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Thomas Jefferson –  

“I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others. … I am a real Christian — that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”

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James Madison –  

“I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ.”

And these closing words from perhaps our most accomplished and brilliant Founding Father…

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Benjamin Franklin –  

“How many observe Christ’s birth-day! How few, his precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.”

May God bless you and keep you!

God’s Righteousness Article Series (Part Three)

The prophet Jeremiah makes it crystal clear; “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which He will be called: The LORD is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6, ESV).

And these words from the New Testament: “And because you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31, ESV).

And then again from the passage we have been delving into in parts 1 & 2: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written ‘The righteous shall live by faith”’ (Romans 1:17, ESV).

Paul writes this just prior to our main verse about the dynamic gospel of Christ; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV).

Donald Grey Barnhouse gives a great summary of the gospel in the first volume of his multi-volume set on Romans – “The gospel is the story of man’s complete ruin in sin and God’s perfect remedy in Christ” (Volume 1, p. 189).

Apart from Christ, or before you became a follower of Jesus you were not righteous and your acts of righteousness were considered as polluted or filthy garments.  In other words there was nothing you could do to gain acceptance before a Holy and perfect God no matter how hard you tried or how many so-called good works you performed.

In last week’s newsletter, God’s righteousness was defined as His righteousness alone; there is none of ours to be found.  God’s bottom line is that His righteousness is found in none other than Jesus Christ Himself coming to earth to reconcile us to His Father.

The gospel shows God’s righteousness very clearly, as Barnhouse wrote: “When the Savior was manifested, the righteousness of God was manifested with Him.  When the historical facts of His death, burial, and resurrection were set forth, the good news concerning the theological meaning of those historical facts revealed the righteousness in hating sin.  It was shown that God was righteous in loving sinners.  It was shown that God could pardon a sinner without condoning his sin.  It was shown that He could draw a sinful, human being to His own bosom without abandoning His holiness.  It is the gospel that reveals the righteousness of God.” (Volume 1, pp. 183-184).

This righteousness of God is possessed by God alone, but He grants us access to it through His eternal covenant with Abraham or Israel, and perfects that path with the coming of Jesus.  God promised Abraham that his “seed” singular, which points to Jesus throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, would bless all the nations of the earth.  This must have been mind-blowing to Abraham.  Years later God would promise David, the King of Israel, that he would have someone of his lineage sitting on his throne forever, and based upon the history of Scripture it all points to Jesus.

The gospel reveals that all this comes to fruition through the birth and life of Jesus Christ, completing all the work the Father had sent Him to accomplish.  The gospel is the good news of Jesus bringing the love of God for the salvation of all who would believe in Him.  And the righteousness of God is manifested also in Jesus Christs’ appearance on earth as a man, as shared by the earlier quote by Barnhouse.

Now we get a little deeper into the theology.  Historical Protestant teaching is that God’s righteousness in “imputed” to us.  “Impute” (in the study of Scripture) means “To attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) vicariously; ascribe as derived from another” (American College Dictionary, 1968, p. 610, 4).

In other words we had no righteousness of our own, so God had to give us His righteousness so that we could be found blameless in His sight.  I think this becomes a little clearer when we look at verse 18 and what it says about the natural man; that he is ungodly and unrighteous.

So God’s promise to Abraham and His covenant people Israel is fulfilled in the person of Christ.  Not only is Israel promised this, but people from all nations that God had chosen in eternity past.  We cannot fully examine all that in this limited space, but it is deep and extremely rich theology that God willingly reveals to us throughout Scripture.  All we need do is spend time in study and prayer on the Word to expand our understanding; to see as God wishes us to see – through righteous eyes.

Have you received God’s righteousness through believing in Jesus as your Savior?  Receive Him today, for today is the day of salvation.