Thursday, April 30, 2009

repost: "These Dreams"

"These Dreams." My thoughts on Daniel 2 from Sept. 15, 2008

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 10)?

2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness."

Mormonism says, ""After the book (Bible) hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church...there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book." (1 Nephi 13:28) Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims not only claim that the Bible has been corrupted, but that each group (respectively) contains the only trustworth version! Who is right? The man who is convinced that he can preserve himself and his viewpoint calls God untrustworthy and a liar (see previous posts in this series).

All that God is inspired has a purpose: "so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." Those who say that God's Word is compromised have no other purpose than maintain idolatry by telling God that what He has given in word or deed is not good enough. "The Gnostics had their own fanciful and fantastic books; the heretics all produced their own literature to support and to expound their claims; Paul regarded these tings as man-made things. It is not books like that which help a man; the great books for a man's soul are the God-inspired books which time and tradition and the experience of men had consecrated and sanctified." (William Barkclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon. p. 229)

"This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men." (Titus 3:8) God through His Word must be believed.

God's Word is profitable for teaching. There is great gain through its assistance. This means the reader can approach God's word and ask simply, "what does it say?" This day and age is overrun with "what I think it means" without answering the question, "what does it say." This allows God to speak through His Word to those who are ready to observe and listen, not just see and hear.

God's Word is profitable for reproof, or rebuke. This means the reader can ask, "how do I fail to do what it says?" God's Word holds man responsible. God asked Adam a question on the day He found the man hiding in the garden. "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" In other words, God asked the man, "Did you do what I told you?" My good friend, Jim, puts it this way: everything in the Bible is really the same message over and over and over and over again--we just don't get it. This is why we can open the book, read what it says and begin to take the obedience test. It's is not God's Word that fails or changes. It's us.

God's Word is profitable for correction. That means we that now that we've seen what it says, and we've found out how we've failed to do what it says, we can ask, "what should I be doing?" Well, that's not so hard to find out--go back and review the teaching of scripture!

God's Word is profitable for training in righteousness. This is my favorite part because here we get to ask, "how am I going to do what it says?" This is "game plan" time. We get to take the steps in obedience here, being transformed by renewing the mind. The blessing is that God, through His unchanging Word is not only protecting Himself, but those who walk in His light. We get to be trained for not simply heavenly citizenship, but for walking out His goodness in the world. This is what divides the wicked who do good deeds from the righteous who do good deeds. The wicked only do good deeds in and out of themselves, even perhaps with the hopes that God would be bribed to give them what they don't deserve on their own terms.

When God speaks the ignorant are informed, the erroneous are refuted, the wicked are instructed, and the godly are guided, directed and supported.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 9)?

Romans 3:3-4, "What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, 'THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.'"

The past couple of weeks we've been considering the assertions that God's Word has been changed or has been corrupted. This assertion is often heard during moments of doctrinal discussion concerning the Bible itself, the nature or character of God, the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, the nature of the church and eschatology, to name a few areas. While we are right up against other questions concerning inerrancy, inspiration and authority of scripture, the main point I am attempting to hold is that God protects His Word. The only reason the subject of change or corruption is breached is because one will not come under the authority of scripture and instead provides an alternative that is more in line with his idol--God made in man's image.

Oftentimes I have conversations with people that soon reveal, very simply, they would rather not believe God. Sure, they believe IN God, or there IS a God, but they choose not disbelieve what He says about Himself, man, sin, the Savior, repentance, deliverance, obedience and faith in general. Sadly, when they die, they are convinced that God owes them the best, though they have chosen to disbelieve Him because of what He has said in His Word.

Sure, they believe they are "good people" but they don't believe they will be judged by God's standard of holiness as seen in the Ten Commandments. When God says that idolaters, liars, thieves, adultererers and murderers have a place in the Lake of Fire, on what basis is the announcement made? When God says that false teachers are identified by inordinate worship, covetousness, even rebellion against parents and authority, what clues are there the Ten Commandments is NOT on His mind? Just because someone does not believe does not change reality.

Once I was talking with a guy on the sidewalk downtown who told me that he did not believe that God would judge according to His holiness, nor did he believe there was a hell. I asked him to come with me and he followed as I stood on curb and watched for traffic. "Where are we going?" he asked. I told him we were going to stand in the middle of the road together and deny the existence of trucks. For some reason, he would not join me. I joined him back on safer ground and told him that a day is coming when all he has denied will nail him right between the eyes.

Consider this, from a reverse angle: not far from where I live a large plot of ground is being cleared of trees. From time to time a logging truck pulls out and barrells down the road with it's load. When pedestrians see it coming, they step out of the way for obvious reasons. If anyone were hit by a truck like that, the effects would be noticable, to say the least. This is the gospel of the unchanging Word of God. When we meet it head on, we can either be changed by it, or step out of the way and avoid it. If we meet it, it means that we must let go of life as we knew it.

God's Word is threatening to the world because it calls for radical change, but disbelieving God does not make it go away.

Monday, April 27, 2009

FOXNews.com - Muslim Calligrapher Writes Luke's Gospel for Pope - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

FOXNews.com - Muslim Calligrapher Writes Luke's Gospel for Pope - International News News of the World Middle East News Europe News

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Among the Lampstands: Revelation 2:1-29 (part 2)

You know the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words;" or, as Ivan S. Turgenev wrote in his 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, "The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book." Pictures communicate. Back in the old days (young 'uns, listen up) we used to take pictures and put them in large books called "photo albums." From time to time, especially at family gatherings, we would pull out these tomes and as we flipped pages we would point and laugh and enjoy remembering the days gone by together. Most photos captured the joyous moments (birthdays, weddings, parties) and from time to time would contain a few momentoes of other occasions (postcards, newspaper clippings of announcements or special articles). Photos help us remember.

The Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains a photo album of sorts. God is reminiscing with Israel: "remember that time . . ." I passed by and saw you there wallowing in your own blood early in life. Remember when you grew up naked and bare and I cleaned you up, covered you, lavished great treasures on you and took you for my own bride? Remember when you ate and were satisfied and became exceedingly beautiful? Remember when your love for your beauty became your downfall and you played the harlot and wasted all the treasures I gave you? Remember when you slaughtered your children to idols? (Ezekiel 16:6-43) But of all things to be remembered, God says that He will remember His covenant and will establish an everlasting covenant. When this happens, the nation will remember her past. Why? So that they will know that He is the LORD and receive forgiveness through their humility (16:60-63).

This early chapter of Revelation describes the most scrutinous Lord walking among groups of people are call themselves by His name. To Ephesus Jesus says, "remember from where you have fallen" and "repent" (2:5); to Smyrna He says, beware immorality and "be faithful unto death" (2:10); to Pergamum He says, "to him who overcomes I will give" (2:17); to Thyatira He says to those who commit adultery with Jezebel to repent (2:22). God's people have a problem of returning to sin and God extends forgiveness through repentance.

Someone once observed that the most neglected portion of scripture is Matthew 18:15-17. Many times in scripture man is warned to turn from sin and if one who is made righteous by faith sees another in sin pattern behavior, he is to step and and turn his attention to righteousness. The church must address sin, but not just sin outside the church--there is sin inside the church. The One who walks among the lampstands has given direction on how this is to be done:

1) "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother." We've only looked at three churches and the Lord has addressed the danger of compromise. Sin and immorality must not be found in the church! One thing we lose here is that the sin of the brother is a sin against the church and the God. On the groud level, this is where true Christianity is tested--false professors will make themselves known by how they respond to someone pointing out their sin. If two have the same Father, then there is not only the family tie, but reconciliation made possible by His work in Christ Jesus!

2) "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witneses every fact may be confirmed." If one does not listen to godly instruction, he is challenging spiritual authority, not the person bringing sin to attention. This is why there must the surity of authority in leadership, demonstrating the seriousness of the sin and the urgency of repentance. It may be helpful that those who make this visitation be people who the individual will listen to, people they admire or esteem.

3) "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [heathen] and a tax collector." Whether it be a representative body of the church or the local church itself is unclear; nevertheless, at least the representative body must be aware of the situation and be able to provide prayerful counsel. If still there is no repentance, the person has revealed himself to be a notorious sinner and must be ejected from the fellowship.

The church does not exist for everyone but is a body of born again believers who are walking after their Master and Lord without compromise. The church is to be in the world, not of it and so must address sin when made evident.

Let us not miss this: the purpose of dealing with sin in the church is to glorify God in Christ Jesus. He is the lampstand walker, the star holder. The world knows the church is to be different and observes the constant dealing with sin--sadly, sin is not dealt with in the biblical fashion and the world instead sees the church making compromises. The world relishes watching the hypocrisy of those who say they walk after Christ and continue to do so without dealing with sin. The Lord does not want this pattern to continue. Watch and listen to the Puritan William Prynne address Cromwell's England in 1650 on the subject of the Christian and worldly dancing:

"Dancing is for the most part attended with many amorous smiles, wanton compliments, unchaste kisses, scurrilous songs and sonnets, effeminate music, lust-provoking attire, ridiculous love-pranks, all which savour only of sensuality, of raging fleshly lust. Therefore it is wholly to be abandoned of all good Christians. Dancing serves no necessary use - no profitable, laudable or pious end at all. It issues only from the inbred depravity, vanity, wantonness, incontinency, pride, profaneness or madness of men's depraved natures. Therefore it must needs be unlawful unto Christians. The way to Heaven is too steep, too narrow, for men to dance in .... No way is large or smooth enough for capering roisters or for skipping, jumping, dancing dames but that broad, beaten, pleasant road that leads to Hell! The gate of Heaven is too narrow for whole rounds, whole troops of dancers to march in together."

In the days of old the preaching was strong against dancing, card playing, pool playing and other vices. Now, those seeker-sensitive and market-driven churches is so user-friendly, they set themselves up for trouble. I know of one particular church that thrives on youth outreach, but there are nearly no limits: students are smoking, even doing drugs in the parking lot; cursing up a storm; coming and going throughout the service times; giving no respect to authority; committing lewd and immoral acts in the church or in the parking lot; and the list goes on. Can you guess what the number one complaint from the church toward the youth is? Vandalism. Leaders in the church get together and compare tattoos, show rated R movies to the kids, promote music that is downright frightening, even teaching the youth through various functions how to evade police! John MacArthur says it plainly, "Worldliness is any preoccupation with or interest in the temporal system of life that places anything perishable before that which is eternal.”

Like the candle-inspector, we should pay attention to churches like Pergamum. The Lord knows the people and the Lord knows where Satan has set up his throne. The Lord knows who holds onto His name, who the faithful are. The Lord also knows those who hold onto the world and who the unfaithful are. There must be repentance.

What can we do when love for the world grows and love for the Lord wanes? Remember from where we have fallen. Repent and do the good deeds we did at first. The root problem for a waning love is the loss of joy of God's salvation. David prayed that God would restore this to him and that God would give him a willing spirit that will sustain him. This should be our prayer.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Five Points Friday, April 24, 2009: "What does the gospel say about homosexuals?"

"What does the gospel say about homosexuals?"

I was just finishing a conversation with a doctor at the Fountain in Five Points when I noticed two young ladies and a young man walking up to the Fountain. Though I was shaking hands and closing off my conversation with the doctor, I could not take my eyes off the girls and the guy for some reason, and one girl would not take her eyes off me. They sat down very close to us and I could almost feel a gravitational pull toward them.

I pulled out three Million Dollar Bill tracts from my pocket and offered them to the girls and the guy. One girl only looked at it and would not take it. She told me so. The other girl took one, and so did the guy. Just as sure as I felt drawn toward them, I quickly felt pushed away. I told them to read the back because there was an important message they should pay close attention to and I sort of drifted back toward the street where I met another young man who stopped to talk when I offered him a Million Dollar Bill.

As I talked with the young man near the street, I could feel the eyes of the two girls and guy as they watched me talk with this newer passerby about the soul, death, life, the law, judgment, hell, repentance and salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ. This young man reached a point he was more eager to cross the street and I thanked him for stopping to talk with me.

I told him to think about what he heard and turn from his sin. While I was encouraging him with these things, the first young girl who refused the gospel tract came and sat right behind me on the wall and lit up a cigarrette. The newer passerby finally crossed the street and I turned to meet her again. She said nothing and looked away, but it was evident the gravity switch had been flipped again, so I took a step back (she was that close) and said bluntly, "Ok, what's on your mind?"

"What are you doing out here?" she asked looking away, taking a drag on her cigarrette.

"Sharing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hanging out. You know." I replied. "What are you guys up to tonight?"

"Nothing, just hanging out, I guess," she answered, looking around.

"Ok," I answered. "Can I ask you a question? What do you think will happen to you after you die?"

She thought for a moment and said, "I dunno. Nothing, I guess." A breath later she said, "I gotta question for you. What does the gospel say about homosexuals?" She said it more like a statement than a question. This was the burning issue. I think this little band recognized we were sharing the gospel and had an agenda.

I repeated her question a couple of times, finally sitting down next to her on the wall with the second repetition. I lifted a quick prayer to the Heavenly Father, asking Him to guide the conversation. "That's a very good question," I said and suddenly realized she wanted a fight, not an answer. I saw her female and male companions watching me from the Fountain.

I repeated the question one more time and said something like, "well, based the way you worded the question," (it was rather odd the way she put it), "I would have to say the gospel says the same thing about homosexuals that it does to liars, thieves, adulterers, murderers, sorcerers, immoral person, sabbath-breakers, and people who are disobedient to parents."

She nodded her head, but I don't think she understood why because she suddenly stopped, looked at her friends and her eyes got huge--a signal? She took a drag on her cigarrette and I waited--I don't think that was the answer she was expecting.

"What does the gospel say?" she asked again.

"Well, the gospel says that all men everywhere should repent and put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ." I replied.

"So do you think that homosexuals will go to hell?" She asked, looking right at me, trying to stoke the fire for the fight.

"Yes," I replied, "right there alongside liars, thieves, adultereres, murderers, sorcerers, immoral persons, sabbath-breakers, etc. But that's not what I think," I clarified, "that's what God's Word says. Can I ask you a question?" She gave me permission.

"Have you ever told a lie?" I asked.

"Yes." She answered.

"What do you call people who tell lies?" I asked.

"People who don't tell the truth," was the reply.

"What would you call me if I told a lie?" I pressed.

"A person who does not tell the truth." I knew she was going to be difficult, so I moved on.

"Ever stolen anything?" I asked. She admitted she had. "What do you call people who steal things?" I asked.

"People who steal things." She replied, matter-of-factly, being intentionally difficult

"If I walked into that store over there, what word would law enforcement use to describe me?" I tried for clarification. She would not say "thief" no matter how I tried, but I did not want to upset her and give her the fight she wanted. Instead I asked, "why are you concerned about what the gospel says about homosexuals?"

At this point, her two companions came over. "We were wondering," the other girl chimed in, "because there are people out there who cannot help but be what they are." The newer girl began to lecture me about the biological tendencies of people to reject the way they were made to be. I answered her, but affirmed her statement that she was right but only in that we were made a certain way and there is a rebellion against what The Maker had planned. This threw her off and she thought about it for a moment. The three exchanged glances.

The first girl came back to the conversation, "so if liars, theives, adulterers and homosexuals are basically all the same in God's eyes, and homosexuals are going to hell, then everybody must be going to hell!" She laughed and her friends joined in celebrating that all humanity is going to hell and they would see me there too!

I smiled (I could not laugh) and said, "once again, you confirm scripture. The Bible says, 'there is none righteous, not even one' and 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' All humanity does deserve hell for breaking God's moral law," I paused and repeated, "you are right. We're sunk." The laughter quickly died. "But you are not going to see me in hell and I will tell you why." I added.

I started to show them from scripture that God created man to be in relationship with Him and man broke God's moral law and the relationship is broken. Man not only lives in sin, but is also going to receive the wages of sin, which is death. God's will is that He does not want anyone to perish, but men love their sin too much to do the one thing God asks to avoid the punishment--repent and put faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. I told them how I have put my faith and trust in Him and am walking in a restored relationship with the Father in Christ Jesus, delivered from the penalty and power of sin, looking forward to being delivered from the presence of sin.

The second girl stepped up to bat. "You are just quoting the Bible. You can't trust the Bible. It wasn't written by God but by sinful men. Beside, there are other religions out there."

I looked at her and asked, "how did you come to that conclusion?" No response, so I continued saying, "I don't see why that's a problem for you anyway. You read stuff written by sinful men all the time . . ."

She tried to explain how it was different, but I compared her statement with some examples from daily living as to how we do trust what others have written. "Besides," I went one, "you still did not tell me how you concluded that God did not write the Bible." The argument died right there as they exchanged glances. I went on to talk about inspiration and authority. They tried to argue textual variances, but I showed them through internal and external evidence (archaology) how God protects His Word. I brought out the heart of the matter, "Be honest. You've read it and don't like what is says so you would rather believe in what is agreeable to you." No answer.

By now the second girl (Alex) was becoming more conversational, while the first girl sat silent. They guy never said a word through this entire conversation, only listened with growing interest.

As I was talking about how God protects His Word, Alex noticed the tattoo on my left forearm. She said, "well, I'm Catholic and I know the Bible says about not marking your body up with tattoos."

I told her she, once again, was right. The Bible does have some things to say about tattoos, "But," I brought to her attention, "you did not ask me WHEN or HOW I got the tattoo."

I told them how I was brought up in a Christian home and thought I was a Christian. I told them of going off to college and, while wearing the name of Christ totally blasphemed His name (breaking the 3rd commandment) by drinking, drug use and immorality. All three listened intently as I told them (and showed them) how I came to do the tattoo myself. Then I told them about my overdoses and how I came to understand how God saw my heart and repentance. Then I addressed another issue she brought up about other religions.

Using the airplane analogy, I showed them how world religions fail: Hinduism is like jumping from a doomed plane only to be sucked in again as another passenger; Islam and others is like flapping your arms to keep from hitting the ground. All world religions seem spiritual, but do not address the sin problem nor it's consequences. I told them of the parachute and how it must be put on.

Alex tried, bless her, she tried. She said she felt that she could do more good than bad, that her good deeds could overcome her sins. I showed her that time never erases a crime, and using good deeds to outweigh the bad would be like bribing a judge, who, in turn can never let a wicked person go without becoming worse than the criminal himself.

Then something came to mind that surprised even me, at first. I told them, the real problem is not homosexuality, per se. The real problem that needs to be addressed is what causes homosexuality--homosexuality is only a symptom. I can show you what the real problem is. The real problem is lack of love for God.

Alex asked me, apologetically, if I had a lighter for her cigarrette. I told her I did not, but I knew where she could find fire and if she stuck with me long enough I was sure she could avoid going there. She laughed! I gave a breath of thanks to God.

As I brought out and taught from the scripture, the first girl left in a rage, causing Alex great distress. I told Alex that this was the most vital part of what she needed to hear and please, don't be distracted. She and the guy stayed with me until the end. I opened the Bible and taught them (foot trafffic was increasing all around us) from Romans 1 about breaking the First Commandment and how God turns a person over to their own lust. Homosexuality is only one way this rebellion manifests itself because those who see fit not to acknowledge God any longer do many things that are not proper, being unrighteous, wicked, greedy, evil, full of envy, murder (hatred = murder), strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful, knowing the ordinances of God and practicing things worthy of death. Mankind is in the same boat and must repent, turn from sin and be made righteous in Christ Jesus.

As I read through Romans 1, Alex's eyes got huge. She seemed to no longer care about her friend. The guy sat quiet and listened. I looked at Alex and said, "I am about to ask you the hardest question you may ever have to answer, and I am doing it because I love you enough with God's love to do this: the first commandment says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Can you honestly say you have done this your entire life? Or do you love yourself and what makes you feel good more?" She could not answer, but I knew her answer.

I looked at her male friend and asked him the same thing. He hung his head.

I then explained how God stepped into time and space and lived the perfect life and gave His life's blood on the cross. I begged, pleaded with them to repent, place their faith and trust in Christ. Die to sin and live in Christ. I told them how God loved them enough to provide the way of escape so that, like me, they too could miss hell and find healing and be reconciled to God.

Alex and her male friend were clearly affected by the gospel, and thanked me for taking the time to talk with them. I hated to end the conversation, but could only trust that they would cry out to God for salvation. When we finally parted, I felt stunned. Unplugged. I had a hard time sleeping.

Today, I had an hour to kill so I took my two boys with me on a side trip to Five Points. Jonathan skateboarded and William and I walked. As we were leaving, we passed one of the restaruants that serve out on their porches. The waitress attending the only couple on the sidewalk was girl #1. She saw me coming up the sidewalk (I saw her, too) and she got so agitated, I could see her face turn to stone. She had clearly switched off her customers, too. I made a small wave, though she tried hard not to look at me. I kept walking up the sidewalk. When I was sure she snapped out of it, I turned around quickly and made a bigger wave. She stormed off into the restaraunt.

Among the Lampstands: Revelation 2:1-29 (part 1)

The first chapter of the Revelation of Jesus Christ closed with a visionary description of Jesus among the churches, pictured as lampstands. This section of the book is the address of our Lord Jesus Christ to seven churches.

Once in a while I get tough questions, hard questions from two kinds of people: those who really want an answer; and, those who like to stir things up--or at least try to. I enjoy searching out meaningful answers with those who genuinely ask. The rarest occasion from time to time brings questions I really don't like. These are the most difficult questions, the kind of question I really wish had never been asked. Approaching this section of the book of Revelation, I find myself face to face with the first of these two questions.

The question posed is, "what modern-day church, in your experience and opinion, is most vibrant and God-honoring, and why?" ((**Sigh**)). I would like to say it is "this" church or "that" church, but the truth of the matter is that I cannot name any particular church or churches. To do so is to make a statement about myself that I am really in no position to make (and perhaps that is the point of the question). Now, I like "this" preacher and "that" pastor, and I must say that out of all the churches I have either served or attended, I find our current fellowship most agreeable; however, I cannot answer the question as it is presented. Now, I can say in a general sense the most vibrant and God-honoring churches are those that preach an uncompromised gospel, teaching the whole counsel of scripture, but I cannot name one specific church. I can also say that those who call themselves a church and give little or no regard to the gospel and scripture should not be called a church at all. Let's be clear: only those who have been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus are of the body, the Church.

The second question is tough, too: "What if Jesus sent a letter to your church? What would He say?" I could say honestly, "I don't know"; but, since there is a "what if" at the beginning of the question, I imagine he might address us Southerners not as lampsticks but as rows in a garden. Our church might be addressed with three rows of squash, four rows of turnips and five rows of lettuce: squash indifference, squash criticism and squash gossip; turn up for worship, turn up with a smile, turn up with your Bible and turn up with a visitor; let us love one another, let us welcome strangers, let us be faithful in obedience, let us worship in Spirit and truth, and let us give.

I believe our Lord Jesus Christ really has has sent a letter to my church. Actually, I believe He sent seven--the same ones He sent to your church, and we can begin to read those letters starting right here in Revelation 2.

Ephesus (2:1-5): Orthodox and Sterile.

The apostle Paul had some extended experience with the Ephesian church. The first time he came to them, he did not stay for long, but would return "if God wills" (Acts 18:19-21). The second time he came, he met twelve men with spiritual concerns (to say the least). Paul preaches Christ and they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and recieved the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). For the next three months, Paul preaches in the synagogues, reasoning and pursuading the Ephesians with the gospel--then something happens. Some became "hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people" (19:9a). What did Paul do? He separated himself from these disobedient and hardened people and he took with him those who continued to obey the gospel (19:9b).

Over the next two years, some amazing things happened in terms of words and works related to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul preached the gospel and God made Himself known through miracles by Paul's hand. When Jesus was magnified, people believed, repented, confessed their sins and evil practices--they even burned their magic books! (19:17-18) As Paul was preparing to leave and go to Jerusalem, another disturbance flared up concerning the Way (19:23). The problem was that people were turning from their idols, putting the idol-makers out of business and making the gods worthless! The tradesmen got together and started a riot and "the city was filled with confusion" and swept up two of Paul's companions in the fray (19:29). People were literally at odds with one another--Christians standing on one side and idolaters on the other.

Paul and his companions left Ephesus and was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost. From Miletus, he called the elders of the church and, among other things, reminded them of his gospel ministry and his suffering for preaching. He also warned them to be on guard as overseers -because "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" and to remain on alert (20:17-35).

The seven-star holder had some good things to say about the Ephesian church (perhaps He feels their weight in His hand, so to speak): they did not tolerate evil persons; they rooted out the liars; they perservered with patience, laboring for Jesus names' sake without weariness. The One who walks amidst the lampstands also had some things to say about their sin (one can almost picture Him leaning in close and inspecting each candle): they left their first love. They broke the first commandment. Love for God in Christ was less glowing than at first. True religion shows itself not in the initial flare-up, like lighting the match, but in the burn.

Jesus tells them to remember from where they have fallen, and do the deeds they did at first or else He is coming to remove the whole candlestick. He does not say He is going to put them out, but remove the whole candlestick. They are about to flicker out themselves. For the Ephesians, the Lord Jesus Christ wants light.

Remembering begins with repentance. Turn from sin, just as they did at the beginning. Only then can one get back to the ministry of obedience and having a soft heart before the Lord. This will not drive people away, but will draw others who are being obedient together. They are to keep putting away idols and turning out those who creep in to harm the flock.

The blessing for doing this is not merely that they remain as candlestick, but that they will be made partakers of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God!

Smyrna (2:8-11): Faithful and Assaulted

Smyrna is another church with Pauline experience, and by that I mean suffering. Despite all the beatings, stonings, whippings, imprisonments, etc. Paul and his entourage kept preaching Christ, "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'" (Acts 14:22). Smyrna is a church on the verge of experiencing great suffering because they stand for Christ. This church should be a problem for Western Christianity. The First and the Last, who became dead and is living has some insight into what Smyrna is about:

1) He knows what they are doing. What they do shows who they really are. When a person becomes a Christian, there is no guarantee that life will be better. Standing for Christ is not easy. What Jesus promised was an abudant life. What does that mean? "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) God's Word tells us there is a blessing in suffering, even to "count it all joy when you fall into different kinds of temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith works patience." (James 1:2-3) This means that when we pray for patience, guess what we will get? We get to grow through trials!

2) He knows how they are suffering for what they are doing. The people of this church are doing things as obedient Christians that is causing the world to make life difficult for them. Notice how Jesus identifies Himself to this church: the one who was dead and is not living. Jesus did not die of natural causes or because He sat in a quiet corner nursing His ideas in whispers. Church history begins with martyrdom. Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John, was burnt alive in Smyrna because of his refusal to give worship to Ceasar. The church in Smyrna is about to go to prison for their faith. They are taking a stand against Satan. This is so distressing that The One Who Is Living tells them not to be afraid. He tells them to be faithful till death.

Here is something to consider: are you being persecuted for your faith? Made a little uncomfortable? Are you sharing the gospel at all? Do people have enough to complain about the good news you are preaching? If you are living your faith out before others, how can you tell if anyone is noticing? Are waves of revival following as you leave Wal-Mart? The body of Christ in everywhere but the West is throbbing with the pain of persecution and death because of their stand for the gospel. We struggle about giving a gospel tract to a perfect stranger.

3) He knows their richness in poverty. These people lost everything because of the gospel and have gained the riches of heaven because of the gospel. Heirs of the Kingdom of God! The world hates poverty, yet is inundated with it. Our Lord Jesus Christ notices poverty and is the King of His people who are in poverty. The difference is that the poverty of the world comes by sin--the church of Smyrna is impoverished because of their work for the Kingdom.

4) He knows the true from the false. John Gill ((1697–1771) explains most clearly there are people "who asserted themselves to be the true Israel of God, Jews that were so inwardly, regenerate persons, or truly Christians; for the Christians, baptized persons, were by the Heathens called Jews; but these were not, they professed Christianity in words, but in works denied it; they were men of bad principles and practices, and both blasphemed the ways and doctrines of Christ themselves, and caused them to be blasphemed by others also; they were false Christians, nominal professors, and shunned persecution for the Gospel; who were not what they would be thought to be: these were the broachers of heresies in this period of time, in which there was a multitude of them, and which chiefly respected the doctrine of the Trinity, and the person of Christ; and they were introducers of Pagan and Jewish rites into the church, and were men of flagitious lives and conversations, and paved the way for the man of sin."

Pergamos (2:12-17): Faithful on the outside, compromised on the inside.

While we may gloss over this church in a particular fashion, we would be amiss to ignore the scathing rebuke our Lord Jesus Christ brings to this church: they keep within themselves false teachers. These would rather bring lies concerning God and speak falsely against Him people and the church was tolerating their teachings. These were a stumbling block and the church would not remove them. These openly practiced idolatry and sexual immorality without rebuke. These were clearly doing things hateful to God and the church did not have God's heart in the matter.

Jesus is described to this church as The One Who Has The Sharp Sword and this is what He tells them. "Repent! But if not I will come to you quickly, and will fight with them by the sword of My mouth." (2:16). He is telling the church to repent and if they do not turn from their sin, then He will come to them quickly and will fight His enemies with the sword of His mouth; that is, His Word.

Sounds like a good thing: If I don't repent then God's enemies will get a little visit. Don't miss the point: He will come to those who do not repent with a sword that cuts two ways. The godly who tolerate evil will not remain uneffected by a visit from God's Word. There may be those who hold fast His name and have not denied the faith, but what are they doing allowing the world in the church?

Thyatira (2:18-29) Insignificant, yet, determined.

A most unusual place, Thyatira.
Geographically: out of the way.
Religiously: nothing signifcant--no temples, nothing.
Politically: overlooked.
Militarily: designed to be captured in case of invasion to slow down the enemy.
Commercially: small trade and site of dye manufacturing.

The One With Flaming Eyes and Feet Like Polished Bronze not only looks right through them, but passes a judgment concerning them but not without recognizing their strengths: good deeds, love, faithful, works of service, perservance, etc. Again, these words come from the one who not merely walks among the candlesticks, but scrutinzes them carefully, inspects them. What He reveals about their weaknesses is astounding:

1) They tolerate. With full knowledge of what was going on in their midst, they failed to confront a significant problem;
2) The problem: Jezebel. Someone who was clever of deception, manipulative, dominant, viscious, schemer, inflential and wicked. To top that off, this person assumed a position of leadership and through this was influential in leading people astray, rejecting repentance and putting forth her own immorality.

The Lord Jesus Christ pronounces the future for both the Jezebel-like woman, but also for those who pattern their thinking and behavior after her. Unless there is repentance, each one will receive what is theirs according to their deeds.

But what about the faithful ones, the ones who were not swept away under this influence? Christ promises that they would receive no extra burden. Instead He promises to give them authority and the person of Christ Himself, the Morning Star.

APPLICATION and "END" to part 1:

I like Chuck Swindoll's concise application here (from "Letters to Churches," 1982)

1. Big problems can occur in obscure places, so don't be surprised;
2. Timely words can encourage demoralized individuals, so do don't be hesitant;
3. Wrong teaching can come from gifted individuals, so don't be misled;
4. Deceptive actions hurt the innocent, so don't be stubborn.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Witness

"There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light." (John 1:6-8)

Perhaps you have heard from time to time about some of "those" phone calls pastors receive. "A word from the LORD" has been "recieved" by someone with nothing more than good (or bad) intentions: thoughts regarding the pastor, the church, his sermons and/or delivery, and the list goes on. Pastors often listen and thank the caller, hang up and go back to work with little or no consideration. Some calls get screened. Once in a while, a trusted friend calls. James Ryle (not to be confused with J.C. Ryle of the 19th Century) tells of a call he once received from a friend that had a deep impact on his ministry. He describes this friend as "a man who rises early in the morning and spends great lengths of time in prayer; a man of significant influence, whom the Lord has used to touch many, many people with the Gospel. He had my undivided attention.

'OK,' I replied, 'what is it?'

To this day I will never forget his answer, for it truly was a word from the Lord; a word which I needed to hear at that moment, for I was undergoing severe personal attack in the form of criticism and outright slander. I was being lied about, ridiculed for my beliefs, and spoken against by opponents who held me in contempt – you know, a typical week in the life of many pastors. So my phone-a-friend had my undivided attention.

'Ping,' he said; holding the sound out like a sustained musical note.

'Ping?' I answered, in a blunt, one syllable monotone reply.

'No,' he graciously answered, 'Ping,' once again making the sustained sound, rather than simply saying the word. And then he did it again, 'Ping.'

'What is that supposed to mean?' I asked, and my friend replied, 'That's the sound of a twenty-two caliber bullet bouncing off the hull of a nuclear submarine. Ping.'

He paused for a moment and then said, 'The Lord wants you to know that these attacks of criticism against you are nothing more than that – puny and ineffective cheap shots that cannot penetrate the hull of your ship. They can only annoy and distract. Stay the course and do what the Lord has directed you to do.'

That was a meaningful moment for me. I was being tossed about in my soul with mounting frustrations – wanting to answer in self-defense and set the record straight, but being restrained from doing so by the grace of God. The storm has long passed and, like any storm, has left much debris in its wake. And with regularity someone will pick up a piece of the trash that was tossed about and take it as current news, and hammer me once again.

Funny, though, I seldom even hear the ping anymore."

The Gospel of John opens with a theological introduction to the person and work of Christ. Jesus is described as The One who came into the world He created and was unknown. He came to the people He had called from all the peoples of the earth and was not received. He came as light and life to darkness and death. John the Baptizer was not the light nor the life but is described as a man sent from God to bear witness about the Light in a world of spiritual darkness. Jesus is the disrupter and John got to bear record, give testimony of the disruption.

A number of years ago, a man I know had the priviledge of running the Olympic flame across a portion of our state. He stepped out of his job, his ministry, and to a degree, away from himself as he ran that torch. Instead he became for a while the bearer of everything that flame represented. Dr. Don Howell describes a witness as "one who has abandonded neutrality, steps out of the way, and now speaks as an earnest endorser of another." This was John the Baptist, a torch-bearer.

A witness of the gospel does not herald himself, but that which is given to him. As he or she faithfully steps out of the comfort zone, one is pelted on all sides by the flaming arrows of the enemy; however, one so dedicated to delivering that message that was given will seldom hear the "ping." The sword of the Spirit is at work, shield of faith is raised, the helmet of salvation is one, the breastplate of righteousness protects, the belt of truth is cinced and the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace tramples.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 8)?

Acts 17:11, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."

Mormon founder Joseph Smith explained: "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors" (TPJS, p. 327). And again, "From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled." (TPJS, pp. 9-10).

Paul and Silas had been traveling "giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead" (17:3) and the Bereans, instead of casting them into prison, beating them, disputing with them, they instead immediately sat down with their copies of the Old Testament scriptures and put the words of Paul and Silas to the test. "Let's see if they are preaching what has been written already concerning the Christ." What did they investigate from the Old Testament?

The incarnation of Christ.
The obedience of Christ.
The sufferings of Christ.
The death of Christ.
The resurrection of Christ.

Paul and Silas were received by what they read. They heard what they had to say and found it worthy of examination against what was already written before. And they kept up the research. Daily. This leads us to consider:

1) There is proof of truth concerning the claims of Christianity. The Bereans had in their possession an authoritative source.
2) If one wishes to be aligned in truth, the authority must be studied, not questioned. The Bereans kept themselves from error by studying what had been compiled long before.
3) Every preacher must be investigated against God's Word. Every hearer is obliged to investigate, to test the vaporizing words of men against God's. One might say that Paul's preaching made better Bible students of the Bereans.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) says it so wonderfully, "The doctrine of Christ does not fear a scrutiny. We that are advocates for his cause desire no more than that people will not say, These things are not so, till they have first, without prejudice and partiality, examined whether they be so or no."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 7)?

Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."

Here are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ as He taught on the Mount of Olives. Leaving the city of Jerusalem, Jesus begins teaching about future events, prophecies concerning the temple and the return of Christ. The disciples ask, "what will be the sign of your coming at the end of the age?" (Mt 24:3; Mk 13:4; Lk 21:7) He answers, "the sing of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory." (Mt 24:30) In other words, the sign of His coming will be His coming.

His coming will be preceeded by the "birth-pangs" of misleading false christs and the persecution of those who stand for the truth of the gospel (Mt 42:4-14; Mk 13:5-13; Lk 21:8-19). Past prophecies will be fulfilled and distress will grow as the deceptions of false christ's continue (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Mt 24:15-28; Mk 13:14-23; Lk 21:20-24) then the Son of Man will come (Mt 24:29-31; Mk 13:24-27; Lk 21:25-27). Count on these things as surely just as a tree gives its fruit in season (Mt. 24:32-41; Mk 13:28-32; Lk 21:28-33).

Our Lord Jesus Christ emphasizes that heaven and earth itself will return to nothing before His words fail. Consider the role of prophecy here. So much time passes between their giving and fulfillment that it seems as if the words are forgotten or delayed; however, the fulfillment is in God's time. What is truly remarkable is that the prophetic words are made sure because they are God's words. Any other word man speaks, any ordinance, law, utterance, assertion--all the memorable speeches and quotes--will vanish, empty, while the words of Christ fulfill. When the sun, moon and stars cease their proper function, His word will be accomplished.

The sign His word is protected is in His returning.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Future and Returning King: Revelation 1:1-20

I remember playing in the backyard, climbing on my jungle gym, climbing the tree, playing "Space 1999" and "Star Trek" with my friends. The universe seemed to be a much safer place back then as we jetted around our backyard assisting our space captains in capturing aliens and promoting the good morals of Planetary Federations. Ah, the future. One particular weekend trip to my grandparents house (a six-hour drive), I was laying on the top of the back seat of the car against the rear window gazing out watching the stars, Star Trek communicator in my hand, talking with my fleet in orbit . . . I never dreamed that communicators would be so readily available as an adult with pre-paid calling plans from Alltel and that our atmosphere would be choked with satellites. I never saw the future coming, though Gene certainly did. The most outstanding memory I have concerning future dreams came at the World's Fair in 1982--touch screen technology! It blew my mind (and everyone else's).

Technology and the future have long been thrust together in an awkward relationship. A tour through Epcot Center in the 1970's was a trip down future lane, to be sure, but we are nowhere near the projections of yester-year. We don't have automated houses, flying cars or personalized rocket packs. The Jetsons are not our next-door neighbors, but we've been talking space tourism for years. The moon race is on again. We have hybrid and electric cars, a gazillion channels through fiber-optics, remote or robotic surgeries--and have you seen Blue Ray? Those who live in what used to be known as "third world countries" are providing our tech support and the Internet is more readily available than food. "Global" is now "glocal." Some people seem to have future vision while others do not (I am writing this on a lap-top computer, by the way):

1. “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”-Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949;
2. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”-Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943;
3. “But what … is it good for?”-Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip;
5. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”-Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

Already politicians are discussing the next presidential election. Footballers are counting the days until the next Superbowl. What will the next great medical achievement be? The economy will be like, what, tomorrow? Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics at Yale in 1929 said, "Stockes have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." We are consumed with thoughts about the future. Isaac Asimov gave us billions of years of human history in the Robot and Foundation series, celebrating not so much a godless and eternal empire ruling the universe, but accomplishments of humanity itself. The whole plot of futuristic Star Wars thrives on "long ago" and "far away" with humans at the center.

One might suggest that mankind is so interested in the future because mankind feels he can control it to benefit mankind; but, man can't control his body functions, so it remains a mystery as to why we think we can control the future or the outcome we expect of it. The truth of the matter is that we don't like uncertainty. We like to feel in control and not knowing means lack of control. Is it possible to get a glimpse of the future? People try through horoscopes, mediums and spiritists; but, suggest that they might consult the Bible and people go into an uproar! "You can't trust the Bible," they say, "it was written by men!" Where do horrorscopes come from, and what is a medium? When we study the scripture, we learn a startling lesson: the future is not about man, but about the glory of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is most unsettling, but this is the truth.

The beloved apostle wrote that the time was near (Rev. 1:3). What was does this mean, "the time is near?" We would be amiss to recognize there is a blessing with becoming intimately familiar with what has been revealed concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, specifially through this writing. Sherlock Holmes would always be teaching Dr. Watson one lesson he was never able to master (to the great Detective's dismay) that though he may see, he has never fully observed; that is, becoming so fully acquainted that a matter will explains itself if one "consumes" what is before him. The apostle John was inspired to communicate that all doubt, unsurity, uncertainty concerning the future is vanquished when we understand, observe (not merely "see") who the future is for and what the future is to accomplish for Him. Those things that God has revealed in the past is no longer a mystery and must even be obeyed.

"The time is near." Measurement has been made, an allotment given. There is a "rightness" concerning what is happening, a specific occasion is about to happen. An opportunity is knocking. Things are about to take place concerning our Lord Jesus Christ and His servants. Mankind will be carrying on with everyday business: eating, drinking, marrying, etc.as if the return of Christ would never happen, or as if it were forgotten (Matthew 26:36-39). Here's a sure way to tell He is coming: people are mocking and questioning the day of His coming (2 Peter 3:3-4).

John gives us some peculiar descriptions:

Concerning the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: like a good Jewish writer, John gives the reader the whole story before he gives the details--he tells us what he is saying before he says it: "He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him." (Revelation 1:7) His coming will be cloud-swathed. The Watchtower of the Jehovah's Witnesses say that only 144,000 will be able to see Jesus/Michael; but the Bible actually teaches that every eye will see Him when He returns, including those who caused His death, and there will be great mourning. There is a particular relationship mankind has with the second coming in that there is a finality in this event. Every person dead and living will see Him at the final battle. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon." (Zechariah 12:10, 11).

Concerning our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, John records an astounding vision. He shows Himself to be (Revelation 1:8-18):
Alpha and Omega, beginning and end (2x);
The Lord;
Who is, who was and who is to come;
The Almighty;
The first and the last (2x).

Physically, He is like the son of man with head and hair white like wool, like snow; fire-flaming eyes; feet like refined brass; a voice like the sound of many waters; star-holding hands; mouth with a sharp two-edged sword; sun-like countenance.

He is the one who was dead and alive forevermore.
The key-holder of death and hades.

When John saw Him, he fell at his feet as a dead man, just as did Abraham (Genesis 17:3); Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:22); Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8); Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28); Saul/Paul (Acts 9:4). Seeing Jesus is not a light matter. I wonder sometimes if we know what we are in for when we sing, "Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus. . ."

Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things." (Revelation 1:19) This verse is key to understanding the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The things seen, the things that are and the things that will take place are all related in that all things seen and heard are about Him, the first-born of the dead and ruler over the kings of the earth. Philippians 2:5-11 helps us understand what should be incomprehensible: God stepped into time and space and lived as a man in His creation for the purpose of obedience to death on the cross. The things that were, are and to come enhance the glory that is all God's in Christ Jesus because in Him God's purpose was accomplished to do the unthinkable: provide a covering and payment for sin. The Revelation gives us what Paul describes as the name of Jesus bringing the bowing of all knees in heaven, on earth and under the earth, every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

When our Lord Jesus Christ returns, the nations will be judged as He sits on the throne. Mankind has already been judged at the cross. "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:30-31) "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory." (Matthew 25:31)

Considering the identity of "the living one" (Revelation 1:18):

The book of Revelation has two bookends concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. These bookends speak directly to any questioning His person and role. Though we've already looked at these elements above, we've not yet observed the depth of this description. The Lord God describes Himself as the Alpha and the Omega; who was, is and is to come; the Almighty (1:8). At the end of the book, He describe Himself as the one who is coming quickly bringing reward, "to render to every man according to what he has done." (21:12a) and the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (21:12b) Who is the first and the last? The Lord God.

Back in the first chapter, note what the Almighty says of Himself: "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One." (1:17-18a). Then He says, "and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." (1:18b) When did the Almighty die and why would He be alive forevermore? This could only happen if Jesus Christ was God. For further study, look up the following verses: John 1:4; 11:25; 14:6; Romans 6:9; Hebrews 2:14; 7:16; 1 Peter 3:18.

Well, John was inspired to write there would be a blessing for those who read, hear and keep the things that are in it, because the time is near (1:3). What can we find to apply so far? Generally speaking, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ demands a response, and there is only one, so we can either sumbit to Him as sovereign, savior and Lord and be released from the penalty, power and presence of sin; or, reject of Him as sovereign, savior and Lord. Either way, our one response will be a bowed knee and confession that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. When He returns He will either gather those that are His by virtue of His salvation, or consummate judgment on those who reject Him. Whatever your choice is, be ready for His return.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 6)?

Isaiah 40:7-8, "The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever."

There is no accident that "tsîyts" (or "tsits"), which is translated "flower," can also be used of "glistening," specifically, of a polished metal plate or plate metal. This could read, "the green lawn dries up and the glittering/glistening fails." Polished metal must be kept polished or else it will tarnish. In a figurative sense "nabel" (translated here as "fadeth") could mean "made wicked" or "be despised."

In an earlier post we saw how God speaks and breathes and creates and the everlasting quality of that which He brings into being. Now we see God's breath and God's word causing the wilting of men against his forever-standing word. Not even gold plates given by visionary angels to young men on grassy knolls or forests can keep their lustre against His unchanging, ever-protected word.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 5)?

Proverbs 30:5-6, "Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar."

Tested:

"Every thing that God has pronounced, every inspiration which the prophets have received, is pure, without mixture of error, without dross. Whatever trials it may be exposed to, it is always like gold: it bears the fire, and comes out with the same lustre, the same purity, and the same weight." (Adam Clarke, 1762–1832)

"The whole of Scripture is pure, free from all falsehood and error; coming from the God of truth, who cannot lie, and therefore called "the Scriptures of truth": every promise is pure as well as precious, made without dissimulation, faithfully performed, and all yea and amen in Christ; every doctrine is pure, free from the mixtures and inventions of men; the sincere milk of the word; consistent and all of a piece, not yea and nay; and tending to promote purity of heart and life; wholesome words, and doctrines according to godliness." (John Gill, 1697-1771)

"You must not expect the full knowledge of Divine mysteries from me, nor from any man, but from the word of God." (John Wesley, 1703-1791)

Do not add:

"Men are not to mingle revealed truth with their own imaginations and traditions. In speculating on the unseen, the risk of error is indefinitely great, and that error God reproves by manifesting its falsehoods." (Albert Barnes, 1798–1870).

"You can no more increase their value by any addition, than you can that of gold by adding any other metal to it. Take care that you do not any thing that this word forbids, nor leave undone any thing that it commands: for this is adding and diminishing in Scripture phrase." (Clarke, above)

"Add thou not unto his words, because they are pure and perfect. This forbids the advancing of any thing, not only in contradiction to the word of God, but in competition with it; though it be under the plausible pretence of explaining it, yet, if it pretend to be of equal authority with it, it is adding to his words, which is not only a reproach to them as insufficient, but opens a door to all manner of errors and corruptions; for, that one absurdity being granted, that the word of any man, or company of men, is to be received with the same faith and veneration as the word of God, a thousand follow. We must be content with what God has thought fit to make known to us of his mind, and not covet to be wise above what is written." (Matthew Henry, 1662-1714)

"lest he reprove thee; that is, God; either by words or by blows, by threatenings and denunciations of his wrath and displeasure; or by chastisements and corrections for such daring pride, blasphemy, and wickedness; those who add to his words, he threatens to add plagues unto them, Rev 22:18; and thou be found a liar; a forger, speaker, and spreader of doctrinal lies, such doctrines as are contrary to the word of truth; not being built on that, but upon human inventions, and additions to it." (Gill, above)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 4)?

Psalm 119:89, 100 "Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven . . . I understand more than the ancients because I have kept Your precepts."

A Brahmin once said to a missionary: "We are finding you out. You are not as good as your Book. If you were as good as your Book, you could conquer India for Christ in five years." Scripture reveals the truth and sheds light on our shortcomings. If scripture excuses sin, how can it be God's word? God's word is timeless and does not change. God protects His word, and even pagans know this to be true.

Picture a column, a permanent station, something put into place, rock solid. This is the sense of the meaning of God's "settled" word. This is the Hebrew word used to describe the built altar in Genesis 33:20, Rachel's grave marker in Genesis 35:20, a monument in 1 Samuel 15:12. American theologian Albert Barnes (1798–1870) explains, "The meaning here is, that the word - the law - the promise - of God was made firm, established, stable, in heaven; and would be so forever and ever. What God had ordained as law would always remain law; what he had affirmed would always remain true; what he had promised would be sure forever."

Psalm 119:152, "Of old I have known from Your testimonies that You have founded them forever."

Psalm 119:160, "The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting."

Commonly heard today is the phrase, "what it means to me." We use this often in our Bible studies, "what this means to me is . . ." then get upset when someone else offers their "what it means to me . . ." because what they say may not sound like what we say. What's the difference between "what it means to me" and "what it means to you"? We should instead be asking, "what does scripture say?" before we can ask "what did God mean when He said that?" God's word is settled in heaven.

Muslims teach that the angel Gabriel dictated The Holy Book ("Qur'an" literally means, "lecture" or "recited") from an eternal book in heaven (this book is one of five) against Muhammad's wishes and it was not until nearly 300 years after Muhammad's death that other teaching arose attempting to explain some eternal quality of Qur'an. Mormonism teaches that an angel (or was it two, or three?) brought Joseph Smith the word of God that was more the word of God than the word that God delivered before. Jehovah's Witnesses claim that nobody outside the organization can understand scripture unless one joins the organization and becomes a slave. Which angellic message is right? Which receiver is right?

The words of this Psalm should stand as a warning to anything new that comes along. God's heavenly-settled word brought more-than-ancient understanding to the writer of Psalm 119. God's words were there in eternity past and will still be there in eternity to come. Anyone coming along to claim a superior rendering has the eternal nature of God's word to deal with. Charles Spurgeon commented on this verse:

"David found of old that God had founded them of old, and that they would stand firm throughout all ages. It is a very blessed thing to be so early taught of God that we know substantial doctrines even from our youth. Those who think that David was a young man when he wrote this Psalm will find it rather difficult to reconcile this verse with the theory; it is much more probable that he was now grown grey, and was looking back upon what he had known long before. He knew at the very first that the doctrines of God's word were settled before the world began, that they had never altered, and never could by any possibility be altered. He had begun by building on a rock, by seeing that God's testimonies were "founded," that is, grounded, laid as foundations, settled and established; and that with a view to all the ages that should come, during all the changes that should intervene. It was because David knew this that he had such confidence in prayer, and was so importunate in It. It is sweet to plead immutable promises with an immutable God. It was because of this that David learned to hope: a man cannot have much expectation from a changing friend, but he may well have confidence in a God who cannot change. It was because of this that he delighted in being near the Lord, for it is a most blessed thing to keep up close intercourse with a Friend who never varies. Let those who choose follow at the heels of the modern school and look for fresh light to break forth which will put the old light out of countenance; we are satisfied with the truth which is old as the hills and as fixed as the great mountains. Let "cultured intellects" invent another god, more gentle and effeminate than the God of Abraham; we are well content to worship Jehovah, who is eternally the same. Things everlastingly established are the joy of established saints. Bubbles please boys, but men prize those things which are solid and substantial, with a foundation and a bottom to them which will bear the test of ages."

[go to Part 3 or Part 5]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Devotional Christians

"Devotional Christian" is a new site you can REALLY use. Here you will find your favorites:

There is also a video devotional section:

And make certain you sign up for the give-aways!

Does God Protect His Word (part 3)?

Psalm 33:10-11, "The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation."

The 9th Article of Faith of the Mormon Church reads, "We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God." The difficulty with this statement is that God's Word is rooted in His person and neither change. Mormonism is one group (among others) that thrives on the evolution of deity, which is why there is also a history of changing theology.

  • The God of the Bible does not "progress" as the LDS god does, and will be the same in the future as He was in the past (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 90:2; Habakkuk 1:12; Malachi 3:6; Romans 1:22-25);
  • The God of the Bible does not "achieve holiness" as the LDS god does (Deut. 32:4; Psa. 119:142; Psa. 145:17; Hosea 11:9; John 1:5);
  • The God of the Bible does not have to "learn" as the LDS god does (Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13, 14, 28);
  • The God of the Bible does not have to attain power as the LDS god does (Romans 1:20; Revelation 19:6);
  • The LDS god can only be in one place at one time. The God of the Bible is omnipresent (Isaiah 66:1; Jeremiah 23:23-24);
  • The LDS god cooperated with a counsel to arrange what was already created. The God of the Bible is independent; that is, He acted alone in creation (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 33:6; Isaiah 44:24);
  • The LDS god has a father, mother, sisters, brothers. The God of the Bible rejects the existence of other gods (Exodus 20:3-6; Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6 & 8; Isaiah 46:5-9).

The options are these:
1) if what God says about Himself in the Bible says is true, then the Mormon god is false;
2) if the Mormon god is true, then what God says about Himself in the Bible is false. This would mean that Mormonism is still false because the implication is that God could not only protect His Word, but could not protect what His Word says about Himself.

Do you know that a watch does not tell time? You have to LOOK at it! In the same way, we can only find out what God is really like by looking at scripture! If I tell you it's noon and it's really nine, you can only check the truth by looking at a watch. Everything a person says must be checked against scripture.

How does the LORD bring the counsel of the nations to nothing through His forever-standing counsel? What is the generation-to-generation plan of His heart?

First, take a look at the situation:

  • Psalm 33:1-3 Praise is one creature proclaiming to another creature the excellencies of The Most Excellent.
  • Psalm 33:4-5 This is the reason for the singing, the joy, the thanksgiving: His upright words and His faithful works. God is righteous (Deut. 32:4) and His Word is righteous (Psalm 19:8). God is just (Psalm 25:8) and His commandments are just (Romans 7:12).

Second, take a look backward:

  • v. 6: How did God create the heavens? He spoke and it WAS! The heavens themselves stand is irrefutable proof of the stability of God's words--the very breath that carried His words brought about the hosts. He is the star-breather!
  • v. 7: How did God create the earth? He spoke and it WAS!
  • vv. 8-9: Now we stand on the evidence of the power of God's words--what He speaks is done and there is no changing it! How much more powerful and unchanging is the scripture, His special revelation?

People hear and read what God has said, shake their heads and either ignore or try to change what is said. Here is what God does:

  • vv. 13-17. He looks from heaven and shakes His head. He knows men! He sees the righteous and the unrighteous. He sees those who are obeying His words and those who are not. He sees those who set up their kingdoms against Him, placing false hopes in things that will miserably fail. Look at the way kings build armies to outnumber in strength. Can numbers and strength change what is greater than the power that wrought creation?
  • vv. 18-22. The ones who fear God, who have unwavering hope are those who trust Him. The one who trusts Him trusts His unchanging word. He protects His word and He protects those who live by it, delivering their souls from death.

This is His plan from generation to generation: being exalted as God, the song of songs, the praise of praise, the person of thanks, the creator, sustainer and hope of all who fear Him, the life-giver, our help and shield.

The enemies of God's Word will be judged by the Word which they reject, despise and hate. The redeemed will be saved by the Word which they accept and love.

[read part 2 or go to part 4]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"The House Upon A Rock" Has A Foundation Of Five Pillars?

The President made some comments today explaining historic and recent actions taken relating to the economy. This jumped out at me:

"Now we’ve got a lot of work to do. There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was soon destroyed when the storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when "…the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house…it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." It was founded upon a rock.

We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity – a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: number one, new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; number two, new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; number three, new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; number four, new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and number five new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. That is the new foundation we must build. That’s our house built on a rock. That must be our future – and my Administration’s policies are designed to achieve that future."


What did he miss about what the rock really is in the Sermon on the Mount?
Does the reference to Five Pillars set off a small warning bell in your mind?
Google "Five Pillars" and see what pops up . . .

How's YOUR Scripture memory program going?


Does God Protect His Word (part 2)?

Psalm 19:7-9, "The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether."

Isalm regards the writings of the prophet David in the Zabbur, The Psalms. David wrote that the law of the Lord, His testimonies, precepts, commandments, judgements are perfect, sure, wise-making, right, rejoice-causing, pure, light-bringing, enduring forever, true and righteous. If God's Word is corrupt, then God has not protected His word and the prophet David was wrong about God's Word being what it is.

"Hey, what a minute. What do you mean that David was a prophet. Wasn't he a shepherd and a king?"

Look at Peter's sermon in Acts 2:29-32, "'Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT ONE OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses."

Since God does not change and He protects His Word (and what kind of God would He be if He did not protect His word?) the prophet David received God's unchanging word, a promise: "The LORD has sworn to David a truth from which He will not turn back: 'Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.'" (Psalm 132:11. cf. Psalm 89:3). "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom." (2 Samuel 7:12).

If God's did not protect His Word, then how could He keep His promise to David?

God's law, that is, what God teaches is perfect, without flaw. This means the soul must be converted, changed by what God teaches in His word. The only other alternative is to say that God's teaching is not perfect, which in turn implicates God as being a liar.

God's word is a witness, a testimony that is sure. This means that His word comes from authority and with authority and will not change. God's testimony is so confirmed, a pillar, foundational, established, verifiable, reliable, faithful, trustworthy, believable, that even the open-minded and the fool can understand.

The statutes, or precepts of the LORD are right. This means His orders, His governings, are clear and sensible. The one who directs life in accordance to what God has decreed will find cause for rejoicing. This is ethical, setting men free to do everything he should. His Word is divine order and when we follow it, the light "comes on." Maybe on a dimmer switch, but it does come on with so many "ah-ha!" moments that cause the face to shine!

Because God's Word is clean, pure, unmixed, unmatched, and unpolluted, it never will see and end. Therein is found perpetual and everlasting instruction for physical, ceremonial, ethical and moral purity. It lasts forever because it is part of Him, which implies that if it changes, then God must change and change can only be for the better or for the worse. And it can't get any better. The reality is that when put to use, we have a living manual for living worship. My friend and collegue, Dr. Larry Dixon, says "a closed Bible is but a block of paper."

God's unchanging and well-protected word delivers His righteous judgments. Disbelief Him and you are judged already. But why stop there?

"They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb." (Psalm 19:10)

If gold is the standard of all that is valuable and honey is the standard of all that is sweet (nothing is sweeter unless it is manufactured), then consider the value of God's Word. Why desire gold when there is something of greater value in what God has given already?

"Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward." (Psalm 19:11)

[read part 1 or go to part 3]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Does God Protect His Word (part 1)?

Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God "as far as it is translated correctly." The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has published that "all other translations had been corrupted where the Bible translators actually let their religious bias show through their renderings" (The Watchtower, 10/15/85, p.21, Insight on the News). Islam holds the idea that the Bible contains original revelation from God, but is corrupted in one way or another.

When I see or hear statements that draw distrust to scripture, my initial reaction is to ask the person which group they belong to--many are so flippant about their declarations they are not aware they are echoing what others say with no regard to the implication: imagine! Informing scripture!

The problem really is not with the text, but with the author. People simply fail to believe God. This is why Religion Stores are so popular--people can make up their own as they go: keep what one likes, throw out what one does not like and believe in yourself. What else is remains?

Doesn't God protect His Word?

Numbers 23:19-20, "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; when He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it."

These are the words of a pagan (Balaam) who has already tried once to curse God's people--and this is the second try of three. Remember the setting: God's people are surrounded by enemies who would love to see God's people defeated. Not much different than today; but, like God's people then, we have the same assurance today that God's Word that does not change. Balaam says, in effect, "I can't change what God has said: God has determined to bless Israel and nothing is going to change that."

Mormonism teaches, "The Bible has been corrupted by errors of translation and transmission, as well as by deliberate action." (WMT; CJS; 1 Nephi 13:26-29, BOM). If Balaam couldn't deliberately change God's Word, how can anyone else? The Lord blessed Israel in Abraham, long before they became the nation Balaam was looking at that day. Balaam has already made one attempt to intentionally, deliberately, stand up and undo what God has done. What started as murming against authority turns into a startling declaration that what He has said is authoritative.

Matthew Henry points out that if God's people could be cursed, then God must break His word and become false to himself and His people. Men are the ones who change their minds. Men are the ones who lie. Men are the ones who are imperfect. Men are the ones who need to repent of making gods of their own understanding and come under the loving grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.

"for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior . . ." (Titus 1:1-3)

[go to part 2]

drugi dzień Wielkiej Nocy (Poniedziałek Wielkanocny)

Mój przyjacielu: Pragnę zadać Ci najważniejsze pytanie życia. Twoje wieczne szczęście lub wieczne nieszczęście zależą od tego, jak na nie odpowiesz. Oto to pytanie: Czy jesteś zbawiony? Nie pytam Cię, jak dobry jesteś, ani czy uczęszczasz do kościoła, ale: czy jesteś zbawiony? Czy jesteś pewien, że pójdziesz do Nieba, kiedy umrzesz?

Follow this link for an English translation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He Lives!

I serve a risen Saviour,He's in the world today;
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy,
I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him
He's always near.

He lives! He lives!
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me
Along life's narrow way.
He lives! He lives!
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart!

In all the world around me
I see His loving care,
And tho my heart grows weary
I never will despair;
I know that He is leading
Thro' all the stormy blast,
The day of His appearing
Will come at last.

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian,
Lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs
To Jesus Christ the King!
The hope of all who seek Him,
The help of all who find,
None other is so loving,
So good and kind.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Resurrection and Taxes

Everyone knows there are only two inevitabilities in life: death and taxes.

Sunday is Easter, the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Most people will be thinking of taxes while eating their chocolate bunnies.

In this week before the IRS filing deadline, make certain you consider the inevitabile: death, not taxes.

The resurrection has no meaning if you do not view it against the background of death.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" (John 11:25-26)

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Death of Christ

“As increasing emphasis came to be placed on the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man as the essential elements in Christianity, so there was a growing neglect of the doctrinal emphasis of the New Testament upon the atoning nature of the death of Christ . . . . It is not therefore surprising that the steady decline during the last fifty years of vital evangelical preaching based on the exegesis of Scripture (where it has not been due to a false sacramentalism which tends to divorce the sacraments from the gospel) can largely be traced to lack of first-hand study of the text of Scripture (coupled often with a second-hand knowledge of critical theories) and to the failure to see the centrality of the New Testament teaching about Christ’s atoning death . . .

If the Christian religion is not what the New Testament presents it as being, a religion of redemption, then it is of little consequence: for nothing less than this has power to remove the guilt of the sin-laden conscience. . .

The nerve of Christianity is that it is a gospel to be preached; and that the power of that gospel lies in the truth contained in the words ‘Christ died for the ungodly’. ‘I haven’t the faintest interest’, [Denney] once said, ‘in theology which does not help us to evangelize.’ And the ‘theology which helps us to evangelize’ is the theology which recognizes ‘the centrality, the gravity, the inevitableness and the glory of the death of Christ’, wherein the unity not only of the New Testament but also of the entire Bible is to be found. To put the emphasis anywhere else; or to use the language of the New Testament about Christ’s death in a sense other than that given to it by the New Testament writers, is to debase the Christian religion and paralyze the life of the Church.”

--R.V.G. Tasker, in the Introduction to James Denney’s classic work, “The Death of Christ.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Summer 2009 Courses in Muslim Studies

The Zwemer Center For Muslim Studies in the Seminary and School of Missions of Columbia International University offers courses to help you understand Islam and Muslims for field worker candidates, workers on home leave, professional tentmakers in an Islamic country, pastors serving where there is a growing number of Muslims, and students sensing God's call to work among Muslim people groups.

Current course offerings for Summer 2009 (credit/seminar):

Courses through Distance Learning (can be taken "any time" from home):

Interested in keeping in touch with us? Feel free to join our Facebook group for up to date information about the Center and upcoming classes.

The Trustworthy Ministry of Suffering and Comfort

I was out minding my own business on day when I noticed a man who seemed to be quite agitated about something, just downright disturbed. This bothere me, seeing someone being bothered, so I offered assistance. He ignored me. I offered again and seemed to be ready to accept some kind of help, but I learned very quickly that he was intent on making a big deal about his situation and wanted no help at all. How frustrating to meet people who don't want help--they just want to be left alone, happy or otherwise. I think it comes down to this: to accept comfort, consolation, encouragment, even help, one must become vulnerable. For many this means to be weak in an age we are told to be strong, "suck it up," bear the pain, take Ibuprofen and get over it.

The Christian has good reason to suffer affliction: the glory of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

1) We suffer so we can comfort others. Certainly Paul is speaking of the affliction that comes with preaching the gospel and ministry (v.5). Ministry is the encouragment of others through affliction and suffering; in other words, by ministry we get into the trenches for the purpose of building others up. This is an odd battle we rage, rushing headlong against the enemy to bring alive in Christ Jesus, not to kill. Our suffering and affliction does not take place in a void, but for the purpose of bringing others the comfort of God.

Some time ago, the husband of a family friend died--the widow was an unbeliever. How does one bring comfort admist affliction? First, one must "be there," available. Next, we must speak the truth of the gospel in love to her. But what about the death of her husband? I've not lost my spouse in death, so I have no clue as to the uncertainties after such a significant a loss, but I do know what pain is. Encouragment, comfort can be given by simply coming alongside.

2) We suffer so that we will not trust in ourselves. Affliction is the prime weakness exposer. Give me a tough situation and you will discover that my default setting is stuck on "freak out." Truthfully, when affliction comes, I just don't know what to do so go looking for help.

People are convinced there is a drug or therapy for just about anything. People don't realize this, but just watch them for a while: they throw a pity party then go hire a "friend" who will listen to them--no answers necessary. What a business to be in, right?

Suffering has a two-fold purpose: in the realm of ministry, we will suffer because of the gospel we preach--it is hard work and will not always be well-recieved. This is why we look to Paul for our example. Look how far he went, how long he stayed, how he was treated. Suffering is an indication as to how well we are not trusting in ourselves and are being obedient to Christ. The second purpose is to show our helplessness and how much more we need God!

Remember my default setting? Suffering is a way to show how much the flesh is under control. If we consider the fruits of the flesh in Galatians 5, look what becomes prominent with a burst pipe, a flat tire, a suddenn loss. While the list may not be fully manifest as we respond to affliction, we can certainly note the process of enmity, strife, jealosy, anger, quarrels, dissentions or factions when the stressors come. These are some of the weaknesses brought about by suffering.

In ministry we come alongside and through the hope of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit but also encourage those we minister to. We teach how to respond to affliction in the same way. This is why I look to Paul and other spiritual greats with such admiration because the Holy Spirit is making them who He wants them to be in Christ Jesus. When we see Paul in the face of adversity, we see him standing strong. This is why he is able to say that the ministry of comfort (encouragment) comes out of suffering! When we encourage we do so not out of our freak-out weaknesses, but through His fruit-bearing Spirit!

Rather than fight, surrender. This takes faith. Getting to the end of self and with the encouragment of the paraclete alongside, we get through the affliction to the praise of His glory.

3) We suffer so we can learn to give thanks in everything. And why not? God is the Father of mercy and consulation. Paul will say, "that so many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted through the prayers of so many."

Again, he is specificaly referring to those afflictions gathered and the comfort afforded at the preaching of the gospel. Those who hear and believe will give thanks! In the same way, those to whom we come alongside, at the end of ourselves to the end of themselves, will be given a reason to give thanks when God's ministry is accomplished in them!

The most awesome blessing about comfort, consolation and encouragment is that these cannot be contained. The one who is comforted is compelled to pass comfort along. This is the start of a trustworthy ministry.

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