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JANUARY 2010

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The Last Days of the Last Days

 

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

2Timothy 3:13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

 

I have often said that I have lived my life in the best county in the world at the best possible time in history. Kings have not had it as good as I have had it. Childhood diseases have for the most part been eliminated. I do not fear polio or TB or small pox like some before me did. I have never had to fight in a war though my country has been almost constantly at war during my life time. But none of those wars with the exception of some terrorist acts have been on US soil. I was fortunate in that I missed the Civil War and other wars preceding it that were fought on US soil. I have never had to fear the government (although when I was called for a tax audit I was apprehensive even though I knew I could defend my returns.) I was born after the great depression and even though the life a preacher does not allow for a lot of frivolous spending, my family has never worried about whether we were going to eat. I enjoy running water, indoor plumbing, central heating and air conditioning. I can talk to friends all over the world through modern technology. I received an excellent public education in the days when we could still study 1 Corinthians 13 as a good example of an essay in our high school English class. I have had it good. If the Lord had asked me when I wanted to be born and where, I would have wanted to be born in 1943 in Iowa in the United States of America.

However, I believe that we are living in the "last days." As I look into the New Year, I do not expect the future to be as kind to us as the recent past has been. The "last days" refer to the day of grace that we presently enjoy. It is the valley between the the two mountains of the Lord's first coming and His second coming. The prophetic time clock is associated with the Jews and the land of Israel. But the Lord does make statements about this day of grace that we enjoy. One of them is that during this period evil men and imposters will get worse. Deception will abound. People won't know what or who to believe. People will love themselves and their money, but will not love their neighbors. They will be unforgiving and people who spread unsubstantiated rumors and in some cases lies about people in authority that damage their reputations. Now these are supposed to be unsaved people, but I am afraid that many who call themselves Christians would be characterized by this list of things that should not be. These things will happen in the last days of the "last days".

We are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. At football games we want to be on the 50 yard line. At church we want to sit at back. At football games we want to be there early so we can get in on the whole thing. At church we come late. I know I am over generalizing, but there seems to be more enthusiasm for clean entertainment today than there is for the meetings of the church. While I have used sports for my illustration, there are any number of things that seem to cause people's eyes to light up when you talk to them about those things. And yet often they are uninterested when we try to talk about spiritual things.

What really concerns me is that my grandchildren may be raised in an environment where they will not be able to distinguish between truth and error. Will they be able to distinguish the imposter from the real servant of the Lord? And once they have sorted through the lies and deceptions, will they want the accountability that comes with worshiping the Savior of my Bible who has given His life to prove His love? Who is going to stand up for the truth that love triumphs over legalism, that a relationship with the Lord triumphs over cold religion. Who is going to demonstrate to people living in the "last days" that preparing for the day that we meet God is all that really matters? Who is going to live their lives as though they really believe that heaven is a better place than this world? Our lives will have to reflect the fact that we believe these things if we are going to be a help to a dying world that doesn't believe them.

So the real question is, "Does my life reflect these realities?" Would my friends, children and grandchildren believe that I believe what I say I believe? Would they think I believe that we are living in the last days of the "last days?"

 

Meditation for the week of January 3, 2010

Faith, Hope, and Charity

 

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Thessalonians1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.

 

Faith, hope and charity (or love) are three cornerstone characteristics of true Christians. I have noticed that girls are often given these characteristics as names, but boys are not. I have wondered if that is because it is easier for women to demonstrate these virtues than men. Or do men consider these virtues to be weaknesses rather than strengths?

How do we understand these terms? It is interesting that faith is associated with work, love with labor and hope with patience (endurance or firmness of purpose). Faith is depending on or trusting in promises and thus in the person or organization making the promise. Faith is a heart matter, but faith is seen by what we do. If we have faith in a bank, we put our money on deposit there. If we have faith in a doctor, we show it by letting Him diagnose and treat our diseases. James says, "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18).

Why is labor associated with love or charity? Likely because love will motivate a person to do almost anything. It motivated the Lord to die for us. Love is something this world has a lot of trouble being real about. John says that we love because we are loved (1 John 4:19). Our love is usually a response. God's love is offered unconditionally, but people generally do not have that same capacity. But even though our love may turn out to be conditional, when we do love someone or something, we will do almost anything for that cause or person. Most of us would do almost anything for our children and for our spouses. Love is a great motivator.

Hope is associated with patience or with the willingness to endure. Hope is something we all need when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night.. The hope I am talking about is the Biblical promise of a better future. Our hope is associated with the Lord's return. Christians don't hope to be saved, they know they are saved by trusting in the Lord and in His suffering for our sins. But while Christians don't hope to be saved, we who are saved have hope. Unbelievers have "no hope (Ephesians 2:12)." Believing in the promise of the Lord's return gives us something to anticipate with joy. It blesses us, it purifies us, it leaves us concerned about our unsaved friends and relatives. The Lord's return keeps our present and our future in the proper perspective.

We who have faith have pleased God (Hebrews 11:6). We get to experience a love from which we can never be separated (Romans 8:39). And each day we live with the constant hope that today will be the day when we the Lord takes us to the home he has prepared for us (John 14:1-3).

Faith, hope and charity make life worth living.

 

Meditation for the week of January 10, 2010

Does God Get Angry?

 

Job 36:18 Because there is wrath, beware lest He take you away with one blow; For a large ransom would not help you avoid it.

 

God gets angry! Let there be no doubt about it. The God of mercy, grace and love that we serve has a day of wrath stored up for those who will not believe in Him. John 3:36 says, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." And yet, God does not desire to unleash that wrath. John 3:17 says, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." Preaching on God's wrath is not popular, so from time to time God preaches on it Himself.

He reminds us that sin came into the world and death by sin every time one of our loved ones pass into eternity (Romans 5:12). We end up asking ourselves, "Why do humans come to this kind of an end?" The answer is because of sin. When Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, I am sure she had no idea that she was going to make a decision that would affect all of mankind for all eternity. Now some may say that they don't fear death and that death does not remind them of God's judgment. However, the Bible calls death "the last enemy" and it is going to be destroyed at the end of time (1 Corinthians 15:26). Most people dread the process of dying. It does remind me that God judges sin.

Then we have tragedies. Recently, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. Some who were good and some who were evil died in the quake. I expect that there were believers in Christ and unbelievers who died in the quake. Why did it happen? Was that country more depraved than other counties? Or when the hurricane, Katrina, struck New Orleans, was that because they were more wicked than say San Francisco, or Minneapolis or Waterloo where I live? Of course we had religious people who said, "Yes!" The Lord says, "No!" He says in Luke 13:1-5, "There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.'" In our day, God does not usually judge specific sin immediately, but He does remind us that He does judge sin. It is through calamities that many of us wake up and ask, "Why?"

The answer as to why the calamities occur in the areas where they occur and to the people that they affect is a question that we cannot answer. Many times innocent people are hurt and killed in these calamities. But instead of asking, "Why them?", perhaps we should ask, "Why not me?" It is only because of the grace of God that we who are living have been given another day to serve God. Our life and our breath are in His hand. We cannot control the day of our birth and we cannot control the day of our death (unless we are suicidal). We cannot control the beat of our hearts or the breath in our lungs. But we can recognize that these things are in the providence of God. He in His mercy reminds us that the "day of wrath" is coming. Only those who have turned from idols to serve the living and true God and been delivered from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10-11).

There is a ransom that has been paid to deliver us from God's wrath. Christ stepped in and met that demand 2,000 years ago on a bloody cross. Today, God is offering His Son as the ransom for us. But there is a day coming when those who turn their backs on the love of God that was manifested by the death of Christ will experience God's anger. In that day, a great ransom will not deliver them. These tragedies remind us that God's wrath against sin is real. His wrath against the unbelieving sinner will also be real in a day that is coming.

Yes, God does get angry!

 

Meditation for the week of January 17, 2010

Adversaries to the Work of the Lord

 

Genesis 46:33-34 "So it shall be, when Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' that you shall say, 'Your servants occupation has been with livestock from our youth even till now, both we and also our fathers,' that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians."

 

When Moses was still considered the son of Pharaoh, he thought he should be the deliverer of the nation of Israel (Acts 7:25). He took things into his own hands, but he found out that God didn't need a king or a prince. He needed a shepherd. Forty years after trying to deliver the israelites by His own power, God called him while keeping sheep on the backside of the desert to do just that. But now he is convinced that he is not the man for the job. It took forty years and a change in occupations before he was ready for God to work through him.

Egypt is a picture of the world and of the bondage of sin. Egyptians hate shepherds. Why? Likely because a shepherd is a servant and people in the world want to rule, not serve. Yet many of the men of faith in the old testament were shepherds. King David is known for being a shepherd. The best known shepherd in our Bible is called the good shepherd (John 10:11), the great shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Of course, I am referring to the Lord Jesus Christ.

A good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. He is not hired for the job. The sheep are his responsibility and he loves them and names them. Moses became this kind of a shepherd. When the children of Israel sinned against God and made idols, Moses was willing to be blotted out of the Lord's book; that is, he was willing to be banished from God, in order to save the people of Israel (Exodus 32:32). He became their intercessor, their mediator as well as their leader. I doubt that he learned these virtues in Pharaoh's palace. I suspect he learned them alone with God, keeping sheep on the backside of the desert.

We often find ourselves thinking we know how God is going to do His work. Peter was told in Matthew 16 that he was going to be given the keys to the kingdom. He had just confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16, 19). Since keys open doors, apparently he was being given the ability to open up the Gospel after the resurrection to the Jews as well as the non-Jews. He was given the authority to judge sin in the Church (Acts 5:1-11). He could bind and he could loose. And yet, he still had a problem telling the Lord how to do His work. When the Lord told him that He was going to suffer, be killed and that He was going to be raised the third day; this did not fit in with Peter's concept of the Kingdom. After all, hadn't the Lord come to rule and not to die? Yet the good shepherd was going to give His life for the sheep. In resisting what the Lord was telling him, Peter became an adversary to the work of God. When the Lord said, "Get thee behind me Satan," I believe a better translation would be, "Get thee behind me adversary." Satan had not taken control of Peter as he would Judas. But in telling the Lord how to do His work instead of letting the Lord tell him, he had become an adversary to the work of the Lord.

We often find ourselves telling God how to do His work, rather than being willing to let God tell us. Generally when we tell God how to do his work, we are thinking that things that work in the world should work in the church. Normally, they don't. Moses found out that things that worked in Egypt's palace didn't work in the desert.

Men tell God, that he should save those who do good. God says none do good and that He saves those who accept the work of Christ at the cross. Men think Christianity is a religious code for living, but God says it is a relationship with Him. Of course that relationship will affect the way we live. Men tell God that Christianity should be popular and that that Christian leaders should be powerful and rich. God says that to be effective, we must all DENY OURSELVES and take up our crosses and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). That is, we must put to death our earthly ambitions and be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Lord and His flock.

Moses lost his life as a ruler of Egypt, but he found his life as a shepherd of God's people. Moses started out telling God how to do His work, he ended up being told by God how the work was to be done. How often do we miss out on blessing by telling God rather than listening to God?

 

Meditation for the week of January 24, 2010

Are we Separated or are we Divided?

 

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:17 Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you."

 

One of the first principles of Scripture is that God separated light from darkness (Genesis 1:4). In the new testament there was always a clear distinction between light and darkness, between believers and unbelievers, between those who worshiped the Lord and those who worshiped idols. As an example, in Acts 8 when Simon the Sorcerer made a profession of faith that was obviously not real, Peter told him in no uncertain terms, "You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God (Acts 8:21)."

In the auditing world there is a doctrine called "independence." An auditor cannot be independent and be "beholden" in some way to the company being audited. I think Scriptural separation from unbelievers is like that. We need to maintain our "independence" in our relationships with unbelievers so we can honestly preach the Gospel without compromise as the Lord gives us opportunity.

The doctrine of separation is really the doctrine of holiness since holiness involves being set apart wholly for God. God wants us to be separated from unbelievers and united to believers. Satan wants us to be divided from believers and united to unbelievers. Satan's way makes us friends with the world and weakens our testimony to the point where the unsaved can see no difference between those who are saved and those who are lost.

When the children of Israel were about to be delivered from the bondage of Egypt, Pharaoh first offered to let them sacrifice to the Lord if they would do it without "leaving" (Exodus 8:25). I think the Lord is telling us that we cannot worship the Lord in the places were one who "knows not the Lord (Exodus 5;2)" is in charge. Neither can we worship with known unbelievers. This would be like continuing to "worship" in a place where the Gospel is not preached after a person comes to "know the Lord."

Next Pharaoh was going to let only the men go and worship (Exodus 10:11). The children and their mothers were to stay behind. He knew that if he kept the young in Egypt, he would be able to indoctrinate them, and he knew that the children would bring the men back to Egypt. How often we see parents following their children into places of worship today that at one time Christians had left because they weren't hearing the simple Gospel there.

Then Pharaoh offered to let all the people go as long as they left their flocks and herds behind (Exodus 10:24). Pharaoh figured that the people would come back to Egypt after offering to the Lord because they would need to provide for their families. By keeping control of their livelihoods, he would be keeping control of them.

Scriptural separation often requires physical separation but not always. Daniel separated himself totally to the Lord in Babylon by simply not participating in their idolatrous practices (Daniel 1:8). He dedicated himself wholly to the Lord and instead of the Babylonian college of so-called wise men changing him, he was put in charge of the Babylonian college (Daniel 2:48). The Lord tells us that we are not "of the world (John 17:6)" and we are not to be "friends of the world (James 4:4);" however, we are to serve in the world (John 17:18).

In spite of Daniel's experience, I believe that it is easier for us to be changed by the world that for us to change the world. Only the Gospel can change the world and it does that one by one as people repent and believe. We need to spend time with unbelievers so that we can befriend them with the Gospel. While unbelievers can be our friends, if our relationship with them causes us to live in a way that we would not otherwise live then we are in an unequal yoke. In order to live holy lives that the Lord can use, we need to maintain our "independence" from unbelievers and sometimes that can be hard to do. Some people are more easily influenced by their friends than others and perhaps need to avoid relationships that others might be able to handle. However, none of us who are Christians should be in a social, political, marriage or church relationship that allows the unsaved to control our thinking and our behavior.

 

Meditation for the week of January 31, 2009