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APRIL 2012

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Can we SEE Faith?

 

Luke 5:20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, "Man, your sins are forgiven you."

 

How can we SEE faith? Faith is a matter of the heart. The Ethiopian official was told that if he believed with all his heart he could be baptized (Acts 8:37). Romans 10:9 says that if we confess with the mouth what we have believed in the heart we will be saved. So it is true that we believe inwardly but what happens inwardly is seen outwardly. We cannot hide what we truly believe in. We talk about it, we read about it, we try to be with others who share the same interests and point of view. We often pay money to be involved in whatever we truly believe in. These five men believed that the Lord could heal the man who was paralyzed. Because of the faith of the five, a man in need was brought into contact with the Lord who forgave his sins and healed him.

When we first read this passage, it seems that the Lord saw the faith of the four friends and healed the paralyzed man because of their faith. That is the way I read it for years. That puzzled me because only personal faith saves, and this is a picture of what takes place spiritually when we trust in the Lord Jesus. But now I can see that all five of these men were convinced that the Lord could heal. The faith of the four men brought the man who needed help to the Lord, but it was the faith of the man himself that caused the Lord to forgive his sins. In the context of Scripture, we know that everyone must believe in the Lord personally to have their sins forgiven. The faith of my father or of my mother or of my friends is not my faith and will not save me. My faith is not the faith of my father or my mother or of my friends and will not save them. All five had apparently been convinced that the Lord could heal so their confidence in the Lord was seen by the effort they all made to get close to the Lord. But I do not believe that the Lord healed this man based on the faith of his friends. Their faith provided opportunity, but the paralyzed man's faith provided forgiveness—and that is the general teaching of the Scriptures.

I notice that their faith was in a person. Everyone has faith in someone or something, but for many their faith is misplaced. When people do not believe in the Lord, they are believing one of Satan's many lies. I also notice that their faith was not a general belief in a creator God who will work everything out according to His will. While many people have that kind of faith and claim to be Christians or followers of Christ because of that generalized concept of God, these men had their faith in the Lord Jesus. They trusted HIM.

Today, I believe that the way we come to trust the Lord Jesus is by getting to know Him through what He says. When we trust what a person says, we are trusting the person. Even Romans 10:17 tells us that saving faith comes through hearing the Word of God. God has made us promises, and when we trust in those promises we are trusting in the Lord. I could give many reasons why we ALL SHOULD trust in the Lord through the promises of Scripture, but ultimately we all believe what we want to believe. The paralyzed man wanted to believe that he could be healed. I want to believe that that I can know for sure that my sins are forgiven and that one day I will be in heaven. Because of that I believe God and the promises He has made in the Bible. I believe that Christ died for my sins (Romans 5:8). Others believed in the Lord and wanted me to believe in the Lord as well. They prayed for me and they preached to me; but, ultimately, I had to trust the Lord for myself.

I have trusted in the Lord, and I know I am saved. 1st John 5:13 says that the things in the Bible were written that we might know (not just hope) that we have eternal life. I have been saved by trusting and not by doing; but because I have faith in the Lord, others should find that obvious when they are around me. Hopefully, they can SEE my faith in the Lord Jesus.

 

Meditation for the week of April 1, 2012

The Greatest Mistake!

 

Hebrews 10:29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

 

This weekend, the fact that Christ is risen has been publicly proclaimed over and over. The empty tomb and the many witnesses to the resurrection should convince an unbelieving world that God really has provided salvation in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. But how many of us have really believed in the Lord and how many of us still reject Him?

Apparently, those who have rejected Christ and his sacrificial work on the cross suffer differing degrees of punishment. I am convinced that heaven awaits those who trust in Christ and that the Lake of Fire awaits those who don't. What I don't understand is how there can be degrees of punishment in that Lake. Being tormented forever and ever for rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ would seem to be the greatest punishment that a person could endure. Yet our verse reserves the worst punishment for Hebrews who reject Christ after having had all the blessings mentioned in the passage in their dealings with God through the centuries. They were a people that had been sanctified or set apart for God in a national sense. That doesn't mean that they were all saved in the new testament sense. But having had all the privileges that the Hebrews as a nation had, they still nailed the Lord to the cross. Rejecting Christ with a rebellious spirit when the Lord had done everything possible to draw this people to Himself was a sin above all other sins.

Since the Hebrews are an earthly people with earthly promises, the Lord could be referring to the coming destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, the Roman general here. He might also be looking forward to the tribulation period when the Hebrews will align themselves with the man we tend to call the Antichrist. The Jews rejected the Lord when He was here but will accept the world's counterfeit messiah in that day. The Lord may be telling the Jews that they had experienced judgment through Babylon and Assyria in the past because of their idolatry, but now they have made the gravest mistake that anyone could make. They haven't just worshiped idols, they have rejected their Savior. Because of that, their past punishments will seem like a Sunday School picnic compared to the judgment that is coming.

However, while this may be the interpretation of the passage, the application has to be to those of us who are not Jews reading this today. God is now calling a spiritual people out of the world to be his holy people. These spiritual people are called believers and have spiritual promises. They enter a spiritual kingdom upon believing. If those who have heard the Gospel and have had every reason and opportunity to believe in the Lord reject Him, I believe that their punishment will be greater than those who have not been the recipients of such opportunity. While we are either saved or lost and there is no in between, yet some of those who are lost will suffer less than others that had great opportunity to be saved. That principle seems to be found in the Gospels when the Lord says in several places, that Sodom and Gomorrah will be treated better than those who rejected the ministry of the Lord and his disciples when He was here on earth. (See Mark 6:11 for example.)

There is a lot more to the Gospel than just providing a "fire escape" from the eternal burnings. However, if we assume that the pictures in the Bible of eternal conscious punishment are simply allegories, then what must the real thing be like? I hope these pictures are literal and not allegories. And if punishment is more severe for those who have had the greatest opportunity to believe, then having a "fire escape" from the eternal burnings is reason enough for them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, we can thank the Lord that those who do worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth have a lot more available to them than just salvation from punishment. They get to enjoy a new life with Christ and all the spiritual blessings that come from being saved by grace through faith.

In view of the cost of trampling underfoot the Son of God and in view of the blessings that are available when we trust in the truth of the Scriptures, why would anyone in his or her right mind turn to man-made religions and philosophies when they could have the risen Lord as their own personal Savior and friend?. Believing in the Lord saves. Rejecting Him condemns for eternity. And that condemnation or judgment will be the greatest for those who were given every opportunity to believe.

 

Meditation for the week of April 8, 2012

What is my Score?

 

Matthew 23:13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

 

Many of us who preach the Gospel like to keep track of those that we think will be in heaven because of our work. To me there is no greater joy then hearing someone tell me, sometimes years after I preached to them, that they responded to the Gospel of God's grace because of my witness to them. But sometimes I wonder how many will use me as their excuse for not believing in the greatest message that this world has ever heard. Will I, like the scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites, be the reason that some use to reject this blessed saving Truth? Will there be people cast away from the Lord forever because of me and my testimony? When I was a student, we often took true/false tests where the score was based on right answers minus wrong answers. If the Lord were keeping score in that way with regard to those I have seen saved minus those I have stumbled what would my score look like? The scribes and Pharisees would likely have had a negative score

A scribe was a person who could read and write. In this context they were the people who read and copied the Scriptures. A Pharisee was a strict religious sect of the Jews who prided themselves on obedience to the old testament law. They were legalistic and they were separatists. They were proud of their outward observance of the law and of their knowledge of it, but they had no clue as to what it meant to be a true worshiper of Jehovah. Hypocrites were play actors. They were people who pretended to be something that they were not. Likely the term hypocrite in this verse refers to both the scribes and the Pharisees.

The Lord reserved his harshest criticisms for these religious people who were actually making the worship of Jehovah burdensome to the average Jew. The Pharisees knew the law and the prophets and expected the Messiah to come, but because they were so blinded by their own ambition and self-righteousness, they helped in crucifying the Messiah when He came. There were some Pharisees that were saved. Apparently Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were two. Paul was also one. You will notice that the Lord saved, healed and spent time with tax collectors and sinners. He even realized that because of their deep need, when they were delivered from the consequences of their sins, they loved the Lord deeply. Most Pharisees never loved the Lord, they only loved their position and prestige.

The word "woe" is used as a warning here. It could be translated "alas". It probably means "your sorrow is coming." The Lord is not condemning great moral sin (though he certainly doesn't condone it). He was condemning self-righteous religious people who were not what they claimed to be. Outwardly they did everything "right" and forced others to do everything "right" but inwardly they were rotten to the core. I believe that religious people who are not true worshipers of the Lord and who force their religion on those who have never been truly born again do a lot of damage to the preaching of the Gospel. They themselves need to be saved, but they are difficult to reach with the Gospel. Their sin is the sin of pride. Their pride not only keeps them from truly worshiping the Lord, but they hinder others as well.

Today the two main sins that many religious self-righteous people preach about are homosexuality and abortion. There certainly are other sins but of course the others might affect those who are doing the preaching. Pride, backbiting, railing, covetousness, heterosexual sins and greed are also sins but often they are "acceptable" sins. The Lord never said that the world would be saved by preaching against these two sins or by singling out any other pet sins and preaching about them. We are to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). We are to preach that all have sinned (Romans 3:23), and that there is none righteous (Romans 3:10). The preacher of the Gospel that is effective has first been convicted of his own sin and has said like Isaiah in chapter 6 and verse 5, "Woe is me!" Isaiah started out saying "Woe unto them" in the previous chapters but finally realized that the sin problem was personal. Only then did the Lord cleanse him and send him to preach.

The Pharisees of our day who ridicule people caught up in sins that we do despise are doing the cause of Christ a great disservice. It is time to be honest. Sin is sin. My sin is just as bad as your sin. The only escape from this problem of sin is faith in Christ. That faith is humbling. It does not leave us thanking God that we are not like the great sinners (Luke 18:11). Instead it leaves us thanking God for His mercy to us as sinners (Luke 18:13).

So how would the Lord score my service for Him? How would He score yours? It's a troubling question, isn't it?

 

Meditation for the week of April 15, 2012

The Lord's Fairness Doctrine

 

1 Samuel 30:24 For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike."

 

Those who are on the front-lines fighting wars need to have a support team to feed, clothe, and shelter them. They need medical help and replenishment of their supplies. Their vehicles need to be maintained. A war simply could not be fought without proper support. Support in the US Military involves many more people than the number of those on the front-lines actually engaging the enemy. When David fought the Amalekites, he had 400 men fighting and 200 providing support. The 200 had become so tired that they could not continue on the front lines, but they were useful. They guarded the supplies. While some of those who actually did battle wanted all the rewards of battle and did not want to share with those who guarded the supplies, David made it a law in Israel that those guarding the stuff would share in the spoils of war equally with those who went to battle. David knew the importance of a having a support team.

David, of course, is a picture of the Lord in the new testament. We who are saved today are all engaged in a battle with the enemy. We preach the Gospel so that the enemy can be defeated and so that prisoners of the world, the flesh, and the devil can be set free. When the Lord wins a battle, he doesn't take prisoners, he releases them. It is a great battle that we are fighting and it is one with many set backs but with the promise of ultimate complete victory. We who are on the winning side should be encouraged to believe that this battle is the Lord's and that we can all play a part in winning it.

However, there are some that I know who feel that they are elderly or sick or poor or without any great gift and that they have no real value when it comes to this battle. I for one can vouch for the fact that we who have been on the "front-lines" could never survive without the support of all of those who are "staying by the supplies."

Some are prayer warriors and yes prayer does make a difference. I remember staying in a home where I did not know my host and hostess. They were making supper out of an ice box because their refrigerator wasn't working. They didn't know me and they were nervous about keeping a preacher because they hadn't done it before. The people who normally hosted preachers in that assembly could not do it that weekend. After the hostess got to know me and found out that I was just one of the regular folks, she told me that she had found my name in a published preacher list. Though she hadn't met me before, she had been praying for me and my family daily. She not only made me a lovely meal and provided me a comfortable bed, but she was also laboring in prayer for me and my family. Do you think her work was necessary and that she will be rewarded for her part in the battle? I think she will have a greater reward than some of us who think our work is so important. She stayed by the stuff and in doing so gave me encouragement to continue to fight on even though I have to admit that sometimes I grow weary.

I have friends that I really don't know very well, who have sent me gifts as partners with me in the Lord's work at times when they could not have known how needy we were. Some have stood by us on a continual basis, and I am sure that they have stood by many others in that same way. The Lord had women who ministered to Him of their substance. I have had people on unemployment and widows who have ministered to me of their substance when I really should have been giving to them. They are people who have "stayed by the stuff."

The Lord says that even a cup of cold water given to one of the least of His brethren is considered as having been given to Him (Matthew 25:40). For me a cup of cold water is a word of encouragement. Not a word of flattery but a word that is truthful and that refreshes. We all can use a cheer leader or two.

So if you have wondered if you are valuable to the Lord, I assure you that you are. Keep praying and serving and giving what you can. Keep encouraging those who are on the front-lines and believe that you will share equally with the front-line warriors when the spoils of war are divided. You will have your share of any reward in any battles that are won.

Meditation for the week of April 22, 2012

Betrayed!

 

2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss

Luke 22:48 But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"

2 Samuel 15:5 And so it was, whenever anyone came near to bow down to him (Absalom), that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him.

2 Samuel 20:9 Then Joab said to Amasa, "Are you in health, my brother?" And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.

Psalms 2:12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

 

Paul admonishes the Corinthians, the divided church, to greet one another with a HOLY kiss. This was probably meant to be a heart-felt kiss on the cheek and in public. While this was a customary and usual part of his closing comments in many of his letters, I think it was a particularly necessary charge to this divided church. Can you imagine anyone sincerely and honestly kissing someone that they simply don't respect and love? Normally this would be hard to do, but there are people in the Bible who used kisses to deceive and manipulate.

In our culture, we generally don't publicly kiss those who are not our relatives and even then it is unusual for men to kiss men. However, if we followed the instructions of Paul literally we would likely solve a lot of our problems with grudges in our gatherings for worship. How can we honestly tell the Lord whom we have not seen with our mortal eyes that we love Him, if we can't tell those with whom we break bread that we love them?

Because we all tend to want intimate expressions of special love, whether it be a kiss or a handshake or a word of encouragement or an invitation to coffee or dinner, we are easily manipulated by those who say that they love us but who are only using us. Kisses in the Bible were often used to deceive people, particularly when the kiss was between men. Judas used a kiss of affection for the Lord to mask his affection for money. But the Psalmist reminds us that our kisses should be real and should reflect our true love for the Son. If we don't love the Son, the day is coming when He will be angry.

Absalom was a beautiful charismatic individual. He is a picture of Satan himself. He used kisses to steal the affections of the people of Israel from David since He wanted the position that King David had. In like manner, Satan wants the place that Christ should have. He tries to get our affection by deceiving us into believing that he will make us happier than the Lord Jesus will. The Lord Jesus calls a lot of things sin that Satan calls fun.

Joab felt that he had to kill Amasa in order to preserve his position as David's general. Since Amasa was a close relative (2 Samuel 17:25), it was easy to deceive him with a kiss when Joab's real intent was to kill him.

I hope that all of us have kissed the Son that really counts. Kissing the Son would mean that we have acknowledged our sin and have trusted in the Lord Jesus. I can assure you that when God says that He loved the world in John 3:16, that He meant it. His love includes me and it includes you. God is not a hypocritical lover. He is not a manipulator. Now can He depend on our expression of love?

Paul really doesn't give us options when he says to greet one another with a holy kiss, does he? Christians should never use their expressions of love to manipulate and betray. Nothing blesses us in this life quite like a "holy kiss." Nothing hurts quite like a deceitful kiss.

 

Meditation for the week of April 29, 2012