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AUGUST 2009

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We Have Hope!

 

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

 

Peter is trying to encourage Christians whose faith is being tried. To do that he reminds them of their living hope. Their hope was obtained by being begotten again or born anew as some translations say. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is what provides that hope.

This morning I was looking at the postings of some of my friends on the social networking site called Facebook. This is what one of them said to a friend with regard to his jail ministry, "Giving hope to those who believe they are hopeless must be very rewarding." This is what another said to a friend whose Christian mother has been "gone" for twelve years, "Isn't it great to have hope and know you will see her again?" The Christian has something that cannot be taken away from them. They have hope.

Many people hope to be saved. They aren't really sure whether they are saved or not. The reason for that is many people think that they are saved based on how good they are. Of course if that was true, those going to heaven wouldn't need to be saved. But those of us who have hope are basing that on the fact that Christ died, was buried and was raised again the third day in order that we could have our sins forgiven. We don't hope to be saved but because we are saved we have hope. Our hope consists of a bright future and we are looking forward to enjoying eternity with the Lord. For us hope is a confident assurance that we are going to be home with the Lord after we die or that we are going to go home when the Lord comes for the church without dying.

Everyone needs something to look forward to when they get up in the morning. That something is what motivates them. I have people for whom I am praying that have children that are sick with cancer, some wives have cancer, and I have a father that has had a stroke. When their relatives write their updates on the hospital blogs that are available, it is obvious that they all have hope that their loved one is going to survive, at least for a while, with a good quality of life. They want and need hope.

But for the Christian, our real hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead. His resurrection has proven that God is satisfied with His sacrifice for us on the cross. He didn't die for His own sins, he died for ours. If He had been a sinner like us, the grave would have held Him. But it didn't!

Because He lives, we know we will live as well (See John 14:19). Our blessed hope is the expectation that the Lord Himself could return at any moment (Titus 2:13). Those of us who have confidence in the Bible and have confidence in the Lord, have a reason to get up in the morning. The Lord says He is coming again and that we who are saved will be with Him where He is when He comes. (See John 14:3).

We have hope!

 

Meditation for the week of August 2, 2009

Love—The Thing That We All Want!

 

Romans 8:38-9

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

A number of popular songs have lyrics with variations on the theme that love makes the world go 'round. Love is perhaps the most important emotional element in early childhood development and it is certainly something that everyone wants. The Lord tells us that our main purpose is to love Him and to love our neighbors, but most of us cannot do that unless we are secure in the fact that we are loved. Most of us are looking for love and, until we find it, we have difficulty showing love. Our relationship with God is that way. John says, "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

According to the Bible, God is love (1 John 4:8) and God loves us (John 3:16). He tells us that He loves us. He has proven that He loves us. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." His love is the greatest love that can be shown to us according to John15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Yet, if you are like me, there are some days when you don't feel loved.

Job must have wondered about God's love when he was smitten with boils and when he lost his family and wealth. At times the writers of the Psalms thought God had forgotten them. Of course, even when God is showing His love, we sometimes think He has joined the enemy and is against us. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, "For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."

I take courage in the FACT that nothing can separate those of us who are saved from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He died for us and has expressed God's love to us. I have to believe that when things are going well and when things aren't. I have to believe that when others are expressing the love of God to me and when they aren't. God says it so it must be true. When I start appreciating the FACT of God's love, then I can start appreciating the practical experience of being loved. When God's love for me is being enjoyed and experienced, loving others should be the normal result.

This promise is made to the elect or to the saved. I do not believe the unsaved have the same promise or the same security. They go through life looking for love and when the end comes, they will have found that they rejected the only one who would truly love them as they are unconditionally. To miss out on that is one of the great losses associated with rejecting the claims of Christ. The unsaved have the "wrath of God abiding on them" (John 3:36). They are "condemned already" (John 3:18).

There are those who think we can be saved and lost again. I understand why they believe that since there are people who once loved the Lord and who now reject His claims. Only I don't think this verse allows for that conclusion. There are many things I don't understand. But I do understand what God means when He says through Paul that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

I don't have to earn God's love. I don't have to wonder if God is going to change His mind and not love me any more when I do something wrong. All I have to do is accept and enjoy His love. And that I am determined to do. Hopefully, then I will be able to show that love to someone who needs it so that they too can enjoy the unconditional love of God.

God has enough love to go around.

 

Meditation for the week of August 9, 2009

The Alarm Clock is Ringing!

 

Romans 13:11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

 

Sleeping is a good thing unless you are sleeping when you should be awake. When you get older, sometimes it is hard to fall asleep at night, and it is easy to fall asleep during the day. Sleeping at the wrong time can be embarrassing so some of us have had sleep tests to see if we have sleep apnea. I was told that I did not have it, but at times I am still embarrassed by falling asleep when I should be alert.

Peter and I would have had a lot in common. He often slept when he should have been awake. In his case, he was probably really tired because of the schedule he was keeping, but nevertheless, he slept while the Lord was being transfigured on the Mount. In Luke 9:32 we read, "But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him." Can you imagine almost missing out on an event that is that momentous by sleeping?

He also slept while the Lord was agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal by Judas. In Mark 14:37 we read, "Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour?'"

Some of us may find that we are sleeping when the Lord returns. We may be like the five wise virgins who slept beside the five foolish virgins and failed to warn the foolish ones to get prepared for the bridegroom's return. When He came, the opportunity to be a a part of the wedding was lost by the unprepared virgins. (See Matthew 25:1-13). The chance to help the foolish virgins prepare was also lost by the wise virgins. This allegory teaches us the truth of Romans 13:11. Our verse was written in the first century after the Lord's visit to this planet. If there were those who were sleeping nineteen hundred years ago, would it not seem safe to assume that many who should be waiting and watching for the Lord's return are sleeping and slumbering today?

This verse speaks of salvation. Obviously, the same word does not always mean the same thing. This verse is not speaking of salvation from the penalty of our sins but it is speaking of salvation from the presence of sin. Salvation here is the salvation that we are going to enjoy at the coming of the Lord, not the salvation that we obtain when we first trust in the Lord. I notice that those who are going to be saved didn't always believe. Believers may not remember the calendar day or the clock's hour when they first believed, but they should remember what it was like to find out that they didn't believe. They should also remember the story and circumstances associated with coming to a settled confidence that Christ has indeed died to save them. We need to remind people that it isn't Biblical to say that we have "always" believed. We need to warn them that they aren't believers because their parents are believers. We need to warn them that others can't believe for them and that ceremonies and good works do not constitute faith in Christ.

Sometimes I think that those of us who are saved have become so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. Some people think that we can be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. I personally do not think that is possible. However, I do think that while we are waiting for the Lord to return, we could be so tired out by our earthly endeavors that we fall asleep on our heavenly responsibilities. As a result those that we contact day by day see us as not really expecting the return of the Lord that we preach.

I know the Lord can get His work done without us, but most of us would rather He would get it done through us. If He is going to use us in these last days before He returns, we need to be waiting and watching instead of sleeping and slumbering.

 

Meditation for the week of August 16, 2009

Grow in Grace!

 

2Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

 

"Grow to be like Christ and grow in an intimate understanding of Who Christ is." That would be a possible rendering of this last verse that Peter wrote. Peter who cut off the high priest's servant ear in the garden (John 18:10) now wants us to grow in grace and in Christ-likeness.

Peter had denied the Lord, and yet he he was commissioned to feed the Lord's sheep (Luke 22:50-51). He had seen the grace of the Lord in restoring him to fellowship and service after his denial of the Lord. Peter had seen the grace of the Lord as the Lord healed the high priest's servant's ear that Peter had cut off. Peter had learned to graciously accept a rebuke from a man who was once an enemy of the Gospel and later Peter counted this man as a beloved brother (see Galatians 2:11 and 2 Peter 3:15). He had received grace and had learned to show that grace to others and now his final words are to encourage us to grow in grace.

Many people have told me that the reason that they are attracted to Christianity is because of its kindness. They say they do not see that in any other of the major religions of the world. The Jew was to exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This kept the punishment equal to the crime and did not allow excessive punishment, but it didn't show grace. The Jews took vengeance on their enemies. In the new testament, the Lord says that we are to suffer wrong (1 Corinthians 6:7), that when we are hit on one cheek, we are to turn the other one (Matthew 5:39). When asked to go one mile, we are to go two (Matthew 5:41). Vengeance is not ours but something we are to commit to the Lord (Romans 12:19). The Lord didn't ask us to do what He would not do. He ultimately showed the grace of God by allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross by those he had created and whom He wanted to save.

Grace takes people by surprise because we tend to show so little of it. Many of us believe that we do not have to forgive those who do not ask to be forgiven. Many of us show real hatred and ridicule toward officials that have been elected by majority vote of this country because we disagree with them. Some of us kill the doctors that abort babies. Some of us believe people of other races are suspect and inferior. We believe in the right to carry guns so that we can defend ourselves from those who might harm us. We believe in "just wars". Do we really believe in grace?

Grace is what breaks the cycle of sin. Grace is obtaining favor or a gift that is free and is undeserved. If instead of carrying guns, we carried a soft answer which the Bible says turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), I wonder what would happen? If instead of hating those who have harmed us, we prayed for them and went out of our way to show them kindness, I wonder what would happen? If instead of trying to drive a hard bargain in business, we paid more than we thought something was worth, I wonder what would happen? I am afraid people would be so surprised and shocked that they wouldn't know what to make of us. Wouldn't that be nice? They would know that we were different, but different in a good way.

The Lord tried using law in the old testament times to obtain good behavior and it didn't work. The law causes us to figure out the loopholes so we can think we are righteous when we aren't. The law should show us how depraved we really are. The law even causes us to be tempted to sin since the minute we find out we shouldn't do something, we tend to want to do it so we can see why it so important that we not do it. But now in the new testament, the Lord is using grace to make us more like Christ. However even though the Lord was gracious, that doesn't mean His followers always are. And if we who are saved by grace, do not show grace, how is the Gospel going to prosper?

Being gracious is difficult. We are told that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. So then why are Christians so often "ungracious?" Why do we act like the world instead of like Christ? I think people are looking to see if the Gospel really changes things—does it really make a difference? If they really saw Christians showing grace to each other and to the unsaved, maybe we would start "catching some flies."

I doubt that Peter would have written this if we were all as gracious as we should be, so let us grow in grace!

 

Meditation for the week of August 23, 2009

First Death, then What and Where?

 

Luke 16:22-23

"So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."

 

Saturday I was watching the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy. It took me back to November 1963 when I was watching the funeral of President JF Kennedy who had been assassinated. Because of his assassination, I realized that I needed to be saved and I needed to be saved now. I struggled that weekend with what it meant to be saved. His death brought me to where I found out I could not save myself; and if I died just as I was I would die as an unforgiven, unsaved sinner. I would have been in hell in torments. But when I came to the conclusion that I couldn't save myself, the Lord showed me through a tract that I was reading that Christ had already died to save me. I trusted the Lord that day and now according to the Bible, based on my faith in the Lord Jesus and based on nothing else, if I die I will go to heaven. One moment, I was on my way to hell. The next moment I was on my way to heaven. I remember getting on my knees and telling the Lord at that time, "Lord, if I were to go to hell now, you would have to be a liar." God is not a liar and while there are a lot of things that I have changed my mind on over the years, I have never changed my mind about the fact that Christ died for me, and that when I die I will be with the Lord in heaven.

When Ted Kennedy died there were postings on some of the social networking internet sites that said, "in hell he lift up his eyes". Did Ted Kennedy go to heaven or did he go to hell? Did President JF Kennedy go to heaven or hell? There are many people who do not like the Kennedy politics and they are convinced that the Kennedy's could not be Christians because of their politics. Others are convinced they could not be Christians because of their religion. Some think Ted Kennedy sealed his destiny at Chappaquiddick when a young lady died after he drove his car into the bay. But what is interesting is that we all want to make these judgments about others while not facing squarely our own sin and shortcomings. We think we are all right and it is everyone else who needs to be saved. The weekend that President Kennedy was shot, I realized that it really didn't matter whether President Kennedy was in heaven or hell, what mattered was that if I had died suddenly, I was not prepared and I would be in hell.

Can Catholics go to heaven? Sure they can. But they can only go to heaven if they believe what Paul preached in Acts 13: 38-39: "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." Everyone would include the Kennedy's. That's the same way Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists and everyone else goes to heaven as well. If the Kennedy's were depending on their church and their church rituals or their good works to get them to heaven, then according to my Bible they were lost. If they were depending wholly on the blood of Christ to get them to heaven, then they were saved. Many people are quick to make these determinations after people die. I think these questions should be asked before we die. After we die there is nothing that can be done to change our destinies in spite of what many churches teach. Before we die, we can repent (that is change our mind where we disagree with God) and we can believe (that is trust in the truth that Christ really did suffer in our place to put away our sins).

As I watched the funeral this morning, it was painful to think that Ted Kennedy might have lifted up his eyes in hell. But we didn't know his heart. Hopefully, as an undeserving sinner, he trusted the Lord at some point in his life. Maybe he will be in heaven while those who are sure he did not go there will self-righteously miss out on the salvation God is offering them.

At this point, Ted Kennedy is either enjoying heaven or is being tormented in hell. His destiny was settled while he was alive. I hope with all my heart that he heard the Gospel and believed it.

In John 5:24, the Lord Himself says, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." I believe that. I hope Ted Kennedy believed that. I hope you believe that.

 

Meditation for the week of August 30,2009