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AUGUST 2010

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The End or the Beginning?

 

Job 14:10 But man dies and is laid away; Indeed he breathes his last And where is he?

 

Recently we buried another close friend. She had been asked by a preacher friend many years ago, "Where will you be in 100 years?" This caused her to research the issues of sin and judgment as well as the issues of heaven and hell. She found out a good person cannot go to heaven because none of us are good (Romans 3:10). She also found out that Christ died for sinners so that we would not have to be condemned eternally (Romans 5:8). That truth gave her peace about her relationship with God for eternity. When she came down with cancer, she fought to live with all of her might, but she made it clear that she was ready to die. And die she did.

At her funeral we were told that she was rejoicing with her Savior in heaven. We were told that even though we were putting her body in the grave, that the real person was already "with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). We were told that some day her body would be raised from the dead and would be reunited with the real person that had recently left her body and that she would serve and praise the the Lord in a new body forever. I have preached all of these truths at the funerals of people who have obviously "believed in or on" the Lord Jesus for salvation. But I never go to a funeral but what the "fiery dart of the wicked one" (Ephesians 6:16) is thrown at me, and I wonder if I have preached the truth. Is this just the beginning for the person that died or is it the end and is there nothing beyond the grave?

I know that a preacher is not supposed to admit that things like that go through his mind because we preach that when we are saved we should KNOW we are saved based on God's promises (1 John 5:13). So how could we have faith and wonder if we are right at the same time? I look at these times as times to have my faith strengthened and confirmed as I go through the following thought process:

Can I prove scientifically that what I believe is true? No. I can prove that some things in the Bible are provable by science but science often changes its mind about things so I don't get my assurance from so-called scientific proofs.

Is there any good reason not to believe what the Bible says? No! However, there might be if there were other authoritative writings with better messages. These writings would have to claim to be inspired by God. These writings would have to have the kinds of evidence that the Bible has to authenticate their claims of inspiration. The Bible has the children of Israel as an object lesson showing us how God deals with sin and and how He saves. The Bible has the Lord fulfilling many prophecies written many years before He came. The Bible claims that the Lord was raised from the dead and has over 500 witnesses to that fact. These things give us reason to believe that He is the Messiah and our Savior. I know of no other book or prophet or system of religion that has such evidence.

Are there any good reasons to believe what the Bible says? Yes! We have already given some of those reasons. The message of the Bible gives us a reason for living, comfort in dying and hope for the future. If people die without eternal life then this present life is certainly hopeless and futile.

Another reason that I believe the Bible and its message of hope and salvation is because I have seen the Lord work miracles in my own life and the life of my family. The events associated with our going into the Lord's work full-time as preachers of the Gospel depending on the Lord alone for financial support and then being preserved in that work cannot be recounted here, but we have seen God do miraculous things. These experiences should be written in a book for our children to remind them and others that God is real. God's promises are yea and amen, and a life of faith is an adventure with God.

Ultimately, we have to believe God in order to have our doubts quenched. And ultimately, I believe God because I want to and because I think believing in Him makes sense. I can't quite understand what there is to gain by not believing the God of the Bible.

So once again, I have come to the conclusion that my friend's death was the beginning and not the end.

 

Meditation for the week of August 1, 2010

Loving the One we Have not Seen

 

1 Peter 1:8 Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.

 

We who have become "followers of Christ" or "believers in Christ" in today's world are following and trusting One we have never seen. The Bible has an historical written record of the life of the Lord that includes the names of many who did see Him. Some saw Him as a side-show oddity. They just wanted to see if He could do some miracle. Some saw Him as competition to their own plans and popularity and wanted to crucify Him. Some saw Him as their Messiah and Savior. Those who really believed in Him, loved Him. Sometimes they didn't act like they loved him but when they were asked, "do you love me?", they could say, "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you (John 21:17)." I wonder if the Lord knows that about those of us that claim to be believers in Him today? After all, those of us in our generation have never seen Him except by the eye of faith.

How can you tell whom someone loves? Usually they want to spend time with that person and talk with them. You can tell a lot about whom a person loves by whether they spend money on that person and if they make sacrifices for that person. As you listen to what a person talks about, the loves of their lives become very evident. But you can also tell a lot about what a person thinks of another person by the way they say their name.

I have some friends who will never say my name unless they are upset with me. Then they know how to say it. My mom used to have several ways that she said my name and many of them I did not want to hear. Normally if I hear a Bruce Dean from a family member that is not a good thing. (Dean is my middle name). Some of my really close friends call me Brucey. I find that demeaning. It may have been all right when I was five but I am not five any more. I have some who call me Brewster. I think that is a pet name for me, but I am never sure how to take it. Students at Bible camps and at children's meetings often call me Mr. Bruce which shows respect without a lot of formality. I have some friends who always speak to me or write to me using my name in a nice appropriate way. For some it is just Bruce, some it is Hi Bruce and some it is Dear Bruce. But they care enough to know and say my actual personal name in a friendly way. I like that.

I suspect that the way we say the name of the Lord is noticed by Him as well. We hear some people who say His name with an exclamation point after it and we know that they are swearing. I always wonder why it is the name of the One that they say that they don't believe in that they use in this way. Why not pick a President and use his name to emphasize a point. For example, why don't they say "By George Washington, that car was a lemon!"?

Then there are those who obviously love the Lord by the way that they say His name. Many are careful to use the title Lord to show him respect. Often I listen to see how the name of the Lord Jesus is being used in the worship service in the congregations where we remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. Our songs often do a better job of using the name of the Lord Jesus than our prayers and preaching do. If the Lord likes to hear us say His name in a reverent way, I am afraid that He would often be disappointed when we are worshiping Him. Quite often we talk about Him as though He isn't even there. In some congregations, we seldom talk to Him.

God is an abstract concept. All religions worship God. But Jesus is the personal revelation of God. Is it possible that those of us who claim to know Him and love Him do not really believe that He is personally interested and present when we worship? Is the reality of the personal presence of this One that we have not seen real in our lives?

If we truly love Him, let's talk to Him, spend time with Him, spend money on Him, sacrifice for Him and address Him reverently by His personal name, the Lord Jesus.

 

Meditation for the week of August 8, 2010

Why do we like Birthdays?

 

Hebrews 9:27-28

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

 

Recently we were celebrating a birthday in our family when our eight year old grandson asked, "Why do people like birthdays? They only bring them closer to dying!" I was surprised that he would think that deeply about death, but since he had recently trusted in the Lord for salvation, maybe I should have recognized that the idea of dying had bothered him.

The above verse says that we are all appointed to die once. The verse must mean that we are all appointed to die a physical death at least once since there were people in the Bible who died twice. Lazarus in John 11, for example, was raised from the dead to die again. And yet even this principle has one major exception because we are told that when the Lord returns those who are alive will be caught up or raptured to meet the Lord in the air. These like Enoch and Elijah of old will not die. But in the normal course of events, we all die, one-hundred percent of the time.

Just as some will not die at all even though the general principle is that everyone dies, many others, in addition to those raised from the dead in the Bible, are going to die twice. We know that death is not the cessation of existence or being, but it is separation from God. Those who want to be judged by their works instead of by the work of Christ will miss out on this great salvation, and after they die physically they will be brought before the Lord, the great judge of all the earth. They will find out that their good works did not out-weigh their bad deeds or sins. They will see a record of their sins that were never forgiven or blotted out of the records that the Lord is keeping. They will not be found in the lamb's book of life and will be cast into the lake of fire which is the second death. This is eternal separation from God, the source of light and life and love (See Revelation 20:11-15).

Death is the result of sin. Thus, every time we go to a funeral we are reminded that sin is real and death is real. Hopefully, whoever preaches the funeral will remind the audience that salvation is real as well. Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. Some argue about how many the word many takes in, but I can assure you that the word was large enough to take in me, and it is large enough to take in you.

Most of us have a zest for living and we are not looking forward to dying. We are told that death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). Even if we are saved and looking forward to an eternity with the Lord, most of us would rather not die. It isn't the destination that concerns us as much as the process of dying. In addition, we don't like to leave our loved ones behind. But every birthday brings us closer to the day when we will take our last breath.

I am personally glad that I have confidence in the fact that when I die I will be with the Lord which is far better (Philippians 1:23). I don't want to die but I am ready to die because I know that Christ died for my sins (Romans 5:6-8, 1 Corinthian 15:3). I know that because the Lord says it!

Why do people like birthdays? That really is a good question, isn't it?

 

Meditation for the week of August 15, 2010

Why is Thanksgiving a Sacrifice?

 

Psalm 116:17 I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD.

 

A sacrifice is costly. We give up something precious when we sacrifice. Why would God consider thanksgiving to be a sacrifice? Perhaps it is because it is one thing to say we are thankful and it is another thing to act as though we are thankful so that what we say is not hypocritical. Perhaps another reason thanksgiving is a sacrifice is because most of us aren't really thankful. It is easy to start thinking that everything and everyone is against us and that everyone else has a better life than we do. We forget to count our blessings and to thank God and our family and our friends for the blessing that they have been in our lives.

August 22, 2010 is a special day for me. My wife and I will have been married for forty years. She came along at a juncture in my life when I was greatly disappointed in people who had been close to me and I was greatly disappointed in people that I knew who claimed to be Christians but. in my mind, did not act like Christians. When Geneva came into my life, I found out that the Lord who had died to save me would not leave me alone. He introduced me to a man who would later become my father-in-law who became a true friend and father to me. He not only was a Christian but he acted like one.

Because of Geneva, I have had a faithful devoted wife for forty years. I believe that she loves me and I know I love her. She has sacrificially devoted herself to me and my children for these forty years. She has taken care of things at home when I am gone preaching. I have four children who I believe love me. I know I love them. One of the reasons I believe that they love me is because they never seem to be ashamed to be seen with me when they are with their friends. They don't treat me differently depending on who they are around. That means a lot to me. In addition, from time to time they give me things that I could not afford to give myself. Presents are always nice.

Do they know that I am thankful for them? I hope so. I am sure that my family is more likely to know when I am displeased with something than when I am pleased. They likely remember the criticisms rather than the praise. I taught them to say "thank you" but did I learn to say it myself?

When I was going to college, my dream was to be a successful C.P.A. with a house or cabin on a lake with a nice boat. I don't have the cabin or the house on the lake or the boat nor did I ever become a successful anything. But I am thankful that life turned out the way it did and that the Lord has given me friends with houses on the lake. He has allowed me to preach the Gospel full-time for over 28 years and part-time for years before that. He has been faithful to His promise to provide for my family's needs and I haven't had to merchandise a free Gospel to do that. I do thank the Lord for the way life turned out. My original plans were not sinful and would have been nice for the few years that I could have enjoyed earthly success, but the Lord's plans have eternal benefits.

I am extremely thankful that I was born in a family that feared God and read the Bible. I thank God for the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I don't thank God for the assassination, but for making me realize that I needed to settle the issue of my eternal salvation, and I needed to settle it now. That weekend, I searched for God's salvation and was finally able to trust in the truth that when Christ died on Calvary, he paid the penalty that my sins deserved. I am thankful that God says in the Bible that I am saved.

Whoever wrote this Psalm understood how hard it is to say, Thank you!" He understood how much it means to God when we thank Him. Obviously, it means a lot to family and friends when we thank them and act like we mean it.

Thank you my dear wife and family and friends.

Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul, Thank you, Lord, for making me whole;

Thank you, Lord, for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free.

 

Meditation for the week of August 22, 2010

How is my Thinking Coming Along?

 

Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. "Eat and drink!" he says to you, But his heart is not with you.

 

We often hear that we are what we eat. We also hear that we are what we think. I am glad that neither is always true. I know people who eat a lot of beef and they don't look like cows (I might be the exception). I know people who struggle with bad thoughts who would never do some of things that go through their minds. While I do believe that there is a great link between how we think and how we act, I am glad that not every bad thought becomes a bad action. This verse is really saying that a miser is a hypocrite. If he is feeding you, he will tell you to eat up, but in his heart he will think you are a glutton if you do. As he thinks (not as he says), so is he.

Even though we don't always become what we think, we do need to "discipline" our thinking. Our thinking should be occupied with spiritual things not with earthly things. In Colossians 3:2, Paul tells us to, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." In Philippians 4:8 he reminds us to think about right things. "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

The public media news is usually bad news. Good news doesn't sell cereal. Even the religious news outlets are usually dealing with what is wrong rather than with what is right. So when we watch the news we are going to be encouraged to think wrong thoughts, not right thoughts. I believe in staying informed so that when I preach the Gospel, I can do it intelligently. But I do believe that I need to be careful to not let the news control my thinking and my subsequent actions.

Our friends greatly influence our thinking. Paul tells us that "Evil company corrupts good habits (1 Corinthians 15:33)." The company that we keep will greatly affect how we think and act. Because we are all sheep (Isaiah 53:6), the leaders we respect will also greatly influence what we think and say and do. We really need to ask ourselves if our friends and mentors are the kind of people we want to be. Do they think like and act like the Lord Jesus? If not, we need to be careful in our relationship with them so that we do not become like them.

We know that before we were saved we all thought wrong thoughts. Our thoughts were not God's thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). When we became "believers" we were "born again or from above (John 3:7)." Salvation is not about reformation but about regeneration or new life. The moment we were saved the Holy Spirit entered and began conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). One of the reasons that we can be sure that we are saved is that the Bible tells us so. Why did we not comprehend that before we were saved? The Bible didn't change, but we did. Once the Holy Spirit "sealed" us (Ephesians 1:13), He was able to use the Word to assure us that we are saved.

How can we discipline our minds so that we act in a Christ-like way and so that we can be at "peace" and not always be distraught in this life? First, we will need to be sure that we are saved so that the Holy Spirit can teach us. Then we will need to spend time thinking about the Lord who represents all the characteristics found in Philippians 4:8. He is true, honest, just, pure, lovely of good report, virtuous and praise worthy. Thinking about men will not cause us to think right even though they may have many good characteristics. Thinking about current events will only disturb us. Associating with those who are "earthly minded" rather than "heavenly minded" or perhaps "spiritually minded" will not help us discipline our minds.

We cannot keep from thinking in wrong ways about wrong things. However, we can drive out the habitual bad thinking by replacing it with habitual good thinking. The company that we keep, the material we read, and the leaders that we follow will all greatly affect our ability to discipline our thinking.

 

Meditation for the week of August 29, 2010