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AUGUST 2012

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It's called Faith!

 

A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. (Psalms 73:1-2)

 

We know God doesn't think like we think (Isaiah 55:8) so we don't always understand His ways. He is presented to us as a Father, but frankly I sometimes wonder about His parenting skills. He is presented as a Savior, but there are times when it seems to me that He could intervene on behalf of His own and save in a practical way when He doesn't. We are told He is compassionate, but where is the compassion when one of His own is suffering? Where is that compassion when families are torn apart by sin and sickness or when the bread winner loses his job through no fault of his own? One can understand why Asaph would say, "my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped."

Asaph is watching an upside down world, where the proud and rich are respected and where they seem to be trouble free. They oppress others and get by with it. They think they are not accountable to God. Asaph has tried to be reverent and has tried to live with a good conscience. Yet, he seems to be suffering at the hand of God while the wicked seem to be prospering. What gives? At least Asaph is honest about his feelings. You would get the impression from some super human Christians that they have never gotten discouraged nor have they ever questioned the ways of the Lord.

I think all of us who have put our faith in the Lord Jesus at times wonder why we seem to have problems that the wicked and unsaved do not seem to have. What is the point of serving God and trusting in the Lord if we then have it so much worse than the rebellious? Why are we poor when they are rich? Why are we sick while they are healthy? Why are they the proud task masters while we are the servants? What is the point in trying to do right?

I think Asaph finally figured it out in verse 17, "I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end." We who worship the Living God are not living for time but for eternity. Our END is secure. Their end is destruction. When we start comparing ourselves to those whose hope is in this world only, Satan starts messing with our minds. In addition, it only seems like the rich, arrogant and rebellious have no problems. When we get to know them and get behind their public reputations, we find out their problems are probably worse than ours. In addition, they have no Lord to believe in and no future to encourage them.

No wonder when Asaph gets his thinking straightened out he says he was foolish and ignorant. He was thinking like a beast. Asaph has an "afterward" that those who live for time do not have. Verse 24 says, "You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory." The arrogant live for time and by their own strength. We who are saved have something better. It is called faith! Sometimes we need to get alone with God in his dwelling place to have that faith renewed. But while we may get discouraged, we will never be forsaken. And if this life seems pointless, it surely makes us look forward to our "afterward" that much more.

While I was meditating on this Psalm, one of my friends posted the words of a hymn on Facebook that expresses my concluding thoughts completely. I had never heard the words before but they were written by Anne S. Murphy in 1908 and they go like this:

 

Thereís a peace in my heart that the world never gave,
A peace it cannot take away;
Though the trials of life may surround like a cloud,
Iíve a peace that has come here to stay!

 

Meditation for the week of August 5, 2012

Making that which is Simple too Simple!

 

For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)

 

Over the years I have tried to help people understand the Gospel who are fairly ignorant with regard to the Bible. Sometimes I find it hard to know where to begin. When I was younger we could ask teenagers if they knew a verse from the Bible and nearly all of them could quote John 3:16. Most of them knew that the Bible claimed to be God's Word. Today, many in the younger generation have never heard of John 3:16 unless they have seen a sign held up at an athletic event. Even then they may not be aware of what the sign is really saying. Most are not at all convinced that the Bible is worth reading. Most think it contains fables and myths. Many are convinced that the people who claim to believe the Bible are the cause of most of the world's problems. They remember the crusades, the Inquisition, the Christian support of slavery and segregation and they want no part of it. So how is a person going to overcome these prejudices and ignorance today in order to help people understand the real message of the Bible?

Apart from the power and work of the Holy Spirit, this job would be impossible. In Genesis 1:1-3, we see the way the Spirit works on a dark creation. It was hovering and then God said or spoke. We find that the spirit of God and the Word of God always work together. It did in creation. It does today. For example, in Ephesians 6:17 Paul writes, "take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

Most of us who preach the Gospel are concerned with the urgency of the message. We know that death lurks around the corner and that it is only while we are alive that we can believe in the Lord. Because of that urgency we often try to simplify the Gospel so that it can be received quickly and so that it is believable by those who know little about the Bible Often the Gospel is preached without opening the Bible because "Bible Bangers" are offensive in our culture.

The verse that is my guide In preaching the Gospel is Romans 10:17, "So then faith (in Christ) comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." As we preach the Word, the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to bring those who actually listen to the Word of God to faith in Christ. There is no short-cut to that process. I can give out tracts and I do. But I would rather give out the Bible. I was helped by a tract, so I know their value for the one who does know something about the Bible. But I am always afraid that a person will believe what a tract says rather than what God says. And no one is saved unless they have their confidence in the Lord and His promises rather than in a man or in anything that a man says.

I have found that most of our Gospel preaching helps people deal with their arguments with God so that they have the ability to trust in the Lord. Until people quit arguing with God, they won't believe in Him or trust Him. To tell someone that if they "decide for Christ" or "invite the Lord into their heart" or "pray the sinners prayer" before this process that the Bible calls repentance is complete, only gives the person a good feeling and a false assurance.

The Bible tells people to strive to enter in (Luke 13:24), to seek (Matthew 6:33), to labor to enter into the true rest of God (Hebrews 4:11KJV). Obviously, coming to faith is a struggle because we all have our minds made up about certain things that we think we know about God. Where we are wrong we have to admit that. As a Gospel preacher, I cannot convince people that they are wrong neither can I short-cut the path to faith. But what I can do is sit down with the Word of God and show people what the message of the Bible is in the context of the whole Bible and in the context of the book we are studying and in the context of the chapter we are studying. Only God through the power of the Holy Spirit can change minds and produce saving faith in Christ. But that saving faith is available to every person who actually decides that they want to know the truth of the Word of God.

I have complete confidence in the Bible's power to make believers out of unbelievers. I have absolutely no confidence in my ability to make believers out of them.

 

Meditation for the week of August 12, 2012

Do We Really Love our Neighbors?

 

And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' (Matthew 25:10-12)

 

Ever since Rob Bell published his book called Love Wins, it has caused me to think a lot about eternal conscious punishment for those who reject Christ. If I understand his message properly, love wins and eternal conscious punishment does not end up being eternal. Unfortunately, this is not what the Bible teaches.

The Bible says quite a lot about God's wrath and God's Judgment of unbelievers. The reality is that God gets very angry with those who reject His Son and His sacrifice for our sins.

The Bible speaks of everlasting punishment, of a lake of fire, of a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, of a place called outer darkness, and of a place of torment. I know some are going to say that these can't all be literal because you can't have darkness and fire together. However, fire and darkness existed at the same time on Mount Sinai (Deuteronony 4:11). So while I can't explain the phenomenon scientifically, I am willing to believe those who observed it. I believe that the things said about eternal conscious punishment after death are literal. If they are not, then obviously our minds cannot grasp the real thing. Certainly the real thing would then be worse than the symbols that are used to describe it.

Some people think that a loving God cannot possibly put people in a place of torment forever simply because they did not "believe" or trust in the Lord. I personally understand the logic of this argument. However, my answer to the argument is that God loved the world and He loved His Son. He chose to let His Son take the punishment that we deserved because of our sin. I cannot see how He could honestly love His Son if there were no consequences for not believing in such a great sacrifice. Even if we don't agree with God, God is still God. His way is the way it is going to be!

Those people who are like the five foolish virgins in our passage for today greatly concern me. They look like Christians, they are moral, they say they are "followers of Jesus," but they have never prepared properly for the day when the Lord comes. They are sleeping right along with those who have prepared. Those who have prepared do not seem to recognize the need to warn the foolish virgins that they are not ready. These foolish virgins likely go to churches that talk about the Lord and the moral values of the Lord, but their church doctrines do not clearly teach that salvation is by faith alone in the Lord Jesus. Some add baptism to the formula, some add other sacraments. Nearly all seem to think that if we act like the world thinks Christians should act, then we must be Christians. Many of these churches are trying to make the world more Christian-like without teaching the need for a new birth on the part of the individual.

Are we who are saved sleeping today? Are we just assuming that all is right with those people who have been taught to act like Christians rather than being taught that they are sinners in need of a Savior? In many cases, we have been convinced that we don't need to preach the Gospel to those who come to church. Instead we need to equip those who come to church to evangelize in the world, and so we are taught that it is not good to preach the Gospel of God's grace in the church building when the church is meeting. But is that really showing love for our neighbors? Where is our discernment today? Can we distinguish between those who have a form of godliness but who have no real faith in the Lord? Do we listen to see if people are more concerned with what they are doing for Christ than with what Christ has done for them?

Where is our love for the five foolish virgins who may be sitting in the pews beside us but who are headed for a place of torment where there is eternal conscious punishment? Just because people act Christian-like does not make them Christians in the Biblical sense.

 

Meditation for the week of August 19, 2012

Putting God to the Test

 

Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink." So Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?" (Exodus 17:2)

Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'YOU SHALL NOT TEMPT THE LORD YOUR GOD.' " (Matthew 4:7)

 

Obviously, the God does not want us to tempt Him. The word tempt probably means that we shouldn't put Him to the test. When are we doing that?

In Matthew, Satan wants the Lord to put Himself in unnecessary danger to prove that He would be protected by God. I wonder if Satan actually believed that God would fulfill his promise made in Psalm 91. The Lord didn't have to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to prove that God (His Father) was faithful. He knew that He was without "testing" Him.

In the old testament passage referred to by the Lord, the children of Israel were in a bind. They had been delivered out of Egypt by the passover lamb, they had miraculously crossed the Red Sea and now they were in the wilderness without water. What were they going to do? They certainly didn't think that this God that had brought them this far would be able to provide water for them. This was not a case of putting themselves needlessly in harms way in order to test the reality of God's promises. This was a case of simply not believing that the God Who had saved them physically was the God who could sustain them in the wilderness.

I have often wondered just when a person is committing this sin. The Lord didn't need to jump from the pinnacle of the temple so his situation was different from that of the children of Israel who obviously needed water for themselves and for their animals. God tells us in Hebrews 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Instead of expecting God to "prove" Himself, the Lord wants us to trust Him. Sometimes it is hard to trust Him, but trust Him we must because that is what pleases God. It appears that we are putting God to the test when we ask Him to do something that we don't believe He can or will do.

I had a man tell me that whenever we see a promise in the Bible we should put a TTP beside it. I asked him what that meant and he said it meant "try to prove." Is this the test that God despises? No, because this is the test of a believing heart that believes that God is on the throne and will fulfill His promises. He may not fulfill his promises when we want them fulfilled or the way we want them fulfilled, but a person who trusts the Lord has every confidence that the promises will be fulfilled. A believer does not complain and grumble about the way God fulfills those promises. After all it is the promises of God that give us the assurance of salvation. The reason we know rather than hope that we are saved is because of the promises that God has given us (See 1 John 5:13). So living with the peace that comes from believing that God fulfills His promises is what pleases God.

The test that God despises is the test of an unbelieving heart. It may be that only an unsaved person can put God to the test in the way that these passages describe. Not all of those who were saved from Egypt were believers in the Lord (See Jude 1:5). However, even those of us who are saved need to be reminded that God wants to be trusted. He doesn't want us to be questioning whether He is able and willing to fulfill His promises to us. He doesn't want us to come to Him with an unbelieving heart asking Him to prove Himself to us.

We trust surgeons we don't really know. They usually have never "proven themselves" to us. Surely, the Lord is worthy of that kind of trust. The Lord wants us to trust His promises without "putting Him to the test." When we do that, that is, when we trust Him just because of Who He is, God does prove Himself to be faithful.

 

Meditation for the week of August 26, 2012