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AUGUST 2015

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Paradise--a place of extreme Beauty, Delight, or Happiness

2 Corinthians 12:2-4

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 

What is Paradise?

Paradise is a term used for a Persian Garden.  The Greek translation of the Bible called the Septuagint calls the Garden of Eden paradise.  Paul says someone experienced paradise in an “out of body” experience in 2 Corinthians 12.  I believe that someone was Paul.   The thief on the cross that died trusting in the Lord was taken with the Lord to paradise.  The overcomers or true believers in the Ephesian church are going to have access to the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).  While each of these letters in Revelation 2 and 3 seemed to be addressed to a specific church that existed in that day, each message is to those who will hear in all of the churches.  So paradise seems to be the eternal state of the believer.  And that is something to anticipate with joy.

 

Where is Paradise?

Paradise was in the Garden of Eden.  That was a beautiful garden that had not been spoiled by sin.  But paradise for the thief on the cross, for Paul and for the remnant of true believers in the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 seem to be in different places.  While theologians might argue about whether paradise for the thief on the cross is exactly the same place as paradise for Paul in his out of body experience, it is obvious that paradise is a beautiful place that has been prepared for the those who have turned from the sin of unbelief and have trusted in this One who has been willing to bear the punishment that we deserve because of our sin.  The final dwelling place of the believer is obviously a paradise in the sense that it will be a place of extreme beauty, delight and happiness.  I suppose that the Father’s house in John 14 must be in the center of this garden.  I think that the real attraction of that Garden will be the Lord Himself.  The Lord had unhindered communion with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before sin entered into the picture.  Because of the cross, there will be unhindered communion with the Lord in the final abode of the believer called paradise. 

 

If Only We Could See!

In our day, people who claim to have visions and revelations are generally considered to be mentally unstable.  Many of them are.  People who have written about “out of body” experiences have in many cases had beautiful things to report while “dead” and yet by their own testimony, they died “the first time” as unbelievers.  These stories are not to be believed since they do not agree with the Biblical truth that only those who are saved, born again, and converted will see paradise.  The rest have the wrath of God abiding on them according to John 3:36.  Satan is a great deceiver and he is doing his best to keep mankind deceived. 

 

However, there are people that I know who have had the veil between the physical world and the spirit world drawn aside, and like Paul, they have seen things that they couldn’t properly express.  In addition, there are records of this veil being drawn aside in the Bible. Just like today, the experiences weren’t common, but those that occurred were very real.

 

Jacob saw a ladder ascending to heaven in Genesis 28:12.  Elisha and his servant saw the chariots of fire protecting Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6:17.  In Isaiah 6, Isaiah saw the Lord in heaven on his throne with the angels ministering to Him.  Peter, James and John had the veil pulled aside when they saw the Lord talking to Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration.  And then there is the experience that the Apostle Paul recounts of a man in 2 Corinthians 12.  That man seems to have been Paul.  I personally believe that Paul had this experience when he was stoned and left for dead at Lystra in Acts 14:19.  After being dragged out of the city, he got up and went back into the city. 

 

The Future is Glorious for the Believer

I don’t expect to see paradise until I am there eternally.  I don’t expect to have the experience of Paul.   But I do expect to see paradise.  It will be beautiful and the Lord will be the attraction there.  We may get to talk to Moses and Elijah and Paul if we are willing to stand in a long line.  We will also be reunited with loved ones who were “overcomers” or true believers. 

 

I am quite happy to stay here, but I am excited about seeing the other side as well.  I hope all of my friends and loved ones will be reunited with me in paradise.

 

Meditation for the week of August 2, 2015

Context! Context! Context!

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Question?
Do all things work together for GOOD to those who love God?  The Lord says that they do so they must, but in what sense is this true?  I believe that the all things that work together for good to those who love God are the things that the Holy Spirit does for believers in Christ as mentioned in the chapter.  
 
The Unwise Use of this Verse
On the news recently a woman was found in her car having been shot.  She has not died but I am certain she does not think getting shot was “good.”  This week, there have been shootings in movie theaters, shootings at Army posts, and shootings in many other places where the inhumanity of man to man has been demonstrated.  I do not think any of these shootings were “good.”  This week a six year old drowned at a recreational beach a few miles from where I live.  The drowning was an accident,  but it will change the life of that family forever.  I doubt that they are thanking the Lord for the death of that child.

We had a committed Christian friend who took care of her husband as he died a slow death from colon cancer.  While she took care of him, she was diagnosed with breast cancer which was apparently cured.  Then after her husband died she remarried and within months of her remarriage, she was struck with brain cancer.  We watched her die a slow death.  This is what God calls GOOD?  No way!  

It would not be helpful and could even be considered cruel to tell all these people that “all things work together for good” to those who love God.  To do so is implying that they don’t love God, and some of these people might not.  In addition, for those who do love God, we are saying that this is the “good” that God has wished upon them.  I strongly urge people to think before misusing a verse like this and thinking that they will be a help and a comfort to those who are suffering.

Ultimate Good!
I realize that there is a sense in which God can use evil for our good.  We would not have known how much God loves us if there had not been disobedience in the Garden of Eden.  But to say that the sorrow that came into this world because of that sin is “good” is not something I am willing to say.  Thorns, thistles, wars, murder, chronic sickness, and sorrow are the result of that disobedience in the garden.  Even though the saved that die in car accidents, and that die in war, and that die from cancer do experience the ultimate “good” of being free from sin and its consequences, I don’t think that is what this verse is talking about.  The normal sense of the words would be taken to mean that all things work together for good NOW and that ultimately good is going to come out of tragedy.  While that often happens, that isn’t always the case.  Sometimes people come to know the Lord because of sorrow and tragedy but sometimes they don’t.  So what does the verse really mean?

The Great Conflict
In the chapter there is a great conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.  The flesh is our nature that we got from Adam and that nature is expressed in appetites or “fleshly lusts” that “war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).”  The Holy Spirit is the indwelling Spirit of God that we are given the moment we trust Christ (Romans 8:9).  The Holy Spirit gives us power over the flesh or carnal mind.  He gives us hope or the promise of a glorious future.  The Holy Spirit helps us pray.  He predestined the saved (those who are called or named saints) to be conformed to the image of the Lord.

The conclusion of the matter is seen in the final part of the chapter.  If God be for us (the true believer), who can be (successful) against us? Romans 8:35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  And so, yes, ultimately we end up on the winning side if we are truly saved.  But when going through these trials it is well to remember that the Holy Spirit is not engineering these difficulties.  Instead the Holy Spirit is doing good by strengthening us for the battle. 

All things in this life do not work together for good because Satan is alive and active on planet earth.  He knows how to destroy that which glorifies God.  But all things that the Holy Spirit is doing for us is good and is for our good.  And that is encouraging.

Meditation for the week of August 9, 2015

Until He Comes!

 

1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

 

How to Get Depressed without Really Trying

Last week I had a couple of depressing experiences.  The first was when I got together with some of my family at a convenient (and reasonably inexpensive) restaurant.  As I sat there and looked at each of those present, I couldn’t help but think that when we were young we used to go visit “the old people” in our family—old people like us!  There is nothing wrong with getting old.  It is better than the alternative, but what happened to the time and to the dreams?  Did we really make our mark in the world and are we leaving it better off than the way we found it? 

 

Then I had another experience that really emphasized the futility of this life.  I signed up for the website that has been developed for my graduating high school class.  When I did, I noticed how many have died.  My best friend in high school died at age 59.  Some of my classmates died shortly after graduation.  Many of us are still around even though most are retired, and we have likely accomplished most of what we are going to accomplish.  We were the class that was going to change the world.  I hate to be a cynic;  but if we changed the world, we didn’t do a very good job!

 

Most of us think we are going to do great things when we are young planning our future; but, actually, we do just what everyone before us has done.  We are born, we spend years getting ready to do something great, we spend forty years trying to accomplish that, we retire; and we die.  Along the way, many of us have children and raise a family and they go through the same motions.

 

No Profit Under the Sun

No wonder Paul said that if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.   Paul was probably thinking that the troubles and persecutions of Christians in his day were meaningless unless there was hope beyond the grave.  He was not talking about hoping to be saved, he was talking about having something to look forward to because he was saved.  We all need to have something to look forward to or life becomes meaningless and depressing.  Paul was looking forward to the future when the resurrected Lord would return and set things right.  He was looking forward to a future that was much brighter than the present

 

While Paul may have been referring to the persecution of Christians, I have thought that taking the “hope” of the Christian away from him would leave believers with nothing.  We get up every morning with the confident expectation that whether we are sick or poor or friendless or homeless, we have a better future prepared for us, and it is for eternity.  Take away that hope and life becomes the life of the preacher in Ecclesiastes when he said all is vanity and vexation of spirit.  He considered life to be chasing after the wind.  The preacher in that book had experienced about everything that could be experienced.  He had partied like no one else. He had gained wisdom, he had built things, he had acquired lots of possessions.  And yet, he came to the conclusion that there was no profit “under the sun.” 

 

So while it is true that there is a cycle to life and that cycle means that we live, we reproduce, and then we die.  Because of us others live and reproduce and then die.  That cycle would be so meaningless if there was not something more to anticipate.  We who are saved live with that hope every day.  If that hope were to be taken away, we would certainly be of all people most pitiable.  We would have been living a lie.  Since most Christians live for eternity and do not get their fulfillment from “this life under the sun”, we won’t even have the toys to leave behind to our children.

 

I really don’t know how those who think that this life is all there is, manage to get out of bed in the morning.  I don’t care how many toys a person acquires, how much power a person has, or how much success a person thinks he has, it all ends when this life is over.  A person might get a footnote in a text book somewhere but since nobody reads books any more, what will it matter?

 

Until He Comes!

I am spent time with a group of Christians this weekend where we took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and we ate of that bread and wine together.  We did this in order to show the “Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26)!”  UNTIL HE COMES!  I am a believer, and that keeps me from getting too depressed when I realize that most of this life is behind me.  There is HOPE! 

 

 

Meditation for the week of August 16, 2015

The Problem with the Doing Plan

 

Luke 5:12-13 And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him.

 

Is the Lord Ever Unwilling?

The Lord had the power to heal and this leper knew that.  However, the leper wasn’t sure that the Lord would want to heal him.  So he approaches the Lord with respect and says, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”  According to the Old Testament law this leper should not have been in the city, he should have been outside.  He should not have approached the Lord.  He should have been putting his finger over his lip; and he should have cried, “Unclean, Unclean.” (See Leviticus 13:45-46).  This was to keep him from infecting others with his disease.  But the Lord never questioned his presence and the Lord didn’t have to worry about being infected.  When he touched people he didn’t get defiled by them in any way, rather they got cleansed by Him.

 

But would the Lord be willing to cleanse the leper?  Of course!  The Lord had power to cleanse and the apostles had that power.  The Lord used that power to convince people that He was the Son of God.  The apostles used it before there was a written New Testament to prove that they were commissioned by the Lord to preach as witnesses to the resurrection.  Their power proved that they had the authentic message of God.  Today we have the Bible, verified by scholars, verified by our consciences, and verified by fulfilled prophecies connected with the Lord’s first coming.  Most of us who preach the Gospel today do not have the miraculous power to heal.  While miraculous healings do occur from time to time, that is not the norm.  The Bible has become the final revelation of the Lord for this age, and it no longer needs to be confirmed by unusual miracles. 

 

The Spiritual Application

Leprosy is a picture of sin.  A sinner is unclean and only the Lord can cleanse him.  We know that the blood (the Lord’s death by crucifixion) of Jesus Christ God’s son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).  That passage is written to those in the “family,” that is to believers.  The blood is available to all but not all are cleansed.  Only those who want to be cleansed and who trust in the Lord are cleansed.  But does the Lord want to cleanse all?  Absolutely!  In 1 Timothy 2:4 Paul tell us that the Lord, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Why then does Satan convince people that the Lord might not want to cleanse them?

 

Some people think that they have committed sins that are too great to be forgiven.  However, God wouldn’t have sent His Son to the cross because of His love for the world (John 3:16), if He hadn’t wanted to save and forgive all.  But Satan has many ways to convince people that the Lord does not want to save them.  I am glad to report that the Lord has never turned anyone away who in simple trusting faith has come to Him for salvation and cleansing.  In Matthew 11:28 the Lord says, “Come to Me, ALL YOU who labor and are heavy laden, and I WILL give you rest.”

 

Does the Lord Ever Turn Anyone Away?

I have said that the Lord never turns anyone away who comes to Him in simple trusting faith.  However, not everyone comes to him that way. Nicodemus did come with the right attitude in John 3, however.  He came confused and he left enlightened.  He came in darkness and he lift with spiritual light.  He came an unbeliever and he left a believer.  He came lost and he left saved (See John 3:17).  Even those who come with the wrong attitude are not turned away, but those with the wrong attitude usually do turn away because they will not accept the fact that salvation is based on God’s plan and not theirs.

 

In Luke 18:18-23,  a rich young ruler came to the Lord wanting to know what he could DO to inherit eternal life.  Now it would be possible to go to heaven on the doing plan if we could actually keep the moral code of God, but only the Lord could to that.   This young ruler thought he could do it and when asked what the law said about inheriting eternal life, the ruler quoted from the Ten Commandments.  He mostly quoted commandments having to do with loving his neighbor.  He said he had kept that law from his youth.  But the law says that you are to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  When the young ruler was told to sell all that he had and give to the poor, he couldn’t bring himself to do that.  He didn’t love his neighbor as himself.  He like everyone else that is trying to get to heaven by doing will find that they have fallen short.  And unless we all admit that, we are never going to be able to trust the Lord’s done plan rather than our doing plan.  Even the rich need to be saved.  But they are not saved by selling their goods and giving to the poor, but by trusting in the blood of Christ.  That is God’s done plan.

 

Thank God!

I can confidently affirm that the Lord is ready, willing and able to save all who come to him in simple trusting faith.  He may not be ready and willing to heal our diseases in our day and age, but He will save, forgive and cleanse everyone who knows that they have a sin problem that only the Lord can cure.  Thank God. 

 

 

Meditation for the week of August 23, 2015

The Depths of Despair

 

Psalms 142:4 

Look on my right hand and see,

For there is no one who acknowledges me;

Refuge has failed me;

No one cares for my soul.

 

Background

 

This is a prayer of David, the man who had been anointed by Samuel to be king.  He had slain the giant;  but now he was fleeing from Saul, the man whose place he had taken when he fought Goliath.  Saul should have been leading his army in the battle against the giant, but David the shepherd boy did it instead.  Now, when Saul realizes that God is going to give the throne to David, he tries to destroy David in order to keep God’s will from being done.  Obviously, Saul wants to keep the kingdom in his family.  But thwarting the known will of God is sin and always causes confusion.  So David has to flee from Saul and ends up at the cave of Adullam.

 

According to the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, “David was twice in great peril in caves: on one occasion, in the cave of Adullam, when he fled from Achish king of Gath; and on another, in the cave of Engedi, where he had taken refuge from the pursuit of Saul. It is not certain to which of these events this Psalm refers; though probably to the former.”  I believe that this Psalm is more likely associated with the Cave of Adullam.  In 1 Samuel 22:1-2 we read, “David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.  He then protected his father and mother by sending them to Moab while he was fleeing from Saul.

 

But Did No One Care for His Soul?

Either David figured that the 400 men came to him in order to further their own careers and to be important people in the coming kingdom of David, or he had to assume that they came to him because they loved him and wanted to defend him.  It is true that they had messed up their lives and coming to David would give them a fresh start, but didn’t they care for his soul?  They were risking their lives to defend him. 

 

I know that there were three of them that definitely cared for David’s soul.  We read about them in 2 Samuel 23: 13-17.  David didn’t have access to Red Roof Inn’s, McDonald’s or better yet, Bob Evan’s.  He didn’t have dry cleaners or even automatic washing machines. He didn’t even have access to shower and bathroom facilities.  He did not have refrigerators but had to live off the land.  This was the situation with a man whom God had anointed King?  No wonder he could wonder if anyone cared for his soul.  But there were were at least three that loved him.  We aren’t told their names but we are told what they did.  These three risked their lives to get David a refreshing drink from the well in Bethlehem.  This was a well David had likely enjoyed while growing up.  These three men broke through the ranks of the Philistine army to get David that drink.  His wish for this refreshing drink was their command.  Yes, they cared!

 

There was another man who cared for David.  His name was Jonathan, and he would normally have succeeded his father Saul as the next king.  But he loved David and even warned him to flee when Saul lost his mind and began trying to slay David. 

 

I Wonder

I wonder how these men who loved and defended David would have felt reading this Psalm.  NO ONE CARES FOR MY SOUL!  I suppose that there could be something about the language that I am missing.  Perhaps David was only talking about the nation and those who were defending Saul.  But I suspect, that when David was fleeing from Saul, when he was totally discouraged and depressed, he said things that he likely didn’t really mean.  He may have felt that even his friends were turning against him.  But good friends would understand.  I friend “loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17).”  What a blessing it is to have a few friends like that.  That kind of friend reflects the love of God who loved us when we didn’t love Him. 

 

Conclusion

The Lord is a friend who loves at all times.  No matter how many times we fail Him, He will not fail his friends.  And His friends are those who trust Him.  He has laid down His life for friends.   But while it is nice to know that the Lord loves us even when we do things we shouldn’t and when we speak unadvisedly, it is nice to have real friends that also reflect that Christ-like character.  If we have at least one friend like that, we need to thank the Lord for that friend.  And then we need to try to be that kind of friend to someone.

 

Meditation for the week of August 30, 2015