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FEBRUARY 2005

 

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1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

 

Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Those are the words that are used in most dictionaries to define being ashamed. John warns those he loves to abide in the Lord so that they won’t be ashamed when the Lord comes. Abiding in the Lord involves keeping the Lord’s commandments (1 John 3:24). Keeping the commandments means that we guard them even when we have failed to do them. That would mean that we defend them even when we don’t understand them or when they would condemn us. The first time we actually kept the commands (in the sense of guarding them) was when we confessed that as sinners we couldn’t keep them (in the sense of doing them). When we confess our sins, we are guarding or keeping the commandments since instead of ignoring them we have allowed them to be our standard of behavior. If we violate the speed limit and are caught we can acknowledge that the speed limit is right and that we should have slowed up. That is keeping the commandment. Another option is to argue that the speed limit is unreasonable and to justify ourselves. That is not keeping the commandment. In the book of 1 John, the commands that a Christian must guard are the commands to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and to love one another (1 John 3:23). Not loving one another would be illustrated by Cain who murdered his brother and that simply cannot be the character of a Christian. One who hates or kills with premeditation is not guarding the truth that we are to love one another. This kind of person isn’t one who made a mistake and confesses that mistake, this kind of person is simply not a Christian at the time of committing such an act according to John (1 John 3:15).

Early Christians expected the Lord to return at any time. Some of the Christians at Thessalonica were so confident that the Lord was about to return that they weren’t even working. Paul told them to get back to work and if they wouldn’t work they shouldn’t eat. A lot of time has passed since then, and now there is a distinct possibility that when the Lord returns for the church, which is the first stage of His second coming, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15) will be surprised by His coming. If His coming surprises us, it may also embarrass us.

Normally, we are embarrassed when we are caught doing something that we shouldn’t be doing. But we can also be embarrassed when we are caught not doing something that we are supposed to be doing. I suspect that when the Lord returns both things are going to happen to many of us. Since almost nothing really embarrasses us today, I won‘t mention the things that we do that should embarrass us if the Lord were to come while we were doing them. However, we wouldn’t be embarrassed if the Lord were to return while we were at the Lord’s supper remembering Him. We wouldn’t be embarrassed if we were busy preaching the Gospel when He returned. We wouldn’t be embarrassed if we were on our knees praying with our families.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be profitably occupied with the Lord and His work when the trumpet sounds (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)? That would be a victorious finish to this life, and would allow us to meet the Lord with confidence rather than with shame when He comes to take us home.

Week of February 6, 2005

John 14:3-6

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

How can we know the way? Usually a person who does not know the way is either already lost or about to get lost. To avoid being lost, a person who does not know the way needs a map or a person who knows the way.

We were in Kansas City a number of years ago. After visiting friends and taking in a Bible conference, we were filling up with gas on Monday morning. One of our friends had come with us in his car to the filling station. I asked him for directions back to Interstate 35 and he wouldn’t give them to me. All he said was “follow me.” He told us that when he pulled to the side of the road, we should keep on going straight ahead and we would be on I 35. That was the easiest trip out of Kansas City I have ever made. We came to places where I would have turned but he didn’t. We came to places where I would have gone straight ahead but he turned. But I knew that he knew the way, so I trusted him and followed him. Shortly, he pulled over and we were on I 35.

In spiritual things, it is nice to have a map. We have one in our Bible. If we know where we want to go and if we know where we are, the map shows us the road in between. Most of us have trouble with the map because we believe we are starting our trip saved when in fact we are starting our trip lost so nothing makes sense to us. There is nothing wrong with the map, we just need to get our starting point located. Sometimes we need to ask questions in order to get located. Most people who ask directions, ask them of people who are as lost as they are and the directions they get are bad. There is a better way and that is to follow the Lord. Following Him requires us to trust Him since sometimes His way doesn’t seem right even though it is.

The Lord came from heaven and went to heaven. He is knowledgeable about the way. He knows we are lost and confused by nature so He says that we will have to trust Him if we are going to find our way. His path included the cross where He died for our sins. When we follow Him by faith and we end up with people disagreeing with us and even persecuting us, we assume we are on the wrong road. But the Lord says in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” The road may not look right, but if we trust the Lord and follow Him, we can’t help but be on the right road. We will be as sure of getting to heaven as I was of getting to I 35 in Kansas City. In order to follow the Lord, we have to believe that His way is the right way and the only way. We have to trust Him when He says that no one comes to the Father except by Him. By dying, He constructed the road. By giving us the Bible, He has provided a road map. By setting an example of faith when He said, “Father into thy hands I commit my Spirit (Luke 23:46),“ He has showed us what trust means. Getting to heaven is a piece of cake once we find out we are lost and come to rely fully on the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will follow Him only when we trust Him. When we follow Him, He will not lead us astray.

Week of February 13, 2005

John 15:5 I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. {without me: or, severed from me}

 

I think we need to face the fact that we do a lot of things without the Lord. We shouldn’t but we do. So what does He mean when He says, “without me ye can do nothing?” Since He is talking about a grape vine bearing fruit, obviously He is saying that a branch in the vine is unable to bear fruit when it is severed from the vine. What is the fruit in this passage? Love and joy seem to be prominent in this discourse. It would seem that one who abides in the vine, abides in the Lord’s love, which leads to loving one another, which gives us joy.

In the passage, the Lord loved sacrificially. He loved us so much that he laid down His life for His friends. Verse 17 is a command to love one another. Apparently this is not natural. But if we abide in the Lord, the result (or fruit) will be love for one another In addition, the Lord answers the prayers of those who have His Word abiding in them (v 7). Having His Word abide in us would seem to be necessary if we are to abide in Him. Does He respond positively to any prayer or is it possible, that when we have His Word abiding in us and keep His commandment (to love one another), that we will be praying for the blessing of others and that those are the prayers that He delights to answer?

Judas was a branch that did not bear fruit and he was taken away. Peter was a branch that bore fruit but that needed pruning so he could bear more fruit. The Jews thought that being connected to Israel brought blessing but the Lord makes it clear that Israel was not the vine, He was. Being connected to the Lord is what produces fruit and in this case that fruit is love for one another and the joy that results from that sacrificial love.

Oh yes, there are probably things that I can do without the Lord’s help. But love in the Scriptural sense is not one of them. That becomes obvious when we see the human race destroying one another rather than helping one another. Even Christians are constantly dividing and fighting. Right now the big issue is music, a topic that surely gets less press in the New Testament than many other important doctrines that we tend to ignore so that we can get along. Doctrines like holiness, separation, repentance, stewardship, leadership and headship are often considered “nonessential“ doctrines but music is worth “fighting for.”

Our society is plagued with murder. Our world is plagued with war. We think we can fix these things politically. But our attitudes toward one another cannot and will not change when we are severed from the vine which is Christ. It is natural to hate. It is unnatural but Christ-like to love. I am convinced that the Lord is saying, “Without me ye cannot love.“ In 1 John 4:19, we read, “We love him, because he first loved us.” Some translations go so far as to say, “We love because He first loved us.” An unsaved person is certainly not abiding in the vine (because they have never been linked to Christ by faith) but it appears from verses 3 and 4 that the Lord’s disciples and thus Christians or saved people are being told of their need to remain (continue or abide) in the vine in order to bear fruit.

When one realizes that the evidence that we are “abiding in Christ” or “abiding in the vine” is that we guard the truth that we are to love one another, it sort of makes one wonder whether he has passed the test, doesn’t it?

Week of February 20, 2005

Numbers 13:27-30 And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.

 

The Israelites were given the land, not because they were better or stronger than those other nations who lived there, but so that God could have a people through whom He could display His mercy. The original occupants had rejected the Lord. God wanted to give it to those who would appreciate it and who would appreciate Him. However, the Israelites never possessed what they had been given.

When the Israelites sent men to spy out the land, the spies realized that the land had great potential but it also had great obstacles. Ten of the spies saw the obstacles. Two of the spies saw the blessings and had confidence that the God who had given them the land was the God who would fight for them so that they could possess what was rightfully theirs.

Their are at least two applications that I see in this old testament picture of new testament truth. One is that God is offering everyone salvation through the faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Everyone has the right to be saved by virtue of being born the first time into this world. Not everyone can see beyond the obstacles to the promised blessing and so not everyone possesses what is rightfully theirs. Most of our work in preaching the Gospel is helping people overcome their problems and objections so that they can receive God’s promised blessing.

The other application has to do with those of us who claim to be saved. We have many great promises given to us from the Lord. But we have a tendency to believe that our way works better than God’s way and so we don’t really possess the spiritual land that God has provided for us in Christ. We believe that we will be more effective witnesses to the world if we are like the world instead of different from the world. Yet the Lord has told us to separate from the world and to be holy (special, clean and separated). We don’t believe that faith can still be produced by the preaching of the Gospel (Romans 10:17). So we add altar calls and sinners prayers and tell people that when they do these things they are saved. They never find out that they are saved when the Lord tells them that through His Word, not when we tell them that. We don’t believe that the Gospel is free and should be made freely available. So we charge for everything that we do “for the Lord” or at least beg those to whom we are ministering to give to the ministry--something that we never found done in the Bible. We train professionals and then hire them to be shepherds when the Lord makes it clear that a hireling cares for himself and not for the sheep (John 10:13). Then we wonder why we are defeated instead of victorious.

I personally struggle with the fact that we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Until all else fails, I have trouble following directions. That is why it seems to take three forevers to put together a new gas grill and that is why we often find ourselves wondering why life is a struggle. When God says that the land is mine, I ask, “Have you seen those giants?” When the Lord gets frustrated and says, “Ok, you can wander in the wilderness for forty years because you don‘t believe that I will fight the enemy for you,” then I say, “Ok, I will go fight those big boys,” and of course at that point, I lose the battle. Someday, maybe I will learn.

Week of February 27, 2005