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JULY 2009

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What is Paradise Like?

 

Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

 

What is paradise and what is it like? Webster's dictionary says that paradise is the Garden of Eden in which Adam and Eve were placed immediately after their creation. Another of the Webster's definitions calls it a place of bliss; a region of supreme felicity or delight. Apparently, it is a Persian word having to do with delightful gardens.

When the United States won its freedom from the British Empire, I am sure that at first our country seemed like paradise. There were a lot of freedoms, the tax burden was greatly reduced and it seemed as though hard work and moving west provided great economic opportunities for many people. However, the Unites States was never paradise. We had slavery, there was ethnic pride and prejudice, capitalism with its excesses made virtual slaves out of many employees. If the legends of the "old west" are at all accurate, many people "did that which was right in their own eyes" and to an extent anarchy prevailed in many places. Most Indians who had lived here before the country was populated by Europeans certainly didn't understand the new European culture and they lost their way of life. They obviously would not have considered this new republic to be paradise.

If the Garden of Eden represents paradise, then paradise must be a place with good company because they talked with God there. It must have had good food since they could eat of the trees in the garden with one exception. It must have been a beautiful place and the temperature must have been very moderate since Adam and Eve didn't seen to need our kind of clothes even though they may have been clothed with light before eating of the forbidden fruit. Adam was responsible to "dress and keep" the garden, so he had responsibilities. Obviously, there was no sin in the Garden until Satan entered the picture and destroyed paradise.

Now heaven is generally thought of as paradise. The thief on the cross had an eleventh hour conversion and was promised paradise with the Lord. I don't know if we will need to eat there, but since the Lord ate after the resurrection (Luke 24:43), I suspect that we can eat there and the food will be delicious. I expect the temperature to be 72 degrees the year around and the humidity to be low. There will be no sin, no disease, no death, no lying or cheating or stealing. Best of all it will be a place of love because the Lord will be there. Heaven will be a place of good company, good food, and good things to see. It will be everything we look for when we go on vacation. The government will not be by the people, of the people and for the people, but instead we will have a benevolent dictator ruling paradise. His name is Jesus.

The Unites States is the best place in the present world to live, but it is no paradise. Representative government is abused by those with money. The law isn't always applied fairly to all. Taxes have become burdensome. Our land is filled with violence and with drugs and with a lack of reverence for God. But there will be a future paradise. The paradise lost because of sin is going to be regained because of Calvary. Not every one will be there, however. Only those who would enjoy the company of the Lord and of Christians and of a sinless society will be there. And, truthfully, many people do not want to be in a place like that. It will take a new nature and a new birth to enjoy this new paradise. I have to admit that I don't want to go there today, but I am looking forward to living in this paradise. The real attraction is going to be the benevolent dictator who loved us enough to die for us at Calvary.

 

Meditation for the week of July 5, 2009

Why Does Life Seem Unfair at Times?

 

Psalm 37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

 

This Psalm and Psalm 73 both deal with the question of why the righteous seem to have it so bad and the wicked seem to have it so good. The righteous are those who trust in the Lord and do good. The wicked are those who prosper by doing wrong. The wicked man does not see that he is accountable to God and disdains Him (see Psalm 10:13). However, the Psalmist in both cases realizes that at least in the short-run the wicked SEEM to be better off than the righteous.

Shouldn't a righteous God bless the good people and punish the bad people? Job's three friends assumed that is the way God works. However, Job who is righteous, suffers. So the book of Job raises the question, "Why do the good suffer while the rest get by with murder?" Job lost his wealth, his family and his health and it was not because he had sinned. God made it quite clear that he had not. But his three friends all assumed that he had because they thought Job was being punished and that God would not punish the innocent. They thought that Job just needed to confess what he had done and God would again bless him.

In Luke 16 there is a rich man who had it all his own way—until he died. There was also a beggar who had nothing in this life—until he died. Then he was carried by the angels into a place of bliss. What was the difference? The passage does not tell us but the rest of the Bible does. The rich man forgot about God in this life and the beggar trusted Him.

In Psalm 37:25 David says that he had never seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging food. I believe we can count on the Lord to take care of our basic needs just as he tells us in the sermon on the mount. If he takes care of sparrows, will he not take car of His own? But nowhere are we told that life always goes well for the righteous.

The Lord Jesus was righteous. He was innocent of any wrong doing. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He went about doing good. He even paid his taxes without complaining, yet he died a death that was filled with sorrow, reproach and pain. He died as a criminal. He is a case of the righteous suffering while the wicked prosper. Barrabas was a robber and a murderer and one who rebelled against authority. Yet he was released and the Lord was crucified. Is that justice? Was that fair?

So why do the righteous often suffer while the wicked seem to prosper? For one thing the righteous have a conscience that the wicked do not have. So they cannot do a lot of the things the wicked do.

We also forget that the Lord likes to show the angels and Satan that there are people who trust Him. It is easy to trust Him when we know what is happening and when things are going well, but real trust is seen when we are walking a path we didn't expect and experiencing a life that is not in our comfort zone. Job was witnessing to Satan that not all people worship God for what they can get out of it. Angels observe our meetings according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:10 they need to see a people who are trusting the Lord and who express it by their obedience even if they don't fully understand why they are doing what they are asked to do.

In both Psalms, when the short run view is taken, life seems unfair. When the Psalmists let go and let God work out his long run plans, things make sense. It is quite clear that those who turn their back on God will suffer for it in eternity and in some cases they suffer for it now.

So what does God want from us? He wants us to trust Him and do good even when everyone else seems to be prospering from wicked schemes. We need to realize that even if God's big plan doesn't seem to be working for us we are to trust Him. We are to do what is right whether it seems to be the right thing to do or not. God should be able to point to us just like he did Job and He should be able to say, "See there is one who will be trust me no matter what you do to him."

 

Meditation for the week of July 12, 2009

Perseverance and Endurance, How much do I Have?

 

James 5:11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

 

My ability to patiently endure trials lasts about an hour. I hate to have my teeth cleaned and I hate to have fillings placed in my teeth. But when I know that I am going to have to go to the dentist, I just remind myself that in an hour it will all be over and I will probably have survived. I remind myself that other people go through the same thing, and they have managed to survive somehow. I went to the dentist back in the early 70's to have a wisdom tooth removed. My wife said that I should go to the hospital and have it done but this fellow assured me that he could take it out in the office. How bad could it be? In an hour I figured the trial would all be over. However, when he started looking for bigger crowbars and sent the next patient home, I knew I was in trouble. He worked for two hours and left a root tip that had to be extracted over 20 years later when it began to move, but I patiently endured—for two hours.

It is one thing to persevere when you know the trial is going to be short and when you have a pretty good reason to believe that things are going to change for the better when the trial is over. But Job didn't know how long the trial was going to last and he didn't know why the trial had come. He didn't know that he would be better off at the end of the trial than he was at the beginning. Yet he patiently endured.

You might ask, "How could losing his ten children and having them replaced with ten more not seem like a great loss?" How could Job be better off at the end of the trial than he was when it started? As for everything else, the Lord said in Job 42:10, "And the LORD restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before." I believe that Job's first ten children were all "saved" in the new testament sense and went to be with the Lord when they died. Job didn't lose them since he would see them again. So even with regard to the children, the Lord gave Job twice as much. Yes, we do get glimpses of eternal blessing in the old testament.

Endurance is one of the characteristics of a true Christian. Our faith endures and produces patience even when it is tried (James 1:3). We not only worship God when everything is going well, we worship Him when things are not going well. The Lord was an example of patience and endurance when He allowed Himself to become the sacrifice that satisfied God. He did not revile when He was reviled, when He suffered He did not threaten (1 Peter 2:23). He didn't call the legions of angels that were at his disposal and destroy the world.

I am always afraid to ask God for patience or endurance because I am always afraid he might answer my prayer and send me the calamities of Job. His wife told him to curse God and die but He didn't (Job 2:9). His friends only made him more miserable because they told him he had sinned when he hadn't. Job did persevere until he again experienced the Lord's compassion and mercy.

I wonder how I would fare in similar circumstances. I pray that I don't have to find out.

 

Meditation for the week of July 19, 2009

Is God concerned about the details?

Acts 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

 

Recently I heard a preacher say that knowing Christ and the way of salvation is important but the rest is just details. The implication was that the details were not important. Other churches tell me that they preach the basics but they don't bother with doctrine because that is divisive. Others tell me that we should not major on the minors when it comes to our relationship with one another in the church. I understand that we all need to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God. At any point in time we may not understand some of the details and some of the doctrines that many consider to be the minors. However, if I understand Paul right, He is saying that if something is important to the Lord, it is important to him. He declared the whole counsel of God when he preached.

Today most of us believe that we ought to be obedient to God. However, how can we be obedient if we don't know all the counsel of God? Many preachers and churches have relegated many of the doctrines of the church to the minors. Today churches are organizations and not organisms. Separation from unbelievers when we worship is taught in the Scriptures but is not practiced in the church. Keeping the Gospel free is not practiced. We charge for many of the events where we preach the Gospel. The church tells individuals and couples to live within their means and then the church borrows money. Often people are not baptized and yet they participate in church functions as though they had taken a public stand for the Lord in baptism. Many churches do not consider the Scriptural mode of baptism to be important. I could go on and on. But of course most of these things have to do with the way we worship, not with moral issues in our personal life. However, even with the moral issues, we tend to pick and choose which doctrines are important. The whole counsel of God requires a public promise and commitment to each other on the part of couples that are living together for them to not be committing immorality. Many of our churches are accepting couples that are living together as long as they are faithful to each other within that commitment even though they have never been married either legally or scripturally. These same churches would not accept practicing homosexuals. Yet both groups are committing immorality as far as God is concerned.

Preaching the whole counsel of God is difficult. When I go to certain congregations, in order to be invited back so that I can preach God's way of salvation and so that I can help those who are young in Christ, I know better than to teach certain issues. If asked about them privately, I will explain what I believe the Scripture says. But while the Ephesians apparently were open to whole counsel of God, many of our churches today are not. I have asked the Lord how to handle this because I want to be faithful to Him and useful to my fellow Christians, but I don't want to be an autocratic dogmatic teacher. But when I see people less and less interested in the whole counsel of God, I have to wonder what is wrong. Perhaps the whole counsel of God needs to start with how to be saved. Maybe regeneration is the problem. Since God does not think like we think, the unsaved would surely not find "every word" of God to be bread from heaven (Matthew 4:4). But to the saved, we should find "every word" and every doctrine of Scripture to be important. We may disagree on the interpretation and the application of some passages of Scripture but we should never disagree on the fact that if it is in the Bible, it is important to God. Therefore, it should be important to us.

 

Meditation for the week of July 26, 2009