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JULY 2011

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Overcoming Prejudice

 

Acts 10:33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.

Acts 11:13-14 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.'

 

I know that the angels in heaven rejoice when a person comes to Christ and trusts Him as their own personal savior. I also know that it brings great joy to those of us who preach the Gospel when we see the power of the word of God working in the hearts and lives of those to whom we preach. I was at a camp of young people recently on my birthday. I told the young people to whom I was preaching that the Lord had allowed me to do the one thing that I wanted to do most on my birthday. He had allowed me to preach the Gospel to young people whose hearts were being touched by the message.

It is always nice to be preaching to those who want to hear. That was the case when Peter was sent to preach to Cornelius, a Roman soldier in charge of one hundred men. I often ask those who want to be saved if they need to be saved. I want a clear answer before proceeding because if they don't see their need, they won't appreciate the solution. I also ask them if they want to be saved. I want a clear affirmative response because some people know that they need to be saved but they don't want to be saved. They are afraid that they will lose friends or wealth or prestige. However, God has never "forced" his salvation on any one. Finally, I ask them if they want to be saved now. If I don't get a clear immediate affirmative response, I try to figure out what the hindrance is before proceeding. In Cornelius' case, it appears that he had cleared these hurdles and was ready to hear whatever message the Lord had for him.

Some think Cornelius was already saved before Peter was sent to him because the Lord had respect for his good works. But when the Jews criticized Peter for befriending a Gentile, Peter told them that the angel Cornelius had seen said that Peter would tell him words by which he and his household would be saved. Cornelius was likely a convert of some sort to Judaism and he was religious, but he still needed to be saved.

I notice Peter's message didn't include a criticism of the Roman government nor did it include a list of the social evils of their day which were as many as the evils of our day. And yet the message brought Cornelius forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43). What the message did contain was the Gospel that Paul preached later. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He came to save and though He was crucified, the world is not done with Him. He will be judge of the living and of the dead.

What do we learn from this passage? Don't we learn that the Gospel in not a political message or a social message but rather it is a message about personal sin and personal salvation through the resurrected Lord? Don't we learn that even very good people need to be saved? We also learn that good people don't have to do bad in order to be bad enough to be saved. Don't we learn that the message isn't just for our friends and those that we think God should want to save but it is for the people that we are prejudiced against? It just might be a message for our Muslim neighbor or for our homosexual acquaintances. It might be a message for the girl who has gotten an abortion, or the fellow who drinks too much or the person who is hooked on drugs. It might also be a message for one of those people who are tagged liberals. Of course it might also be a message for those who are tagged conservative. After all, sin enslaves us all, and just because we detest certain sins doesn't make that person unworthy of the love of God. In addition, it might be a message for those in our churches who we think are all right and about whom we are not concerned. They may have "decided for Christ" or they may have "invited the Lord into their hearts." They may have "gone forward" or "prayed the sinners prayer" but perhaps they have never repented and believed.

Peter overcame his prejudices against non-jews. As a result he was used of God to see Cornelius and those who listened to the Gospel message that night saved. He was criticized by His Jewish friends for doing what the Lord told him to do. However, when he was obedient to his calling and when he got beyond his prejudices, the Lord blessed.

 

Meditation for the week of July 3, 2011

Pride, the Sin that Puffs us up!

 

(1 Corinthians 13:4) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.

 

The Corinthians had been blessed. Good preachers had led them to the Lord. They had gifted men and women in their congregation. They had great potential and they knew it. It was causing them to be puffed up with pride. This pride was leading to divisions. They were proud of their ability to tolerate grave sin in their presence. They were taking each other to the courts of law and letting unbelievers decide cases that only believers should have known about. Believers should have been deciding these cases. They were not concerned about offending others when they ate meat offered to idols. In addition, they were using their gifts in a way that was confusing rather than in a way that would build up the church. Their pride was causing the church to be divided since everyone was acting in a self-centered way rather than in a self-sacrificing way.

Pride is the crowning sin of Satan. In Isaiah 14:12-14, Lucifer or Satan declares his intentions by saying "I will" five times. The last time he says he wants to be like the Most High. In contrast when the Lord was suffering in the Garden before His crucifixion, He said, "Not my will but yours (the Father's) will be done (Luke 22:42)." Satan thinks that everyone thinks like he does and most of us do. That is why he was able to convince Eve that if she took of the forbidden fruit, she would be like God (Genesis 3:5). Satan's pride caused him to fall. Angels fell with him and he caused mankind to fall. Pride has far reaching consequences which is why it is pictured as yeast in the Bible. A little yeast will permeate the whole loaf and puff it all up. How do we control it? Just about the time that we think we have it under control we become proud of our humility and we are back to the starting gate.

I am convinced that we can't get rid of our pride by being occupied with getting rid of it. We can only get rid of it as we allow the Holy Spirit to get us occupied with the Lord and with others rather than with ourselves. Love, that word that sometimes seems to be used so cheaply, is of course the solution Love is sacrificial and is concerned about others. Pride will cause us to sacrifice others to obtain our desires and goals and is self-centered.

Pride keeps the unsaved from admitting that they need to be saved. After all, most of us start out thinking God is like man, and we think that man's way to God should be acceptable. Generally, we don't want to accept the fact that God is holy and we are sinners who are perishing. We would like to think that there is some merit in our good works and in the sacrifices we have made for the Lord. In fact, we fail to understand that God doesn't judge us for our good works but for our sin. The biggest sin is the pride that keeps us from admitting that we are but man and that God is God and that He is calling the shots.

A Christian who has been saved by the blood of the Lamb has nothing of which to be proud (Ephesians 2:9). We are just sinners saved by grace. Our lives should be characterized by humility and love and not by the anger and strife that comes from pride. When it comes to ability, the Lord says, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself (Philippians 2:3)." How can an illiterate Peter be "better" than a well educated Paul? How can a simple believer be "better" than a seminary trained and ordained clergy person? I think the idea is that, everyone has gifts and talents where they excel and we should esteem them for those spiritual abilities. There Is a sense as well, where we can get religious in our attitudes and look down on others who are not as "refined" or as "well taught" as we think we are. There is no doubt something in everyone that makes them better than us in that particular area. That is why we need each other and the support of one another.

Is there ever a place for pride? Possibly if the word is used in a right way. We are told that we should take pride in our appearance and in our work. Usually that means we are trying to be good stewards. We want to have a good reputation so we can preach the Gospel without hindrance. We should not however, become competitive as we try to do our best for the Lord. Neither should we get so occupied with doing our best that we forget that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Since most of us get "puffed up" from time to time, we need to have honest people like Paul around us to deflate us so that we can be used of the Lord.

 

Meditation for the week of July 10, 2011

It is a Fact. The Lord Lives!

 

Psalms 18:46 The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

 

King David's God was personal, living and real. He spoke to the Lord and the Lord spoke to Him. In his life and in his decisions, the LORD was as real as his friends and family. He didn't need anyone to prove to him that God existed because He knew that He did. He must have become fully aware of the LORD's presence and glory while keeping sheep and studying creation. He believed that the heavens were God's handiwork and that they reflected His glory (Psalm 19:1). God was not an abstract God, He was a very real living presence in His life.

David never saw the Lord Jesus. He did not see the back side of Jehovah as Moses had done. Yet, he enjoyed the presence of the LORD in His life. Neither have we seen the Lord Jesus, but we have a word picture describing Him in the four Gospels. We too should be enjoying the same kind of relationship with the Lord that David enjoyed . Peter reminds us, "Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)."

What could keep us from enjoying this kind of relationship? Unbelief sure would. It is the crowing sin of the sinner. Hebrews 11:6 says, "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." Over and over God says that "He is."  Not only is He the provider of life, He is Life itself (John 11:25).  Why would people who have breath that was given to them, not believe in the giver of that breath? Surely this is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Yet there is a multitude of people who believe that they just happened to happen, and that they came from nowhere and are going nowhere. They do not believe that the Lord lives!

Going through life separated from the God who created us because of sin and unbelief is like trying to swim against the current in a river. It can be done, but it is a lot easier to swim with the current. Scientists who work from the premise that there is no God, which they cannot prove, are working from a sandy foundation. They may find out things about God's creation, but they will never fully understand it's secrets. People who live their life denying that there is a God often live as though they are not constrained by what they think are the old fashioned moral principles of the Bible. However, these moral principles have been the order in every successful society whether they have been obeyed because of conscience or whether they have been written down and made a part of the laws of the land.

The real value of living the way David did though is that it gives meaning to life as well as giving real confidence in the day of death. To die and find out that God is real and that heaven and hell is real is going to be a great shock to the unbeliever. To know John 3:16 in life and to believe it, gives us a Savior to enjoy now and prepares us for a home in heaven for ever. To know John 3:16 and to reject the Son of God's love will be a painful memory that will haunt all those who end up in the eternal burnings. Those who do this will know that they could have been saved but foolishly rejected the giver of life.

I am glad that my God lives. The Lord assures His disciples in John 14:19, "Because I live, you will live also." I believe that promise also includes those of us who are saved today. I believe that it includes me.

 

Meditation for the week of July 17, 2011

Prayer, Just do it!

 

Psalms 40:1 I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.

 

Prayer is a conversation with God. We speak to Him and He speaks to us in various ways. Generally, He speaks through His Word and sometimes He speaks through others. Sometimes He speaks through dreams and visions. Sometimes He speaks through circumstances such as accident or illness or through "open doors" or "closed doors." It is a wonderful privilege to know that you and the Lord have been speaking to each other.

We should probably keep a journal of the number of times that the Lord has heard our cries. That is usually a prayer that is the result of crisis or trouble. Many of us only pray in those situations. Even unbelievers will often pray when they find themselves in real trouble and I personally believe that the Lord hears those prayers even though they are not prayers of believers.

We should probably also keep a journal of the times the Lord has heard our prayers of intercessions for others. Paul asked others to pray for Him so that he would be bold in the preaching of the Gospel (Ephesians 6:19). We should pray for the unsaved (Romans 10:1). We should pray for all men and for Kings and for all that are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We should pray for the sick (James 5:15). Prayer for others seems to be all encompassing. We won't do it if we are harboring grudges since an unforgiving spirit seems to close off our access to God (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are not talking to God we likely aren't in fellowship with Him. If we aren't in fellowship with Him, we likely haven't dealt with our grudges. Also, if we are holding grudges, it is hard to pray an effectual fervent prayer for that person. This kind of prayer seems to be a prayer that is much more devotional than the kind of prayer where we only cry for help for ourselves in a crisis.

We should probably also keep track of our prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Often it is easy to praise the Lord when we have seen a miraculous answer to prayer. It is much harder to praise Him when He seems to be allowing trial and tribulation in our lives. This is probably the kind of prayer that pleases the Lord the most.

I don't fully understand prayer. I know it can be public and corporate or private and personal. Public prayer should be short and to the point while private prayer can involve a real in depth conversation with God Often we tend to reverse that and have the long prayers in public and the short prayers in private. I don't know why I should pray for the unsaved when they are personally responsible for their own relationship with God. But I know it makes me feel better when I do pray for them. I suspect I am to pray for them so that I will be used in reaching them. Usually when the Lord moves us to pray, he often also uses the prayer to prepare us to be the answer to our prayers. This is particularly true when we are praying for the unsaved.

Sometimes we hear people say, "There is nothing more that I can do (about this problem), I will just have to pray about it." I personally find that things go a lot smoother if I pray before I find out that there is nothing I can do about a problem.

One thing I do understand is that no relationship works without communication and when I have conversations with God, it improves my confidence in Him. I get to know his heart. That is why we are admonished, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7)."

Why should we pray? Because the Lord asks us to pray. What is the benefit of prayer? Peace. We can all use that. Whether we fully understand prayer or not, let's just do it!

 

Meditation for the week of July 24, 2011

Whom are we going to Believe?

 

Matthew 25:41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

 

The meditation this week is one that has been haunting me. Is there really a place of everlasting fire? God says there is and I believe God. Who is going to go there? The devil and his angels, obviously. Those who worship the beast during the tribulation period will be sent there. The beast is a man who offers the world peace but ultimately requires them to worship him instead of God. (See Revelation 14:11, 19:20). The beast and the false prophet end up in the everlasting burnings along with Satan and those who take the mark of the beast. But the sad thing is that all those who were deceived by Satan down through the ages will be cast into this place of torment. Revelation 20:15 says, "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." The most important thing in life is to make sure that one's name is written in the book of life and it is quite clear to me that true believers in Christ are the ones whose names are written there. Luke 10:20 says, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

How long does this punishment last? The Bible says that this is everlasting punishment. Matthew 25:46 says, " And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." everlasting life lasts forever, it seems reasonable to assume that everlasting punishment lasts forever as well. This means that the dead are not burned up like tinder in this place but that they suffer here forever and ever. Revelation 14:11 says, "And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."

Since the end of the unbeliever is so terrible, most people want to explain this part of the Gospel away. This doesn't sound like good news. However, I would like to spend a few minutes meditating on why God is just and merciful and why he still sends the Devil, The Beast (a real person), the false prophet and all who have believed Satan's lies rather than the Truth of Scripture to a place of eternal conscious punishment. When we read about Satan, he was the most prominent and honored angel in heaven (Read Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19). He was apparently the Lord's trusted right hand person. But Satan was not satisfied to be second in command, he wanted to be first and he violated the Lord's trust. When a trusted friend that you have treated well treats you badly, it hurts worse than when someone you don't really know treats you badly. It becomes personal. Some divorced people understand what I am saying. David experienced this when his trusted adviser, Ahithophel turned on him. The Lord experienced this when Judas became a traitor. The Lord in heaven experienced this when Satan turned on Him. The eternal burnings were prepared for Satan and those who follow him and I understand that.

However, Calvary was prepared to save all of humanity from the condemnation of the devil. Satan is determined to have his followers and the Lord is determined to defeat Satan's purpose. So while the Lake of Fire is prepared for the devil and his angels, Calvary was prepared to save us from Satan's judgment.

Will all be saved? No. The reason that all will not be saved is that all will not believe God. They would rather be sheep going astray (Isaiah 53:6) and believe the lies of Satan. Those who go to heaven believe God and trust in the salvation provided for sinners at Calvary. Those who go to the eternal burnings believe the lies of Satan.

Yes, everlasting fire and punishment is real. Yes, God is just in sending people there who will not trust Him and be loyal to Him. Yes, Calvary was prepared so that we might escape the judgment that we deserve as sinners.

It is all a question of whom we are going to believe.

 

Meditation for the week of July 31, 2011