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JUNE 2011

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Making Converts by Force

 

2 Chronicles 15:13 . . . whoever would not seek the LORD God of Israel was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

 

Asa was one of Judah's good kings. He tried to get rid of idolatry in the land. He put loyalty to the Lord before his loyalty to his mother. He made mistakes late in life, but the Lord said in 2 Chronicles 14:2, "Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God."

I think he did one thing that simply does not work, however. He tried to make worshipers of the Lord by force. Since he was king and since he wanted his nation to be worshipers of Jehovah, he gave his subjects no choice. This might have made Judah a better society with less crime and God certainly gave him credit for wanting to do right, but it certainly didn't change the hearts of those in the land. Likely, many who were forced to worship "Asa's way", resented him for interfering in their private lives. I suspect he may have actually made people hate the "gospel" of that day rather than really embracing it. It is impossible to make true converts to the Lord by force.

There is a saying that goes like this "A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Asa could force his people to worship the Lord formally. He could make sure that the worship of idols was penalized by death. He could get the people to make an covenant with God that they would worship Him and only Him. But while he had the power to do all of that, he did not have the power to change hearts and minds. He could make the people of Judah conform their behavior to the worship of Jehovah. However, he couldn't actually make believers out of them. Israel and Judah, the two divisions of Israel after Solomon's death found it more to their liking to worship idols than to worship Jehovah.

Recently I was asked by a friend how a person comes to faith. He wanted to know why it is that some believe in the God of the Bible and most do not? People have given different answers to this perplexing problem down through the years. While I believe that the death of Christ is sufficient for all to be saved, and while I believe that God wants all to be saved; it is clear that whenever we preach the Gospel, some believe and some do not. No one has adequately explained to my satisfaction why that occurs.

The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). It also says, that when the Lord was lifted up (on the cross), he would draw ALL men to himself (John 12:32). That doesn't mean that everyone who is drawn comes. The Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin and of righteous and of judgment (John 16:8). I believe that conviction occurs at some point in every person's life no matter where they are born. However just because people are convicted that something Is wrong does not mean that they are willing to search for or believe the truth. We may believe we have cancer but we may not believe in the doctor who says he has the cure. Many of us are like that with the Lord who has the cure for sin.

I told my friend who asked the question about how people come to faith, that I can explain the Gospel to people, I can read the Bible to them, I can pray for them, but I can't make them believe. Asa couldn't do that and neither can I. The only person who can do that is the Lord who uses the Word of God and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ. However, even the Lord will not force people to believe if they stubbornly resist Him. The Lord knows that those who are loyal to Him are loyal from the heart. They are loyal in good times and bad. They are loyal like Job when it makes sense and when it doesn't Being a believer or a worshiper of the one true God is not an outward religion but an inward conviction that leads to a trusting relationship with the Lord. Why some believe and some do not is certainly a mystery to me. One thing I know, we can't legislate true Christianity. Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, apparently approached the people differently. He set an example himself and then sent Levites to teach the people the law. I suspect he made true converts of many of the people of Judah.

We can and should preach the Gospel knowing that some will believe and some will not. We can make people act like Christians, but they will still be lost if they haven't been convicted and converted by the power of the Holy Spirit as He uses the Word of God. Forcing people to act like Christians when they are not is not the solution for this world's problems. Preaching the Word and seeing people believe in their hearts is the solution (Romans 10:9).

 

Meditation for the week of June 5, 2011

The Joy of being Saved and Baptized!

 

Acts 8:39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

 

This official from "darkest Africa" is an example of what happens when we seek the Lord with all of our hearts. First, the Lord makes sure that the official gets his hands on a part of the Bible but not on just any part. He gets the scroll of Isaiah the prophet that so clearly speaks of the coming suffering savior. Then the Lord sends a busy evangelist to him and only him so he could understand the message of the book he was reading. When he understands the message and trusts the Lord, he immediately wants to be identified as a Christian by being baptized (or immersed) in water. This man had experienced the presence of the Lord in a most remarkable way. Because of that he believed, he was baptized and he went on his way rejoicing.

Was it the baptism that caused such joy or was it his salvation or was it both? I think it was both and those who are saved but who never get scripturally baptized miss out on the joy that comes with simple obedience to the command of the Lord to be baptized.

There are some things in our lives that we don't need to pray about, we just need to do what the Lord has commanded. We may need to pray about how to do it, but we don't need to pray about whether we should do it. Baptism for a believer is one of those things. In Acts 10: 48, Peter commanded Cornelius who had just come to faith in the Lord to be baptized. In Matthew 28:19, the commission to the Lord's disciples is threefold. They are to make disciples, baptize them and teach them all things.

The Bible teaches that faith in Christ saves. Baptism marks out a saved person in this world as belonging to Christ. It is like a ranchers brand on his cows. The rancher marks those that are his so that when they run with other cows, he still knows which ones are his. The Lord sees this mark even if men do not. A person can go to heaven without being baptized but a person should not go to heaven without being baptized. If a person had opportunity to be baptized and did not do it, what is it going to be like to meet the Lord who loved them enough to die for them? I don't think it will be easy trying to explain why they didn't love the Lord enough to be baptized for Him.

In Scripture there is only one way to be baptized and only one time to be baptized. All the examples of believer's baptism in the Bible involved people who had made a confession of faithe in the Lord Jesus. Some churches baptize infants who cannot make their own personal confession of faith. This only gives the child a false sense of security when they are old enough to believe on the Lord themselves. All the examples in Scripture involved immersion which is what the word baptism really means. So adults should be immersed In water but only after they believe. Thus, the way to be baptized is by immersion in water and the time is after a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus. In the Bible, new converts were usually baptized immediately after they were saved. They weren't asked to wait to prove themselves, they were encouraged to be baptized to prove themselves.

The joy that comes with believing in the Lord and being baptized can't be explained, it needs to be experienced. I hope everyone reading this meditation has "gone on their way rejoicing."

Meditation for the week of June 12, 2011

Whom Ye Have Crucified!

 

Acts 2:23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

Acts 2:36-37 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

 

Peter is fairly direct in his preaching of the gospel. He calls the Jews wicked. Even though the Gentiles were also guilty of the crucifixion, he is preaching to Jews and he says specifically "whom ye have crucified." Peter is holding his audience accountable though his preaching. In his case, his audience realized that what he was saying was true. Their hearts were pricked. They repented and believed the Gospel. When Stephen preached in the same way in Acts 7, they stoned him. But there was still one young man who heard Stephen's message and saw him die who was convicted or "pricked" in his heart. In Acts 9, he met the Lord on the Damascus road. His name was Paul.

Is there a difference between the way we present the Gospel today and the way they preached it in the early days of the church? I think there is. We want to "share" the Gospel. They preached it. One word that is often used for preaching is to herald the Gospel. Another word has to do with announcing good news. Both words assume that the audience has a need that only the Gospel can meet. When we talk about sharing, there is always the idea of participation on the part of the recipient. Sharing assumes that the what you are apportioning is something the recipient wants. We can share a meal, we can share our time and our money, but can we really share the Gospel? When a person is truly convicted and ready to believe in the Lord, perhaps at that point we can "share" the gospel with them. But up until they have been pricked in their hearts, we need to preach the Gospel to them.

When we "share" the Gospel, we are careful not to offend. When those in the early church preached the Gospel, people were often offended. Sometimes the preacher was stoned. Sometimes he was jailed, but there were always some that realized the truth of the Gospel being preached. When there is something wrong and people are lost because they have a religion without Christ, do we love them if we don't preach the Gospel to them? If I "share" the Gospel with them, I have to be careful not to give them the impression that I think they are unsaved and lost. When I preach the Gospel, I can be honest about people that have signed on to Christianity because they think it is a good thing verses those who have truly repented and believed. I can distinguish between the saved and the lost, between the believer and the unbeliever, between those that are going to heaven and those who are going to hell. When I preach the Gospel, I can distinguish between religion and true trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Religion is a burden, while trusting in the Lord removes burdens and frees us to serve the Lord "in newness of life (Romans 6:4)." A truly saved person's walk is marked by devotion to the Lord and serving Him is seen as a privilege, not as a burden. When we are truly trusting in the Lord, we are no longer consumed with guilt, but we are motivated by love.

Obviously, Paul "reasoned" with people to whom he preached (Acts 24:25). He often reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues. But I suspect that as he reasoned, he would have been considered to be a "Bible Banger." He didn't try to make the Gospel something that it wasn't in order to convince people to believe in it. He was honest about salvation requiring conviction of sin, an understanding of their lostness, and a turning from idols to God in order to be saved.

I wonder how many of us are being as faithful as the early preachers were when we "share" the Gospel? Do we confront the sin issues and the unbelief of our natural hearts in the same way the early preachers did? Or as we "share" the Gospel do we change it so that it will be attractive to unbelievers?

The Jews crucified their Messiah. Peter's confronting that issue was not easy or pretty. However, when those in his audience faced their sin, they were able to repent and believe. Anything less, does not show real love for the lost.

Meditation for the week of Jun 19, 2011

Wicked People!

 

Esther 7:6 And Esther said, "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!" So Haman was terrified before the king and queen.

 

Haman was wicked. The men of Sodom were wicked (Genesis 13:13). People who claim to be Christians but who persist in immorality, covetousness, worshiping idols, slander, drunkenness or extortion are called wicked in the King James Version (1 Corinthians 5:13). They are considered evil in newer versions. I have been wondering what it takes to get God to tag us "evil" or "wicked". There are a number words that are translated wicked or evil in the Bible, but in nearly every case the person is a rejecter of the Living God.

We know that we are all sinners who sin and as such we do not do good. We are unrighteous and we are ungodly (or not like God). Thank God, the Lord came to save people like us (Romans 5:6-8). But even in our unsaved state, would the ungodly and unrighteous all be considered evil? I don't think so. An ungodly person could be sinning without realizing the gravity of what they are doing. They might be mislead as to the truth. Paul seems to put himself in that category when he describes his life before salvation and says that he did what he did in ignorance and unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13).

An evil or wicked person rebels against God and knows that is what he is doing. In Psalm 10:13 we read, "Why do the wicked renounce God? He has said in his heart, "You will not require an account." A wicked person does not believe that there is a God in heaven to whom he will one day give an account. The men of Sodom practiced evil without restraint. They did not love their fellow human beings, they only wanted self-gratification Their end was to be suddenly destroyed.

Haman, the man in the verse we are considering, was a man who wanted t0 be exalted. He wanted wealth and the power that it brought. His power was tested by a man who would not bow down to him by the name of Mordecai. Mordecai is a picture of a spiritual man who will not bow down to the dictates of the "evil one" or Satan. Mordecai should have been destroyed, but miraculously he was saved by events that were beyond his control. While in this world, evil seems to triumph over good, but in this case good triumphed over evil.

What is scary, however, is the statement in 1 Corinthians 5 about evil people being those who consider themselves to be brothers or Christians. We are told not to associate (or have fellowship) with such people. In 1 Corinthians 5:8 we are told, "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." In the passage, the feast is the old testament feast of unleavened bread which speaks of the life of a Christian who has been redeemed by a passover lamb. A Christian's life should be characterized by sincerity and truth. The life of the wicked is a life of malice and wickedness. Even many unsaved people do not live like this. It is the Baalam's of this world who know the truth and who seem to know the Lord's mind but who sell the Lord and his people out that are really wicked (2 Peter 2:15). Many of us are reading their books and are joining with them in politics and business without realizing that we are not cleansing ourselves from evil. Instead we are being contaminated by it.

Are there evil people in this world? The answer is "Yes!" Are some of them claiming to be Christian leaders? The answer is "Yes!" Paul warned us to be careful that we aren't destroyed by philosophy and empty lies (Colossians 2:8). Let's be careful who we read and follow so that we don't end up practicing the evil that is being promoted by some of these very charismatic teachers.

 

Meditation for the week of June 26, 2011