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MARCH 2006

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Mark 10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Following the Lord is not easy. Salvation is easy once we repent which again is not easy. God wants all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) but since not all men see their need of a Savior and since most people feel that in some way they can save themselves, they have no need to “trust” wholly in Christ to save them. Others see this need but they count the cost of trusting in the Lord, since one of those costs is to deny self and to follow Him.

The call to follow is the call for service and some wonder if they have missed that call. Peter was called from his fishing nets (Matthew 4:19), he was called when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:24) and he was called when he met the Lord after the resurrection and had to confess his failure to love the Lord as he thought he could and would (John 21:19). His call was repeated and reaffirmed, so I really don’t think we can miss our call if we want to hear it. When our parents called us as kids to do a chore, I never saw my parents give up if I didn’t respond to their first call and I suspect that the same is true of the Lord.

The individual in our story (who is called a ruler in Luke 18), apparently counted the cost and “went away” in verse 22. First, he didn’t understand Who the Lord was. He thought He was good but didn’t realize He was God. That is why the Lord asks, “Why callest thou me good?” Second, he didn’t understand that he was not good. He thought he had kept the commandments from his youth. Third, he didn’t understand the cost of following the Lord. I suspect this man thought he had something to offer the Lord since he was rich and he was a ruler. He would be a good contact that could help promote the Lord’s ministry if the Lord was into “networking”. But unfortunately, the Lord’s program requires us to die to self to live for Christ and the ruler was not willing to do this. He wanted the Lord and his current life style.

Many people plan on following the Lord when the time is right. One man wanted to follow the Lord but first he wanted to “bury his father” (Luke 9:59). I suspect that means that he wanted to take care of his father until he died and then he would have an inheritance which he could use while following the Lord. Another wanted to bid his family farewell before following the Lord (Luke 9:61). Of course, his going away party in that society would likely have provided him with some needed gifts to allow him to serve the Lord. And it would also have given his family the opportunity to talk him out of such a drastic move. I doubt that the time was ever right for these two.

Peter said they had left all and had followed Him (Mark 10:28). The Lord makes it clear that there will be blessing in this present time and blessing for eternity when we do that. Unfortunately, we have to take up our crosses and follow him before we get the blessing. We don’t get the blessing and then take up our crosses and follow him.

I have often wondered if I am really following the Lord or am I in my religious self-righteous way just doing that which makes sense to me and pleases me? Have I just converted my worldly plans to religious ones or have I really been willing to deny self in order to serve the Lord? Does my life consist of my plans and my goals? Or do I live by faith, not knowing where that is going to take me (Hebrews 11:8) even though I know Who will be leading me on the trip?

Meditation for the week of March 5, 2006

Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

Forgiving someone is a great release. Being forgiven is a great relief. One of the great blessings of trusting in Christ is that our sins are forgiven. Paul said in Acts 13:38-39, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

We don’t always understand the way the word forgiveness is being used. I realize that when the Lord offered forgiveness from the cross, He was really forgiving the soldiers who had nailed Him there. They accepted the offer and were saved (see Matthew 27:54). However, while the soldiers were likely in view when the Lord made this offer from the cross, it is quite clear that the same forgiveness is being offered to the whole world. Some of us weren’t even born yet, so we hadn’t sinned yet when the offer was made. Were we forgiven at the cross or were we forgiven when we accepted the offer of salvation? The answer is that we were offered forgiveness at the cross but we weren’t forgiven in the sense of being reconciled to God until we accepted God’s forgiveness.

Sometimes we use the word forgiveness to describe the offer of forgiveness. Other times we use the word to mean the reconciliation that occurs when the offer is accepted. Some people think you need to forgive people even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. They are right if we understand that we are to mentally release them and no longer try to control their behavior even if the offender refuses to accept the fact that he has done wrong. That is what Christ did in this cry from the cross.

Others teach that you only forgive those who repent and come asking for reconciliation. That is the way the word is used in Luke 17:3-4, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Providing for this forgiveness or releasing the offender should have happened before the offender says he repents. Forgiveness here would imply that both parties are reconciled each time the offender repents.

Forgiveness in the sense of reconciliation is what we receive when we are saved. It is what we need to remain in fellowship with the Lord after we are saved (see 1 John 1:9) We don‘t have to ask God to forgive us, we need to accept the forgiveness He has already provided at the cross. To ask God for forgiveness would be like asking our parents to give us a birthday gift on our birthday after they have already handed the gift to us and asked us to accept the gift.

However, truly releasing an individual who has offended us and who hasn‘t changed his behavior, does not require us to put ourselves in the position of being hurt again. A battered wife can forgive or release her husband without going back home and allowing him to batter her again. Of course, he is forgiven but not reconciled. Being cheated in a business deal does require us to forgive or release the cheater, but it doesn’t require us to continue doing business with the individual if he has not recognized his wrong, changed his behavior and been reconciled to those cheated. The Lord was only crucified once. Offering forgiveness does not require us to be crucified more than once either.

Truly forgiven people will suffer everlasting punishment because they would not repent and accept the righteous forgiveness offered to them at the cross. But no one who has been reconciled to God by accepting that forgiveness will ever perish. I am glad that I can look back to a day when I accepted the forgiveness offered at the cross, and on that day I was reconciled to God.

 

Meditation for the week of March 12, 2006

Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.

Joshua 24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Why is it so hard to make the right decision when the right decision and the Spiritual blessing associated with it is so obvious? In Deuteronomy, Moses not only reviews the law for a new generation about to enter the promised land, but he reviews the miraculous history of the children of Israel who were led from Egypt to Canaan. Anyone with any smarts would realize that worshipping Jehovah was the only way to go. Yet, Moses declares that the nation would one day turn away from Jehovah and be scattered among the nations. They did and they were.

When Joshua comes to the end of a victorious life as the leader who brings the children of Israel into the promised land, he reminds the children of Israel of their need to make a decision that should have been self-evident. He and his house were going to go serve Jehovah, but while the nation of Israel through their leadership said they were going to follow the Lord, under the judges, they constantly turned away. Eventually, God would then raise up a man or judge who would bring them back.

I am a firm believer in the fact that we are all able to make right decisions. This is called free will. I believe that everyone who ends up separated from God for eternity will have only themselves to blame. However, having said that, I also believe that our natures are such that we tend to make illogical decisions that are wrong. It is always easy to make the wrong choice and it takes discipline to make the right choice.

Worshipping the living and true God has never been as much fun as worshipping in some of the sensual ways that the world offers. Worshipping God requires discipline and self-sacrifice or self-denial. Worshipping God requires us to consider eternity more important than time. I believe that left to ourselves, because we are born with the desire to sin, we would all turn away from God. But God does not leave us alone and manifests Himself to us through creation (Psalm 19) and through our consciences (Romans 2:15). Those who respond to Him and believe that “He Is” (Hebrews 11:6), have God send them His clear message about Christ just as He did to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. His message has gone out into all the earth and to the ends of the world according to Romans 10:18. I didn’t say that--God did, but I believe it. So while making the right decision is difficult and is not natural, when the Spirit of God convicts us of sin and of the truth of salvation through the Word of God, it is possible for each of us to respond properly to the work of the Spirit. It is possible to trust in the truth that Christ died for our sins and to know that we have been delivered from eternal destruction. And once we have been delivered, it is possible for us to worship God in a right way. But it is also easy to move away from the pure unadulterated worship of the Lord Jesus Christ our God.

Are we making the right and obvious decisions when it comes to our relationship with God? Blessing and cursing as well as life ad death are the options before us. That means that making right decisions is rather important.

 

Meditation for the week of March 19, 2006

Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Psalm 119:68 Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes.

Philippians 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.

God is good, we believe that. God is also all powerful, we believe that. However, most of us have wondered at some point in our lives why an all powerful God allows the suffering and tragedy that seems so common place in life. I recently had an acquaintance approach me and tell me that he was thinking about not going to “church” anymore because he was convinced that the people who suffered through hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters were as good and as God fearing as the rest of us. He wanted to know what God had against those people. I felt he was “baiting” me and I didn’t even try to answer his question. I wish I had told him, though, that if God is that ornery, he really shouldn’t get on His bad side.

That God exists is self-evident in my opinion. Understanding that God is good requires us to recognize that we don’t always know what God is doing. That was the case with Joseph in Genesis 50:20. Neither do we really understand death. We assume that death is a great calamity, but Paul says that for a Christian to die is “far better” than living in this life. Death is a deliverance from sorrow and suffering for those who are truly trusting in the Lord Jesus.

So why does an all powerful God allow sickness and suffering? The pat answer is that we learn through suffering and that God will bring good out of the difficult circumstances. While that is true, could not an all powerful God have accomplished that same good without the suffering? The only answer that makes sense to me is that God can do anything, but that there are some things He chooses not to do. He could take people to heaven without being born again, but He doesn‘t. He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), yet because He will not force people to believe in Him. He cannot keep people from perishing that reject His Son. God, who can do anything, did not keep Adam and Eve from sinning even though He did not cause them to sin. Satan did. However, the all powerful God, would not force Adam and Eve to do right and as a result they had opportunity to do wrong. I believe that God’s attributes are balanced and that His righteousness requires Him to limit his own power. Once sin came into world, the principles of suffering and death because of sin were put into motion. God could do away with those principles, but He chooses not to. However, He will show His goodness by grieving with those who suffer just as He did when Lazarus died in John 11:33-36.

When bad things happen, we often blame God when we should blame Satan. Other times we blame God when we are just suffering the consequences of our own bad choices. We know that if we lie, people will not trust us. If we smoke we will likely die of cancer. These things are true for those who believe in God as well as for those who don’t.

Sometimes we blame God when we should be praising Him. We might miss a plane and find out it is the one that crashed. Our children might get a terrible disease and die young; but if they die before they can reject Christ, they will be in heaven. And it may be that the children would have rebelled against God if they had grown to maturity. We who understand that the cross of Christ was a terrible event that God has used to save us just have to believe that what God allows in our lives is for our good. We may not fully understand the ways and thinking of God, but we have to have faith in the truth that God is good and that He does good. If we lose our confidence in the fact that God is good, in my opinion life becomes depressing, without meaning, and pointless.

Meditation for the week of March 26, 2006