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NOVEMBER 2011

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Looking for the Blessed Hope!

 

Titus 2:13-14 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

 

What is the hope of a Christian? Paul says that those who are not "in Christ" or saved have no hope (Ephesians 2:12). They have nothing good to anticipate either in life or in death. As Christians our hope is in the Lord. We have confidence in Him and in His promise that He will return. We don't hope to be saved. We know we are saved because the Bible says that those who trust Christ are saved. But we also have hope, that is, we are anticipating a bright future. When people reject the reality of the Lord's return, then this life is all that they have. This life can be very enjoyable; however, even if this life makes us happy beyond all of our expectations, when it is over—then what? If we believe that the Lord is going to return we live in view of a better tomorrow. His coming encourages us and purifies us. What would it be like to live with "no hope?"

When is the Lord going to return? The Lord doesn't say. However, in Daniel 9, He does lay out a literal prophetic calendar for the nation of Israel. As I understand it, there are 483 years (69 weeks of years) from the commandment to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince. That time period was fulfilled to the day when the Lord rode into Jerusalem on the donkey's colt. That left one week of years unfinished. That unfinished week begins with the Jewish nation signing a peace treaty with a man of false peace. They will have rejected the true Messiah and will accept this false Messiah. When they sign that treaty, seven literal years of 360 day years called the tribulation will begin. Because Christians are saved from the wrath to come, we will be caught away before this judgment starts. That is one reason why the return of the Lord is a "blessed hope" for the Christian. At the end of the tribulation period, the nation of Israel will have a small remnant left who will confess that they crucified their Messiah. When that happens a literal physical Kingdom of God of 1000 years will begin.

I have laid out the prophetic interpretation that believes that calendars associated with Israel are literal. Thus, I believe that in the future Satan will be bound for 1000 years and the Lord will reign for that same period of time. Many teachers believe these calendars are all symbolic and that there is no literal millennium. This is called the amillennial view. This view makes the church the Kingdom of God on earth. The covenants and promises to Israel become the covenants and promises of the church. Those who advocate this approach are not looking for the rapture but many of them today are trying to make the earth a better place to live until the Lord comes on Judgment day.

I believe in a pre-millenial, pre-tribulation rapture or catching away of the Saints. At one time I would have argued that it didn't really matter which prophetic plan we advocated because those of us who are saved will be safe and secure in Christ no matter how God works this out. I could have been called a "pan" millennialist. This approach says it will all "pan" out in the end. But recently I have begun to realize how important our view of the prophetic plan is. Those who believe that the church represents the Kingdom of God on earth and that there is no literal millennium teach that Christians have a responsibility to change the culture. Many who hold this doctrine want to Christianize the world in order to prepare it for the Lord's return. This view makes Christians an earthly people who are trying to reform society.

Those who are looking for the "blessed hope" are focused on heaven and on eternity and are trying to see people saved from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4). We recognize that we have responsibilities to the Lord to live right. However, we cannot make the unsaved live right until they are convicted of their sin and they trust Christ for salvation. Pressing righteous standards on an unregenerate world makes people resent us.

Our prophetic view makes a difference in how we view our responsibilities to this world. My view is that I should preach the Gospel and save people from the coming judgments on this world. But we should never expect the world to be our friend or to be a Kingdom of God on earth until the Lord comes and sets up that Kingdom Himself.

 

Meditation for the week of November 6, 2011

God has Said!

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"

 

God speaks in at least three ways today. He speaks through creation, through our consciences and through His written Word. He has also spoken through His Son. When God speaks, the serpent makes sure he raises the question, "Has God indeed said?"

The devil is called a serpent. As the serpent, he deceives. He is a destroyer and a murderer. Sometimes he is seen as a dragon. As a dragon, he heads up a cruel, oppressive political system. He is real. Although he was created by God, he was lifted up in pride and sinned against God. Apparently he didn't want to serve the Lord, he wanted to be equal to him (Isaiah 14:14, Ezekiel 28:12-19).

Satan is called the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). He not only wants to be worshiped, he doesn't want humans who were made by God for His pleasure, to worship God. It appears to me that Satan is trying to prove to God that anything He has made can be made to turn against Him and can be destroyed. He tried to prove this with Job who was put through terrible trials so that satan could see that some people worship God and are loyal to Him no matter what.

Sometimes satan goes about like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). He is dangerous when he roars but not nearly as dangerous as when he appears to be speaking through prophets who claim to be speaking by divine inspiration. This happened to King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:22. God put a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab's prophets. Baalam also was able to defeat the children of Israel by hearing God speak to him personally and then using that information against the Lord and His people. In addition, sometimes satan is able to use the natural reasoning of man to keep people from truly worshiping the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:14, Colossians2:8).

Can we avoid being deceived by Satan? We can! But we must believe God when He speaks in His Word. I realize that there are problems with knowing what is written FOR us and what is written TO us in our Bibles. I realize that there are problems with translations. But what bothers me is that on very fundamental issues Christians are divided today. Most people that that say they are Christians do not see the plan of salvation the same. They do not see baptism the same. They do not see the prophetic plan the same. They do not see holiness or separation from the world the same. Why is that? Basically because most of us are taking our theology from popular writers whose point of view is much different from the point of view of those who are traditionalists when it comes to interpreting the Bible. However, God has only One Truth so we can all be wrong but we cannot all be right when we have differing points of view.

There is one thing I have noticed about those who have a clear testimony as to their "new birth" experience. Because they have their confidence in what God has said about salvation, they have a desire to understand and believe what God has said about the life of a true worshiper. They are not raising the question, "Has God indeed said?" Instead they are doing like King Zedekiah when he needed to know what God was saying. In Jeremiah 37:17 we read, "The king asked him secretly in his house, and said, 'Is there any word from the LORD?' And Jeremiah said, 'There is.'"

We need to be taught by the ungrieved unhindered Holy Spirit so that we know immediately when Satan is whispering, "Hath God indeed said?" We need to be simple enough to believe God when He says that He said something.

 

Meditation for the week of November 13, 2011

Grace is a Great Blessing!

 

(Hebrews 13:25) Grace be with you all. Amen.

 

The writer to the Hebrews closes his epistle by hoping that those who read the letter will be benefited by its teaching. The fundamental theme of the epistle is that Christ and His blessings are better than the blessings available under the old testament law. Apparently the writer knew that there were quite a few Jews who claimed to be followers of the Lord when they were in fact trying to be perfected by the keeping of the old testament law. Obviously, not all of his readers understood this grace that he wrote about.

The word for grace is sometimes translated favor in the Bible. Sometimes it is translated thanks, sometimes pleasure, and sometimes it is seen as a free gift. It is a spiritual blessing that comes from a loving God. All who are saved have received the grace (or gift) of eternal life according to Romans 6:23. Grace is contrasted to the law in a number of places. For example Romans 6:14 says, "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace." God's grace is available to all but has been truly received and appreciated by only a few.

This contrast between law and grace concerns the writer of the Hebrew epistle. Do his readers really understand that grace AND truth came by Jesus Christ? Do they really understand that the law cannot save, only Christ saves? Do they understand that the Lord has now placed His name with a new group of people called the church and that the ceremonies of the old testament nation are not the ceremonies of the new testament church?

While grace is seen in the old testament, that does not seem to be the predominant theme. Ruth, a Moabite, was shown favor by Boaz who is a picture of the Lord in the book of Ruth. While there are other examples of grace in the old testament, most reading the old testament would likely be more taken with the righteousness of God as seen in His judging sin than in the grace of God as seen in his providing an undeserved salvation.

I am thankful for the grace of God. Some seem to think that grace means that God has predetermined who will believe and that those who are saved have nothing to do with their own faith in Christ. This view holds that believers believe because God has chosen them to believe. However, grace does not mean that we cannot do anything to be saved. Instead, it means that we cannot do anything to DESERVE to be saved. But we can strive to enter in, we can seek, we can ask to know the truth. When the truth is presented to us, we can agree with God and believe it. However, God does predestine those who do believe in His Son to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). He chooses people for certain jobs just as He chose twelve men to be His apostles. He does predestine believers to be with Him in heaven and he predestines unbelievers to be banished to hell and ultimately the Lake of Fire forever.

One of the big contrasts between God and man is this character of grace. God's grace is undeserved and yet it is available to all and is bestowed freely on all who trust the Savior. Men show grace to those they like or to those who have in some way "earned" their favor which means that it is not true grace at all. Grace is liberating and freeing. The law and its associated religion is burdensome and captivating. We who live this side of the cross and who have benefited by faith in the grace of God are indeed a blessed people. We are loved, we are saved, we are freed from the bondage of sin, we have a glorious future that we do not deserve waiting for us "on the other side".

It is so easy to trade this precious grace for the burden of religious hypocrisy. We find it easy to trade this free gift for the obligatory works of the law. No wonder, this writer wants ALL of his readers to enjoy grace.

When we are enjoying grace, we are enjoying the Lord.

 

Meditation for the week of November 20, 2011

Reasons to Rejoice and be Thankful!

 

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15-16

 

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. I trusted in the Savior on November 24, 1963. President Kennedy had been assassinated on the 22nd and that cataclysmic event made me realize that if there was anything to this business of being saved, I needed to get matters settled with God. If there wasn't anything to this business of being saved, I needed to forget about it and get on with life. Thankfully, when I finally realized that I couldn't figure out what it meant to be saved, I found out that Christ had died 2000 years ago to save me. What a relief! I found out that I didn't need to work it out, I didn't need to figure it out, I just needed to believe God when He said Christ had died for my sins. I did believe God that Sunday afternoon and the promise that I believed in that day still gives me peace.

This Thanksgiving weekend has also been a weekend to remember. I had the joy of baptizing my granddaughter. She is young but she can clearly tell why she knows she is saved. I asked her before I baptized her if Christ had died for her sins. She said yes. I asked her who was watching besides her family and some friends. She said Jesus. I asked her if she thought the Lord Jesus was happy with what she was doing and she said yes. I believe she was right.

Baptism seems to be one of the most controversial concepts in the Bible. Some make too much of it and tell us that we cannot be saved unless we are baptized. For some that means baptizing their infants so that they will become children of God. Others think that the verse for today says that you must believe AND be baptized in order to be saved. What they fail to understand is that the verse does not say that the person who believes MUST be baptized to be saved. It simply assumes that a believer will be baptized and those who believe and are baptized are saved. The latter part of the verse is clear that the Lord condemns those who do not believe but there is no mention of condemnation for those who believe but are not baptized.

Some make too little of baptism and seem to think that it is unimportant. Baptism was important in the new testament and it is important to the Lord. We can go to heaven unbaptized but what believer would want to go to heaven unbaptized if they have the opportunity to be baptized?

The Greek word translated baptism means immersion. The baptisms in the new testament were immersions. Romans 6:4 makes it clear that baptism is a picture of a death, burial and resurrection. Thus, Scripture is teaching that all those who believe in the Lord should show it by being baptized or immersed in a watery grave. They arise from that grave just as Christ arose. We who are saved have openly confessed our willingness to be identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Baptism is important if we want to please the Lord and be obedient to Him. While baptism does not save in the sense that it makes us fit for heaven, it is an important step that helps preserve us from the corruption of this world as we walk this new life with the Lord (1 Peter 3:20-21).

My granddaughter took this important step this weekend. I believe the Lord was rejoicing. I know her family was--and so was I.

 

Meditation for the week of November 27, 2011