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NOVEMBER 2012

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Renovating this old House

 

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:1-5)

 

The Lord tells Nicodemus, Ye MUST be born again or from above (John 3:7). The Lord, of course, is speaking of a spiritual birth, not of a natural birth. Nicodemus didn't understand the Lord at first and neither do we. But Paul seems to explain it fairly clearly to Titus. Paul tells Titus to "remind them" which indicates to me that Titus and those he ministered to were born again. But it is easy in this day and age to forget that those who claim the title of Christian do not always understand this concept which is so important.

Those who are "born again" do not always speak in tongues. We read about Nicodemus who was told that he needed to be born again on three occasions, but we never read of him speaking in tongues. We know that in the new testament, those who were "born again" after the events of Acts 2 where the church came into existence were baptized. That is they were immersed in water to reflect their own identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. But you can be baptized and not be a Christian. The early Christians put the "remembering of the Lord" in a preeminent place in their worship. But going through the form or ritual of remembering the Lord does not mean that a person is born again. A person can be very Christ-like in their attitudes and life and yet not be born again. A person who is born again has believed in or believed on or trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation from the penalty that their sins deserve. They have believed in their hearts that Christ died for them and was raised from the dead which means that this becomes the motivation and focus of their lives. This is not an academic believing about the Lord, but an intelligent believing in Him that affects the mind as well as the emotions. The person who is born again has a time past in their lives when according to Paul they were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. The person who is born again is being renewed or renovated by the Holy Spirit. The Lord wants to take people that are broken and make something useable and beautiful out of them.

The reason we need to be reminded of the things that once characterized us is because these are the qualities that by and large are exhibited by unbelievers. These things are called sin. We live in a world that practices these things, and it is easy to become like the people we are constantly around. Notice the list: 1) foolish 2) disobedient 3) deceived 4) slaves to lusts and pleasures 5) characterized by malice and envy, hating one another. But while living right is not the definition of the new birth, particularly if living right is a self-righteous way of trying to appease God in order to go to heaven, a person who is born again should be undergoing a "renovation". In Romans 12:2, Paul writes about this saying, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing (renovation) of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2)."

Christians are certainly not sinless. If that were true passages like this would not need to be written. But Christians should certainly sin less (than they did before they were saved.) We should have a conscience about sin. There are certain sins that most of us preach against and avoid like the plague. However, I notice that there are some sins that we don't say too much about, and since the rise of the internet and email we are actively involved in it. It is this matter of speaking evil about people. Some translations call it slander. Slander usually has to do with defaming a person by telling something that is not true. But would this not include defaming a person with something that we cannot prove is true? The old testament requirement for truth in a court of law was for two or three witnesses to attest to the truth. When we pass along "truth" about others, we need to remember that we are often subjected to the same standard that we set for others. That is why in Matthew 7:1-5, we are not to judge in a way that we would not want to be judged.

We also need to remember that the Lord is kind and loving. Notice that our relationship with the Lord is based on the kindness and love of God our Savior. To be kind and loving means that there are some things that we should probably leave unsaid. The old adage that something should be true, kind and necessary before we repeat it is a good principle to follow.

Slander is a moral evil, just like adultery, drunkenness, stealing, lying and murder. The easiest way to avoid being involved in a sin that is so easy to commit is to let the Lord renovate our minds. Then we need to "think" before we speak. The Lord does indwell us, and He wants to dwell in a renovated house.

 

Meditation for the week of November 4, 2012

Perfect Balance!

 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

 

The Word in this verse is the Lord. He is the way God has communicated to us in these last days (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is not only the vehicle or the words that convey a message, He is the message itself. There is power in words. Ronald Reagan was the great communicator as President because he knew how to use words when dealing with the public. During WWII, Winston Churchill was able to keep England encouraged during a very difficult period in the war by his speeches. What we say and the way we say it has a great effect on the people to whom we speak. The Lord had a great effect on His disciples, communicating to them a message of grace and truth.

What glory did the disciples see when they saw the Lord? Preachers used to tell us that one of the principles of Bible interpretation is to assume that the key to any question raised by the passage is always near the door. In other words the context of the passage will usually tell us how to interpret the passage. In this passage, I believe the word glory is used to mean the beauties of the Lord. The beauties that were seen were these two characteristics, grace and truth. They were seen in perfect balance as the Lord communicated the essence of God to us in His life here on earth.

Old testament prophets including John the Baptist were not usually characterized by grace even though God was gracious in the old testament. But the emphasis as I read the old testament is on the consequences of sin. The nation of Israel turned their back on God and they suffered for it. Jeremiah cries in Lamentations 1:12 saying, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see If there is any sorrow like my sorrow, Which has been brought on me, Which the LORD has inflicted In the day of His fierce anger." This experience is often applied to the the Lord on the cross, but it is really the cry of Jeremiah over a devastated Jerusalem. John the Baptist reminded the nation of their sin and told them to repent (turn back to Jehovah) in order to prepare for the coming of the Lord. However, in this passage, the disciples have now seen the Lord; and while He maintains the truth, He is also marked by grace.

Grace is often defined as a gift. Grace is something that is not deserved or earned. However grace is necessary when trying to maintain the truth. If a car were used as an analogy, truth is the engine. Grace is the oil that keeps the engine running smoothly. Without oil, the engine may run for a while but fairly soon it will make a lot of noise and freeze up.

We talk about children being full of mischief. Some people are full of themselves. Others are full of evil. People are full of whatever controls them. If we who are saved are being conformed to the image of the Lord (Romans 8:29), then we ought to be more and more gracious while not giving up any truth. We should be full of grace AND truth.

The Lord tells us what the truth is and what the consequences are for not believing the truth. The truth is that we are ALL sinners and that Christ died for ALL. However, ALL do not receive this truth; and the truth is that they will suffer eternally because of that. However, the Lord does not force His truth on any one. He begs, He exhorts, He reasons but He does not force people to believe in Him. I notice that grace means that He died for us instead of asking us to die for Him as a normal king would. Grace involves self-denial and self-sacrifice rather than self-centeredness because grace is concerned about the welfare of others. Grace is concerned with giving, not with getting.

Grace is a wonderful thing, particularly when we are the recipients of it. But if receiving grace is such a blessing, obviously we can bless others by being gracious ourselves. Wouldn't it be nice if, when we left this life, the sermon title for our funeral could honestly be, "He (or she) was full of grace and truth."

 

Meditation for the week of November 11, 2012

Memory, Sometimes it is nice to Lose it!

 

Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. (Malachi 3:16)

And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)

 

My mom is now 95 years old. We visited her recently and I know she will not remember that we were there. Her physical health is good. She seems to enjoy having people come to see her, but she doesn't seem to know who we are any more. While we who were raised by her grieve her loss of memory, there are some things that she has forgotten that maybe are a good thing. She likely no longer remembers the loss of a daughter that was scalded in an accident. That accident brought her to saving faith in the Lord. She likely no longer remembers the loss of a daughter that died from whooping cough. But while she may have forgotten a lot of things, the Lord has not forgotten her.

Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 2:19 that the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, the Lord knows them that are his. Many people will ask you today if you know the Lord. That is a good question, and it is really good when we can honestly say, "yes." The old testament prophets tell us that God judged the nation of Israel so that they would "know that I am the Lord." So we do need to know Him. But a better question is, "Does the Lord know you?" If He does, that is a foundation that is unshakeable. Even though my mom may forget how to quote John 3:16 and even though she may forget the circumstances associated with her coming to faith in the Lord, the Lord will never forget her because she did trust Him as a young married mom and proved it by her life when her mind was still active and sharp. The one thing the Lord will forget is the sins that she committed in her lifetime. When Christ died on the cross, He died so that all of our sins could be forgiven. None of the sins of those living today had been committed yet when the Lord died. They were all future. Yet, the blood of Christ was shed in order that all of our sins could be forgiven. For those who believe in Him and are confident that He did that for them, their sins are completely forgotten by God. Sometimes we still remember them and get depressed because of them, but the Lord is able to righteously forget them. Men may not forget them, the church family that we meet with may not forget them, our family and friends may not forget them and we ourselves may not forget them; but the Lord forgets them. He does nothing to memorialize our sins in order to bring them to remembrance.

One then might ask, "Does that mean that there are no consequences associated with sins committed after we are saved?" Of course there are. Sin will rob us of health, of friends, of wealth and of fellowship with the Lord. Our sins will never cost us our salvation, but they will cost us fellowship with the Lord. No one wants to be around someone that they have offended, particularly if they do not want to make things right with that person. So most of us who sin against God, tend to quit praying, we tend to quit reading His Word, we tend to quit associating with His people. But even then, John reminds us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. This reestablishes our fellowship with Him. He also reminds us that the blood of Jesus Christ Gods Son cleanses us from all sin (See 1 John 1:7-9). Once again, the Lord is not only able to wipe the slate clean with regard to the sin itself, but He is able to overcome the righteous consequences of those sins because of His love for us.

There are things that we should remember and there are things that we should forget. Paul forgot the things that motivated him before he was saved (Philippians 3:13). We should have a changed attitude toward what is important in life after we are saved. Paul's example makes it clear that earthly ambitions should be forgotten and that heavenly eternal matters should now be important. We should "remember the Lord" by partaking of a loaf of bread and a cup of wine with others who love the Lord. This memorializes Him and proclaims His death until He comes (See 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). But we should not memorialize the sins that God has forgotten. We should do everything we can to no longer bring them to remembrance even though Satan will do His best to make us remember them by casting his fiery darts at us (Ephesians 6:16).

Wouldn't it be nice if we could remember what God remembers and forget what He forgets? We tend to remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember. But there is a day future when we who have trusted the Lord will get this right.

 

Meditation for the week of November 18, 2012

The Problem of False Warnings!

 

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand. (Ezekiel 33:6)

 

This last week was Thanksgiving in the United States. You might ask, just what was I thankful for on Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving always reminds me that the Lord graciously enlightened me as to the truth of his promise that "whosoever believes in Him (the Lord Jesus) should not perish (John 3:16)." This happened just before Thanksgiving in 1963. President Kennedy had been assassinated and I was concerned about my future. I knew I was not ready to die in a civil uprising which I thought was a possibility because of the assassination. I was concerned about "perishing" so I earnestly sought to get right with God that weekend. I found out that God had provided for my salvation nearly 2000 years ago when Christ died at the cross. I rested on that truth and realized that no matter what the result of the Kennedy assassination was, I would be alright. Christ had promised me that He had died in my place. My sins were forgiven and my place in heaven was secure. What a relief! Yes that is something for which to be thankful.

We who preach are much like the watchman that Ezekiel writes about. We are required to be faithful about the warnings of Scripture. Much of our Gospel preaching is associated with the truth that we either turn to the Lord for eternal life or we will perish eternally. Perishing is more than just dying. It is being separated from God in a place of eternal torment for eternity. This is not popular preaching today but it is still the truth of the Bible. Everyone who hears this message has to decide for themselves whether the warnings of the Bible are true. The problem is that the Bible is misused and misinterpreted by some preachers, and their warnings are simply not true. As a result many people think that perishing for eternity is just something that will never happen to anyone.

I am thankful that not all warnings that we get in this life are true. I have a car that is very dependable. But it has a warning light that comes on sometimes. It says in bright yellow, TPMS. I think that means that the tire pressure measuring system may not be working so if a tire is low, it will not alert me to that. I usually stop at some point (not usually right away) and check my tire pressure and kick the tires. You know the routine. Sometimes the light goes out and sometimes it doesn't. But in any case, I have gotten so I ignore it. Unfortunately the same thing has happened with the warnings associated with the Gospel. There are three things that we usually warn people about. One is that death could occur at any time. Even though the Bible is clear that the young are more likely to believe God than the the old, when we are young it is easy to believe that death is not imminent. We tend to believe that death happens to others but not to us at that age, and we tend to ignore the warning that we need to be saved now because death strikes all ages.

We also try to warn people that the Lord is coming for His own after which there will be a period of seven years when God will pour out His wrath on an unbelieving world. The tribulations of that period will be so severe that a person would not want anyone to go through it. However, because some discount the warning by making these judgments allegorical rather than literal, many think the warnings are not to be taken seriously. Others have set dates for the beginnings of these judgments which are not Biblically based. Since the dates have come and gone without the Lord returning, many assume that His promise will never be fulfilled. The Lord tells us that He will come when we least expect it. Assuming that the warning is false is not wise because the Lord does keep His promises.

We also warn people that there is an opportune time to be saved. No one is saved apart from the Holy Spirit drawing them to the Savior. Some preachers would say that some people have so rejected the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that they are beyond hope. I, however, believe that anyone who is alive, still has the ability to respond to the clear teaching of Scripture that Christ died for their sins. Until a person dies, I assume that they can still be saved. But the opportune time to be saved is now.

Just because there are times when I would like to put a piece of tape over the warning light in my car so that it no longer bothers me, I hope that people do not do that with the warnings of Scripture. Even though it has been a long time since the warnings were given, and even though some have gone beyond what the Scriptures teach with the regard to the warnings, that does not mean that the warnings can be ignored. My car gives false alarms and for that I am thankful when I am driving down the road and do not want to get stopped. But the Lord does not give false alarms. Death is coming. The Lord is coming. We need to be prepared.

 

Meditation for the week of November 25, 2012