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OCTOBER 2010

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Treasure in Heaven

 

Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

 

We are born and about eighty years later we die. Sometimes that cycle seems futile. Solomon in Ecclesiastes calls life "vanity and a vexation of spirit." He says that and yet we would say he had it all—riches and power and wisdom and lots and lots of women. Obviously he had everything that should have made him feel fulfilled and satisfied. However, he came to the conclusion that none of this satisfied, that the purpose in life was to "Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all (Ecclesiastes 12:13)."

Fearing God and keeping his commands involves recognizing that we are accountable to Him. Fearing God means that we want to be right with God while we live so that we are ready to meet him when we die. There is nothing more important than knowing that God is pleased with us. Yet, we know that without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). I believe that having certainty about these things is what life is all about. I have found that the Lord knows we are all sinners but He loves us anyway. He has found a way to redeem us (buy us back) out of the slave market of sin so that we can be cleansed and made fit for his presence and so that we can enjoy His fellowship. The Lord Jesus died so that we can be saved from eternal conscious punishment, so we can be set apart as his special people, and so that we can have fellowship with him now on earth.

Salvation is by faith in Christ alone but there are many hindrances that keep us from putting our trust in Him. For the rich young ruler it was accumulated wealth. The Bible is clear that money is a problem for all of us. How many of us would be saved today if we had to sell what we had and give it to the poor before we could follow the Lord? This parable can be interpreted in several ways so that we make it applicable only to the rich young ruler or to those who are trusting in their riches and not to us. But wait a minute! Shouldn't we consider all Scripture to be written for us even if it isn't written to us? I am really glad that I was poor when I came to know the Lord. I didn't have a house or lands or a big savings account. I was living day to day and my income was just equaling my outgo and that was probably the happiest point in my life economically.

The Lord tells us not to lay up treasure on earth but to lay it up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Paul tells us to make sure that there is "equality" (2nd Corinthians 8:14). In Acts 2: 44-45, there was a sharing of goods as everyone had need. They held their goods "in common" not as individuals. It has been pointed out that this didn't work then and it won't work now. I wish that weren't true because it should have worked then and it should work now, but it doesn't. Why? Because while all of us who are saved, trust God when it comes to the cross, very few of us have really been able to trust Him for the things of this life.

For years, I didn't have medical insurance because I thought I should depend on the Lord and not on unbelievers and their insurance plans. Whether that was right or wrong could be argued, but when I came to the point that I was willing to buy insurance, I couldn't buy it because I couldn't afford it. What was available would not cover per-existing conditions either, so it was basically worthless. So my wife and I have just had to depend on the Lord. Isn't that a sad commentary? We have HAD to depend on the Lord. I am convinced that one could have insurance and still be depending on the Lord but for us, not having the insurance, has put that faith to the test.

We are taught today to "save for up for a rainy day." I have found that every time I do that, the Lord provides me with the rainy day. And again, I am forced to trust Him. I am so glad that the Lord understands our infirmities and loves us just the same.

I do wonder however, what the unsaved must think of the saved and their attitude toward "money". Do they see people who are motivated by the shortness of life and their desire to advance the Gospel by living for eternity rather than for time? Money motivates the unsaved and God calls them idolaters (Ephesians 5:5). I hope that is not what is motivating those of us who claim to be following Christ.

Meditation for the week of October 3, 2010

Worship, What is It?

 

Genesis 22:5 And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you."

 

Worship is hard to define, but we all know it when we see it. Some people worship actors and actresses, some worship athletes, some worship politicians and other secular leaders, some worship their professors in school, some worship doctors, some worship possessions and money; hopefully, we all worship our spouses. However, there are some who worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

Worship of the Lord is sometimes defined as singing. One who is worshiping may sing but worship is far more than singing. Some define worship as the communion supper. We certainly worship at that time, but worship is far more than taking communion. While obedience may not be associated with worldly worship, it is a fundamental part of spiritual worship. Worship has sometimes been called WORTH SHIP. It involves our love, our time, and our sacrifice. It involves loyalty, honor and praise. It can be seen by how we spend our money and time. What we talk about is a key indicator of our worship. The people or things that we worship are the focus of our lives.

If we were to look at the Bible for examples of worship, Genesis 22 would immediately come to mind. Abraham was being asked to do something that was contrary to what he had been taught pleased God, and it was contrary to the promises that he had received from God. God had never required human sacrifice before. He had told Abraham that Isaac was going to produce offspring that would number more than the stars in the skies. But now he is asked to sacrifice the life of this promised son. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham was convinced that Isaac would rise from the dead after he was sacrificed. All we know from this passage in Genesis 22, is that Abraham expected the lad to be with him after he and Isaac had "worshiped".

If we were to think of a book in the Bible that would be a manual for worship many would pick the Psalms because of the praise and thanksgiving in those songs. However, I would pick Leviticus because it tells us how to worship God. The book of Leviticus tells us about priests and tabernacles and holiness. It also tells us about sacrifices. In Leviticus 1 through 7 five offerings are described and the procedures or principles for offering them are given to us. The offerings all speak of the Lord Jesus Christ. The burnt offering is the first offering mentioned and is the one from which the others take their character. It is all for God (except for the skin which is given to the priests) and ascends to God. He says it is a sweet smelling offering. The other offerings in part are consumed by men but this one is completely consumed on the altar and men do not eat of it. Three of the offerings are sweet smelling offerings and two are associated with sin in general or specific sin.

We can never limit the concept of worship because it includes anything that is given in heartfelt devotion to God. But worship does involve giving. Men may benefit from the gifts; but just as the burnt offering was primarily for God, the gifts we give as worship are primarily for God.

I find myself wondering if we are worshiping when we start talking about spiritual things that we like, what we want, and what makes us happy. Today we all want churches that meet our needs, and to some degree they should. But true worship is when we are concerned that our lives and our churches are pleasing the Lord. If we are true worshipers, then they should be pleasing to us.

The first act of WORTH SHIP that any of us offered that pleased God was when we trusted the Lord for salvation. He gave us Himself. We gave Him our trust. Trusting the Lord was being obedient to the faith according to Paul in Romans 1:5. It is not a way of salvation that makes sense to man because man thinks he needs to pay or pray or do something to be saved when in fact faith is depending on the fact that the work of salvation is all done. Faith in Christ doesn't seem like it should be enough, but it is.

Abraham was tested and he passed the test. His test was true worship. I wonder how many of our churches are really worshiping today. I wonder how many of us individually would pass a test like this today.

Meditation for the week of October 10, 2010

If I Perish, I Perish!

 

Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."

 

These three men were faithful to God in a heathen land where they were asked to serve idols. The King was going to throw them into a burning furnace unless they bowed to his idol. They didn't bow and were thrown into the furnace, but the fire didn't harm them. When they were making their decision not to bow to the idol, they didn't know that God was going to deliver them. Even though their prayer to be delivered is not recorded, I am quite sure they prayed to that end. They did not need the Lord to answer their prayer in a positive way in order to worship Him.

Esther was put in a similar situation in the book by her name. She had been made queen by a miraculous set of circumstances. It turned out that in her kingdom of the Medes and the Persians was a man by the name of Haman who wanted to destroy Esther's uncle who was a Jew as well as all of her uncle's people. Esther had not made it known that she was a Jew when Haman was making his plans. In order for her to deliver her people she had to risk being killed by the King. She didn't know if he would allow her to approach him without being called, or if he would execute her for boldness. Ultimately, she became the miraculous means of saving her people. However when she made her decision to do what was right, she thought she might die. She says in Esther 4:16 "Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!"

We hear of people who get miraculous answers to prayer. I have had some of those in my own life. But sometimes the greatest faith has been shown by those who were willing to do God's will without a miraculous answer to prayer to encourage and guide them. Job prayed for his children and they died in a storm. He lost his health, his wealth, and his family. Yet his faith was shown by worshiping God, not because of the problems, but in spite of the problems. We read, Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:20-21)." Paul remained faithful to the Lord even though he prayed three times for a thorn in the flesh to be removed and it never was (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

When I hear those who want to encourage us telling us how prayer changes things, I say, "Amen." However, when I hear encouraging stories of miraculous answers to prayer, I also think of the widows who have lost their husbands in tragic accidents and to untimely diseases. I think of many who through no fault of their own have lost jobs in our current economy and ultimately have lost their houses and in some cases their health. I think of many who have wanted a partner for life and and a family who have not had that provided for them, even though the Lord says that those things are good and right and even normal. Those who worship the Lord when He doesn't seem to be answering their prayers in a positive way, are the real heroes of faith. Sometimes we are told that if the Lord is not answering our prayers there is "iniquity in our hearts (Psalm 66:18)." So those who are already discouraged, are encouraged to do a search for some secret sin that may be hindering their prayers. However, if we have sinned and the Lord is hindering our prayers because of it, I am quite sure we will know that without going on a "search". I think that David is really saying that he shouldn't be praying for something for which he shouldn't be praying (for iniquity or perverseness), rather than saying he shouldn't be praying unless he is sinless.

Just as we don't preach a prosperity Gospel where we tell people that when they come to the Lord they will get rich, we also shouldn't preach a prosperity Gospel in the matter of prayer. God may do things in a way that we don't understand; but if that happens, He is still God. He has still sent His Son in love to die for us and to put away our sins. He loves us even when it seems by circumstances that He doesn't. He is worth our faith, our love and our worship even if we perish—even if we are not delivered from the trying circumstances of this life.

 

Meditation for the week of October 17, 2010

Silence Can be Golden

 

Habakkuk 2:20 But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

 

We do not live in a quiet world. Most college courses in communication deal with debate, and public speaking. I am not sure that I have ever taken a course in how to be silent. There are some courses that dabble in New Age religions that would teach some sort of meditative silence, but I don't recommend those. However, "being still" is commended in Scripture. Psalm 4:4 says, "Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah."

Generally, when we are talking we are not listening and when we are listening we are not talking. Most of us are pretty good at the talking, but we are not very good at the listening. When we pray, we try to have disciplined prayer times when we talk to God; and as we read the Word of God, we listen to what God has to say through his Word. But do we have quiet times when we are neither talking nor reading but just listening? In our day of mass media and mass entertainment, we are bombarded with noise. When we are in a restaurant, we not only have the TV's on, but there is usually background music that in some cases is quite obnoxious. When I watch people study in libraries or at coffee shops, most of them have head phones on. We live in a day when people crave noise. Being quiet or silent before God so that we can be listening instead of talking is not something that we normally cultivate.

Sometimes "silence really is golden". However, when I listen to news programs, talk programs, or sports commentators, I hear people falling all over themselves to be heard. They are curt and cut off the others on the program because what they have to say is so important. Silence shows courtesy and interest in what the other person has to say. When we are silent, we are giving the other person an opportunity to teach us and we are showing respect. If we really esteemed others better than ourselves as Paul admonished the Philippians, we would do more listening and less speaking (Philippians 2:3). James reminds us to be swift to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19). In the Scripture, crowds go silent when they want to hear what someone has to say (See Acts 21:40).

I believe times of silence in the presence of God need to be cultivated. We know that all of us have problems knowing the will of God, but if we really want to know His will we need to listen to Him. We need to know His Word because He will never ask us to carry out a plan that is contrary to His Word. However, there are many areas in life where a number of choices would Scriptural, but only one choice can be pursued. The jobs we take or the houses we buy would be examples where there is no "thus saith the Lord" in the Bible. In order to know the will of God in these situations, we not only need to talk to God about the "desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4)", but we need to listen to God as He speaks to our hearts. This requires quiet time when we are listening and not speaking.

There are times when we need to be silent because we simply have nothing to say. That may be why the earth is silent in the verse we are considering. The awe of being in the presence of a holy God should cause us to refrain from speaking. We have the sin nature even if we are saved. Romans 3:19, reminds us "that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." A guilty person has nothing to say. But if we listen we will hear the assuring Word of the Lord that says that God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). God knows how to make a sinner right with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Those are Words worth hearing and believing.

Silence in the presence of another shows reverence, respect, and interest as well as showing true repentance when we have sinned. Silence allows us to listen. How many of us have experienced the joy of being silent in the presence of God and hearing Him speak to us personally? This should have happened when we trusted Him as Savior, but hopefully we have experienced the Lord speaking to us since we have passed from death unto life as well (John 5:24).

Meditation for the week of October 24, 2010

Are we Competing according to the Rules?

 

2Timothy 2:5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

 

Paul sees the Christian as an athlete competing in sports. He makes it clear however, that not only is it important to win, but the way we play the game is also important. Since the opposing team is the world and since the world is energized by Satan, we who want to compete lawfully would seem to be at a disadvantage. How are we going to win if we "turn the other cheek" when we are hit? How are we going to win if we are always exhibiting the graciousness of Christ, or if we don't strive or gossip or slander? How are we going to win if we don't cheat or lie? How are we going to be a success if we don't "take" instead of "give"?

Our commission is to make disciples of the Lord and then to immerse them in water to identify them with the resurrected Christ through a symbolic burial and resurrection. Then we are to teach them all things (that the Lord has asked us to teach them). (See Matthew 28:19-20.) We are to teach them that Christians win by losing and that they live by dying. We are to teach them that life is now going to require a daily dying to self in order to live for the One who loved us and died for us. We are to teach love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We are commanded to teach them to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). We are to teach them to be concerned about the regeneration of the individual through repenting and trusting Christ rather than in the reformation of the world through the political system or through any other type of coercion. We are to teach them that sometimes it is more important to pray than to do. How can fighting by these rules possibly win in this evil world?

Sometimes we forget how the game should be played. It is played in the world by the preaching of the Gospel, but the victory is won in the hearts of individuals. It is not done by the political process, rather it is done by the Holy Spirit as He uses the Word of God to convict and convert those who hear the truth. If Christians were able to abolish abortion and stem cell research, if we were able to ban gay marriage, if we were able to get prayer and the Bible back into the schools, if we were able to get everything that we wanted with regard to morals politically, how many people would actually end up going to heaven because of these great gains? Getting the Bible read in school might mean some children would hear the Gospel and since the Lord uses His Word to save, I could see that being helpful in advancing the kingdom. Making an unbelieving, Christ-rejecting, immoral world act moral would make society a better place to live, but it would not help any one go to heaven. If the world is reformed by force or political means, individuals will still not be broken and repentant believers. They may conform, but that won't save them and may even cause them to be hardened to the Gospel. Other religions may be able to make converts this way, but that is not the rules that we play by as Christians. Being a Christian is not a simply a matter of behaving right, it is a matter of the heart. When the heart is right, behaving right will be the result.

Doesn't it seem that when we play by the Lord's rules that we are bound to fail? Won't other religions overwhelm us and won't evil overtake us? Don't we need to change the rules in order to win this battle? It may seem that way, but the just live by faith. We walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Our kingdom is spiritual and not physical. Our hope is in eternity and not in the here and now. We need to remember that the Lord knew how to save us and that He knows the way that the battle against the world and Satan should be fought. Things are not really going to be made right in this world until the Lord comes the way He left--to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4) to set up a Kingdom where there will be true righteousness. We need to trust Him.

An apparent victory is really a loss if the Lord cannot approve what we do because we didn't stay within the lines as we ran this race.

Meditation for the week of October 31, 2010