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OCTOBER 2015

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How do we Keep the Unity of the Spirit?

Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Saints, Slaves, Prisoners

Christians are called saints or holy ones. We are those specially set apart by God to represent Him here in this world. We are also called slaves. Before we were saved we were slaves to sin and after we are saved we are slaves to righteousness or God according to Romans 6: 17-23. But Paul was something that very few of us are. He was a prisoner of the Lord.

When Paul was making his last trip to Jerusalem, prophets told him not to go because he would be imprisoned. He knew that they were right about his being imprisoned, but they were wrong about whether he should go. He knew he would be imprisoned, but that ultimately he would be carrying the Gospel to Rome and even to Nero because of his captivity. Men meant it for evil, but God meant it for good just as Joseph told his brothers after his imprisonments (See Genesis 50:20).

As a result of his imprisonments, he also had time to write letters that are benefiting us today. It is possible that these letters would never have been written apart from his imprisonments. Paul took his imprisonments as opportunities not as obstacles. While men put him in jail, he considered Himself to be a prisoner of the Lord, not a prisoner of the Romans.

What was Paul's Concern?

We know we are saved by grace and not by works. Ephesians 2 makes it clear that we who are saved have nothing to boast about. Yet, the saved do represent the Lord on this earth and we are told that men will know we are disciples by our love (John 13:35). While we are not saved by our works, true salvation is a new birth that should work a change in us. That major change is love. Since Cain and Abel it has been easy to hate and to kill and destroy. But the Lord wants his people to be different. He wants us to love one another. He wants us to be unified since that is the work of the Spirit. Satan divides and conquers. The Lord saves and unifies. Satan wants others to die for us that we might have some kind of peace through intimidating power as seen in our international wars and gang conflicts. The Lord died for us in order to change all that. I realize that only true disciples can really appreciate this command to love one another, but do those of us who claim to be disciples really exhibit this love as we ought? It should result in unity in our Christian relationships.

There are some qualities that we need to accomplish this. They are spiritual qualities. They are not representative of the way we think naturally. Those qualities are lowliness, gentleness, and long suffering. In addition, being patient with people who exasperate us is what bearing with one another in love probably means. If we were able to exhibit these qualities, I am sure that we would be able to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

Often when we talk about keeping the peace we do it by giving up Truth. However, I do not think that Paul wants us to give up any God-given convictions or Truth, but he does want us to be patient with those who disagree with us. We need to give people time to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.

Control of the Spirit vs Control of Christians

As Paul goes through this practical section of Ephesians, he makes it quite clear that what we say and how we say it is important. He says that each of us is to be filled by the spirit. That is we are to be like a hand puppet that is completely controlled by the hand that fills the puppet. We are no longer controlled by wine (the wrong kind of spirit), nor are we to be controlling others. We are to be controlled ourselves by the Holy Spirit which means that we are controlled by the Word of God (See Colossians 3:16).

I am personally convicted that if we grieve the Holy Spirit by the things we say and do we will never enjoy the blessings of a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. A life controlled by the Holy Spirit might land us in jail; and I for one am not ready for that so I have a ways to go to be Christ-like or even Paul-like.

The Questions that I keep Asking

I realize that there is a battle going on between the wicked spirits and us according to Ephesians 6. I keep wondering if I am fighting the right battles and the right enemy. Why are Christians known for fighting each other rather than being known by our love? Do we need to ask ourselves if we have really been "born of the Spirit?" Or have we just signed up for what we consider to be a good philosophy and a better lifestyle. To whom are we slaves? Who does have us in prison?

Meditation for the week of October 4, 2015

So They Despised Him!

1 Samuel 10:26-27 And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and valiant men went with him, whose hearts God had touched. But some rebels said, "How can this man save us?" So they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace.

Rejection 

I remember what it was like to be chosen last for teams in gym class. I remember the disdain people had for those of us who worked for our meals in the cafeteria. Everyone wants to be popular. We want to be the cheerleader everyone looks up to, the quarterback everyone envies, or the homecoming king or queen. We want to be accepted and popular. It hurts to be bullied and rejected and treated like scum. Yet, that is just what happened to Saul and that is what happened to the Lord.

But sometimes people are dead wrong about whom they want on their teams and as their friends. I remember surprising the leaders in gym class by beating some of the best athletes in my class in the 50 yard dash. I remember people wanting to be my friend in the cafeteria when they realized that my job was not busing trays and cleaning dishes but selling candy at the candy counter. I had a “professional” job where I could meet and talk to all the students as they left the cafeteria.

The Bible says that we are all like sheep, led astray by those deceived by Satan who is really our adversary. We accept those who are evil and reject those who are good because of our prejudices and because of our own desire to be accepted. We judge people based on appearance. God knows the heart.

Saul 

Saul was chosen by God to be the first King of Israel. Some say he was the people's choice, and he was the wrong choice. But my Bible says that He was God's choice. 1 Samuel 10:24 says, “And Samuel said to all the people, 'Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people?' " Now he may have been the Lord's choice because the Lord wanted to teach the people a lesson. But the people had wanted a king and now the Lord had chosen a man to be their king and some of the rebels didn't like it. After all, Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin and that tribe was almost wiped out by the other Israelite's because of the immorality in the tribe (See Judges 20 and 21). Surely, they must have thought that it would be improper for a man from Benjamin to rule over them.

 

The Lord 

The Lord Jesus was also God's choice. He was born of a virgin, born in the right place, born at the right time and with the right lineage. But He too was despised and rejected. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:5). The rebels of His day envied Him because He did have people who believed in Him and who followed Him. They couldn't argue with His miracles because they had seen them including the one where He raised Lazarus from the dead. They couldn't argue with His teaching because they knew that He knew what He was talking about. His teaching was with authority. They couldn't argue with His attitude because they had to marvel at the gracious words that proceeded out His mouth.

But He was from Nazareth, a despised city. His father was Joseph, a carpenter. He wasn't a priest according to Jewish law nor was He a Pharisee or a Sadducee. He had not joined the influential political parties nor had He gotten involved in the political strife of His day. He wasn't rich. How could this man save the children of Israel? After all they wanted a king that would fight and the Lord didn't even have an army.

The Few

 Biblically, the popular way is always the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Multitudes cried “Crucify, Crucify!” on that fateful Friday nearly 2000 years ago. They were led like sheep to the slaughter. They didn't realize that the way they were treating the Lord was the same way others would treat them and their children in the future.

But there were some whose hearts God touched and they realized that Saul was God's choice to save them from their current enemies. Likewise, there were some at the cross that realized that this Man was in fact the Messiah, the Savior of the world. This is the one who would be able to offer a just and righteous forgiveness of sins. Colossians 2:13 reminds us that Christ made us (believers) alive together with him, “having forgiven us all our trespasses.” For those of us whose hearts have been touched, Christ has forgiven us. He has born our punishment. The burden of sin is gone. We often have trouble forgiving ourselves; but the Lord, our creator, our God, has forgiven us. What a blessing!

My heart has been touched. The Lord Jesus can save us. I have trusted Him. I believe that the best present I can give Him is to thank Him for His great love wherewith He loved us (Ephesians 2:4). I have done that and I hope you have as well.

Meditation for the week of October 11, 2015

The Calling of Matthew

Luke 5:29  Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.

The Tax Collector
I identify with Matthew (also called Levi) because he was a tax collector.  As a former CPA, I know what it is like to collect taxes for a government that people resent and then to charge them to tell them what they owe.  People didn't think it was fair when I spent hours in consultation with them, in research on the tough issues, in time spent putting little numbers in the proper little boxes, and then getting charged $100.00 or less for the final product.  I understood their pain.  They didn't understand the amount of effort our convoluted tax laws require to make sure things are done appropriately. 

Publicans were hated in the Lord's days because they were Jews working for the Romans.  That was a “no, no!”  They usually collected a quota for the Romans and then often collected a little more (or maybe a lot more) for themselves.  It was no wonder that we see the term publican with the word sinner so often in the Gospels.  Prostitutes were sinners of the moral variety, publicans were sinners of the business variety.  

But the Lord saw something in Matthew and Matthew saw something in the Lord.  When the Lord called Matthew to follow, Matthew “left all” and followed Him.  His occupation changed immediately.  His call was with a cost.  When people follow the Lord today, I wonder if they have ever paid any price at all for following the Lord.  We live in a self-centered society and following the Lord is fine so long as it doesn't cost us any friends or memberships at our clubs or time spent at our other places of entertainment.  We certainly don't want our business revenues affected.  We want our needs met by our “religion”.  Matthew wanted his friends needs met and he seems to have wanted to meet the needs of the Lord because he made a feast.  The Lord was the guest of honor and Matthew's friends were invited.  Apparently, there were “religious” people there because they were critical of the company that was invited.  Matthew had invited “publicans” (his friends) and sinners.  Surely, the Lord wouldn't want to spend time with them when he could spend time with the “upper class” who could advertise and finance his ministry.  But unfortunately, the Lord didn't come to save the saved, he came to save the lost.  He didn't come to heal the well, he healed the sick.  He didn't come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (the change of mind that leads to saving faith in the Lord).  

The Change in His Occupation
Mathew was doing what most people who are newly saved or born again do.  First he left all.  He saw the futility of living for time when he could now follow the Lord who preached about eternal things.  Then he got concerned about those who were his friends and acquaintances.  Probably relatives were involved in this feast as well though I can't prove that.  He didn't preach to these people himself, but he provided a feast so that they could meet the man who had reached him.  He is like a person who comes to a gospel meeting and finds the Lord and then invites others to come and hear the message.  He is like a person who has a friend who has read the Bible with him and has introduced him to the Lord who then invites his friends to that Bible study.  

He is like a Nicodemus who came to the Lord at night and heard him.  It changed his life and in John 7 he asks those in his circle of influence, "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing (John 7:51) ?"

He is like the Samaritan woman who met the Lord at a well at high noon one day and found out that He was truly the Messiah.  We read, “The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men,  'Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ (John 4:28-29)?'"  The old standard King James Version said that she said, “Is not this the Christ?”  She was not in doubt and she wanted others to know that she was not in doubt.

Personal Application
When people truly meet the Lord and trust Him it changes them.  They don't become “religious” but they do become concerned.  They are concerned about their friends and neighbors and they are concerned about how they can best show their love to the Lord who died for them.  They don't become sinless but they do have a conscience about sin.  But I like the fact that the newly saved are usually the best and most fervent evangelists.  I sometime wish I had the same courage and zeal that I had when I was first saved.  I love the words of the hymn that says,

If I could tell Him as I know Him, my redeemer who has brightened all my say.
If I could tell how precious is His presence, I am sure that you would make Him yours today.
But I can never tell Him as I know Him, Human tongue can never tell all love divine,
I only can entreat you to accept Him.  You can know Him only when you make Him thine.


Meditation for the week of October 18, 2015

Strange, Isn't it?

John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

Heaven or Paradise

The Israelites look forward to completely possessing the promised land again. The land had ups and downs, that is, it had hills and valleys. It had the presence of the Lord as long as the children of Israel worshiped Jehovah and Him alone. It was a place of great blessing. The Christian today looks forward to being with the Lord in a place that the Lord has prepared for them. In John 14 this place is called the Father's house. For the thief on the cross who had turned to the Lord for mercy in the eleventh hour, that place was called paradise. But whether paradise and heaven are the same thing or not, they are both blessings. The unrepentant thief must have kicked himself around the block when he realized he was condemned eternally and his fellow thief had been saved to be with the Lord in paradise. He must have wondered why he allowed his pride to condemn him when the means of his salvation had been dying beside him on the middle cross. ALL he had to do was to trust Him.

Heaven on Earth

Now the USA in 2015 is not heaven on earth. It is not the kingdom of God. It is not heaven nor is it the promised land. But it comes fairly close. When we listen to all of the politicians telling us about the problems of the US and how they would cure them, we get the impression that the US is like a broken marriage that can't be repaired. One would think that we should all be forsaking the country and finding shelter in other countries. But for some reason the others come to us and except for retirees looking for a warm cheap place to retire, other countries do not build walls to keep US citizens out. Strange, isn't it?

Maybe we Really should Count our Blessings

If I could have chosen the country and the period in time in which to be born, could I have chosen a better country at a better time in history than the last seventy-two years? My answer is no. Society was violent after Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden. Cain killed his brother Abel. By Noah's time, the imagination of man's heart was evil from his youth. I suspect there were gangs, drug use, robbers, murderers, wars, exploitation and immorality on a magnitude that was greater than what we experience today. I wouldn't have wanted to live then. From Noah's day until the Lord's day, there may have been peaceful periods, but they didn't have flush toilets, hot showers (or maybe some did), automobiles, airplanes, or space travel. They didn't have television, and they didn't have smart phones. They did have disease and wars. In the dark ages, the peasants were kept in bondage to those who had money. Most people could not read or write. I wouldn't have wanted to live in any one of those periods.

The Blessing of our Current Day and of our Current Country

I was born as World War 11 was coming to a close. I have seen gang warfare and ethnic violence. But I have not seen a war fought on our soil unless a person considers the terrorism of 911 to be a war. We have not had brother fighting brother in a civil war. Our politicians may leave something to be desired, but so far they have not fought duels like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr where Hamilton was killed. Thank God, the Lord didn't see fit to have me live in those days.

I have seen the eradication of many diseases that were once feared. My sister died of whooping cough. My friends were crippled with polio. But most childhood diseases have been controlled. I have never gone hungry. I have enjoyed running water and flush toilets and automobiles. I haven't had to milk a cow but I have plenty of milk in the frig. I can call my wife from my car when I am on the road. Through the internet, I have “friends” all over the US and Canada and in Europe and Africa and SE Asia and India. My children have all gotten good educations even though I am not wealthy. They have good jobs. They have lived in a land of opportunity and plenty. I have a faithful good-looking spiritual wife.

People complain about social programs but one social program saved my life. When I turned 65, I went in for the preventative medical exams that medicare encouraged us to get. They found that the “widow-maker” artery in my heart was 90 percent blocked. I had no symptoms. But apart from medicare, I likely wouldn't be writing this today. I don't complain about the cost of medicare premiums which keep going up and up, instead I thank God for the program.

It is time to Give Thanks

I personally believe that there is a lot that is right in this country. It still allows me to preach the Gospel. It allowed the Gospel to be preached to me. It allows me to worship in a Biblical way. And of course if I want to turn my back on God, I am allowed to do that as well. Instead of being all upset about what we don't have in this country, I would like to suggest that we start thanking the Lord for what we do have. Maybe if we were thankful for our blessings maybe, just maybe, the Lord would see fit to preserve them for us. I would like to continue to live in the best country at the best time that this world has ever experienced.

Meditation for the week of October 25, 2015