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I FEAR!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

fearWhen I look at my righteous achievements, I fear. When I look at my perfection, I fear.  When I look at the quality of my prayers, I fear.  When I look at my life each day, I fear.  When I think about dying, I fear.  When I think about the judgment, I fear.  Am I paranoid?  Some might think so, but “No!”  Do I have panic attacks? No. How can I possess fear and not have negative results?  How can I own those fears and be a Christian?  I am one, but my shoulders are too small to bear fear’s burden alone!

My righteous achievements?  Laughable.  My perfection?  Nonexistent.  The quality of my prayers? Dismal. My daily life? Inadequate. My death? Frightening. The judgment? Questionable.

Yet, I don’t have panic attacks nor negative results.  I haven’t been defrocked.  My shoulders remain small.  I fall so short, if measured in inches, powerful microscopes would not see me. Paul may have been “chief” but I’m second.  My cry is the same as his, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  (Romans 7:24 (NKJV).  His and my answer?  Jesus!  Jesus!  Jesus!!  What’s yours?

Without Jesus, fear would be my driver.  What can I do to pay for my sins or assist Jesus’ blood in my cleansing?  If perfection is required, failure is my companion.  Perfection was Jesus’ mission, not mine.  Belief in what He did for me is required, not “Look how much I have done for you, Jesus.”  I sin, but it drives me to the one who remits it.  If I thought my prayers paid for my forgiveness, I would be a fool.  My gospel would not be good news but one rewarded with damnation.  I don’t fear dying because I know who walks with me through that valley.  I am not afraid of judgment because I will not stand there to remind Jesus about how faithful I’ve been, but rather praise Him for how gracious He is.  I will not look at my achievements, but glory in His.  He takes away fears and gives peace! He is my focus, not me!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV).

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A COMPLETE BIBLE; A BLESSING!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

In Luke 14: 15-24 Jesus tells about a man who had a banquet but the invited guest had excuses and could not attend.  The master sent hbible-scrollis servant out to invite people off the street.  The hall was still not filled, so the master told the servant to “Go out to the highways and country roads.  Make them come.  I want my house to be full!  I tell you, none of those men whom I invited first will get a taste of my banquet!

We are introduced to the same story in Matthew 22:1-10.  However, a lot of things are added and the purpose is different from the one in Luke.  In Matthew, the secondary invited folks, if not properly dressed, are bound and thrown out.  The story ends with, “Many are invited, but few are chosen” rather than “none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

In Luke’s account the “excuses” are more detailed than in Matthew.  Luke doesn’t mention that this is a wedding party.  Matthew does.  Luke is more descriptive about who the servant invites.  In Luke the guest are compelled to come, but not so in Matthew.  In Luke the host is “a certain man” whereas in Matthew he is “a king.”  In Matthew, how one is dressed is important, but Luke says nothing about it.

The Holy Spirit inspired both Matthew and Luke.  So, why are their stories different?  Both are stories or “parables.”  Matthew is writing to a different audience than Luke.  Matthew fills in some details of Jesus’ story not covered by Luke.  Luke is writing to a Gentile readership.  Luke picks out a lesson that fits the audience he is writing to whereas Matthew uses what will best fit his readers.

Preachers are often approached after a service and told what the individual got from the sermon.  Most preachers are surprised because the point they were making is different from the point that person heard.  Sometimes an audience with different needs receives help to deal with that need from a sermon that wasn’t designed by the speaker to address it.  Sometimes a person is feeling guilty about a secret sin and imagines the preacher is exposing it, whereas the minister is totally innocent of the charges.  It is the power of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12)!

Matthew is not contradicting Luke.  Both are giving the essence of Jesus’ story, but dealing with different points from the story which fits their respective readers.  In the first century, most people would not have both Matthew’s account and Luke’s.  We have the advantage of possessing both so we may gain the lessons delivered to both audiences.

In studying Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one needs to research the parallels of each to gain all that is being said.  Our studies are enriched by this advantageous blessing.

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WHAT’S YOUR ASSURANCE?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A few Sundays ago one of our songs was, “Lord, I Need You,” written by Matt Maher in 2013.  Some of the words are:

assuranceLord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You.

As the congregation sang that song I wondered how well those words were sinking into our consciousness?  How many believe God will save them because of their righteousness, performed to co-host His?  One faith teaches that we must have more “good” works than bad ones if we are going to heaven.  In other words, you are on a “point system” and must work to produce “x” number in order to save yourself!  If that is our religious foundation, we have no business singing Matt’s song!

In discussing the righteousness of Jesus as compared to ours, an individual asked if his obedience didn’t amount to something in procuring his salvation.  Is “obedience” necessary?  Yes (2 John 1:9 NIV).  If one loves the Lord, he will willingly obey Him (John 14:15, 23; 15:10).  However, that is altogether different than saying, “My righteousness is worth __% in paying for my salvation.”  Actually, “our righteousness” is like a dirty rag, that if you touched it, you would want to immediately wash your hands (Isaiah 64:6)!

At the judgment, one will not remind Jesus about how well his works measured up to Jesus’ actions upon the cross and expectantly state, “You owe me something for what I’ve done!”  Those who do such have missed the Good News completely.  In fact, it could be another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).

If my trust in going to heaven is based upon how obedient I am, my failure to “do enough” will leave me frustrated, ridden with guilt, depressed, and with a fear that will consume me.  Why?  Because our obedience will never be sufficient to make a down payment on our sin debt.  However, I can with assurance say that Jesus is my Savior and I trust that He paid it all for me!

“Lord, I need You, oh, I need You, Every hour I need You, My one defense, my righteousness, Oh God, how I need you.”

Jesus paid it all!!  I am not capable of adding even 1%.  Jesus is not a 99% Savior.  He is my 100% Lord and Savior!  He is the one who saves, not me (Hebrews 5:1)!  I obey Him, not to make points, but because He made the points for me.  I can never repay Him.  My obedience does not supplement the full price he paid for me (1 Corinthians 6:20)!  Why do men demote what Jesus did in order to glorify what we think we’ve done?

What is your assurance built on?  You??

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IS IT IN THE GENES?

Monday, December 26, 2016

This family got up together.  The boy dressed and went to milk the cow.  The father cut and retrieved wood for the cook stove and started the fire.  The mother prepared breakfast for going-to-church-2everyone after she got the youngest child dressed.

The father fed the livestock.  The mother gathered the eggs and fed the chickens.  The boy strained the milk, separating the cream, and put the milk where it would stay cool.  Everyone finished breakfast, got the Bible, and finished getting ready to go to church.  The mule was harnessed and each member mounted it.  Snow was still on the ground, but the weather had warmed causing the yard and road to be soft and muddy.  They rode five miles to the church building in town, arriving fifteen minutes early.  The year was 1895.

The alarm goes off.  An arm manages to swings out from under the covers and hit the snooze button.  Fifteen minutes later, the scene repeats itself.  He and his wife finally drag out of bed.  He retrieves the Sunday paper and sits to read the funnies.  The wife yells at the two boys to get up, “IT’S SUNDAY”!  There is no response.  A second, third, and fourth warning is called out, each getting louder.  Grumbling is heard.  Arguments begin.  It signals that both are up!

Mom heats up some Pop-Tarts for breakfast.  Three times “Breakfast is ready” bounces off the walls before anyone appears.  There is bantering between the boys but breakfast is soon consumed.  Instructions again about it being Sunday and the boys are admonished to “quit messing around and get dressed.”  Dad is included in the instruction!  He shaves and combs his hair.  He and she get dressed.  A few more admonitions and the boys look half way decent.  It takes a few more warnings to get everyone in the family vehicle.  Off they go.  They live four block from the church building.  The speed limit is 40, but dad fudges 5 miles more.  This morning they hit all the green lights.  They arrive but parking near the entrance is taken.  Four part grumbling fills the car.  They are in the seventh row of parked cars and down about 300 feet.  All four doors open and the family exits, heading for the church entrance.  The wind is brisk and cold.  More grumbling. They are ten minutes late rather than the usual fifteen.  They congratulate themselves on being five minutes earlier!  The father is the great grandson of the youngest brother pictured on the mule.  The year is 2016.

The wife sees that picture every Sunday and wonders if their ride was on a mule rather than in a Ford Bronco, would they arrive at church fifteen minutes early?

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That They May Do it With Joy” (Hebrews 13:17).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Do It With JoyWhen Paul wrote to Timothy he gave him the qualifications for a bishop or overseer.  The first one was, “He desires a good work.”  If you’ve ever served as a bishop, overseer, or elder you might think Paul should have said, “He desires a headache”!  Frustration is often the results of that cranial illness.

Paul gave two lists of qualifications, one to Timothy and the other to Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  They are not identical although Paul wrote them about the same time. Titus’ list does not include “desires a good work” nor “not a novice.”  Timothy doesn’t include the expression “faithful children.”  Timothy’s list has three more than the one received by Titus.  Today we harmonized by putting both together.  Yet, when Paul wrote, neither Timothy nor Titus received a “P. S.,” saying “put your two list together to get the complete qualifications.”

Once a man is ordained as an elder, he may find himself doing more work as a deacon rather than as an overseer (1 Timothy 3:8-13).  Some become an elder because they have an agenda to put in place which either works or creates disappointment or a problem.  In an eldership some are leaders and some are followers.  Some learn that one elder does not make an eldership.  Sometimes preachers go to work with a congregation intent on “improving” or dismissing the eldership.  Some come and most go.  Some preachers serve as elders.  Some good, some not.  Some members believe an eldership will always make decisions which they like.  Some are ready to bolt when they don’t.

Since the Bible says “Whose faith follow . . .” (Hebrews 13:7) and “Obey them . . .” (Hebrews 13:17), some believe any rule given by the eldership comes straight from heaven.  Refuse to follow it and you are refusing to follow God!  If members rebel, an eldership is obligated to withdraw from them until they show repentance.  This seldom happens.  Disgruntled members simply leave to follow another eldership or create one of their own.

The “faith” an eldership follows, which all must “obey” is God’s word.  The headaches begin when there is more than one interpretation being offered on a subject.  There is also judgment involved in the best way to do something that is needed.  Not everyone is on the same page or using the same time schedule.  Some feel that “yesterday” wasn’t soon enough for a decision and action to take place.  If an eldership is thinking “tomorrow,” a conflict arises.  Sometimes a member may believe his judgment exceeds those of the men serving as elders.  He wants to dethrone an eldership and rule in their place.

Some decisions are matters of expediency meaning human opinion.  Elders are finite individuals and susceptible to mistakes like anyone else.  Sometimes they choose door number 1 when 3 would have been better.  Some decisions are based upon changing a tradition which some defend as a “thus saith the Lord.”  Paul told Titus to ordain men who would stop the mouths of some and rebuke them sharply (1:11, 13).  That’s not always easy and may produce unfavorable results.  However, sometimes muddy paths lead to higher ground.

Elders spend long hours making difficult decisions which some will not appreciate.  They spend hours in prayer for the membership and work of the congregation.  They give up their time with family to counsel with others and shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28).    This separates them from their spouse and family.  Elders are criticized, unappreciated, “under paid,” misunderstood, maligned, treated unfairly, and even condemned.  Yet, most serve with dignity, honesty, sincerity, lovingly, and devoutly.  Their love for the Lord may be questioned by a few, but it is demonstrated to the rest by the service they give!

Thank you elders!

WHICH TO JOIN?

Monday, April 24, 2017

And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple(Acts 9:26).

PerfectionBy the early 40’s Gentiles were being added to the saved (Acts 10:34-35).  When Paul, Barnabas, and company went on their first evangelistic tour, they converted both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:46).  By the sixties congregations were located around the Mediterranean Sea.  Even some in Caesar’s household were believers (Philippians 4:22).

House churches were common during those years (Acts 2:46; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2).  If you and I had lived in the first century and wanted to “place membership” (join a local body of believers), which one would you be comfortable with (Acts 9:26-27)?  Most would want to fellowship a “sound” congregation.  Why?  To do otherwise would question our faithfulness!  So, which first century assembly would we associate with to validate that soundness?  Sound saint + sound congregation = safe membership!

Some might be highly motivated to join with the disciples in Jerusalem?  After all, it was the “mother” church.  The apostles were members.  Mary, the mother of Jesus was a member.  Paul joined it (Acts 9:26).   If it was good enough for Paul, it ought to be good enough for us?  Yet, for the first ten years of their existence, uncircumcised Gentile were not welcomed unless they wanted to be made “Jewish.”  To visit in an uncircumcised Gentile’s home invited questions concerning one’s soundness (Acts 11:2-3).  Some contended that Gentile men could not be saved (be “real” Christians) until they submitted to “private” surgery (Acts 15:1-5).  An important church conference was convened in Jerusalem to discuss the matter.  However, not every member considered that forum’s decision to be scriptural (Acts 15:6-35; Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-12).   Sometimes fear motivated hypocrisy even in those who were very sound in the faith (Galatians 2:11-12)!  The Jerusalem saints continued to be zealous for the Law of Moses and continued to observe that style of worship, including the apostle Paul (Acts 21:18-26).  When Paul was with Jewish saints or sinners, he became a Jew.  When with Gentile saints or sinners, he became a Gentile.  He became weak with those who were weak (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 14).  Would we be comfortable in a membership like that?  Would we question the soundness of their temple or synagogue visits or a continuation of their zeal for Jewish worship?

If we were in Corinth, would we join in their worship and work, or decide to stay  home until they got everything right?  After all, can such a problem ridden group actually be Christian?  Even if you joined, which denominational group would you be comfortable with (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)?  True, some claimed to be  “of Christ,” but claims can be far removed from reality.  Neither Apollos, Cephas, Paul, nor Christ supported division nor the problems all those groups were involved in.  Placing membership?  How can one be “sound” in an assembly that isn’t?

What if we resided in Sardis?  Would we be excited about joining a dead church or inviting our friends to worship with us (Revelation 3:1)?  What kind of worship is engaged in by a dead congregation?  What kind of “light” does it give off or influence does it have?  Maybe Ephesus would offer a better choice?  They were not “dead” like Sardis, they had only left their“first love” (Revelation 2:4)!  “Left their first love”?  What does THAT look like?  How “sound” is that?

With all the problems found in first century assemblies, if one had to be perfect to be sound, which congregation would God honor with that epitaph?  Which one would have all the ingredients necessary to make us comfortable in our worship with them?  Wouldn’t we be the only perfect/sound individual in the middle of an imperfect/unsound congregation?  If a member in any of those first century assemblies died before they reached our vision of perfection, wouldn’t they be eternally lost?  Wouldn’t we also be lost by worshiping and working with them?  If soundness equals perfection, then the only thing we would be successful in accomplishing would be total failure!  If perfection is required and it is our responsibility to possess it, no one from Acts 2 until today have succeeded in acquired it.  So, which one would you join?  Surely, in 1,900 years, someone has been successful in finding that perfect congregation?  Perhaps we should get our eyes off self and redirect them to the perfect Jesus!

PERFECTION OR RELATIONSHIP?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

PerfectionFaith comes by hearing what is received from the word of God (Romans 10:17).  Christianity is a taught religion.  Learn error and falsehood is your reward.  Learn truth and you can develop an eternal relationship with God.  We know from Luke, Paul, and Peter’s writings that some taught a perverted “Good News” (Galatians 1:6-9; Acts 15:1-5; 2 Peter 3:15-16).  Jesus told his apostles to take heed how and what they heard (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18).  You can’t “know” unless you have been taught!

One is not a Christian because he is born into a family that follows the Good News.  Neither is he one because his spouse is a saint.  One is not a disciple because he owns a Bible, or assembles with those who have died to sin.  Those on Pentecost heard the Good News, asked what to do, were told, gladly received the word, obeyed Peter’s instruction and were added to the saved by God (Acts 2:14-41).

Some believe they “earn” their salvation by belonging to an “error free” church, and blind themselves to that failed thinking.  They talk a good game, but it ends the same as those they believe they have bested!  Rose colored glasses disappoint as a “t” or an “i” is found incomplete!  When perfection is the game, failure rewards the player with disappointment and he sidelines relationship as an unworthy goal.  Eve desired to fill her stomach with what she thought was good, her sight with what she thought was pleasant, and her mind with what she thought would make her wise.  Her deception made her a zealot desiring to share it with her husband!  Their relationship with God took a nose dive!  Such a “gospel” makes assurance illusive and eternal life impossible.  When relationship is cheapened, so is the individual who exchanges it for what is worthless.  We continue to follow Eve and Adam’s footsteps by following the wrong standard!

Some look for perfection in others, but don’t want others expecting it of them!  God doesn’t look to you for perfection, but for a relationship.  He gave His Word to die for your sins so a reconciliation of relationship could happen (John 1:1-14).  When that relationship takes place, God has made an exchange with you.  We give him our sins and He bestows upon us His righteousness.  That’s His Good News!

So, are you seeking perfection, or looking for a relationship?

LIGHT: NO DARKNESS!

Monday, April 17, 2017

No More DarknessI was immersed on May 9, 1957.  I was one happy Hawk when Harvey Pearson raised me from my watery grave.  I rejoiced with him and my insurance man, Bob Forrest, who was a close friend.  I was on top of the world until a young man about my age joined our workforce at the Main Street APCO gas station.  He was a member of the Church of Christ.  I now had someone working with me who would support me in our common faith.  I was wrong.  I didn’t know I was still dragging my feet through the quicksand of error.  He informed me that I was not actually saved.  I was lost because I did not believe and practice what he did in their assemblies!  It was a modern resurrection of the same attitude plaguing the first century church (Acts 15:1)!

Twenty-three years later I was discussing with another preacher some doctrinal positions that two known preachers disagreed over.  Since they did not agree, I asked him if one of them was lost.  Not wanting to condemn the one he disagreed with, he informed me there were two kinds of error.  One was fatal, that condemned you, the other was non-fatal that didn’t!  He said the older brother in question was guilty of non-fatal error.  I asked him to supply me with a list of the non-fatal kind.  That was thirty-seven years ago and I suppose he is still working on the list!

There may be some who don’t care whether they are eternally lost or not, but most of us shy away from that category.  We want to embrace that assurance that keeps us in right standing with God.  Yet, we know we aren’t perfect.  Oh, we may take comfort that we aren’t as bad as (you supply their names), but that only increases our uncertainty!  There are passages which have been unsettling to some Bible students and increased that uncertainty for them.

  1. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God(1 John 3:9 KJV).
  2. I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish(Luke 13:3 KJV).
  3. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth(1 John 1:5-6 KJV).

Some feel the first passage reveals that IF you are a true Christian, you will NEVER sin!  Honesty informs us that we do.  When it happens, some believe the third passage puts them back in darkness.  Since their sin puts them in darkness, they believe God cannot be in fellowship with them.  Therefore, they remain lost in that darkness, and according to the middle passage, their only escape is to repent.  When they do, they are restored back into God’s brilliant light.  They remain in that light until the next episode of darkness!  There isn’t much assurance in that system!  As one lady explained it in 1971, “Why should I exchange my assurance for your doubts?”  She had a point!

Such a belief reduces the power of Jesus’ blood by making our obedience an assistant in purchasing our salvation!  The devil has injected his outline into our belief system making us think that we help Jesus pay off our sin debt!  It fails to understand what death means when Paul said, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein(Romans 6:2).  Yes, we sin.  That’s the bad news!  The Good News is that Jesus bought us, lock, stock, and barrel, with his blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  We belong to him.  We are no longer under the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13-14).  His blood is not a one time paint job.  It is a continual coating.  All our sins are continually removed by the blood of Jesus as we walk with him.  Jesus’ blood isn’t a slow cleansing agent.  It is immediate and ceaseless.  God doesn’t see a small glimmer of darkness when we sin, He sees only red!  Red keeps the darkness away!  Continued fellowship with the Father is conditioned upon red.  Sin doesn’t have a chance unless you want the darkness to be your continual lifestyle (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:25-29).  Peter played the hypocrite and had to be reprimanded (Galatians 2:11-15).  Yet during the entire event, he remained in the red due to the grace of God which supplied Jesus’ blood!  You and I are washed in the around-the-clock cleansing of his blood.  Red is our assurance.  Salvation is sure.  It has been made possible by the cross of Jesus Christ!  You cannot buy what has already been bought!  So, rejoice (Philippians 4:4)!

FIRST OR TWENTY-FIRST?

Monday, April 10, 2017
Has a Psalm
Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NKJV).
The purpose of the assembly was to edify the participants.  If there is confusion,  edification finds poor soil to flourish.  In the first century assemblies, there were inspired individuals who brought new songs and new teaching to the saved.  Each assembly built upon the previous ones in order to encourage and support the membership.  There were new songs to be learned.  New truths to be revealed and confirmed with miraculous signs (Mark 16:20; Acts 2:43; 8:13; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
When Paul said, “each of you has a psalm” he referred to those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to teach new songs to the infant body of believers.  This was before all the conveniences and traditional things we enjoy today and take for granted.
Nothing is said about a “singing class” on Wednesday night so members could learn new songs before introducing them on Sunday morning.  Neither is anything revealed about “Sunday morning” being an improper time to learn those inspired psalms.  That is a late traditional view.  The assembly being mentioned by Paul in chapter 14:23, 26 is the same one he introduced in 11:18, 20.  Sometimes the “hand-me-downs” are not always clothing!  People have a habit of passing on their views of “proper worship decorum.”  Too often the standard followed is “what I like,” or “what I’m comfortable with” rather than a “thus saith the Lord.”  The multitude of things introduced and accepted from the second century to the twenty-first is mind boggling.
We sometimes assume that the way we do things is the way it was done in the first century.  Since four part harmony of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass is recorded as a thirteenth century practice, first century song leaders had to teach the congregation to chant the inspired songs being revealed.  Since printing presses were future inventions, the inspired song leader taught the revealed words and melody rather than reading shape notes in a song book.  He began with “solo” instructing.  The Bible is silent about these inspired song leaders getting the pitch with a tuning fork, pitch pipe, or more modern iPhone app.  If the song was revealed why not the pitch?
As one reads about the assemblies in the first century, it is amazing how absent the pages are in describing our practices which we read into them.  The statement by Paul, “has a psalm,” when interpreted by thousands of different churches today, would fill volumes.  Would this increase confusion or support edification?
Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NKJV).

The Providence of God?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Providence of GodThe word “providence” is found once in Acts 24:2. Tertullus, a Jewish orator, uses the expression to honor governor Felix.

Although the word “providence” is not used to describe God’s actions in scripture, Christians use it as though it does. This article looks at three of those views.

One group describes “the providence of God” as the heavenly Father interceding in a “miraculous” way to answer prayer or to direct history so it will fulfill His ultimate goal. This group believes that any activity on God’s part must be miraculous since He is God. They refuse to see God operating in a non-miraculous fashion. This group believes God’s miraculous providence continues until the end of time. They do not believe this miraculous intervention is equal to the miracles of walking on water, raising the dead, or feeding several thousand people, but is in that category due to its divine source.

A second group sees “providence” as an act of God setting aside His natural laws to perform a miraculous action. This group takes the position that all such “miracles” took place in the first century and ceased at the end of it. Their conclusion is that since miracles ceased, providence did too. They believe that God continues to be concerned with man’s spiritual welfare but does not involve Himself with the physical requests. The value of prayer is in asking for forgiveness and being thankful for the spiritual blessings begun “in Christ” over two thousand years ago (Ephesians 1:3). They believe God is not willing to alter his natural law by setting it aside to miraculously assist physical problems. Therefore, to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” is a waste of time! God expects us to provide our own solutions to answer our physical needs. According to this group, a scriptural prayer must be void of all physical requests. Rather than pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” we should thank God that He made us smart, strong, and intelligent enough, to take care of ourselves without His miraculous intervention. Whatever freewill, coincidence, or luck brings, it is up to us to handle it. God only observes. This group, like the first, will not accept the view that God intervenes in man’s history with a non-miraculous action.

A third group believes in God’s providence, but understands that He answers prayer by assisting with physical needs through the natural scheme of things. In other words, God works through natural law, not sidestepping it. They believe God’s providence was evident during miraculous periods when God assisted in both natural and miraculous ways.

For example, John the Baptist sees Jesus and calls him “the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples were present when he made that statement and decided to follow Jesus. Were the two disciples put there miraculously at that precise time or was it just a coincidence that Jesus passed by? Maybe coincidence was the mover rather than a non-miraculous providence? Maybe it was just luck that Jesus happened to pass by at that particular time and the two just happened to be present with John when he did? Rather than being “a God thing,” it was merely coincidence and a touch of good luck?

Judas Iscariot was ordained as an apostle. Did he have a choice or was it by miraculous predestination that he was to be the betrayer? Did he hang himself because it was predestined and he had no say in the matter, or was it all done through natural law encased in the freewill choices he made?

Pilate was afraid of Jesus and attempted to release him. Was that release thwarted by a predestined, foreordained miraculous pressure, giving him no ability to do so, or did he turn Jesus over to the Jews and wash his hands of the matter because his decision was governed by natural circumstances? In other words, God used natural events and Pilate’s freewill to fulfill His eternal plan?

Jesus himself prayed “Let this cup pass from me.” But, he also added, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 27:39). Jesus had a choice. Temptation was present. A decision was needed. Was Jesus controlled by the miraculous, or by the natural law of freewill? If it was freewill, is it possible that prophecy can be fulfilled in a natural, non-miraculous way? Wouldn’t that be “a God things”?

The third group sees things happen that causes them to rejoice, not because prayers were answered due to good luck, coincidence, or Mother Nature, but because “it was a God thing”! If others wish to attribute it to blind luck, Mother Nature, or happenstance, that is their freewill choice. The third group believes Yahweh is capable of working through natural events to answer prayer and fulfill His mission among mankind.

Is it possible for God to work His will in man’s history by following natural law rather then invoking the miraculous to bypass it? If not, then groups one and two may be closer to the truth than group three.

If providence is miraculous, then natural law is suspended in favor of the miracles that replaces it. However, why would such miracles not be equal to walking on water, feeding thousands, or raising the dead? Since the Bible does not explain providence in such limited terminology, why would the miracles of “providence” be less than those we read about? Why would “providence miracles” continue but not these others?

If providence is a miraculous act, surely there must be some passage that ties “providence” with the “miraculous” that can be cited? Since these miraculous acts are not on a par with feeding thousands, walking on water, or raising the dead, it must be a special category of miracles. If so, where is that category outlined in scripture?

The word “providence” is defined as “God’s intervention into the world.” Is the Almighty God limited so that intervention can never be through natural law? If so, what passage reveals that impossibility?

Daniel, through miraculous inspiration, revealed a dream that involved Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. Isaiah foretold of the Babylonian captivity and that Cyrus would be God’s servant in releasing the Jews to return to Palestine (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Although the revelation to Daniel was miraculous, was the fulfillment? If the fulfillment was not miraculous, but exactly as God wanted it, was it due to blind luck, circumstantial events falling into place accidentally, or was it “a God thing?”

What is your view on the “providence of God”?

EARNED OR RECEIVED?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hard Work - PerfectionWriting to the Philippian brethren, Paul stated, “I had law-righteousness.  I felt no guilt(Philippians 3:6 IEB).  Paul was referring to his being raised under the Law of Moses.  However, after rebuking Peter for his hypocrisy, Paul stated to him and other Jewish Christians, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified”  (Galatians 2:16 KJV).

In 1968 a church member asked me, “What is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament Laws?”  My reply was, “Two different covenants, each with its specific laws.”  There is more to it than that!  Paul refers to the second covenant, which is the New Testament, as “the law of faith” (Romans 3:27).  He also refers to it as “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2).  So, there is a New Testament Law.  Yet, it is drastically different from the Law of Moses.

James, referring to the Old Testament Law said, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10 NKJV).  Perfection was required, but never achieved.  Paul sums it up by saying “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).  The blood of  bulls and goats was not sufficient (Hebrews 10:4).   Only the offering of a sinless sacrifice could remit all past, present, and future sins!  This freedom is not intermittent, but continuous.  Paul shouted out the solution, “Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free” (Romans 7:24-25 TLB).  That sacrifice would eliminate each “stumble” made by the individual keeping him “free from sin.”  We are “free from sin” because we are dead to the old law by being “married to another” (Romans 7:4).

The book of Hebrews explains the differences between the two laws with the word “better.”  The letter was written to Jewish Christians who were returning to the Law of Moses for their justification rather than putting their trust in the faith of Jesus for it ( Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:25-29).  The view that one can justify himself by keeping law is foolishness.  First, one sin destroys that position.  Sin, regardless of which one committed, puts you in need of THE Savior!  The idea that you can keep law, any law, and God owes you (you buy your salvation through your law keeping actions) is “another gospel.”

If you mentally change the law of the Spirit into one where you believe you can earn your salvation, foolishness is your reward!  Some are so blinded by this concept that they believe if you disagree with them, you are rejecting obedience.  Obedience is not the problem.  This “another gospel” is by thinking anyone can be sufficient by never breaking one command.  Satan is still telling people “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:3).  The idea that my obedience puts God in the position of owing ME is hazardous to my eternal health!  It is a doctrine that glorifies the creature rather than the Creator!  Ask yourself, “Did I earn my salvation,” or “Will I accept what Jesus did for me upon the cross and be grateful for his gift of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 5:21)?

INSPIRATION AND FAITH?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Faith that WorksPaul informed the Corinthian assembly that they possessed the different miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11-14).  This allowed them to teach God’s word.  The Spirit reminded them of things which they had forgotten (John 16:26).  He revealed things concerning the future (John 14:26).  Yet inspiration did not guarantee that one would fully understand and follow what was being taught.

Peter informs his readers, “our beloved brother Paul . . . has written to you,  as also in all his epistles, . . . in which are some things hard to understand2 Peter 3:15-16 (NKJV).

Possessing the Holy Spirit did not make one a mental giant!  Although  inspired prophets and teachers were in the Corinthian assembly, division closed their minds to the truth and confusion reigned (1 Corinthians 14:40).  Paul was concerned that they might disregard his letter.  Inspiration did not always produce the results an inspired apostle or prophet desired.  Peter stated, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by HimActs 10:34-35 (NKJV), yet his fear of what Jewish brethren thought, caused him to be in conflict with the truth he had formerly mentioned (Galatians 2:11-14)!

Today, one may carry a Bible under his arm, or have a Bible app on his phone, but still keep sin in his heart.  One may claim holiness because he is “a member of the church,” but bring shame and reproach upon the name displayed on the street sign or church building.  One may proudly wear his Sunday best for four hours each week, yet live as if there is no God the rest of the time.

Some Jewish brethren portrayed Paul in a bad light even though he was an apostle of Jesus.  They had little or no respect for his apostolic authority nor the Spirit’s instruction given through him.  He even warned the Corinthian saints, “Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you.   But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power.   For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.  What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?1 Corinthians 4:18-21 (NKJV).

If folks could misunderstand the inspired words spoken by an apostle in the first century, it follows that the same thing can happen today when those who hear that inspired word, reject it.  Hearing is one thing.  Applying it is another.

My brothers, if a person claims that he has faith, but he will not serve God, what good is that kind of faith?  Can a ‘faith’ like that save him!? . . . So, faith is dead, when it is alone and will not act.” (James 2:14, 17 IEB).

COMMANDED BUT NEVER OBEYED?

Monday, March 27, 2017

DisobedienceMost Christians believe obedience to Jesus is essential to their salvation.  Yet, most of us aren’t real quick to respond to every command given by our Lord.  If we were asked, “Are you faithful in your obedience to Jesus,” most would answer “yes.”  We don’t mean to lie, but in a sense, we have!  If we wanted to justify ourselves, we could call upon Paul and the other apostles because their path is no different from ours!  Disobedience feels more comfortable when shared with our kin!

A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus replied, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22).  Have we, as followers of Jesus, done that?   Are our explanations as to why we haven’t obeyed this command, valid or flimsy?

Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away . . . If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away(Matthew 5:29-30).  Since we still have our right eye and hand, one of two possibilities is true.  Either we have never sinned or we have refused to obey this command!  Are our explanations valid or flimsy?

Peter informed Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!(Mark 10:28).  Jesus countered with, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.(Matthew 19:29).  Is that what we’ve done?  Are our explanations valid or flimsy?

Jesus also stated, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  (Matthew 5:39-42).  Do we follow his teaching to the letter?  Are our explanations valid or flimsy?

Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  (1 Timothy 4:16).

These passages illustrate that not every command from the mouth of Jesus is black and white or literal.  Sometimes an extreme illustration is used to teach a spiritual lesson.  This is when we need to know something about the culture Jesus lived in and how he is using that culture to teach a lesson.  If that is not the case, I have a “gouge” and a special bone saw to help remove that offending right eye and hand!

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