Wednesday, October 7, 2020

 The next level of increasing one's grip on the Scriptures is represented by the finger labeled "Read."  Hearing the Word is beneficial, and commended, yet greater exposure to the truth requires reading the Bible.  

In Deuteronomy 17, Moses predicts that when Israel enters the land, the people will want a king over them (vv. 14, 15).  After warning them of dangerous tendencies for a king (vv. 16, 17), he gives a portrait of the ideal king they should select, characterized by obedience to God's will, learned from reading the law.  "Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.  It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes," (vv. 18, 19).

Notice the two results of reading the Word:  reverence and obedience.  Reverence (fearing the LORD) stems from an awareness of the holiness of the living God.  Consistently reading the Scriptures should come from a heart in love with its Author, as well as recognition of His unique revealing of truth.  It is His holy Word because He is holy.  Further, it is His Holy Spirit Who inspired its writers, sovereignly protected its inerrant transmission, and providentially protected its dissemination that humanity may know His nature.  

Obedience flows from the loving heart, cherishing the truth of the holy One.  Among the kings of the O.T., David is generally considered the preeminent example of a reverential and obedient monarch.  Frankly, I am more impressed with Josiah.  In II Kings 22 and 23 are recorded his qualities of character and godly intensity unparalleled among the kings of Israel.  First, he heard the Word (22:10) and tore his clothes in abject horror and repentance (v. 11).  Verse 15 alludes to the fact that he went further, and read it for himself.  In 23:1-3 he called all the people to enter into a renewed covenant to obey the book of the law.  Verses 1-23 in chapter 23 recount the astonishing thoroughness of King Josiah's destruction of idolatrous practices and structures instituted by previous kings who led the people astray.  To read the account is to be appalled at how deeply Israel had delved into Satanic worship.  

Our land, too, is in great need of such restoration, a returning to Christian reverence for the Bible, preaching of the pure Word, and the spiritual awakening only the Lord God can accomplish, according to His sovereign will.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Wielding the Word (Ephesians 6:17)

     Back in the 1950's, when Dawson Trotman founded The Navigators, he came up with the Hand diagram.  Each finger represents a means of getting a grip on the Word, progressing from the little finger's weakest strength to the opposing thumb's greatest ability to grasp the Scriptures.

    The little finger is labeled "Hear."  Romans 10:17 serves as a biblical basis: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." NASB  

If our lives are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), then we must hear the Word continually, for God has ordained that His Word is our primary tool for changing thought and behavior (sanctification). (John 17:17).  As we are exposed to the Word through hearing, the blessed Holy Spirit uses His truth to speak conviction, encouragement, confirmation, and challenge to our hearts.  We are confronted by the standard of absolute truth, and how we respond determines whether we grow, stagnate, or decline.  

One of the main avenues the Lord has provided for hearing His Word is through its declaration when His body, the church, assembles.  Although faithful attendance in a Bible-believing church has been forsaken by many, to do so violates Scripture and weakens our walk with the Lord (Hebrews 10:25).  

As with each of the five elements for gaining a strong grip on the Word, the attitude of hearing is as important as the activity.  Crucial to the act of hearing is the attitude of heeding.  Exposure to the Word through listening is foundational, but an undistracted heart eager to obey what is heard is indispensable (James 1:22).  

May our Lord Jesus grant us ears to hear, and hearts to obey, as we give our full and undivided attention to His Word today.  

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"each individual among to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband."  Ephesians 5:33

June 1, 2020, Sweet Wife and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage.  The Lord is certainly good!  He  graced me with a loving helpmeet who has faithfully ministered to my needs and those of our children, to His glory.  Through the highs and lows of pastorates, the joys and challenges of parenting, and the eventual loss of parents, she has graciously prayed for my ministry, the salvation of our children, and the strength to bear life's losses.  Her worth is far above jewels, and I am immeasurably blessed. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ," (Jude 4).

Jude has written but a few sentences before he changes direction.  Wanting to rejoice with his believing readers in their common salvation, the Holy Spirit directs him to, instead, urge them to vigorously defend and hold to the historic faith that some teachers are actually attacking. 

Jude characterizes these false brethren in five ways:
(1) "certain persons have crept in unnoticed"
"Crept" implies stealth.  With appearance, speech, and behavior that deceives, the false teacher slips into position of leadership.  Often this is accomplished by a "winning" personality, saying the right things, and going through the accepted motions.  Observe that Jude says that these persons have become influential so adroitly as to be "unnoticed."  In the early years of the church, fellowships were made up of spiritually immature believers, whose senses were not trained in godliness, with few copies of the Scriptures being written and circulated.  Consequently, potential teachers were not vetted, to ascertain what they believed, why they believed it, and what they would teach concerning the major doctrines of the faith.  The challenge, then, is undoing the influence a religious unbeliever has, once he has assumed a position of leadership in the local assembly.  Too many churches are compromised in such a situation because personal popularity becomes more important than doctrinal truth.

(2) "long beforehand marked out for this condemnation"
From eternity past, the One Who sees the end from the beginning exercised His holy sovereignty by setting His heart upon some who would experience no condemnation (Rom. 8:1), and passed by those who would.  Even as there are gradations in heavenly rewards, based on faithfulness in the use of divine resources, so there are degrees of punishment in the condemnation of hell.  In James 3:1, James warns, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment."  What is true for believing teachers (the stricter standard to which the Lord holds them) holds equally for the religious unbeliever who dares to assume the title and recognition of a teacher, (Matt. 7:15).  His/her condemnation will be the greater for betraying the trust of the hearers, leading them astray, with eternal consequences. 

(3) "ungodly persons"
Jude focuses on the character of these apostates, these false teachers.  Despite their use of religious language as a cover, their special garments to impress the masses, and their respected positions of esteemed importance, their nature is unchanged and their hearts are desperately sick (Jer. 17:9). 
As a general principle, our motives and actions are tied to our nature.  An unchanged person's nature will bear fruit (Gal. 5:19-21) of impure motives and selfish actions.  The inward lack of reverence for God revealed itself in the false teachers' infiltrating the assemblies and taking advantage of the people (vv. 15, 16, 18, 19).  Whether financially, emotionally, or spiritually, this practice persists today, with wolves in sheep's clothing gaining great wealth playing on the emotions of God's people.

(4)  "who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness"
Jude touches on a widespread doctrinal error committed by such teachers whose heart has not been redeemed: talking of grace, but using it as a covering for sin.  Paul speaks to this issue in Romans 6:15, "What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!" 
Using grace as a covering and excuse for a sinful lifestyle often describes the lie lived by the false teacher.  "Licentiousness" involves gross immorality and unchecked sin that characterizes the apostate's irreverent flaunting of God's undeserved and unearned favor.  He treats grace as a get-out-of-jail-free card, whereas the genuine believer knows grace as a life-long motivation for holiness.

(5) "deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ"
Apostate false teachers are religious unbelievers.  Therefore, however pious their appearance, and however spiritual their words, inwardly they serve primarily themselves and, by extension, Satan. 
Thus, as the Lord Jesus stated, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Mammon," (Matt. 6:24).  With a deceitful and wicked heart (Jer. 17:9), the religious unbeliever is unwilling and unable to submit to the Lordship and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus, since such worship is impossible apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

This is a very needed word for the church, then as well as now, for the greatest blight on the purity of the  church is the religious unbeliever.  The greatest need, then, is discernment, if we are to recognize, expose, and discipline such infiltrators.  Our God-given tools for increasing discernment are prayer and the Word.  As we delve deeply into the Scriptures, grounded in the truth, we will be better equipped to recognize error.  Prayer for the salvation of such teachers should also be followed by pleading for a spiritual awakening across our land, purifying the visible church and cleansing the entire body of Christ.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Assurances for the Sheep

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."  (John 10:27--29)

It is winter, and the Lord Jesus is walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon, crowded around by unbelieving Jews who incessantly questioned His claims and teaching.  Their demands for Him to declare plainly if He is the Anointed One, the Christ, are not made sincerely, but stem from unbelief (v. 25).  Importantly, the Lord Jesus cites the hidden reason for their stubborn unacceptance of Him: " do not believe, because you are not of My sheep." (v. 26)
I say hidden because the truth of God's election of certain individuals to salvation is revealed only by the Holy Spirit of God to the believing soul whom He has quickened.  Such grace is an inner verification to the believer's spirit, granting the assurance of eternal security in the Lord Jesus' sacrificial atonement. 
In this 10th chapter of John our Lord speaks of seven characteristics of His sheep (elect ones) that serve as wonderful assurances to the redeemed that they do, indeed, belong to the Good Shepherd.
(1.) SENSITIVE  "My sheep hear My voice" 
Our Lord is teaching here what the apostle Paul echoes in Rom. 8:16, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."  By contrast, "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised," (I Cor. 2:14).  Thus, the Savior distinguishes between those who are lost and those who are saved by the sensitivity to His promptings.  Through prayer, the Scriptures, preaching of the Word, and witness of those around us, the Holy Spirit speaks to our heart, assuring us that we are His. 
(2.) KNOWN "I know them" 
Although it is true that God is omniscient (all-knowing), to say "I know them" implies more than awareness.  The Old Testament records the use of "know" in the most intimate of terms.  Gen. 4:1 records that Adam "had relations" with his wife, Eve (NASB).  The King James Version states that he "knew" her and she bare Cain.  The picture portrayed by our Lord Jesus, then, is one of an intimate, highly personal involvement with His elect.  He loves His sheep, His elect, with the depth of commitment and delight that a godly husband has for his godly wife, but perfectly. 
To the non-elect, however, the Lord Jesus states, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness," (Matt. 7:23).  In the day of judgment there will be those who call Him 'Lord,' and present miraculous deeds as 'proof' of their salvation, yet the deciding issue is whether or not He knew them, (vv. 21, 22).  Salvation in the final analysis is not a matter of our declarations, but of His sovereign initiative.
(3.) OBEDIENT  "they follow Me" 
As in the natural order of things, sheep belonging to a shepherd recognize his voice and follow his lead (v. 4), so in the spiritual realm, the elect not only hear His word but prove to be doers of His word, as well (James 1:22). 
Knowledge is really not a substitute for obedience.  In the upper room the Lord Jesus promised blessing for obedience: "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them," (John 13:17).  He, then, immediately contrasts such blessing for His own with the disobedience of Judas Iscariot, whom He states, "...lifted up his heel against me," (v. 18; cf. Psalm 41:9).  Regardless how religious a lifestyle the unbeliever practices, he/she is still a rebel at heart (Jer. 17:9), and cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). 
Since to obey is better than sacrifice (I Sam. 15:22), the obedience of the child of God is to be motivated by love (I John 4:19), rather than reward. 
(4.) CONFIDENT "I give eternal life to them"
To rest in confident assurance, declaring to be true what the Lord has said is so, is not empty presumption.  To know the faithful witness of the blessed Holy Spirit that I am Jesus' child, engraving His ownership upon my heart through the use of His Word and seal (Eph. 4:30), realizing full well that His eternal life is a gift I neither earned nor deserved, is to glorify Him in His saving grace. 
Such biblical assurance has no equal for sustaining us through suffering.  Paul confidently declared, "For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day," (II Tim. 1:12).  We are to know in Whom we have believed, with confident gratitude for the eternal life He has given so freely.
(5.) INSEPARABLE  "they shall never perish"
The biblical meaning of death is separation.  Physical death involves separation of the spirit and soul from the body.  Spiritual death is also separation: the spirit is separated from God, in hell.  Christians are said to be "asleep" (I Thess. 4:13) or have "fallen asleep" (v. 15) or "fall asleep in Jesus," (v. 14), when they die, physically.  In stark contrast, the unsaved are said to perish, meaning to be damned forever. 
For the redeemed elect, there will never be a separation from the everlasting love shown toward them in Christ's salvation.  At the moment of physical death, the Christian, being absent from the body is at home with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).  And nothing can separate us from His love, ever (Rom. 8:35--39).
(6.) SECURE  "no one shall snatch them out of My hand; one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." 
The triune Godhead is pictured in Scripture as sovereignly and inseparably involved in the salvation of the elect.  In eternity past, the Father set His heart upon the elect ones (Eph. 1:4).  He also built a fence about them, as it were (v. 5), (the concept within "predestined").  In the fulness of time (Gal. 4:4) the Lord Jesus came in order to accomplish atonement for those whom the Father had chosen, becoming sin on their behalf (II Cor. 5:21).  He shed His sinless blood as He endured the cross, experienced death in the tomb for three days and three nights (Mt. 12:40), and defeated death's sting by rising from the dead (I Cor. 15:20).  Sent by the Father and Son, the blessed Holy Spirit then applies the blood-bought salvation to the elect by quickening them from spiritual death by His power and presence (Rom. 8:11). 
No one, then, who has experienced such a salvation can do anything to undo it.  No sin is so heinous that Satan can use it to snatch us from the eternal grip of the Father and Son.  Our fellowship can be broken (I John 1:9), but the relationship established at salvation cannot be broken, ever (Rom. 8:1).
(7.)  GIVEN  "My Father, who has given them to Me"
High mystery, this.  The Lord Jesus speaks of a revealing within the triunity of the Godhead, the Son being given by the Father the ones for whom He was to lay down His life (John 10:11, 15, 17).  His was to be a substitutionary atonement, as He would die in the place of those whom the Father had given Him. 
There is great comfort in verse 16 of this 10th chapter of John.  The Lord Jesus states that the elect who lived at the time of His sacrificial death were not the only sheep in the Good Shepherd's fold.  The "other sheep" would include all the elect of all time, constituting the completed body of Christ, the ones whom He "did purchase for God with His blood from every tribe and tongue and people and nation," (Rev. 5:9).  Worthy is the Lamb to be praised both now and forever!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

An Evangelistic Outline

The following is a biblical presentation of four non-negotiable truths designed to alert the unsaved with the serious consequences of dying without Christ.

1. LIFE IS SHORT.  James 4:13  "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." 

As people we have the innate capacity to think, "That happens to other people, not to me," when we hear of accidents, catastrophes, and the like.  Even a close brush with death doesn't faze some people.  Still, as He sees fit, this truth can be used by the Holy Spirit to awaken a passive soul out of his self-deception, reminding him that he is not invincible.

2. DEATH IS CERTAIN.  Hebrews 9:27  " is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." 

After the sermon, a lady spoke to the pastor as she was leaving: "That's all you preachers do is preach about death... I'm sick and tired of gloomy, morbid sermons on death."  The pastor responded, "Okay, I'll make you a deal: you promise not to die, and I'll stop preaching about death." 

3. HELL IS REAL.  Revelation 20:14, 15  "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." 

Denied by many, downplayed by others, the Bible still unflinchingly records the reality of hell without end.  The Lord Jesus Himself spoke more often about hell than He did about heaven.  Its unending torment forms the ominous backdrop that highlights what's at stake to die without salvation in Christ. 

4. ETERNITY IS FOREVER.  II Thessalonians 1:7b--9  "...the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." 

The enormity of hell's horrific and tragic torment is magnified beyond imagination by the fact that it never stops.  No relief.  No respite.  Non-reversible.  No words can adequately convey the reality of hell and its never-ending excruciating pain. 

These points emphasize the blackness against which the brilliance of the gospel's message gleams like a diamond.  The darkness of sin must be presented in its fullness before the light of the good news will be welcomed. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Ephesians 5:20

"giving thanks for all things"

A popular teaching related to gratitude is that Christians are to give thanks in all things, but not for all things.  This distinction seems to be an attempt to "get God off the hook," lest He get blamed for all that is terrible in the world.

In this verse, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to move beyond in all things, to for all things.  In so doing He bids us also widen the scope of our gratitude to be all-inclusive.  Admittedly, the implications can be daunting, particularly when it comes to giving thanks for the horrific, the tragic, and the evil that permeates the world system. 

How are we to obey this biblical admonition?

First, we must completely embrace the truth that God is sovereign.  For some believers, this is almost painful to acknowledge.  Although it is affirmed and assumed throughout Scripture (Psalm 103:19; Dan. 4:35; Isaiah 43:13; Job 42:1, 6;  Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:15, 16;  Eph. 1:5; among many others), many struggle with this attribute of the living God.

Other Christians will acknowledge that His sovereignty is Scriptural, and thereby accept it as true, but do so reluctantly.  "I know He is sovereign, but..."  Then come qualifiers such as, "He has chosen to limit Himself," or "He is a Gentleman, and will not violate our free will."  Such sentiments reflect a distrust of His character, impugn His Name as infinite goodness, and imply an arrogance by which we the creature deign to judge the Creator. 

To move beyond these man-centered expressions of fear, doubt, and unbelief, and come to fully embrace the Bible's unashamed declaration that God is GOD, is to submissively rejoice that the supreme Sovereign of the universe controls all things, seen and unseen.  This is the foundation for gratitude without boundaries.

Secondly, as a corollary to the first, we must continually recall that God is omniscient.  Isaiah records God's words:  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts,"  (55:8, 9). 

The writer of Hebrews put it this way:  "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do,"  (4:13).   There is absolutely  nothing, then, that catches God by surprise.  Nothing could possibly happen, however seemingly trivial, that escapes His notice.  However forgotten we may feel, however abandoned we seem to be, the Lord's absolute awareness can fortify our prayer of gratitude.

A third attribute of the God we are to take seriously relates to His character:  He is good.  In the face of so much evil in the world, especially in situations of senseless tragedy and injustice, the world shakes its fist toward heaven and asserts that either there is no God, or He is certainly not a good one. 

The Christian is not immune to such feelings of doubting His goodness, but must take Scripture as the truth, rather than emotions.  David declares in Psalm 25:8, "Good and upright is the LORD;"  and in Psalm 100:5, the psalmist states, "For the LORD is good;  His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations."  Nahum 1:7 adds, "The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him."   

What then?  To live a life of ongoing gratitude, one that brings glory to the true and living God, we continually submit to His sovereign rule and reign, assured that He knows, confident that He cares.