“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here we are, moving with inexorable swiftness into 2019, and each day it seems like we hear of another false prophet or wannabe Messiah proclaiming lies and deception, seeking to lead people further astray than we have already become. The list of false teachers grows longer, but what do we in the Body of Christ do about it? Some study that they be approved, searching the Scriptures daily that they may know the truth…well done! But so many don’t make the time for prayer and study of the Word; they are content to blindly trust someone else to rightly divide the Word for them. There lies the gravest danger to those who seek redemption in the Lord Jesus, for as Jesus Himself warned us, many will come in His name claiming to be the Lord and stating that the time is near. You don’t think you can be deceived? “False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.” (Matthew 24:24) The Lord would not have bothered to warn His disciples against being deceived if it were not possible. How do we keep from being deceived? Pray constantly, yes, but study the Word as if your life depends on it, for it does. “But, Dave, there are so many different interpretations of the Bible!” Yes, but there are core beliefs that are essential to Salvation and there are peripheral beliefs that are not. The core beliefs will always take you to our Lord Jesus, crucified and risen and returning to rule; they will always point you to the Christ of the Bible and not to “some other gospel which is no gospel at all” as Paul wrote. False prophets will always point you to a false Jesus, or to their church as the only true church, or even worse, to themselves. The peripheral beliefs can vary widely without detracting from the central tenets of the Christian faith, and that is ok; if we all believed and exercised our faith in identical ways we would be little more than robots. Just don’t let the peripherals get in the way of accepting someone as a legitimate disciple of Christ. People can disagree on how to interpret end times prophecies, or what day to worship on, or how the gifts of the Spirit are to be used, or even what is the proper form of the Savior’s name to use, and still be just as equally saved. My pastor made a very good point that when we finally get to meet Christ, He will spend time showing each and every one of us the areas in which we were wrong, and we will be quite surprised in some cases at some of the people we will see there receiving their crowns of eternal glory with Christ. My point is simply this: know the Word so you can spot a lie, and don’t condemn or judge another believer just because you disagree with them on some side issue that isn’t relevant to Salvation. As my old mentor Walter Martin was fond of saying, “agree to disagree” and don’t spend this life tearing each other apart. Be loving and patient always, for that is how we are called to be…
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here we are, at Christmas time again, the time when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This should be a joyous time when we reflect on how our Lord chose to set aside the glories of heaven to be born of a virgin and become one with the human race so He could later die for our sins and reconcile us to Him. That birth roughly 2,000 years ago was an event of such significance, yet today in this age of apostasy from our loving Lord so many deny the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. What is the point to Christmas without Christ? It has no point beyond rampant materialism and a vague sense of family, “peace on earth and good will to all men”. But it lacks the focused meaning of the birth of our Savior, the only one who could redeem us from ourselves. Sure, it can be debated when He was actually born, but so what? The point is not some legalistic adherence to an historically precise date, but rather to the fact that He was born at all. Ok, so the origins of the holiday were in the Church trying to repurpose a pagan celebration…if you think about it, Christ repurposed all of us from being the walking dead spiritually into redeemed and saved children of the Living God. Reject the more un-Biblical aspects of Christmas, or better yet, reinterpret them in godly ways. My point is that we can get so hung up on minor points that we lose sight of the real point, which is the birth of Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior who loved us so much He would come down here in our muck and die for us rather than lose us forever. That is the point…
I wish you all the very merriest of Christmases this year, filled with the blessings of love and peace and fellowship. Being without biological family (with a few very notable exceptions) is hard, but when you think about it, as Christians we are surrounded by our spiritual family, our fellow children of God. And that makes everything all right in my book!
May the grace and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts and refresh your spirits…
1st Corinthians 15:3-5
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.”
So much has been said and written about the Lord and the Scriptures over the last 2,000 years. In some instances things have been added to the Gospel, in others things have been taken away. Wars have been fought over how we should worship, and whole sections of Christianity are not on speaking terms simply because they disagree on when Easter should be celebrated, or even on which word should be used. People have always disagreed on what the Word says, and even what should be a part of the Word of God. Theologians have built careers and fame (or infamy) on parsing out what each word and phrase in the Scriptures means. We should study that we may be approved. We are naïve if we think that knowing what Scripture teaches is only for pastors. We are ripe for being deceived and led astray if we are not grounded in the Bible. But we should never lose sight of what the Gospel really is and what the entire Word is built upon: that Jesus died a bloody death for our sins, was entombed, and was raised from the dead as the ultimate proof of our faith. That’s it, plain and simple. If we get drawn into pointless controversies and arguments over minor details we are missing the point and our labor will be in vain. It is hard to keep from falling into those traps; I’ve done it repeatedly (which is why I have learned to stay away from certain online groups that do nothing but argue and insult each other and never get anywhere). But we need to stick to the basics: Jesus died to save us and was raised in the flesh to show that our hope in Him is not in vain. Look at the history of the Christian faith. Did the Way explode across the Roman Empire and beyond because the believers were so skilled at theological debate? No, it happened because people like Paul and John and Peter and many others pointed to a God who came down here and waded through a world of sin and death that we might live eternally; they preached Christ crucified and risen. People have always responded best to that. It is a message that fills that aching spiritual hole inside and gives the hurting a firm hope for the future. All of those that we esteem as great evangelists carried this message to the world: preachers like the Apostles, Ambrose of Milan, Columba, Whitefield, Spurgeon and Graham changed the world around them by preaching the message that Jesus loves you, He died for your sins, and rose again to be your King. That is when people hear the call of the Lord and turn to Him for their salvation. That should be the entire point of what we carry to the world, not what we feel are the right doctrines and practices. Save those debates for Bible studies and personal discussions. Carry Jesus to a dying world, not the tenets of religion, and we shall see people turn to Christ like never before. Jesus loves you that much, and so do I…
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.'”
Most of us should be quite familiar with the story of Simon the sorcerer, the guy that tried to buy the ability to lay on hands and “give” people the Holy Spirit, and there is so much to learn from this account. For one thing, Simon became a believer and was baptized, yet hadn’t yet come into a full understanding of how things now were (verse 13); he was enthralled by the miracles worked by Philip and focused on them rather than the Lord that makes them possible. But what I want to look at today is the reaction of the people of Samaria to Simon’s sorcery and the grave mistake that they made, and that people still make today. The people saw the supernatural works of Simon and decided that he was the “divine power known as the Great Power”, which revealed their profound ignorance of the Scriptures and the belief in false powers that followed in the wake of such ignorance. They didn’t even attribute the power that Simon apparently wielded to God, but rather to some vague, ill-defined “Great Power”; either they assumed it came from within himself or was something very generally defined. This mistake is still made by millions in our own age when people attribute supernatural power either to some inherent quality of the person, or to some sort of generic power, like the Mother Earth power or even the fictional power from Star Wars called the Force. Some groups prefer to just suggest their members believe in some sort of “Higher Power” and say that it is whatever you consider a higher power. But we must be clear about this: any power that does not come from God comes from the enemy, Satan, and his legions of fallen angels…period. And the only way to get access to the power of God is through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only way to the Father and therefore His power; Jesus is the only valid doorway or gate to the divine. Anything that does not come through Him is not of God. No amount of belief in other paths to eternal life will work. No belief in a vague “higher power” or a God without Christ or some innate quality of the human species or even the Force will get you an eternal life of great joy and bliss. (Think I’m joking about a belief in “the Force”? Go to a Star Wars convention or talk to a devoted fan of those films and you’ll see plenty of people who take the Force very seriously!) If our faith is in Jesus Christ, our divine Savior, then we will receive that eternity; without Jesus, we have nothing and remain doomed. How did things turn out for Simon? It doesn’t say specifically, but I think it probably turned out ok for him. We know he became a believer in the Lord, and when Peter rebuked him Simon did not get all huffy and storm off, but rather showed a sincere desire for forgiveness and remorse for his own errors. So we can hope to meet Simon in the Kingdom, only God knows, but I do know this: if we see Simon there it will be because he believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and won’t be because he believed in a “Great Power”. Or even the Force…
Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say. ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'”
In our walk with Christ as His disciples we are called to do many things in His name, and while our callings can be similar at times, no two are exactly alike. Two people may be called as prophets, but they may be sent to different places with different messages depending on what God wants to say to the people in each place. Two may be called to be evangelists, but while one might be called to preach the gospel to thousands in Africa and lead many to Christ, the other might be sent to a small town in Europe or America and carry the good news to just a few dozen. You see my point, so I won’t belabor it, especially when what I have to say is not about the different callings we may receive, but rather about our attitudes toward those callings. Specifically, what I ask is this: do we see fulfilling our callings as a way of earning rewards in the age to come, or do we see it as merely what we should do? I have seen some who were called to preach to vast crowds yet have seen themselves as the most unworthy of servants, while I have seen others preach to small groups and dwell upon the crown they would receive. When we go about our lives in this age, serving our Lord as best as we know how, we need to watch out for the creeping influence of pride, the great killer of faith. When we do what our Lord asks us, we are merely serving His will in imperfect ways. We should never allow ourselves to have higher opinions of us than we should. Paul, the great apostle, founder of so many congregations in the ancient world, the first great Christian theologian and a loving brother, thought of himself as the worst of sinners to the end of his life. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, writer, preacher and pastor of possibly the first “superchurch”, considered himself a miserable sinner worthy only of death. Now I’m not advocating that you have to loathe yourself, please don’t misunderstand me. All I’m saying is that we should never allow ourselves to start thinking how good we are at following Jesus, for when we fall into that trap we risk falling in love with ourselves instead of the Savior who gives our lives meaning. No matter what we do for our Lord, no matter how many we reach or encourage, we are still just flawed men and women who couldn’t be perfectly obedient if our eternity depended on it. When we stand for what is right in Christ’s name, or have the deep conversation with someone that leads them to repentance and faith, we are merely doing our duty. We will remain humble servants even while we are children of the Living God, and so long as we think of ourselves as merely doing our duty, we will avoid the miry pit called pride, and we will have a truly humble attitude in this life, and the one to come.
Peace and grace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.”
I have always found the book of the prophet Jonah a very enlightening, even comforting book among the Old Testament prophets. Here was a man who was called by God to a certain mission, but he ran the other way and went through a great ordeal before he turned back around and obeyed God; there have been many times during my walk with Christ when I have identified with Jonah. But usually when we hear of Jonah, we hear of the events recorded in the first two chapters: the famed tale of being swallowed by a large sea creature until he repented. But there is, of course, more to the story, for Jonah ends up going to Nineveh after all and delivering the Lord’s message, leading to the repentance of the people. But then a curious thing happened – when the Ninevites repented and God spared them, Jonah got angry with God! That part of the story always kind of mystified me a bit as to why Jonah got so irate, but since it was not a main teaching point of the book, I didn’t really dwell on it. But then the other day I was reading part of an exposition on Jonah when the Lord revealed something to me that should have been obvious (and maybe it is to most people). Jonah got angry at God because he wanted the Ninevites to be destroyed, since Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and the Assyrians had been making life for Israel very miserable for quite some time, culminating in the destruction of Samaria and the deportation of the entire northern kingdom. In short, Jonah wanted to see Nineveh punished for the sins of the Assyrians, but of course, God had already known of their repentance and so He delayed that punishment. Anyway, that realization got me thinking about how I would react if God were to forgive and spare the enemy of my people, which then led me to think about how Jesus told us to forgive our enemies and love even them. Do I truly love my “enemies”? Do I pray for them? He opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t, at least not very often. And that led to some repentance of my own. How many times do I watch the insanity going on in this world and pray for those who would be potential opponents? (Now I have no personal enemies that I know of, but in the bigger view of things there are those who would and do oppose me violently for a number of reasons.) When was the last time I prayed for the salvation and healing of spiritual opponents, of political opponents, of cultists? Such prayer needs to be consistent and fervent; anything less would just be “lip service” and unloving. When we see someone shooting up a church or a synagogue, or rioting in the streets, or even beheading people for being “infidels”, our response should not be an equal loathing but instead a prayer for the salvation of their souls through Jesus Christ. And if that person or persons comes to Christ we are to rejoice with all of heaven, not get angry that they “got away with it”. So who are the Ninevites in your life? Join me in praying for their repentance and receipt of God’s mercy, for “but for the grace of God, there goes I”…or you.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God?’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
There have been many “death bed confessions” of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior recorded through the last 2,000 years. You know how it goes: someone lives their life doing what they please no matter how wicked, then when they are at death’s door they express remorse over their sins and profess faith in Christ. Then they die. It sounds simple enough, but many of these end of life expressions of repentance and faith have been questioned, criticized, and dismissed as invalid. But should they have been? One famous case that comes to mind is that of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI, who set a standard of licentious behavior in the Vatican rarely equaled, who while dying of a fever made a full and detailed confession of his sins to his confessor and sought forgiveness from the Lord. Now many have stated over the years that his confession was “invalid” and of no use, but who are we to say? I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, and none of the naysayers were there, just the priest who heard his confession and, of course, the Lord Jesus. My point to all of this history lesson is that when someone expresses repentance and faith we are behooved to respect that and accept it, for only God can know what is truly in someone’s heart. But I have heard and read many who say that one of the problems of death bed confessions is that they aren’t sincere, that the only reason they were made is because the dying person knew their time was up and they were scared; they should be. But again we come to the fact that only the Lord knows what is in a person’s heart, and all we should do is rejoice that someone came to faith before it was too late. The other issue, perhaps the larger issue, that is often raised is that the dying person can’t really be saved because they did not have any opportunity to perform good works as a sign of the validity of their faith. Really? The obvious flaw in that notion is that it makes salvation faith plus works, when Scripture is clear that we receive God’s saving grace on the basis of faith alone. But the real refutation of that argument is found in the passage of Luke quoted above. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus had no opportunity to perform good works to validate his faith; he died on his cross within hours, which makes his profession of faith in essence a death bed confession. He confessed his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior publicly, which was all he needed to do as far as acting on his faith went. As Paul said in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”, with confession and belief being the important bits. There shouldn’t be a problem, but there seems to be in spite of Scripture. “But how is that fair to those who live righteous lives and work hard for the Lord?” people will cry out. Jesus seems to have foreseen just such an argument in the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 when the vineyard owner in the parable paid the ones who worked one hour the same wage as those who worked all day. The generous gift from the Lord is eternal life with Him, and through faith we receive that whether we have been dedicated Christians for decades or come to accept Christ as we are ascending the hangman’s scaffold. So the next time you hear or read of someone making a death bed confession of faith in the Lord Jesus, don’t reject it out of hand. Just accept it and praise God that one more lost sheep is coming home at last.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.