Congratulations Graduates!!! You have accomplished one of your first great milestones in life! You have worked hard in school over these past 12 (or 16) years and now you commence a new stage of life. Sadly, the end of this experience was cut off abruptly and for the ‘Class of 2020’ things look very different than it did for most other graduating classes. However, you are resilient enough to create new opportunities and experiences that will reveal your character for years to come. Don’t give up. Don’t give out nor give in. Makes something good out of this challenging situation and shine brightly for the sake of those losing hope. The older generation is depending upon you to help make this world, this nation and the kingdom of God free, prosperous and just. Hold fast to Jesus and His word for it is there you will find not only the truth, but righteousness and good as well. May you find comfort and peace IN Him and may you always delight in His presence.
As we continue this series on “Why Don’t You Believe?”, we have here another possible obstacle as to why some loose their faith in the Lord. Going away to college can be exciting, daunting, frightening and very frustrating all at the same time. Beginning college while living at home or on campus has many challenges, more than simply the demands of higher education. These trials, which a believer most likely will face, can seem overwhelming, for that is their design. Satan will attack and disrupt the life of God’s children anywhere and anyway possible. The college campus is no exception, rather it’s a crucial part of his evil plan. The faith of christian college students will be tested and tried by those once trusted to guide and mould in truth and righteousness. Professors, teachers, counselors, and administrators in large part are being used to dissuade the faithful from their stand in Christ to a worldly view, resulting in lost or rejected faith. I categorize these emissaries of darkness into three groups. First are the “Know it All’s, or the teachers who are never wrong. It’s their way or the highway. Write the answer they want or you will fail. All other opinions and positions, even evidence based, matter not. They are god. Next you will encounter the “Think it All’s”. These are the world view philosophers who hold secularism, humanism, atheism and any other “ism’s” as god. Your faith in the invisible creator is, to them, childish and nothing more than fantasy. They will never take a believer seriously. 1Corinthians 1:19 “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Lastly, and just as devious, are the “Do it All’s”. Those who proclaim that college is the time for you to “really live it up!”. To “try new things”. This is the “eat drink and be merry” crowd, who lack in self control and excel in selfishness. They will pressure you into letting loose, having fun and experience unbridled freedom. Ego is their god. These temptations and trials are very real, but God has blessed you with His power and guidance to overcome these stumbling blocks. I encourage you to “Talk”, and keep “Talking” throughout these next 4 years. First, Talk with God. Pray, at all times. Read His word and devote yourself to spending time with Him. He will lead and guide with the greatest power known to mankind, His Holy Spirit. Secondly, Talk with your Parents. They love you and want the best for you. Include them in your life, your adventures, your struggles and victories. They truly care about you. Thirdly, Talk with your Preacher or other church leader. Share difficulties. Seek Biblical guidance. Share confrontations and gain Biblical perspective. Lastly, Talk with recent college grads who
have remained faithful to the Lord. Find out how they dealt with situations. Know you are not alone in this stage of life. Many have done this before you and may have great advice. The church loves you and prays for your steadfastness in the Lord. Remember, an education is precious and highly valued, but keeping your name written in the book of life pales in comparison. “Don’t Stop Believing”
The Pew Research center reports that over the past 10 years the number of atheists in
America has more than doubled. This brings to mind John 4:35, “....the fields... are
white for harvest.” Every generation, every age, every culture needs the gospel
preached, for it is the truth, the way and the life for all men. All men will die, and then
comes the judgment. We continue this series discussing reasons why people do not
believe Jesus nor in Jesus. Our desire is that all people would believe Jesus, and are
born again, added to His kingdom, and that they would live according to His word for
His glory, in order to know the grace and peace of God. However, many refuse to love
Him today just as many rejected Him when He lived among men. John 6:66 “many of
His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” So we wonder, why is
it that most “do not believe”? One possibility is that most men only believe in what they
can see. Last month’s article, sub titled “Houdini or Holy Spirit”, discussed the
challenges with believing in miracles, such as; water turning into wine, oceans parting,
donkeys talking, sick being healed, and of course the dead rising. Miracles present a
true obstacle to faith, but can be reasonably answered. The text of this article discloses
a problem all ages must deal with. We will call them the “complicated questions”. Not
that they do not deserve a response, but that they are difficult to believe without a
correct and full understanding of who Jesus is. Questions like: If God’s creation was so
good, why is there so much evil?” or “What about evolution and dinosaurs?”or “Why
would a loving Good send so many to hell?”. Jesus encountered complicated questions
such as these. As recorded in John 6:41, Jesus continues with a conversation about
how a christian believes and behaves. He said in :47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who
believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” This is a comparison of the heavenly
manna that fed all Israel for 40 years to His own body that would save all mankind who
believed in Him. He concluded with the warning that we must eat of His flesh, “...the
bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” A very complicated
teaching, resulted in this question, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Please
understand the Bible does not advocate cannibalism. Thats disgusting! However, Jesus
continues, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise
him up on the last day.” (:54) No wonder why many said, “This is a difficult statement;
who can listen to it?” and, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were
not walking with Him anymore.” Here is a clear case of people losing their faith in
Jesus, those who at one time were walking with Him! Why do you not believe?
Sometimes because the questions are too complicated. Four questions arise from
reading verse :53. Jesus is giving us a command, with these words, “Unless you...”, a
special condition that we chose to obey or reject. One may ask, “What if I don’t ?” Next
He says, “...you have no life in yourselves.” Wait! Am I not alive? I feel alive, I act alive!
How am I not alive? Thirdly He says if I do this yucky thing I will have “eternal life”. I
thought all good people go to heaven? And lastly, a “last day..”. Are you saying all
things will come to an end? Isn’t that some sort of conspiracy theory?
Yes, these are complicated questions. No wonder many of Jesus’ disciples lost
their faith, and sadly “withdrew” from Him. They blame unanswered, difficult and
problematic questions. However, consider that the sovereign God of creation
understands all things, especially your heart. Your questions that seem to not have a
reasonable answer, do not invalidate the existence of God. He has “...chosen the
foolish things of the world to shame the wise....so that no man may boast before God.”
Develop a mature belief in Him, believe with all your heart, lean not on your own
understanding, and these things will be revealed to you. Simply listen to Him.
Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I used to believe in only things that were observable. I actually boasted that ,”Unless I can see it, I don’t believe it.” What hubris. Many, today, proclaim in the same “visible” faith. The thing believed must be obvious, recognizable, measurable and reasonable or have a rationale explanation according to the physical processes we currently understand. Basically, “I need to see it to believe it.” That is why magic tricks are so popular and appreciated. On one level, the “prestige” or punch line of the trick, grabs our attention and entertains. The rabbit pulled from the hat. The flower that turns into a dove and flies away. The lovely assistant that gets cut in half. The man who disappears, all amaze and amuse. Then, on another level, we know it couldn’t have really happened, so we wonder, “How did He do that?” Go back stage and the trick is reasonably explained. Pulleys, trap doors, wires, mirrors, sometimes even twins are used to create the illusion. Behind every good trick is a well designed system of rationale, observable, explainable physical actions. At first the eye sees something that seems to defy natural, familiar physics. But, backstage we can observe the many reasonably designed steps that, when put together in perfect timing, create the appearance that something supernatural has occurred. Thus, we have pure entertainment, nothing more.
Jesus challenged His critics, “..because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” John8:45. He only spoke truth, from the word of God, but they would not hear of it because they hated Him so vehemently. They attacked Him and demanded an explanation for the things He was teaching. He responded, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. John10:25. Again in verse 38, “But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, (the miracles) that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” The Bible records many bonafide miracles, things that are supernatural and defy all reasoning based upon natural processes. I remember being a skeptic, not believing that burning bushes, talking donkeys, parted oceans, fire from the sky, multiplied bread, water into wine, sickness healed, the dead rising and the like were actual, real occurrences. “That’s impossible, would never really happen.” The better, more scientific explanation is that ,”Biblical miracles are nothing more than literary illustrations, not to be taken as factual.” Therefore, the Bible is not to be taken as factual, it’s merely a fairytale. This reasoning holds merit if one does not recognize who Jesus truly is. Another interaction with His critics was over His teaching about forgiveness of sins. As they held contempt for Him, He said, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He then said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home.” Not a magic trick. No backstage. Not a fairytale. Not a literary illustration. No illusion. This is record of a real miracle, performed by the one who created, from nothing, all things. Let’s see Houdini do that.
This month we begin a series of articles which cover the topic of faith. The Bible word “pistis” is used as faith, belief, trust, confidence. The basic meaning of this word is literally to be persuaded, to come to fully trust in the thing believed. In secular history the word was used to describe a warranty or a guarantee, to be certain the thing is true or will happen. Biblical usage sees it as a gift from God and not simply human confidence. Faith is trusting in the promises of God persuaded by the revelations from God either through His word or witnessed in His mighty deeds. The apostle John records a conversation about faith with the Pharisees in the eighth chapter of his gospel. Jesus says, (:46) “…If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?” Unfortunately the majority of the world’s population falls into this category of non-believers, along with these Pharisees. They did not believe Jesus nor did they recognize who He was. (:25) “Who are you?” Our hearts desire, the desire of God is for all to come to Him with a heart of repentance, and be saved from the eternal destruction as a result of “apistia”, unbelief. As Christians engaged in the building of the Kingdom of God, together as one, we view the world of unbelievers as our mission field. Jesus did the same. His conversation in John 8 was clearly an attempt to persuade men to believe He was who He said He was. (:12) ”I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” To the non-believing, skeptic that statement is difficult to hear, let alone submit to as absolute truth.
This series of articles will explore possible reasons why people do not believe and then provide reasonable arguments of persuasion, that is with the intent of leading men to the truth of Jesus, and therefore to the will of God for salvation. We wish to see no man “die in (their) sin..”, entering into eternity lost and outside of the grace of God. All men are created in the image of God and have the right to come to Him for forgiveness, purification, and transformation. It begins with faith. It is the church of Christ who has been commanded to be the example of lovers of Jesus living by faith, showing their faith and growing in faith. Jesus said to those who were beginning to believe, (:31) “…If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let us be devoted to living by faith, and not merely by word but in deed as well. Grow your faith in Jesus to the point of living IN Him and FOR Him continually. Be ready to answer this question from the Lord with all conviction and steadfastness. “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
The Bible says in Ephesians 4:7-8 “…grace was given according to Christ’s gift….and He gave gifts to men.” Verse 11 continues, “And He gave some as apostles and some as prophets, and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of
Christ,…” . We have been given many gifts by God our Father, many of which we easily call blessings, and rightly so. This year our theme verse will help us focus on another gift, which actually is our God given responsibility. We have been given the gift, nay the privilege of building His kingdom. The leadership gifts mentioned above are for that purpose, to build the body of Christ, which is His kingdom also known as the Church of Christ. We will not only be looking outward to build new additions to His kingdom (new converts) but we will be building up one another and ourselves as is written in Ephesians 4:13, “until we all attain to the unity of faith … and to a mature man…”. The theme verse we will be using is found in Nehemiah 2:18. Israel had been captive, enslaved in Babylon for 70 years. King Cyrus set them free to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of re-building. After approximately 100 years a small, second temple stood but the city was left wide open without protection. The prophet Nehemiah exhorted the people, in the desolate city, with his personal testimony of how Yahweh, the Lord God had been favorable to him. He was cup bearer to the king and was given full authority to undertake this greatly needed, massive rebuilding project. “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that we may no longer be a reproach.” Nehemiah 2:17. The people must have been emboldened to act. They said, “Let us arise and build!” “So they put their hands to the good work.” Nehemiah 2:18. I pray you will be similarly encouraged and inspired to join us in this great and noble task, building not simply a wall, but His glorious Kingdom. It will take all of us together, serving, building, defending, sacrificing, and praying to God almighty. The work at times will be difficult, the challenges great and the opposition even greater. However, we will find great joy in the journey, and I promise you, nothing we do in life can compare to participating in the building of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Our community is depending on you and your support. “Let us arise and build!”
Some view it as a messy, dreary, discomforting spoiler of plans, adding extra hassle to
an already busy day. Wet shoes, frizzy hair, foggy windshields, umbrellas blowing in the
wind are all inconveniences of cold, rainy days. Such a bother! Makes some want to
just stay all day in a warm, cozy bed . Others, however, see the rain as a challenge and
welcome this change in the ordinary. They look forward to things like testing out the
new wiper blades watching water fly off the glass without that annoying squeaking
noise! What a victory! Such a small yet very real sense of accomplishment. Just as
gratifying is the thought of nature cleaning itself. A good downpour washes streets,
rooftops, trees, grass to the point even the air seems cleaner. So, here is the conflict. A
rainy day does make for extra work and forces plans to be changed, yet at the same
time soothes and cleanses while delivering that basic necessity of all life, simple water.
So, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Is the glass half full or half empty? Is the life
situation you currently face an opportunity or a burden? James 1:2 says, “Consider it
all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” What? For real? How can one
find joy in pain, in suffering, in conflict, in rainy days? What is there to be joyous
about? Well, the Bible teaches that trials produce endurance which then lead to
maturity and wisdom, traits to be treasured. James goes on to say the one “who
perseveres under trial ,...once he has been approved, will receive the crown of
life...” (James 1:12) Finding joy in all situations is not easy but it is doable. It begins
with a conscious decision and desire to live as “those who love Him.” (:12) This was
the attitude of a young girl named Mary. The angel Gabriel told her she was favored by
God and that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and she would have a child. This
shocking news must have caused great conflict in her soul given the ramifications. Yet,
her clarion reply rings out across the ages, “...be it done to me according to your
word.” (Luke 1:38) Amid almost certain rejection, Mary chooses to “find it all joy.” The
apostle Paul gives us another example of conflict with regard to sin. In Romans 7:19
“For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.”
The battle field is our brain and the fight is against the forces of wickedness. We who
love the Lord want to live life for Him, but temptations conflict against the will of our
mind. Although this war began in the beginning, we are not without the greatest of
allies. We have the one who has set us free from the “body of this death.” Romans 7:25
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ....There is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ...!” We can choose joy on all situations because Jesus is
victorious! He alone has conquered all and now, as children of God we reign with Him!
Find joy in the conflict. Love one another. Be devoted to the Lord and His will. Long
for eternity. Enjoy the rain.
We have so much in this world to be thankful for, amen? We could cite the peace and the freedom we enjoy every day in this great country. Compared to most of the world we are so blessed and prosperous. Thank God for America! We could also mention the spectacular beauty of the fall colors. The clean, crispy air of the brilliant blue sky framing the explosion of colors among the trees which must inspire even Crayola! Thank God for His magnificent creation! We would all easily agree that our family is yet another reason for being thankful. Being “home for the holidays” is a treasure worthy of our heartfelt gratitude. Thank God for families. The Bible says, “For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people.” 1Samuel12:22. And “…through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake; among whom are ye also called to be Jesus Christ’s”. Romans 1:5 .
It was the will of God to call Israel “His people”. He chose them based upon the great faith of men with whom He called and who obeyed, men such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. God promised that He would never forsake His people “for His great name’s sake..”. His name is great and it is worthy, like none other. Paul understood this and was equally moved to record this truth. We were called through His word to believe in Jesus and “for His name’s sake” become as John 13:1 says, “one of His own”. God is identified by many names throughout the Bible. The Lord, Jehovah, Yahweh, and the Almighty to name a few. However, the incarnate God was given the name Jesus. This is the name of a person, a friend, a brother, and that is how He sees us, intimate, personal and as family. We know Him not through hazy, mystical folklore nor manmade mythological tales. We see Him clearly and He has told us exactly who He is, and what His name is. I am most thankful, this holiday season, that we have a living and personal God who loves us that way and who wants us to know Him as a father knows his own son. We are His people! He will never forsake us! Is there a better reason to show our gratitude to Him than knowing He loves His own and will always be with us? There is no other name more important, more Holy or more powerful than the name of the Lord, Jesus. We are saved by the authority of His name. Men are healed by the power in His name. The saints testify to the world their submission to Him by the praise of His name. We will “see His face and His name will be written upon our foreheads”. (Rev 22:4) Let us be reminded to give thanks to the Lord for the name of Jesus. There’s just something about that name.
“He said to His disciples,”the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest”. Matt 9:37
What a great time of year. The air is cool and crisp at night. The leaves are on the edge of exploding into hundreds of shades of colors and the school buses are back in operation. Many fields have already been harvested and the rest are soon to be. This must be a favorite time for the farmer. I am sure Jesus welcomed this time of year as well. The above Bible verse is a call for disciples to go, make disciples. It is not to difficult to imagine our Lord, looking out over a ripened grain field, white for the harvest, and use it as an illustration of the church’s mission. Here are three thoughts on the harvest.
Like the farmer whose seeds have been sowed some time ago, God has prepared the fields of man with His word being preached. God has made ready through normal life events, the souls of people who finally consider the reality of the only true God. Their guilt and shame lead them to the desire for rescue. People are disheartened over the evil, injustice and sinfulness in the world. Nature reminds us that He is everywhere, He created all things and He knows everyone. These are the people that need to be harvested.
God uses His own people to DO the harvesting. Jesus said, “The workers are few..” He is referring to His church as compared to the rest of the worlds population. There is also an urgency to get to the souls that need harvesting. “Beseech the Lord of the harvest...” As an urgent request, a deep personal appeal for help this work must be done quickly and now. During harvest time, the farmer needs to get in his crops with a pressing, high priority. Otherwise the plants may over ripe and rot, or be destroyed by nature, rains or hail storm. It may be ruined by fire or disease, insects or even hurricane winds. Many things threaten the fruit of his labor. “..to send out workers into His harvest.” God uses His people, His workers, His disciples to DO the harvesting and they understand this desperate situation.
“Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field..”.(Exodus23:16) When the work is done and the crops are put up in the barn, it’s time to celebrate! Cultures around the world recognize this joyous event with feasting and cheerful gatherings. Disciples of Christ rejoice when the harvest has been brought into the fold. When the searching, repentant soul meets Jesus through the sharing of the scripture and is born again in baptism, a great celebration takes place in the congregation and in the throne room of God! Angels rejoice! This is the most important work that can be done on earth.
Let our focus be bringing in the harvest to the Lord’s kingdom church. Thank God for Godly workers.
Thank the Lord for His perfect, written word. This literary work we know as the Bible not only gives comfort and hope in time of need, it is the document which lays out the foundation upon which the church of Christ is built. The written word of God, for millennium, has been used to explain God’s will for the salvation of man, gives examples of how to walk in a “manner worthy of the calling...”, and reveals the power of the Holy Spirit in us, “which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory”. I could not imagine the emptiness I would feel without having the written word of God to read every day. News Alert! This just in from Africa. “Great news from Tanzania: Our team has completed New Testament translations in three more languages! The Makonde, Mwera, and Zaramo translations are in the final stages of typesetting now.” (Chris Vickio) This work, completed by the servants at Pioneer Bible Translators, is in need of funding for printing and dissemination of 15,000 copies @ $4.00 per copy. “This is the culmination of many years of work and dedication for these projects and is an exciting step as we look forward to many people hearing and reading the gospel in their own language for the first time. Around 2.5 million people speak one of these languages here in Tanzania, most of whom are not yet Christians, so the potential is huge!” If you value your Bible like I do, let’s commit to sending funds to help this project put the written word of God into peoples hands. Consider it another small way we can help in making disciples of the nations. God’s written word was meant to be translated, studied, relied upon and preached. Again, I thank the Lord for preserving His word in written form. Imagine our government without the Constitution? Any corporation without its bylaws? Beethoven’s 5th without the sheet music? Without the original intentions of the designer to rely on, the work becomes transfigured beyond recognition. The word of God, of course, is of supreme importance. It alone is the source of divine power and truth. Psalm 119:160 “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” 1Cor1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Without the written word of God we are like sheep without a shepherd, a ship without a compass or a building project without blueprints. Devote yourself the study of the Bible. Attend classes. Meditate upon His scriptures. Oral traditions come and go, the spoken word someday will be forgotten, however, the “written word remains”.
It’s the middle of the summer. The beaches are packed. Big RV’s clog the roadways. People spend their days out on the water. Many have homes near it. Ah yes, this is the life! Well at least for the moment. You see, if the beach, the water, vacations, having fun in the sun, if that’s what “the life” is, that life is pretty shallow. The life we live in our physical bodies is in reality, temporary. It may seem like we are on the top of the world. Like we have it all, like we are invincible, like these “happy days” will go on forever! Don’t believe that lie. Go talk with a resident at a nursing home. Life will let you down, you will get old, happy days will end. Then what? Don’t let this bleak reality summarize the totality of your life. The Gospel is Good News! It gives hope for the future and the promise of life, real life, eternal life! God is life. Anything opposed to God and His word ends in total separation from real life, death. John the Baptist said in John3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life. But he who does not obey (see the connection between belief and obedience) the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Real Life, “The Life” is all about doing life with Jesus, or Life IN Christ. Having faith in Jesus and obeying His word is how we live eternal life right now! The born again believer, the faithful follower of Christ is “raised” up in baptism to “walk in a new life”. (Romans 6:4) This new life is eternal in so far as at the instant a saint dies in the body, his soul and spirit are in the presence of the Lord. While he is still alive in the body, and working for the Lord, the Lord is always with him. Death no longer has any sting. Thanks be to Jesus the Christ who gives us victory over death! (1Corinthians15:57) That includes victory over eternal separation from God. Therefore, our view of death is now completely different. We no longer fear death, wether natural of otherwise, because we are living an eternal life right now. In 1Corinthians 15:58 , the apostle encourages us how to live this new and eternal life. “... steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Live your life convicted on the foundation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Never waver from that fact and never move away from that position. Satan is pushing on you every day to defect from the rock. Stand firm! At the same time, “abound in the work of the Lord”. Those who are serving, working and ministering to others in the will of God for the promotion of His kingdom and His glory will always reap heavenly rewards. The energy and time spent working for the sake of His name is never wasted. “Your labor is not in vain.” So ask yourself, “What work am I doing for the glory of God?”, “How am I helping His kingdom and what am I doing to aid in delivering the Gospel of Christ?” Those engaged in this work are truly “living the life”.