May 31, 2013
When we walk in the will of the Lord, we must have strong faith. We must have a faith that trusts God firmly no matter what things look like or feel like. God honors this kind of faith, and actually, if we are not progressing toward this, He will be sorely disappointed in us. (Heb. 10:38 & 11:6) God wants good things for us, but these almost always come by faith. For even if He has decreed that we are to have certain gifts, skills, and blessings, He also commands that we use faith to arrive at them.
God promises His people fellowship with Him, but this must be worked toward. This work is done by reading His Word, studying it diligently, and being careful to put into practice what He says there. God promises protection to His people, but we must work toward wisdom, listening to His Spirit teach us through the Word, and putting to practice, through self-control, what we hear. God promises His people all kinds of things, but we must work to have and keep these, doing so by waiting patiently, and by holding all things loosely, so that the promise doesn’t become an idol or get in the way of our relationship or obedience to Christ.
One of the main ingredients for growing in strong faith is to be “fully persuaded”. (Rom. 4:21) We need to be fully persuaded that the Lord has said something to us (if He has), and then we need to believe, in calm and restful trust, that He not only has the power to carry it out (same verse), but that because He is good and kind and trustworthy, He will definitely do it. If we believe like this, God credits it to us as righteousness (v. 22), and He will move mountains, even mountains we may have erected through misunderstanding some of the details of how to advance into the promise. (Having assurance of this certainly soothes any anxiety that righteous people may have about making unintentionally incorrect decisions.)
Being fully persuaded is huge in affecting our walk of faith. Such certainty of having heard God’s word to us about a particular matter gives us the complete ability to rest peacefully in that promise, even as we are working to advance in His will and directives. Such faith keeps us from allowing the enemy’s darts of fear, unbelief, or impatience to get at us. If ever they do, the strong faith we are in the habit of walking in, will help us in throwing our petitions upon the Lord until He pours out the assurance once again.
In Jacob’s experience, we see that “great fear and distress” (Gen. 32:7) came upon him when he heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. (v. 6) But we also see that he acted in wisdom (v. 7,8,13-23), as well as in faith as he reminded God that He had promised to bring him back to his homeland, prosper him, and multiply his descendants. (v. 9-12) Even so, Jacob got alone and wrestled with God (physically and spiritually), petitioning the Lord to bless him.
Let’s take note that verse 25 says, “When the man [God in bodily form] saw that He could not overpower him, He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.” What? God could not overpower Jacob and had to grant him his request? This is incredible! But it teaches us that God does submit Himself to His own laws, and one of these laws is to answer the prayer of faith if that prayer is in line with His will. (1 John 5:14,15) Should we not be encouraged? Absolutely. For Jacob’s experience is just further confirmation for us that if God has given us a promise, He desires that we show Him our confidence by insisting that He deliver on His promise, even during those times when all looks bleak and we have succumbed to fear and doubt.
Did Jacob really have to wrestle the blessing from God? I don’t believe so, for God had already promised blessing and prosperity to Jacob. Was the struggle not then for Jacob himself to be granted renewed assurance? But, as we also can note, the lack of maintaining full persuasion of faith did cost him a wrenched hip. Therefore, it seems it would’ve been better for him to rest in fully-persuaded faith, and exhibit that through joyful, confident, songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for the miracle God was about to do.
Pr. 24:10 exhorts us, “If you falter in the day of predicament, your strength is small!” If we have strength that falters in adverse times, we have weak faith, and weak faith is displeasing to God and dangerous to our future of inheriting the promise. As Isa.7:9 also cautions, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
Do we hear that last verse? That’s sobering. Faith is derived by believing what God has said. But if we do not stand firm in believing what God has said, what will happen? We will not stand at all. What does it mean to not stand at all? Well, it likely does not mean entrance into the promise. That’s frightening, I’d say. It means God’s will, plan, purpose, and promise for us is not going to happen. Because we cowered back in unbelief and did not stride forward (through prayer and praise and obedience) to regain our faith and stand firm in it, then destruction, not the promise, is what we face. (Heb. 10:38,39)
Standing firm in faith comes only by having practiced, and advanced in, strong faith. Strong faith comes by being fully persuaded. Being fully persuaded comes by believing that what the Lord has said to us, He certainly will bring about. This assurance comes by knowing intimately the One who is perfectly trustworthy, while this knowledge and relationship comes by reading and obeying God’s Word, which, in turn, is accomplished by diligent effort.
In summary, when we walk in the will of the Lord, we must do what is necessary to maintain a strong, firmly-planted faith that nothing can break.
May 30, 2013
Those who teach that Rom. 7:7-25 is describing the situation of those who have accepted the salvation Christ Jesus paid for with His own blood, make a mockery of Romans 6 and 8, the whole teaching of God’s Word, and Romans 7 itself. Rom. 7:14 says, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Verses 15-24 then go on lamenting the predicament of this bondage, exclaiming and asking in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” Of course the grateful answer, as given in verse 25 (and confirmed in all of Scripture) is that Christ Jesus saves us. –That is, He saves us from the misery of existing in a body of death (which is headed for eternal death).
What is the body of death? It is the sinful nature which, being hidden in the “old self”, was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6) with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24) and which has been renounced (Eph. 4:22 // Col. 3:9) and circumcised from our hearts (Rom. 2:29 // Col. 2:11) so that the new self can be worn. (Eph. 4:23,24 // Col. 3:10) “By dying to what once bound us” (Rom. 7:6), we are no longer controlled by the sinful nature (v. 5) –which made us bear fruit for death (same verse)– but are instead completely new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) who live controlled by the Spirit. (Rom. 8:9) Those who continue to live by the sinful nature will reap eternal death (8:13 // 6:16,21,23 // Gal. 6:8), while those who live in freedom from it, will reap eternal life. (Rom. 6:22 // Gal. 6:8)
By believing that Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21) as He, by way of the cross, paid the wage of sin (1 John 2:2) –which is death (Rom. 6:23)– we have our sins taken away. (John 1:29 // 1 John 3:5) Heb. 9:26 confirms this, for it says that Christ “appeared… to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Verse 28 repeats the fact: “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people [those who believe].” Only by being cleansed and kept clean of sin (Titus 2:14), do we no longer reap sin’s penalty. (Luke 13:3 // Heb. 6:8 & 10:26-31,39)
To the false teachers, we then ask, “Does Scripture teach that Christ sacrificed Himself to remove the penalty of sin, or does it teach that He sacrificed Himself to do away with sin itself which then results in salvation from the wages of sin? Scripture teaches the latter, for the penalty of sin is not removed from those who keep sinning –no matter if they claim to be saved or not. This Truth is continuously confirmed, such as in Rom. 6:2 which says (of those who belong to Christ), “We died to sin”, and in verse 4, along with verse 7, and Col. 3:3, which states that we ourselves have died. Why do false teachers contradict God’s Word and say that it is normal for those who are born of God to go on sinning? –Especially when passages such as 1 John 3:5-10 emphatically insist upon the opposite? How can they teach that new creations will keep sinning, even while 1 Peter 4:1,2 teach that those who have identified with Christ are “done with sin… [and] evil human desires”?
Let’s go back to Rom. 7:14, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Let’s compare this verse with those in 1 Cor. 2:12-16 which inform us that we have been given the Spirit of God –He who helps us understand what God has given us, He who gives us spiritual discernment and instruction, He who gives us the mind of Christ, and through whom we each are made a “spiritual man”. (v. 15) Let’s again ask the false teachers, “Are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:8) individuals unspiritual, or are we spiritual?” And, “Have we been made alive with Christ, as Eph. 2:5 says we have, or are we still dead in our transgressions and sins (v. 1) and still living in them, just as we used to do when we followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the rebel kingdom? (v. 2) Which is it –dead to sin and alive to Christ (Rom. 6:11), or alive to sin and dead to Christ?”
Anyone who teaches that true Christ-followers remain in their old state, being “unspiritual and sold as a slave to sin”, are showing themselves ignorant of the Gospel. For the Gospel teaches that Christ frees people from the enslavement of sin, and that once this transaction occurs, the believer’s chains are removed, never to be put back on –except by the believer’s own choice to turn back from following Christ so as to return to the vomit of corruption (2 Peter 2:19-22) and the imprisonment of sin. (Rom. 7:23 // Gal. 3:22) The man who is ruled by (meaning, led by and controlled by) the Spirit is not at the same time ruled by sin, nor is he ruled by the Spirit one day and then ruled by sin the next day. Those kind of people are deemed “unfaithful” and the Spirit of God does not put up with that (1 Cor. 3:16,17) any more than a faithful spouse would put up with an untrustworthy spouse.
So how do we interpret Rom. 7:14 when it says, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin”? We just look at the context and it is very easy to see that verses 7-25 are written in a present-tense literary style so as to give added emphasis to the predicament of the unredeemed –their struggle to do right while under sin’s power– and the glorious relief of having a Savior who sets us free from that captivity. The present-tense style helps the reader better empathize with the predicament and thus better able to relate to the gratefulness we should have in having been set free. If anyone is not convinced of this from the context alone, then a comparison of Scripture with Scripture (such as those I’ve mentioned above) should suffice. For the whole counsel of God’s Word repeatedly teaches: If a person is a slave to sin, he is on the path of death (see Rom. 6:16), but if he belongs to Christ, he has been “baptized into His death” (v. 3), has been “raised… to live a new life” (v. 4), has had the old self crucified and the body of sin rendered powerless (v. 6), and has thus “been freed from sin” (v. 7), and freed from his own sins (Rev. 1:5), by Christ’s blood. (same verse) Walking in this freedom is the only path to eternal life.
False teachers need to open up their minds to the fact that “freed from sin” and “sold as a slave to sin” are opposites. They need to stop pretending to preach freedom when they are actually teaching enslavement. (2 Peter 2:19) They need to stop deceiving themselves and others into thinking that a Christ-follower can live a life of opposites, walk two opposing paths, and serve two incompatible rulers. Such a thing is simply impossible. Common sense tells us this, and so does Jesus (Luke 16:13), as well as the rest of God’s Word.
May 29, 2013
Yesterday I saw that one of my best friends at the nursing home (who is turning 85 in two weeks) has a new hairdo with a 7-inch stitched wound on one side of her head. She’d had fluid on the brain and it had been operated on, with a stint put in all the way to her stomach. I was glad to see that she’d come through okay, but as I talked with her, she suddenly said, “Rachel, will you pray that I just go to Heaven? I’m ready to go. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
I stroked her arm and said that I understood, and I did pray with her that the Lord would take her in His perfect timing and in a peaceful way without suffering. My friend then asked me many questions about death and Heaven. She wanted assurance that she would really be going to Heaven, and I said that no one can fully know another person’s heart, but that we can recognize their fruit; and I assured her that over the almost ten years that I’ve known her (my husband and I used to take her and her half-paralzed son to church) I had seen much good fruit –that she has loved Jesus and His Word, has cared tenderly for her different roommates, has always been kind and sweet and considerate, and has consistently been concerned about knowing what God’s Word says and how best to please Him.
Later, when visiting another friend at her home, this friend and I were, at one point, talking about the skewed priorities of so many church-goers and how masses of them are going to be crying outside of Heaven’s gates, “Lord, Lord, did we not… [We were certain we ‘got saved’. We were certain we belonged to You!]” (Matt. 7:21-23 & 25:11,41-46 // Luke 13:22-28) My friend mentioned that many people don’t really realize they aren’t truly born again until they actually are and that only then do they recognize the difference. She said that the pastor’s wife at their church has given this testimony about herself –that she “walked an aisle”, “accepted Jesus”, and got into the “Christian” culture, but not until many years later –when she was actually reborn– did she realize she had not previously been “saved” or “born again”.
It’s a frightening thought: To be nearing the end of your life here on earth and wonder if you are truly going to be accepted into Heaven. Because if you’re not, you know that the alternative will be worse than a thousand nightmares. (Matt. 25:30,41,46) Therefore let no one deceive you: Being accepted or condemned certainly does have to do with the way we live our earthly lives. (See all the passages above // John 5:29 // Eph. 5:3-6 // 2 Thes. 1:8,9 // Heb. 10:26-31 // 1 Peter 1:14-16 & 4:2) For genuine faith does believe Christ’s words enough to obey them. (Luke 6:46-49 // 1 John 2:3-6)
May 28, 2013
When we belong to Christ Jesus, He takes it upon Himself to train us. But, in order to be trained by the Lord (and this so that we can better know Him and serve Him), we must be able to hear His instructions.
If that fact seems elementary, it should. But strangely, many Christians seem to think that they are going to grow into maturity (someday), that they are going to be able to serve God in power (someday), that they are going to be pleasing to the Lord (someday), and that they are going to be automatically walking in the will of the Lord (every day), even as they refuse to obey what they already know is required of God’s people!
Calvinism’s false doctrines about the sovereignty of God and about God’s gift to us concerning free choice have a lot to do with people’s false beliefs. However, anyone who can think, should be able to understand that goals are never reached unless strived for. It’s not the case in any area, whether it be in attaining good relationships, degrees, money, prestige, knowledge, wisdom, or anything else. Hopefully it’s obvious, at least to us as we age, that this is reality; and certainly Christians can recognize this fact both from what God’s Word tells us and from our own experiences. Then, when people insist that anyone can grow spiritually merely by basking under perpetual teaching even as they remain resting in their corner of worldliness, self-indulgence, and spiritual laziness, we can accept that they are blind and simply need to be separated from.
So, when we are genuine about belonging to Christ, we take it upon ourselves to listen to Him. This we do by choice. We submit our will to His will, our choices and decisions to His choices and decisions. In other words, we follow Christ. But of course this can be done only by listening, hearing His voice, and obeying what He says. Then because we obey, we will be trained, and we will grow.
One thing that often happens as we come into close fellowship with the Lord, is He will give us a promise, usually about a blessing He wants us to have. However, if we’re not careful, we’ll grab ahold of this promise of blessing, and in our zeal and excitement, plow forward to try to attain it. But this is not the way of the Lord. This is not the way He does things. Instead, the Shepherd takes us into places that seem contrary to what He has said.
“Look,” our Lord says to us. “See that plateau, ablaze with My glory? See that crown, that reward, that peace, that honor, that joy, that knowledge, that brilliance? It’s yours.”
“Wow, Lord, thank you,” the trainee says, and he is usually ready and eager to listen about how to reach that wonderful place.
But what happens? What happens is that the Shepherd often says, “Now wait until I give notice.” So the learner waits. And he waits and he waits and he waits. If he’s wise, he just keeps waiting. If he’s unwise, he lets impatience take over. He says, “Hmmm, I must have missed some instruction. Maybe the Lord is already way up ahead. I better set out walking.” But a person like this only finds himself lost or caught in swamps; and if he doesn’t repentantly call out to his Leader to be rescued, he will die, or he will arrive at some worldly, counterfeit plateau, and there he will remain until he dies. For this person, the Plateau of Blessing that could’ve been his, he has forfeited.
Another learner, the wise one, will wait, training himself in the Manual, until the Shepherd says, “Okay, let’s go.” But what happens then too? What happens is that often the Shepherd will turn to one side, and leading the learner down a narrow, hard path, will seem to take him away from the Plateau of Blessing. Down, down, down, the learner will be guided until dense fog is all the learner can see.
“Lord?” this learner will keep saying, and the Lord, sometimes answering in words, but often only with the touch of His staff, or the very soft plod of His feet, will continue to guide the listener, keeping him reminded that all is completely under control. And the learner, because he remembers what the Manual said, will continue advancing in calm and confident trust. (Isa. 50:10)
But what happens when this trail trek goes on for years? What happens when spots of sunlight are rare or when the learner gets weary or tempted to doubt? That depends on the choice of the learner and how diligently he listens and trusts. Does he give in to temptations, or is he disciplined about rereading the Manual at every rest stop, quoting it and rehearsing it even as he walks? Does he keep calling out for assurance of the Shepherd’s presence? Does he refuse to be frightened by the eerie sounds that come from those still living in the dark realm? Does he keep his thoughts focused on his Leader, or does he let his thoughts swerve off and wallow in sloughs of self-pity, depression, doubt, anger, and fear?
What the trainee does, where the learner advances, is about his own choice. The Shepherd has given a promise. He has not lied, for He never lies. However, the promise is attained only as the learner, in faith and trust, listens, obeys, advances, waits, follows, and continues in all these practices, using the Guide’s own power available to him. Then, and only then, will this wise trainee one day break out of the fog and see that the Plateau of Blessing is right there under his feet.
Now, let’s ask: Was the Plateau of Blessing reached by dejectedly sitting down on a rock and calling around for advice about how to find a path out of the fog?
May 27, 2013
May we and our loved ones have a peaceful and happy Memorial Day. In my mind, this day is always an opportunity to remember, not only those who have sacrificed their lives for our country’s freedom, but also those who have dedicated their lives to bringing to others the wonderful news of the spiritual freedom found in Christ.
I believe that anyone who has courageously and sacrificially given up their time, money, comforts, and well-being to continually bring good to others should be considered a hero, whether that person has died in the effort, or is still living. Anyone who has compassionately devoted himself to rescuing others… any medical person, disaster relief worker, Bible translator, evangelist… anyone who has worked to help orphans, the homeless, the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, the abused… and especially if they have done any of this in the name of the Lord and for His glory, is a hero, I believe.
Below is a link to a beautiful Memorial Day song I came across, with photos that are certainly sobering. Since we know that God does want His people to enter Heaven’s gates worthy of great commendation, then all of us should aspire to be added to that honored list, doing so by serving humanity with the love, sincerity, and compassion of the Lord Himself.
Let’s remember that any of us can be a hero, even if just to one person, as long as we walk in Christ’s assignment for us. And though freedom, happiness, and peace do not come free, it can be purchased.
Sometimes just one dedicated life is all it takes. Other times, many. But it does take joining, and being committed, to the cause, even unto death.
May 26, 2013
When God gives each of us spiritual gifts and callings, it is for the purpose of being a blessing to Him and others. This is to be accomplished by using our abilities to better worship the Lord, learn more about Him, become mature, and build up the body of Christ so that they, in turn, might also achieve these. By using our gifts and callings to serve God and others, we each are to devote ourselves to preparing God’s people for service and ministry. (Eph. 4:11-13; see also Rom. 12:4-8 and 1 Cor. ch. 12)
Regrettably, the church often seems to forget their purpose, and they certainly often forget that each member has that same purpose. Instead of encouraging church attendance in order to be equipped with the necessary knowledge of Christ and His Word and the necessary training and experience of preparing others, church attendance is often encouraged in order to merely complete one’s weekly duty, to help fill up the pews, to be made to feel good, to be entertained, or to take in yet more spiritual food. The last reason is a worthy motivation, but not when there is no further purpose; for when we are fed, we must go on to feed others.
One family who is feeding others is my sister’s family. Besides serving full-time in their church and community, they have periodically visited the Hadza people in Africa to feed them both physically and spiritually. I was excited to read an article, about their latest trip, in a newspaper that just came out last week. That trip is described on pages 11 & 12 after clicking this link:
Also, here is the link where Violet and her group wrote about –and showed photos– of their experiences:
There is a whole world out there still waiting to have people who love and know Jesus come and equip them to also learn how to bless God and humanity. Who will go? Who will use their gifts and callings? Who will pay attention to the need and leave the perpetual huddle?
P.S. Here are some more photos of Violet’s trip this last February:
One of the messages Ashley & Violet put in the gift bags to the Hadza children.
Violet stirring the interest of the elephants.
Violet, at the orphanage, holding a girl who was left for dead as an infant.
Violet watching a Hadza woman pound corn.
Violet investigating a crudely-made animal corral.
A Hadza home. Many homes look like haystacks, as can be seen at Violet’s blogspot.
Andrea, Hadza women, & Violet (who is still sleeping)
Hadza child with balloon
Hadza, having gathered wood
Beautiful Hadza children
May 25, 2013
God’s Word tells us to show proper respect one to another and to submit to each other and to the governing authorities. (Eph. 5:21 // 1 Peter 2:13-17) However, this does not mean that someone is required to submit to a person who is inflicting on someone else his false doctrine, idolatry, perversion, deceitfulness, greed, violence, or any kind of cruelty –cruelty such as extortion, neglect, insults, harassment, or oppression. Submission to those evil things is forbidden in Scripture and we are never to partner with those who commit them. (Ps. 26:4-6 & ch. 101 // Rom. 16:17-19 // 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 // Eph. 5:3-7)
When we submit to one another, we are to do so “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), “as to the Lord” (v. 22), “as is fitting in the Lord” (Col. 3:18), in order to honor and respect one another (1 Peter 3:7), in order to model purity, inner beauty, kindness, esteem, self-control, and courage (v. 1-9 // Titus ch. 2), and to do all this so that God’s Word will not be maligned, but instead believed, honored, and spread. (same two passages)
Unfortunately, many church leaders are not making the distinction. They may do so concerning secular authorities, but not when it comes to submission to them or to that of a wife to her husband. In fact, the church seems to be leading the way in propagating the command that “wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:24) In everything? Really? Including that which is illegal, idolatrous, or cruel? Unbelievably, there are people who teach this; but, such teaching is completely foreign to Scripture.
What does Eph. 5:24 actually say? It says, “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything.” Note the wording –as to Christ. And we know that Christ is a servant-leader who is compassionate, tender, loving, holy, and just. Furthermore, this verse has a context. The whole passage (v. 21-33) is giving instructions concerning the unity of husband and wife, which is to function as one body, as does the church, which is subject to Christ –He who cherishes her, nourishes her, feeds her, and cares for her, in absolute sacrificial, tender, and respectful love.
Verse 25 says, “The husbands, love your wives, as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself up on behalf of it…”
Verse 28 says, “So also [as Christ] the husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”
Verse 32 says, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself…” No man would dish out distress, or deceit, or violence, or adultery, or insults, or etc. upon himself; therefore men who inflict such things upon their wives are in obvious defiance of God’s Word.
Col. 3:19, along with 1 Peter 3:7-12 & 5:5 teach men that they cannot be harsh, deceitful, insulting, or evil in any way toward anyone, especially toward their wives who, in the Lord’s eyes, they are “one flesh” with (Eph. 5:31), but that they must instead be considerate, humble, loving, and respectful, and that if they are not, their prayers will not only be hindered, but God will be at war against them.
How any preacher could extract the commands given to wives and gloss over those given to husbands, thereby teaching that wives are to submit to their husbands no matter what, is incredulous.
If preachers would teach God’s Word by comparing each verse they promote with the whole of Scripture, what would flourish would be correct doctrine instead of false doctrines that bring oppression and harm to individuals, whole families, whole churches, and society in general.