While We Wait

Have you ever prayed, “God, I need patience, and I need it right now!”?  Although we’re beginning to see an easing of some of the restrictions related to the pandemic, it still has many of us wondering when it will ever end. We’ve lived most of our adult lives in an instant gratification society. And for many of us, whenever we have to stop and wait, whether it’s at a traffic light or for our appointment time at the doctor’s office, we tend to get agitated real quick if it’s taking longer for that light to turn green than we think it should, or if we have to sit in that doctor’s waiting room for any length of time. Being patient, sometimes, is not our best quality.

For a lot of us, waiting and exercising patience is not something we do well. Even in our prayers, we don’t like to wait very long for answers. Yet the pages of the Bible are filled with exhortations and admonishments to be patient and wait on God. Here are just a few:

Psalm 27:14 – Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart. Wait for the Lord.

Psalm 33:20 – We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 37:7 – Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

Psalm 130:5 – I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.

Isaiah 26:8 – Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you……

Lamentations 3:24 – I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him.”

Micah 7:7 – But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Romans 12:12 – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Jude 1:21 – …keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Not only does the Bible directly address the matter of being patient and waiting on God through passages of scripture, we also see examples of patience in the lives of people like Noah, Joseph, Moses, Paul, and others. Noah, for instance, didn’t sit around fidgeting or pacing back and forth on the deck of the ark wondering how long it would be till the waters receded. He had a job to do. He had a lot of animals to care for. In fact, I doubt that he had much free time at all. While Noah waited on God, there were things that needed to be done.

While God was bringing his plan for the preservation of the Israelites to fruition, Joseph languished in an Egyptian prison because of the false accusations brought against him by Potiphar’s wife. But while he waited, Joseph had a job to do. He was in charge of the prison and while he waited on God to bring about his release, he was learning the skills he would need later on when, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, he would be promoted and become second in command in Egypt.

Moses and Aaron and the rest of the Israelite people did not just sit in their homes and wait as God passed through Egypt striking down the first born during the Passover. They were given an assignment. They had to prepare the Passover lamb and other food and eat all of it in the prescribed manner, and then they had to prepare for their immediate departure from Egypt. While they waited in their homes, there were things they had to do.

The Apostle Paul waited three days for Ananias to come restore his sight. While we’re not given any details of how Paul spent that time, I don’t think he was idly passing the time waiting for Ananias to show up. I imagine there was a lot of time spent in prayer, talking to God. It’s safe to say that God used that time to transform Paul into the greatest Christian evangelist the world has ever known.

Those are just a few examples, but there is lesson there for us. As we wait for God to do whatever it is He plans to do to bring an end to this pandemic, there are things we need to be doing. I’m sure God has an assignment for us, and we need to be praying and asking what that assignment is. Waiting on God does not mean tapping our foot on the ground with our arms folded or strumming our fingers on the tabletop wondering when God is going to show up and do something. That’s not what it means to wait on the Lord. There is ministry work that needs to be done. There are needs to be met. There are lost people who need to hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ. I believe wholeheartedly that God expects us to be productive while we wait on Him.

Our mission has not changed. The Great Commission has not been quarantined. While we wait, let’s ask God to show us our assignment. Let’s ask Him to show us where we need to serve Him in ministry. Let’s ask Him to show us where there are needs to be met. Let’s ask God to show us what He wants us to be doing to make the best use of the time He has given us while we wait, not just for the end of the coronavirus crisis, but also, while we wait for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Danger of Isolation

Genesis 3
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Although the last sentence of that passage from Genesis 3 says that Adam was with Eve when she took the fruit from the tree and ate it, I don’t think Adam was there when she was first approached by Satan. I think some time had passed between the time she was first tempted and when she picked the fruit from the tree. Maybe it was only a few minutes or perhaps a few hours, but I don’t believe Adam was with her when the devil asked Eve, “Did God really say……..?” I believe Satan waited for an opportune time and approached her when she was alone because that’s how he operates. He often comes at us when we are alone and isolated.

Satan tried to use the same strategy against Jesus. Not only had Jesus been alone in the desert for forty days, he had not eaten during that time. Jesus was isolated and weakened from hunger when Satan tempted Him. First, he tried to tempt Jesus to use his power to satisfy his hunger – “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'”

Next, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tried to tempt Him with power – “I will give you all their authority and splendor………If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.'”

Finally, Satan tried to get the Son to test the Father. He led Jesus to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning you, they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus said to him, “It is said,’You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Even at His weakest, Jesus was stronger than Satan because of the power of God and God’s word. With everything that’s been happening lately because of the Covid-19 pandemic and all the closures and quarantines, millions of people are isolated and alone. 1 Peter 5 verse 8 tells us, “Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” If you’ve watched those nature documentaries on the National Geographic channel, you know that lions look for weak and injured animals that are alone and have become separated from their herds. They look for easy prey and I have no doubt that Satan is doing the very same thing right now. He’s looking for easy prey. He’s looking for people who are alone and vulnerable.

None of us are strong enough to take on Satan alone, just as none of us could defeat a hungry lion one on one. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, the weapon He used to defend against the temptations Satan threw at Him was the Word of God. Each time Satan went at Him, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy.

In Ephesians chapter 6, the Apostle Paul referred to the Word of God as the Sword of the Spirit. Of course, being in a right relationship with Jesus Christ is a must when we battle with temptation. And our main weapon against temptation, along with prayer, is the Word of God. On our own, we will be devoured, but when we know what God’s word says and when we know how God wants us to live, we can withstand those spiritual attacks by the evil one in times like we’re in now, when we are more vulnerable than we normally would be.

Jesus said in Matthew 28, “And surely, I am with you always, till the end of the age.”

If you start to feel isolated and alone, stop for a moment, then close your eyes and pray. I suggest praying a passage of scripture that you have memorized. Then let the Word do what God sent it to accomplish in your heart and in your mind. Remember, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Like Jesus said, He is with us always. We are never alone.

When God’s Laws are Ignored or Disobeyed

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20

The Apostle Paul said God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen and understood from what was made. I think we can safely conclude from that passage that God established the natural laws that govern the universe. That passage makes it clear that there is a divine power at work in the universe that is clearly visible. God is the divine lawgiver who established the natural laws that govern the universe. So when people look at creation, they’re seeing the effects of those laws, and therefore should be able to reach only one conclusion – that there had to be a Lawgiver. You cannot have laws without a Lawgiver.

And the consequences for breaking God’s natural laws can be as severe as breaking His moral laws. For instance, take the law of gravity. God created gravity just like He created everything else. So if you jump out of airplane without a parachute, there will be consequences for breaking the law of gravity. Same can be said for laws of physics and other laws of science. God created them all and there can be devastating consequences for breaking those laws.

Consider the laws that God gave to Moses. The Mosaic Law, as it’s called, governed Israelite society. It governed their religious practices and moral conduct. But God gave other regulations as well, including regulations that governed personal cleanliness and hygiene. Whenever someone found mold in one of their houses or on their clothing, there were specific ways they had to go about identifying it and cleaning it up. If they brushed up against someone with a skin disease, there were specific instructions for cleaning themselves. If they came into contact with a dead animal, again, there were specific instructions for washing and cleaning themselves. Those instructions were ceremonial, yes, but they served another purpose. As well as being ceremonial, God gave those cleaning instructions for health reasons.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus and the ensuing pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of attacks against God and God’s people, both in the mainstream media and on social media. They are saying things like, “God must be evil because He created this evil coronavirus. How could a loving God allow such a thing?” Isn’t it funny how they’ve rejected God, they’ve reviled the people of God, they’ve denied God, and told God in not so polite terms to butt out, but yet they still expect His protection? God created everything. He is the creator of all life and yes, He created the coronavirus. I’m sure He created it to live in a specific environment and/or in a particular species of animal, and He created it for a specific purpose. Perhaps it was intended to control rodent populations. Who knows? But God had his reasons.

We do know the coronavirus was never meant to be introduced into human beings, but somewhere in a meat market in Wuhan Province China, a person or group of persons failed to properly clean themselves or whatever animal carcass it was that they were handling, and the virus was inadvertently introduced into human beings. They failed to practice good hygiene. They failed to disinfect and sanitize themselves and the environment where they were handling the meat of dead animals. Remember those regulations God gave the Israelites? Someone in Wuhan Province China broke one of those laws of nature that were established by God. There are consequences when the laws of God are broken, whether they’re broken with malicious intent or not. And sometimes, the consequences are severe as we’re seeing now.

The truth is and always was, it was human beings who caused this crisis the world is facing, just like it was human beings, Adam and Eve, who introduced death into the world when they failed to obey the one single law God gave them. All of humanity has suffered from the disease called sin since the fall of Adam and Eve, just like all of humanity is suffering now because of the actions of – perhaps – just one person in China. That’s how it’s always been. So the people who are shaking their fist at God need to wake up and realize that God is not a cosmic nanny who goes behind us and cleans up every mess we make. This is something we will have to endure for a while.

In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we have the account of Jesus sound asleep in the back of a boat in the midst of a fierce storm. The boat was taking on water, the disciples were terrified and afraid they were about to die. They woke Jesus up, called His attention to what was happening (as if He didn’t know), and that was when Jesus said to the wind and waves, “Peace, be still.” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:39)

I do believe God will bring an end to this crisis, but there is no escaping the present storm. Even though they had Jesus in the boat, the disciples still sailed into a storm. This is true for us today. Even though we have Jesus in the boat, we will still go through storms in life. But there will be a day, hopefully soon, when He will say, “Peace, be still.”

Stay safe, God bless

The Journey to Hope

Roman 5:1-5
Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because we know that God has poured out his love into out hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

In this part of his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul proclaimed what is perhaps the most foundational truth of Christianity, that believers are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works or doing enough good deeds to outweigh the bad. The word ‘justified’ means “to declare innocent or guiltless, to be absolved or acquitted.” So the moment we received Christ, we were declared “innocent” in the eyes of God. It was through the faith God is real and Jesus Christ was God in flesh who came and lived among us that we asked Jesus to take away our sins. We placed our faith in His atoning death on the cross and in turn, it was that faith that opened the door to His saving grace when He declared us “not guilty”.

But in that same passage, Paul stated another truth, and it’s a truth that a lot of Christians overlook today. He said we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But then, and this is the part that gets overlooked, he went on to write that we also rejoice when we’re in the midst of suffering. It’s easy enough to say we follow Jesus Christ when times are good, but Paul was saying we must be faithful regardless of whether we’re going through good times or bad. That is the real test of genuine faith.

But I do want to clarify something. We do not rejoice or celebrate because of whatever it is that’s happened that is causing us to suffer. That is not what Paul was implying at all. What he was saying was, Christians can still rejoice even when we’re going through terrible trials because we have the hope of Christ. We have an eternal light at the end of the tunnel. When our two year old grandson died suddenly back in 2007, we didn’t rejoice because of that. No one in their right mind would “rejoice” over something like that. But through that awful trial, we came to know joy in Jesus Christ. We know, as we look back on that time, Jesus was there with us in our time of mourning. And it was through Jesus that we were able to heal. That is what we rejoice. That is what we celebrate now!

But I do have to confess that back in 2007, before Ian passed away, I didn’t know about any of that. It wasn’t until after he died that I got off the fence and devoted my life to Christ, and when I read that passage in Romans chapter 5 for the first time, it felt like it was describing a journey, one that I had been on. It was a journey that began with suffering. We lost our grandson and had to come to grips with the fact that we had no control over it. It was a terrible time but we had to get through it and that led to the next step of the journey, perseverance. However high the mountain would prove to be, we had to get to the other side. We had to keep going. We…. had….. to…..keep…..going. The bills still came due every month. We had to go back to work. Sometimes it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and getting through one day at a time.

After that, Paul said, comes character. That’s the point in the journey where you have to choose your path. Some people turn to drinking and drugs. Some will use their pain as an excuse for mistreating other people. They engage in behavior that causes the breakup of their marriages or the loss of their jobs. Many people have used tragedy as an excuse to self destruct. That’s the character part of the journey. Do you remain in the darkness of the valley forever, or do you choose the light of Christ and allow Him to show you how to live with Godly character?

Finally, the last step of the journey is hope. It’s not the kind of hope in which you hope you get a nice Christmas present or you hope you get that promotion at work. The hope that the Bible talks about is the expectation of spending eternity in the presence of our Savior Jesus when our time here is done. It’s the expectation of receiving a promised reward. That’s what it means when we as Christians speak of hope.

Right now, as you read this, all of humanity is on that same journey. There is suffering in the world unlike anything this generation has ever witnessed. The whole world is somewhere between steps one and two of that journey. People are suffering with the coronavirus and those who have not been infected are grinding it out as we all sit at home and wait for the worst of the pandemic to pass, as we wait for the numbers to begin declining. We are not in control. What we’re going through now is the epitome of persevering through a time of trial. But like Paul said, perseverance leads to character. What path will people choose? Do they blame God for creating this “evil” virus as many are doing now on social media? Or will they come to realize how fragile and precious life is and come to the realization that everyone needs Jesus Christ? My answer to both those questions is “yes” and “yes”. And I also believe that this crisis will separate the sheep from the goats as some who professed to be Christians renounce the faith, proving that they were never Christians to begin with. All of that is the “character” part of the journey.

As believers, we need to point people toward the last step of that journey, which is our hope in Jesus Christ. We’re certainly not rejoicing because of the coronavirus. But because of our faith, we rejoice even while we’re in the midst of this journey because we look forward to something greater than the world. We’re looking forward to our hope in Christ. Our lives, right now, need to reflect that hope more than ever because our mission as Christians has not changed. The Great Commission has not been put in quarantine. If anything, there is greater urgency now. We’re not guaranteed our next breath or our next heartbeat. Our lives, our plans, our health, can all change in a matter of moments and in fact, they already have. As important as it’s always been to share the gospel, it’s even more so now. The world has changed, and now is the time to tell the world that there is someone who never changes, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

It is my prayer that God will put us in the path of people who have to come to that part of the journey where they realize that they have to make a choice. And I pray He will give us the right words to point them to hope – to our hope – and to point them to the light of Jesus Christ.

This Far, and no Farther

In the book of Job, after God was finished listening to the lengthy discussion between Job and his…..presumed…..friends, and after hearing Job’s pleas, God finally spoke. God’s response to Job came in a series of questions to which there was only one possible answer: God is sovereign over all!

The exchange between God and Job was rather lengthy, so I’ll only highlight a few key questions that God asked of Job. You can read the entire book of Job at your leisure. With all that’s going on in the world right now, I think the book of Job is one of the most relevant books we can read to remind us that none of this caught God by surprise. God never said of the coronavirus “Wow! Where did that come from?”

God’s answer to Job begins in the 38th chapter and there are two vitally important conclusions we can take away from the conversation between God and Job. First, God is creator of all. Second, God is in control. That’s it. That is the sum of their entire conversation.

Like I said, the conversation covers several chapters. Here are some of questions God asked Job:

Chapter 38 verses 4 – 6: Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its conerstones……?

Chapter 38 verses 26 and 27: Who makes the rain fall on a barren land where no one lives? Who sends rain to satisy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up?

Chapter 38 verse 33: Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth?

Chapter 38 verse 36: Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind?

In chapter 39, God continues with a series with a series of questions concerning the creatures of the earth. In other words, “Job, who created the animals and made them the way they are?”

Chapter 39 verse 19: Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane?

Chapter 39 verse 26: Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar and spread its wings toward the south?

At the beginning of chapter 40 God asks: Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers? (verse 2)

Job could say nothing. In fact, that was all he could say. Chapter 40 verse 5: I’ve said too much already. I have nothing else to say.

But God was not finished with Job just yet. Job chapter 40 verses 8 – 14: Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right? Are you as strong as God? Can you thunder with a voice like His? All right, put on your glory and splendor, your honor and majesty. Give vent to your anger. Let it overflow against the proud. Humiliate the proud with a glance; walk on the wicked where they stand. Bury them in the dust. Imprison them in the world of the dead. Then even I would praise you, for your own strength would save you.

“Job, I’m God, and you’re not.” And even though the world is in the grip of the coronavirus panic, God is still God. And we’re still not.

God goes on to remind Job that man is not even the mightiest of God’s creatures. In chapter 41 God made reference to a creature called Leviathan. Biblical scholars have suggested that the creature Leviathan could be anything from a dinosaur to a crocodile. I’m not jumping into that argument here. But I’ve always been amused by what God said to Job in verse 8: If you lay a hand on it, you won’t forget the battle that follows!

All of chapter 41 is God’s reminder that there are creatures more powerful than man, whether it’s the large and powerful Leviathan…………or the microscopic coronavirus.

Finally, I want to go back to chapter 38. God is creator of all. God establishes limits and boundaries for His creation. Verses 8 through 11: Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst forth from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it with thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates and limited its shores. I said, “This far, and no farther shall you come.”

Whether it’s vast oceans of the earth or the microscopic sized coronavirus, God is still God and God is in control. Remember how the book of Job begins? Satan struck Job with a series of disastrous calamities that caused Job to lose all his children and everything he owned. But Satan could do nothing without God’s permission and even then, he was not able to go beyond the limits set by God. Everything was filtered through the hands of God.

This crisis will end. It might be through a miracle from God. It could come through a medical breakthrough whereby God works a miracle through the skills and knowledge He has given to medical researchers. But one way or another, it will end. That time will come. God will end this. There will come a day, two weeks from now, a month from now, three months from now – whenever – when God will cause this virus to recede. I believe with all my heart that God stand on the shores of his creation and say to this illness, “This far, and no farther shall you come.”

P.S.

A very wise and Godly man said this to me a few years ago: Instead of praying to God and saying, “God, we have a big problem.” we should be praying, “Problem, we have a big God.”

 

Our Time to Shine

Over the course of the past few days, as the fear over the corona virus has ensued, we’ve seen people running around in panic spending money they would not normally spend as they try to stockpile goods that in all likelihood, will either be given away or will end up spoiling in the fridge. Now as for the dehydrated and dry foods like instant rice and instant potatoes, along with canned goods, it is my prayer that this “prepping” and hoarding is all for naught, and in the end, most of it will end up being donated to food banks so THEIR shelves may be replenished.

I hate to say it, but a lot of the perishable items that people are hoarding right now are going to………well………perish. Even stuff in the refrigerator eventually goes bad. If you’ve ever opened a container that’s been in there a while and sniffed it, you know what I’m talking about. Even in the fridge, nothing lasts forever.

The passage that God has laid on my heart to share with you comes from 1 Peter chapter 1. Watch for some key words in this and some of the other passage I’ll be sharing.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never PERISH, SPOIL, or FADE, kept in Heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is to be revealed in the last times. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, which is of greater worth than gold though it is refined by fire, may be proved genuine, and will result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Earthly things will perish. They spoil, or they eventually fade which is to say, they dry up and blow away. But by the gift of grace, we have been given the promise of eternity in Heaven with Jesus Christ and as Peter pointed out, as new creations in Christ, what we have waiting for us at the end of our lives here on earth cannot perish, it cannot spoil, it will never fade away. We have hope and we have eternal security in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

A little further down in the first chapter of 1st Peter, he went on to write: For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of IMPERISHABLE, through the living and enduring word of God.

Now the Bible does tells us to be prudent. In the book of Genesis, when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he said that Egypt was to be blessed by seven years of plentiful harvests, but that would be followed by seven years of famine. The seven plentiful years were to be a time of preparation for the seven years of famine. In other words, we’re not to be wasteful and we should prepare for times of famine. I should point out though, that does not mean we’re to be doomsday preppers like we see and hear so much about today, and we’re certainly not to be hoarders. But there is Biblical support for being good managers of our resources during good times. Read the words of Proverbs 6:

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest time.

So all of that leads me to my point. I will be prudent, but I am not going to imitate the behavior of the world I’ve witnessed for the past few days. I’ve not only reached out to our current church, I’ve reached out to our former church as well to see if there any elderly people who cannot get out and fight the mobs at the stores, or who don’t have the finances to go out and buy bulk quantities of food or other essentials. As Christians we like to say we’re not like the rest of the world, and now is our chance to show just how different we really are. We are set apart. We are new creations in Christ. Psalm 112 verse 4 says, “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” Now is the time to show the light of Christ to the world.

I’m just one small insignificant light, but for all of you who are Christians and are reading this right now, please reach out to your church family. Ask if anyone needs your help. There may be an elderly person that you know or who someone in your congregation knows who just cannot get out and deal with the madness in the stores. It might some young family who does not have the money to buy more than a few days worth of groceries. Ask God. Pray. Ask Him to show you how to let the light of Jesus Christ shine through you. As Mordecai told Ester, it might be that God has brought us to where we are just for times like these.

God’s Revelation of Himself

In the first chapter of the book of Romans, in verses 18, 19 and 20, the Apostle Paul wrote (and I’m paraphrasing) that whatever may be known about God is plain to see, because God made it plain enough to be seen. And through all of creation, God’s eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen so that everyone is without excuse. In other words, the evidence for the existence of a divine creator, an almighty God, is clear and unmistakable. Creation itself is sufficient proof of God’s existence. Theologians call this the general revelation of God.

That does raise some questions: “What becomes of people who live in the most remote parts of the world who have never heard the gospel?” and “Is it fair for God to judge someone who has never heard of Him?” Those are questions that people have probably been asking for centuries. But let’s suppose someone in one of those remote parts of the world looks up in the sky night after night, or looks out over the ocean day after day, and comes to the realization that everything he or she sees had to have been created by some sort of higher power and in turn, they want to know who that higher power is. That is God revealing Himself to that person through general revelation or as Mathew Henry calls it, through “natural light”. But here is the part that is so hard for many people to accept, in fact, it can be controversial; while the evidence is sufficient enough to proclaim the existence of God, it is not sufficient enough for salvation. There is no such thing as a “get out of hell free” card.

The unbelieving and skeptical world we live in says, “it’s not fair” for God to condemn someone to hell if they never heard of God or had the chance to hear the gospel. But according to the first chapter of Romans, God has revealed Himself………… to everyone. Paul said everyone is without excuse. It’s how people respond to whatever level of revelation that God has given them that determines their eternal destiny. Do they dismiss the notion of a divine creator? Do they try to find some other explanation or otherwise try to attribute creation to multiple gods or to some other force? Or, do they want to know more about the one true God who created the universe?

Robert Jeffress once said that if people living in even the most remote parts of the world come to believe that there must be an all powerful God who is over all creation and they truly desire to know Him, God will see to it that the gospel message reaches them. Someway, somehow, whether it’s through the work of missionaries or through some other means, they will hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ. That’s called God’s special revelation, which is God revealing Himself in a deeper and more personal way to those who seek Him. Therefore, no one will be able to stand before God and say they never knew Him or had any knowledge of Him, because everyone has seen the evidence.

I believe that God can and will make Himself known to those who seek Him, whether it’s someone who lives in your hometown across the street from your church, or if it’s someone who lives in the most remote jungles of South America: God will provide them with the knowledge they need to be saved. That’s not just my opinion. That’s supported by scripture. There are three accounts I want to examine, all in the book of Acts, that support what I just stated.

The first is found in Acts chapter 10. Beginning with the first verse:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come and say to him, “Cornelius.” And Cornelius stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And the angel said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

At around the same time, Peter also had a vision in which God showed him that salvation was for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. And Peter was told to go with the men who were sent by Cornelius. Although Cornelius worshiped and prayed to God, he still had a somewhat limited knowledge of God as we can discern from verse 25 where we’re told that when Cornelius first met Peter, he tried to bow down and worship at Peter’s feet as though Peter were God. Cornelius’ knowledge was incomplete, but God saw what was in his heart, and so God was moved to send Peter to Cornelius’ house to preach the gospel message.

The next account tells of Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia in Acts 16. It was Paul’s desire to preach elsewhere, but he had been prevented from going where he wanted to go by the Holy Spirit. According to verses 9 and 10:

During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “come over to Mecedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Madedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

There were people there who knew and worshiped God, but apparently did not know about Jesus Christ. When Paul arrived in Philippi, one of the major cities in Macedonia, he preached to a group of women who had gathered outside the city gate. One of them was a woman named Lydia who the Bible says was a worshiper of God, yet when Paul preached to her about Jesus Christ, we’re told in verse 14 that the Lord “opened her heart to receive Paul’s message”. Like Cornelius, their knowledge of God was incomplete. But because of their desire to grow deeper in their knowledge of God, God sent them a messenger, Paul, who preached the gospel to them.

Finally, there was the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8. This time, it was the Apostle Philip who was told by the Holy Spirit to walk down the road that ran from Jerusalem to Gaza, where he met the Ethiopian eunuch. Verse 27 of Acts chapter 8 tells us that he was a person of great authority under the queen of Ethiopia, and he had gone to worship in Jerusalem. When Philip found him, he was reading from what is now the book of Isaiah, specifically, Isaiah 53 verses 7 and 8. Though he was obviously a worshiper of God, once again, his knowledge of God was incomplete. There’s no doubt the Ethiopian had a strong desire to know more about God. He was trying to learn as best he could from reading Isaiah. But God saw fit to send Philip to him to help him and to explain the scripture to him. When Philip told him about Jesus, he stopped at the first puddle of water they came to so Philip could baptize him, and when he and Philip parted ways, God’s word says the eunuch went on his way rejoicing!

There are millions of people who have acknowledged that God is real, but they still reject Him and His gift of salvation. Whether God has revealed Himself to a person through creation, that is, through general revelation, or through His special revelation whereby He sends a missionary or a pastor to preach the gospel, there still has to be a response by the one receiving whatever level of revelation God is giving him (or her). Simply acknowleding that God exists is not enough. Simply believing that God is real and that Jesus Christ walked among us as God in the flesh is not enough. People can say they believe everything written in the Bible, and in the very next breath say they want no part of Jesus. So belief alone is not enough to be saved. The Bible says that even demons believe, and they shudder! (James 2:19)

In order to be saved, belief must be accompanied by saving faith that opens hearts to receive the gift of grace by which all are saved. God does not put anyone in a position to where they have to guess whether He exists or not. He does not play games with our salvation because to God, it’s not a game. However He chooses to reveal Himself, God has given us all we need to have a personal relationship with His son, Jesus Christ.

Set Apart

In the very first verse of Romans chapter 1, Paul makes a very profound statement about himself in his introduction and with just two words, he not only defined his relationship with Jesus Christ, he also defined the relationship between Jesus and every Christian who has ever lived. In verse 1 Paul wrote, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and……..SET APART……..for the gospel of God.”

Those two words, “SET APART” resonated with me. They are a reminder to me that, like Paul, every one of us who believes in Jesus Christ has been set apart. Those two words define our relationship with Christ and they define our new identity in Christ. The moment we came to believe in Jesus Christ, we were set apart. But set apart from what? I’m glad you asked yourself that question! Of course the typical Sunday school answer would be that we have been set apart from the world around us. That is absolutely true, but in what sense have we been set apart from the world?

On my commute to and from work every day, I have to pass by scores of so called “gentlemen’s clubs” and other assorted adult oriented businesses that are nothing more than peddlers of pornography. Sadly, their parking lots are almost always full regardless of the time of day. There are far too many men who feel no shame about being seen entering or leaving one of those places. Sometimes it’s almost as if you can feel the filth and there are days when I feel like I need to go home and scrub head to toe with a wire brush (like the kind you use to remove rust from metal) just from having to drive through that area. Unfortunately there’s no other way to get to Dallas Love Field without having to drive miles out of the way.

I was driving through that area not long ago when it struck me that before I was set apart by God, I didn’t give those establishments a second thought and that was actually what got to me to thinking about all this. Before being set apart by God, I’d just drive on by those places minding my own business, and pretty much didn’t care one way or the other what they did. But now that I’ve been set apart by God, I’m disgusted by those businesses and in particular, by a worldly culture that promotes and glorifies lewdness and immorality and goes so far as to defend those establishments and their right to exist. It’s repulsive. That is, in one sense, what it means to be set apart by God. It means that we no longer go with the flow in a culture that celebrates sin and immorality. We’re no longer oblivious to it. One who has been set apart by God can no longer sit on the fence. We have to pick a side, and for us as Christians, that means choosing the way of God over the way of the world.

That was one example. There are other ways that our outlook on the world was changed when we were set apart. Being set apart also means that we’ve experienced a change of heart in a way that no longer allows us to be indifferent to those in need. In my own life, there was a time when I completely lacked generosity. Now I find great joy and gladness of heart when God gives me the opportunity to help meet a need. And I’m grateful to God for giving me the means with which to help on those occasions when called to do so.

Recently, I recently spoke with a friend from high school who I had not talked to in years. He shared how his work schedule had become so difficult, he decided it was time to retire. He was a paramedic supervisor and not long ago, the county where he was employed changed his work schedule. Instead of the usual rotating schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off that is customary for most firefighters and EMTs, his employer changed his schedule to 48 hours on duty followed by 96 hours off. A schedule like that is hard enough on a younger man, and especially difficult on an older person. So that was when he decided it was time to retire and when he told me that he is now retired, I couldn’t have been happier for him! In fact, I did a fist pump when he told me about it. So there again, those of us who have been set apart by God celebrate with friends and family when they share good news. We celebrate other people’s good fortune. A person set apart by God is not envious, or resentful, or uncaring.

In John chapter 10, Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them. and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

In John 17 verse 14, Jesus said His followers are no longer of the world. And later in John 17 are the words of Jesus’ prayer as He prayed for all believers: I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.

I say this in humility because as I’m reminded of how I’ve been set apart by God, I’m also reminded of my old way of life. I cited just a few examples of what it means to be set apart by God. There are many others. But it boils down to this: The reason our outlook on the world changed when we became believers is because, as Jesus said, we are no longer…..of the world. Being set apart means we are now identified with Christ. We’ve been given a new heart. We think different. We behave differently. And if we are truly identified with Christ, others will see us differently as well because we no longer belong to the world. We have been set apart. We now belong to Christ!

Blessings!!

Desire of the Eyes, and Dry Spells of Life

The word of God from Numbers 32:

The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon – the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel – are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”

They looked, they saw, they wanted. Before the Israelites ever set foot in the promised land, the leaders of those tribes asked Moses to give them the territory east of the Jordan River. They desired land that looked good in their eyes without considering that what God had in store for them on the other side of Jordan was far better.

Some five hundred years before that took place, in Genesis chapter 13, the herds and flocks of Abraham and Lot had outgrown the pasture lands where they lived and the land could no longer support them both. The time had come for Abraham and Lot to separate, so Abraham basically said to Lot, “Whichever way you choose to go, I’ll go the other way.” According to Genesis chapter 13 verse 10, Lot looked and saw that the whole plain of the Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.

The land that the Reubenites and Gadites desired was east of the Jordan River, roughly to the northeast of the Dead Sea. The land that Lot set his eyes on is believed to have been somewhere southeast of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea itself is a relatively small body of water, only about 30 miles or so in length. So the lands that were settled by the Reubenites and Gadites (along with the half tribe of Mannaseh), and the land where Lot and his family settled are only separated by a distance of 30 miles, give or take.

Though separated by time, Lot and the Reubenites and Gadites all had the same thing in common: They saw something that looked good to them and they wanted it. People are no different today. We are attracted to people, places, or things that are visually appealing. It’s not necessarily sinful to want something because of the eye appeal. But so very often, the desire for the person, place, or thing that catches our eye can lead us down the path to sin when, according to James, a person is lured and enticed by their desire, and that desire gives birth to sin. In other words, it becomes sin when there’s nothing a person won’t do to get what their eyes desire. That was exactly what led to David’s sin with Bathsheeba. It also becomes a problem when a person is willing to make compromises to get what they desire, the way Lot did when he chose to live among the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I checked out that region east of the Dead Sea on Googlemaps. When you look at the satellite image, it’s hard to imagine how any of that land could have ever supported life. It appears to be some of the most hostile and uninviting land on the planet. There is a small area on the very southern tip of the Dead Sea that looks like farmland. One can only assume it’s irrigated by the waters of the Jordan or Dead Sea, which would be possible thanks to modern desalinization technology that can turn salt water into fresh water. But aside from that small area, the land where Lot is believed to have settled and the former territory of the Reubenites and Gadites appear to be one huge wasteland.

But that’s God. God can do that. He can make land fertile, or He can make it barren. As we know, Lot and his family eventually settled in Sodom. The sin in Sodom and Gomorrah had become so great that even the very land itself came under judgement when God caused fire and sulphur to rain down from Heaven when He destroyed those two cities. As for the Reubenites and Gadites, and the half tribe of Mannaseh, after they helped their fellow Israelites subdue the Promised Land, according to Joshua 22, they returned to the land Moses gave them. After that, there is little else written about them in the Bible until 1 Chronicles chapter 5 where we’re told that they were conquered and carried into exile by the Assyrians.

Speaking of the exile, we know why God brought about the exile of the Israelites, starting with the northern kingdom of Israel and finishing sometime later with the southern kingdom of Judah. The sin that was so egregious to God was the sin of idolatry. Over and over again the Israelites chased after the foreign gods of the neighboring countries. It was the sin of idolatry that in turn led to sins of gross immorality that were part of the barbaric worship practices associated with false gods. They had abandoned the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and pursued the foreign gods of the nations around them just as God had warned them not to do. So God brought judgment and had them carried off into exile. As far as I can decipher, when God first began bringing His judgment against the northern kingdom, the tribes of Reuben and Gad seem to have been the first to be carried into exile.

The sin and corruption that went on in those places is undeniable. It’s spelled out in Scripture. With that knowledge and with the knowledge that even creation itself (that is, the physical universe in which we live) waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19), with the knowledge that creation itself was subjected to futility (Romans 8:20), and knowing that creation itself waits to be set free from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:21) and has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22), I can’t help but wonder if the reason why that once fertile area looks so barren today is because it was subjected to the judgment of God that was brought on by the corruption of sin thousands of years ago. The Bible makes it very clear that creation does in fact suffer from the effects of sin. Like I said, it does make me wonder.

I mentioned how God can make land fertile and productive, or He can make it dry and barren. He can do that to a nation, and He can do that to the very ground on which that nation is built, and He can do that to its people. Anyone who has been in the faith for any length of time knows that every believer will go through peaks and valleys in our walk with Jesus Christ. There are times when we are productive in our walk with the Lord, and yet we also experience those inevitable dry seasons.

Sometimes, not always, but probably more often than we care to admit, the dry seasons that we go through are a result of unrepentant sin in our lives. As a result, God brings on a dry season to get our attention, to get us to repent, to get us turn away from whatever it was that caught our eye…..and turn back to Him. One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament is from 2nd Chronicles chapter 7, where the word of God tells us: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” For me, that passage affirms what I’ve been trying to convey all along, that sin is destructive on God’s creation and God’s people alike. The effects of sin on a nation, on the very land on which that nation is built, and on the people of that nation are inseparable. They are intertwined. When people sin, they suffer, the land suffers, the nation suffers.

However, we know that God’s promises do not change. The promise of God in that passage from 2nd Chronicles 7 is just as relevant today as it was when it was written thousands of years ago. God said that if His people repent and turn away from wickedness, He will not only forgive the people, He will heal the land. W.A Criswell, in his preaching on that same passage, said “A nation cannot be healed until that nation repents. A nation cannot repent until its people repent. And the people cannot repent until….I repent.” which simply means, the revival of a nation must begin with its people and in turn the revival of the people must begin with the individual. It begins with you. It begins with me.

Yes, it is true. Christians stumble. We fall. We struggle at times. We often say we’re in a spiritual drought. We can become as barren and unproductive in our walk with Christ as the land east of the Dead Sea is barren today. But, as the farmers where I grew up used to say, you can always count on it to rain at the end of every dry spell! John tells us how to bring the rain in his first epistle. According to the word of God in 1 John 7, the Bible tells us: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us. God’s promises are trustworthy and unchanging. We do not need to remain in a spiritual drought. But to end the dry spell, we must ask for forgiveness, we must ask confess our sin.

Finally, there will come a day when we will no longer be distracted by the desires of our eyes. One day, this world will pass away and there will be a new Heaven and a new earth. When we see the beauty and majesty of the new Heaven and the new earth, we will very quickly forget about the old earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind, according to Isaiah 65 verse 17. And when we see the beauty and Majesty of Jesus Christ, I believe He is all we will ever want to set our eyes on, forever and ever!

In the glorious name of Jesus…

Choose Life!

There was a gentleman in my Bible class at our former church who loved to tell how Jesus got ahold of him one night many years ago while he was sitting in a bar in a little town called Hereford, Texas.  He was a local and well known businessman in Hereford at the time. He said he was sitting in that bar that night with his glass in his hand, like he had done so many times before. And as he sat there, he suddenly realized he had come to a fork in the road, that he had to choose one way or the other. He said he knew immediately that the Holy Spirit was tugging at him, and that was when he was awakened to his need for Jesus Christ. So he turned the glass upside down, put it on the bar, prayed to receive Christ at that very moment, and walked out the door as a new follower of Jesus Christ.

None of his former drinking buddies took him seriously. They all figured that “Christian thing” would wear off and he’d soon be back at his familiar spot in the bar. In fact, they were convinced he would fall back into his old ways and old habits. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. He said they often asked, “When are you coming back? When are going to come drinking with us again?” Even after thirty years had passed, they were still waiting for him to fall. They waited……and they waited……..and they waited…..and the fall from grace that his old drinking buddies eagerly anticipated never happened. However, over time, he did lead some of them to Christ!

I only knew him for four years, but I received a lifetime of blessings from him. On those occasions when I was called on to teach our class, his comments and insights revealed the depth of his love for the Lord. He left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was on fire for Jesus Christ! I wish I had known him longer than four years. But, as it was, I only got to know him for four years because in 2012, at age 75, he went home to be with the Lord. There was no doubt about his love for Jesus and there’s no doubt in my mind that he is in Heaven at this very moment because some thirty years before, while sitting in a bar in Hereford, Texas, he chose life!

In the book of Deuteronomy in the 30th chapter, Moses told the Israelites that they had a choice to make. Specifically, they had to choose one of two paths. One led to death and destruction. The other led to life and Moses admonished the people in the 19th verse of Deuteronomy 30 to “Choose life”. Though sometimes expressed in different ways, this is a message that is repeated time and again in the Bible. Sometimes it’s phrased, “Do not turn aside.” For instance, Deuteronomy 5 verse 32 – “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.” Deuteronomy 28 verse 14 – Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.” Regardless of how it is expressed, the message is the same – Choose life!

When we see a phrase or message repeated multiple times in the Bible, it tells us that the message God is trying to convey to us is especially important. He wants us to sit up and take notice. The prophet Ezekiel delivered an urgent message from God to the exiles during the beginning stages of the Babylonian captivity, calling on the people to turn from their sinful ways – “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31-32) There it is again, choose life!

Ezekiel repeats that message sometime later almost word for word. “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus have you said: Surely our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As I live’, declares the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from you evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?'” (Ezekiel 33:10-11)

To turn aside from God is nothing less than willfully choosing certain death. The consequences for turning aside from the way of the Lord are made very clear, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. During His earthly ministry, Jesus repeated those warnings many times, and those warnings are no less dire today than they were then. There will be eternal consequences for rejecting the gift of grace. But Jesus also said there are eternal consequences for making the right choice. In John chapter 5, He said, Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

My friend who is heaven now passed from death to life in a bar in Hereford, Texas. Some have passed from death to life while going through a major life crisis or while suffering from illness or injury. Some passed from death to life after the loss of a loved one. For others, it may have simply been that the Holy Spirit pointed them to Jesus while they were driving down the freeway. Still others crossed over from death to life when they suddenly felt that the Holy Spirit was saying to them, “It’s time.”

In his farewell address to the people of Israel, Joshua laid out the choices before the people of Israel after they had entered the Promised Land, telling them that if it seemed undesirable for them to serve God, then they were to choose from among the false gods of the region and serve that god. But Joshua made his choice crystal clear: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Whatever the circumstances, there comes a time when everyone has to choose between death and life. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and……………THE LIFE!” When we chose to accept Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, that was when we chose to serve the Lord, that was when we chose life! And that choice is available to anyone reading this today. Choose life!