May 30, 2016

II Timothy 4:9-15

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

AWOL! It is a common military acronym meaning “Absent without leave.”  The United States Uniform Code of Military Justice, Sub Chapter 10, Punitive Articles, Section 885, Article 85 tells us:

      Desertion is defined as: (a) Any member of the armed forces who– (1) without
      authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty
      with intent to remain away therefrom permanently; (2) quits his unit, organiza-
      tion, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important

Being AWOL can bring the death penalty to a soldier in time of war.  However, no one has been executed for this offense since Eddie Slovik faced an Army firing squad on January 31, 1945.  Many AWOL offenses are punished by court martial, imprisonment, and dishonorable discharge.

There is an old song from 1944 (lyrics by Johnny Mercer) entitled “Ac-Cent-Tchu -Ate the Positive.”  But I am starting off accentuating the negative to show forth the postive!  And the positive?  By far, most military personnel never go AWOL!  They serve their country with loyalty and honor!  Thank God for our service men and women!  So many have paid a very high price to serve – being wounded in body and/or mind, or laying down their young lives for our country!  This Memorial Day let us honor and remember them!

But I would not be true to the mission of this website if I did not apply the concept of loyal and even heroic service to the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. And – on the other end of the spectrum – too many people are AWOL in this matter of serving God!  Paul writes about both types of followers in II Timothy 4:9 through 15:

      Be diligent [Timothy] to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken
      me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica
      — Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.  Only Luke is with me.  Get
      Mark, and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.  And
      Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus….Alexander the coppersmith did me
      much harm…beware of him….

•      Those who serve with honor – There are six mentioned here who stand in this first category.  Of five we are quite sure they served the Lord honorably.

      ✞      Timothy – is actually not mention in our featured scripture.  I put his name in brackets because II Timothy 1:2, tells us he was the recipient of this epistle.  And we know he served Jesus faithfully.  He came from a Christian lineage (see II Timothy 1:5); was converted by Paul (see I Timothy 1:2); commissioned for Christian service by the apostle (see II Timothy 1:6); accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey (see Acts 16:3); and also on his journey to Jerusalem (see Acts 20:4).  Later, Timothy was pastor of the church at Ephesus (see I Timothy 1:3).

      ✞      Titus – was a faithful companion of Paul (see II Corinthians 2:13; 8:23; Galatians 2:1; Titus 1:4).  The apostle appointed him as bishop of Crete (see Titus 1:5).

      ✞      Luke – the Gentile writer of the third gospel and the book of Acts was a physician (see Colossians 4:14); and accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey (see Acts 16:10-17, 20:5, 21:18, 27:1, 28:16).  According to our featured Scripture – verse 11, he was with Paul during his final imprisonment.

      ✞      Mark – This young nephew of Barnabas (see Colossians 4:10) fell out of favor with Paul (see Acts 13:13; 15:36-40).  He then accompanied his uncle on a mission trip to Cyprus (see Acts 15:39).  From verse 11 of our Scripture, it is obvious that he was later reconciled with Paul.  According to I Peter 5:13, he is a close associate with Peter.  He is recognized also as the author of the gospel that bears his name, and often identified as the young man who fled away naked when Jesus was arrested (see Mark 14:51, 52).

      ✞      Tychicus – Paul calls him “…a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:21 – see also Colossians 4:7).  In our Scripture (verse 12) he is mentioned being sent to Ephesus.

      ✞      Crescens – Only mentioned in our featured Scripture, this man seems to have nothing bad said about him.  So we will assume that he was a faithful minister building on Paul’s work in Galatia.

All these men did not go AWOL from the Lord’s work!  They were faithful to the ministry of Jesus Christ!  But in the next blog, we will consider two men who did go AWOL – Demas and Alexander.  Are you faithful to the Savior, or are you AWOL from His calling and work?

Revival Or ‘Vival’?

May 27, 2016

Isaiah 57:15; Ephesians 2:1

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

It seems a lot of people confuse revival and evangelism.  For example, a church may hold revival services for the main purpose of bringing in new people – encouraging them to convert to Christianity.  That’s holding evangelistic meetings, not revival services!  There is a great difference.  Is it Revival Or ‘Vival’?  I know, vival is not a word – at least not one that I have heard, and it is not in the dictionary.  ‘Vive’ (pronounced ‘veev’) is the closest word I could find in Webster’s New World Dictionary, and it is of French origin – part of an exclamation of acclaim, meaning, “Long live (person’s name)!

But if ‘revival’ is a word, meaning to bring to life again, then there should be a word, ‘vival’, meaning to bring to life the first time.  And there are Scriptures to back up the both ideas.  The first concerns revival, and is from Isaiah 57:15:

      For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose
      name is Holy:  I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has
      a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to
      revive the heart of the contrite ones.

This Scripture says a lot!  How high and holy is this One who calls Himself “the High and Lofty One?  This is what God says about Himself in Isaiah 55:8 and 9:

      “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My
      ways,” says the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
      so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your

The Bible also describes Jesus Christ – the Son of God, equal with the Holy Spirit to the Father – as follows:

•      Psalm 89:27 (Literal Translation of the Holy Bible) – “…My first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.

•      Hebrews 7:26 – “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens….

So powerful is God that it is written in Psalm 33:6 and 9:

      By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of
      them by the breath of His mouth….For He spoke, and it was done; He
      commanded, and it stood fast.

Hebrews 7:26 is also a great summary of His holiness:  “[He] is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners….”  In our featured Scripture, it even says His name is holy!  And to think that this…High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity…also chooses to…dwell…with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”  How is this possible?  He makes us a fit dwelling place for Himself by taking away our sins and giving us His own righteousness!  Jesus bore our sins on the cross, and paid for them completely!  And when we put our faith in Him – receiving Him as our Savior – He gives us His own perfect righteousness to wear as a robe! (See Isaiah 61:10; Zechariah 3:1-5; II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:6).

God dwelling with one…who has a contrite and humble spirit…” implies that this one already possesses life!  But like anyone who has followed Christ for awhile, there are times when we are close to Him and times when we slip away from His Lordship to do our own thing!  It is when we are in this backslidden condition that we need revival!  We already possess life because Jesus has saved us.  But we are not where we should be, which is following close to our Lord!  Such a one does not need to get saved again.  He or she already possesses life.  But that spiritual life is not in the forefront where it belongs.  It is buried underneath our own will – our own agenda.  And it needs to be brought back to first place again – revival!

Vival,’ on the other hand, would be represented by Ephesians 2:1, our second featured Scripture:  “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins….Without Jesus Christ, and the life He purchased for us on Calvary’s cross, we are dead in trespasses and sins – separated from God and headed for hell!  Being spiritually dead, we need life!  As the Lord said in John 5:24 (God’s Word to the Nations):

      I can guarantee this truth:  Those who listen to what I say and believe in
      the One who sent Me will have eternal life.  They won’t be judged because
      they have already passed from death to life.

That’svival’!  Maybe we have invented a new word!

50 Years Of Praying! – II

May 25, 2016

I Timothy 2:3, 4; II Peter 3:9

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

I shared in last Friday’s blog that my dear friend told me he had put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have been daily praying for him for 50 years!  Heeding Matthew 7:7 through 11 (Friday’s featured Scripture), I kept asking, seeking, and knocking at God’s door for the salvation of my dear friend!  Now, I am not a super Christian.  Yes, I have been a Baptist pastor for 44 years – now retired.  But I deal with doubts and discouragements like anyone else!  However, I also take seriously such Bible directives as…

•      Psalm 119:11 – “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

•      II Timothy 2:15 (Modern King James Version) – “Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

•      Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….

           …and many more Scripture passages directing believers to read and
           study God’s Word, the Bible!

And here is what I have discovered concerning praying for the salvation of my friend!  I will start with I John 5:14 and 15:

      Now this is the confidence that we have in Him [Jesus Christ], that if we
      ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He
      hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we
      asked of Him.

I am to be asking according to His will! It is more than just saying…if it is Your will…at the end of our prayers.  It means searching the Bible to find out whether of not what we are asking is God’s will!  I found two Scriptures that directly pertain to my 50 Years Of Praying for my friend:

•      I Timothy 2:3 and 4 – “…God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

•      II Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

These two Scriptures definitely tell us what God’s will is concerning the conversion of the unsaved!  God’s will is that my dear friend would be saved!  So according to what the Bible says, I am praying in the will of God when I have been praying for his salvation – and when I pray for the salvation of anyone else!  And according to the I John passage above, when I pray in God’s will, I can expect a positive answer to my prayers!  This has encouraged me to ‘keep on keeping on’ through my 50 Years of Praying!  I did not know how God was going to do it, or when!  But I did know that He would!

It reminds me of Mrs. Davidson, a member of the first church I pastored.  I never met her for she had died before I was called there.  But I heard about this faithful woman from several of the older members.  Mrs. Davidson had five sons, and as they got older, four out of five of them did not manifest great interest in the Lord and were not active in the church.  One son was, but he did not seem to have a strong faith.  Someone asked their mom if she was concerned about her five boys, now grown, not being where they should be in the Lord.  She told the one who asked,

      No, I am not worried.  I pray for my boys every day.  And I picture God put-
      ting my prayers and tears in a bottle and putting the cork in the top.  One day
      He will open that bottle and pour out my prayers on each one of my boys. 
      They will come back to the Lord and be active in His church.

Over the years – and after she had gone home to glory – all five of her sons returned to follow Christ and joined the church.  The last was Frank.

Frank never did leave the church.  He attended regularly, and even served on the Board of Deacons – for almost 50 years!  (I discovered that church did not have a good understanding of the qualifications of board members!)  At one of the first deacons meeting I attended as pastor, I asked Frank to close with a prayer.  “Couldn’t say a word!” was his answer!  He never had prayed or would pray in public!

A year later we had a week of revival services featuring evangelist Bob Boyd.  I was concerned for my parish, and fasted and prayed the last day, asking God to send revival in our church.  At the close of the service that evening, the invitation was given, and I looked up to see Frank coming toward the front.  I asked him, “Frank, why are coming forward?”  He told me, “I want to accept Jesus as my Savior!”  Mrs. Davidson’s prayers were being poured out!  By the way, Frank had no trouble praying in public when asked after that.

Keep on praying for the salvation of your loved ones – even if it is 50 Years Of Praying!  You are praying according to the will of God, and God has promised to answer your petitions!

50 Years Of Praying! – I

May 23, 2016

Matthew 7:7-11

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

I have a close friend I have known for a long time, most of my life.  I began praying for his salvation shortly after I accepted Jesus as my Savior, when I was 19 and in the Air Force.  So I have been praying for him to come to faith in Christ for at least 50 years!  About six weeks ago, my friend had a serious health scare, and if it turned out to be true, his life would have been in grave danger!  He told me that he wanted to get baptized – He needed all the help he could get!  That shocked me, because several years ago he had let me know he did not want me to share Christ with him anymore.  There was no way he was going to become a Christian!  I was with him last week.  Considering what he had said about being baptized, I asked what baptism meant to him.  He told me, “It means that you accept Christ and are following Him.”  True!  This is what I believe as a Baptist is the meaning of baptism – believer’s baptism, we call it.  The order is apparent in the Bible in such passages as…

•      Mark 16:16 – “He who believes and is baptized will be saved….

•      Acts 2:41 – “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized….

•      Acts 16:30-34 (Paul and Silas interacting with the Philippian jailer) – “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house….And immediately he and all his family were baptized….and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

The biblical order is:  Believe first, and then be baptized (immersed) as a testimony to the fact that,I am identified with Jesus Christ, in His death, burial and resurrection!

Fifty years is a long time!  What sustained me to continue praying during all that time?  As that children’s song – Jesus Love Me – says it in the first verse, “…the Bible tells me so.”  Here is what the Lord told us in Matthew 7:7-11:

      Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be
      opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and
      to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who,
      if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will
      he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts
      to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give
      good things to those who ask Him?

In the Greek, ask, seek, and knock literally mean, keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking at heavens door in prayer until you get your answer!  Because, as it say in verse 8 of our passage, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  Jesus then gives two examples concerning why we can trust God to answer our asking, seeking, and knocking:

•      Verse 9 – “…what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”  Bread was baked from a lump of dough placed on a flat surface.  The result was a roundish loaf that looked like a smooth stone.  It was possible that such a stone could be mistaken for bread.

•      Verse 10 – “…what man is there…if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?”  First century houses in Palestine were often invaded by unwanted critters!  A snake might be drawn to a bowl of dried fish.  In a darkened house, reaching into the container for a piece of fish might actually produce a serpent!

The Lord then compares us in verse 11 – human parents with a sin nature, yet still careful to give good and proper gifts to our children – to our perfect heavenly Father who will always…give good things to those who ask Him….

So I kept on asking, seeking, and knocking at God’s door for the salvation of my dear friend!

Do not give up!  Keep on asking, seeking, and knocking!

But there is more!  And we will explore in Monday’s blog other Scriptures that influenced my 50 Years Of Praying!

True Riches

May 20, 2016

Proverbs 9:10; 16:16

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Solomon – according to a statement made by God Himself – was the wisest man who ever lived!  The statement? In I Kings 3:12 He said to the new king of Israel, “I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.”  It is recorded in I Kings 4:32 that “…he spoke three thousand proverbs…,” many of which are recorded in the book of Proverbs.  So if the wisest man in the history of humankind speaks, we ought to sit up and take notice!

One of the most important things Solomon taught is Proverbs 9:10:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  This Scripture deals with both wisdom and knowledge.  Knowledge is knowing facts.  Wisdom is properly applying those fact to the living out of our life!  Let’s take these two concepts in reverse order of how our featured Scripture presents them:

•      “…the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  You cannot live wisely without knowing the facts of life!  By the facts of life, I do not mean what some call knowing about “the birds and the bees”!  In Proverbs 9:10 it is the facts about the Holy One that is important!  And most people – including far too many who identify themselves as Christians – are ignorant concerning the facts of the Holy One!  How do we know such facts?  How do we learn such knowledge?  God has revealed them in His Word, the Bible!  We can only have understanding if we get into the Word of God regularly – reading, studying, meditating upon what He authored!

You can’t do it by yourself!  It is written in II Peter 1:21 (God’s Word to the Nations):  “No prophecy ever originated from humans. Instead, it was given by the Holy Spirit as humans spoke under God’s direction.”  If it was written by God through the Holy Spirit, then God through the Spirit would be the logical One to interpret to us the meaning of Scripture!  And so it says in I John 2:27 (Bible in Basic English):  “As for you, the Spirit which He gave you is still in you, and you have no need of any teacher; but…His Spirit gives you teaching about all things….”  If you are a Christian – if you have received Jesus as your Savior – then you have the Holy Spirit within you! (See Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 6:19; II Corinthians 1:22; 5:5).  You have the Teacher!  But you must be an apt student! (See Psalm 1:2; Colossians 3:16; II Timothy 2:15).

But knowledge is not enough!  You must know how to apply such knowledge to life!  And this is wisdom!

•      “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom….”  Some say that the fear of the LORD is holy respect for or reverence of God.  But I discussed the meaning of the Hebrew word fear in the blog Fear And Comfort, written on May 23, 2014. In it I write:

      The first definition of the verb fear, according to Webster, is “to be afraid
      of; dread. I maintain that is exactly what it means to fear the Lord!
      We should be cowering before this God who is so great and awesome
      that He creates all out of nothing with just His word, and He then holds
      it all together just by the power of His being! (see Genesis 1:3, Colossians
      1:16 and Hebrews1:3). We should cringe in dread and be afraid of Him….

But in Acts 9:31 fear of the LORD is modified thus:  “…the churches…were…walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit….”  We need both!  If we only have the fear of the Lord, we will be left cringing in a corner!  If we only have the comfort of the Holy Spirit, we will have license to do anything we want, never being afraid of offending God!  Actually, the proper Hebrew understanding of the fear of the LORD in Proverbs 9:10 incorporates both ideas given in Acts 9:31.

So you start with knowing the facts!  Then, because you fear the Lord, and have the comfort of the Holy Spirit, God through His Spirit will teach you wisdom – how to apply what you know to what you do in your life!

How important is all this?  Our second featured Scripture, Proverbs 16:16 tells us, “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold!  And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver!”  What does the godless world under the lordship of Satan seek?  According to Revelation 18:12 and 13 (a list of 28 commodities the merchants of the world mourn when “…no one buys their merchandise anymore…” – Revelation 18:11) gold and silver top the list!  But so precious in God’s eyes are knowledge and wisdom, that they are what is to be chosen first of all!  Besides, if we have proper knowledge and wisdom, we will know how to handle gold and silver if we are so blessed!

This is True Riches!

Trees – II

May 18, 2016

Genesis 3:8; Luke 19:1-4; I Peter 2:24

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Genesis 3:8 showed us the sinning man among the trees, hiding from God!  We learned from John 3:18 and 19 that this is what sin does – it makes us hide from God!  And if we remain in this sinful condition, we will end up in an eternal hell, separated from God forever!  But Jesus paid the price for our sin, for our reconciliation back to the Father.  When we accept the Lord as our Savior, we have eternal life! (See John 5:24).

Then we were introduced to Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1 through 4 – the seeking man up a tree:

      Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was
      a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 
      And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd,
      for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a Syca-
      more tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.

Zacchaeus…[being] a chief tax collector…,was hated by the other Jews!  Tax collectors or publican were Jews hired by the Roman government to collect taxes for the Roman Empire.  And they were also allowed to collect extra, cheating their fellow countrymen out of as much money as they could!

Zacchaeus was a short man who could not see the Master from the back of the crowd, the people who followed Him through Jericho, Zacchaeus’ hometown.  But he so wanted to see Jesus – whom he had heard so much about – that he ran ahead and climbed up a Sycamore tree!  Jesus passed right underneath!  But then the Lord stopped, looked up at the despised little man,…and said, to him, Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  Wow!  Jesus did not despise him!  He was actually going to host this One at his very own house!

All this showed that this tax collector was seeking the Lord with all his heart!  He even gave little thought to the fine clothes he was probably wearing when “…he ran ahead and climbed up into a Sycamore tree….”  It reminds me of what God tells us in Jeremiah 29:13:  “And you will seek Me, and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”  When you see your need for Jesus Christ – when you see yourself as a lost sinner, and Him being the only Savior – then God is right there for you, stretching out His hand to save you! (See Matthew 14:29-31).

Reading the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19, it seems that there is no time break between verses 6 and 8:

      And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully….Then
      Zacchaeus stood and said unto the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my
      goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false
      accusation, I restore fourfold.”

But Jesus probably stayed the whole afternoon, or perhaps even overnight, at Zacchaeus’ house.  And they must have had a deep conversation!  For it evidently changed Zacchaeus to the core!  As they were departing, Zacchaeus told Jesus that he would donate half of all his riches to the poor, and that he would pay back four times over to anyone he had previously cheated!  He was obeying the Jewish law of Exodus 22:1:  “If a man steals an ox or a sheep…he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.”  The Lord saw Zacchaeus’ declaration as evidence of the man’s deep spiritual change!  For He announced in Luke 19:9 and 10, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

But we have one more of Trees to examine, and one more Man associated with that tree – the sinless Man upon the tree!  Peter writes of Jesus in I Peter 2:24:  “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.”  Tree is another way the ancients described the cross.  And it is on the basis of what Jesus Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross that Zacchaeus – or anyone else – can be saved!  What did Jesus accomplish?  It is well-described by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 5:21:  “For He [the Father] made Him [the Son] who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

So there you have it – Trees!  The sinning man among the trees, the seeking man up a tree, and the sinless Man upon the tree!  It is a succinct way to present the important points of the gospel!  It is also a good three-point outline for a sermon, pastors!

Trees – I

May 16, 2016

Genesis 3:8; Luke 19:1-4; I Peter 2:24

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Today is a bit different, in that for the first time in 500 blogs – yes, this is the 500th blog I have written for the Gems For Living website – I am featuring three Scriptures!  The subject is Trees, and the first Scripture is Genesis 3:8:

      And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in
      the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the
      presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

This Scripture gives the idea that this was a regular practice – God meeting daily with His chief creation, man!  The phrase, “…in the cool of the day…” could mean either morning or evening.  But it was a regular meeting.  Might this show us the importance for Christians to have a consistent quiet time with the Lord.  But on this day Adam and Eve hid as God approached!  Why?  They had just sinned!  God had told Adam in Genesis 2:16 and 17:

      Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the
      knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you
      eat of it, you shall surely die.

They ate (see Genesis 3:1-7), and they died – not physically right away, for that took another 930 years for Adam, according to Genesis 5:5.  But they died spiritually!  They were separated from God in that they…hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”  And such separation is a good illustration of being dead spiritually – “…dead in trespasses and sins…,” according to Ephesians 2:1.  And if that condition is not rectified, it will be permanent – eternity in hell! (See Revelation 21:8).  Since we have all inherited this sinful condition from out first parents (see Romans 5:12), John 3:18 and 19 applies to us all before we relent and come to Christ:

      And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and
      men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 
      For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the
      light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

It is only when we get tired of running from God, from carrying the weight of our sins, that we stop hiding among the trees…from the presence of God, and we submit to Jesus Christ, asking Him to be our (my) Savior!

So Genesis 3:8 pictures the sinning man among the trees!

Next, Luke 19:1 through 4 shows us the seeking man up a tree!  Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem:

      Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was
      a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 
      And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd,
      for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a Syca-
      more tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.

Zacchaeus…was a chief tax collector.”  Tax collectors in general were hated by the Jewish people!  They were Jews hired by the Roman government to collect taxes for the Roman Empire.  They not only collected taxes, but were allowed to cheat their fellow Jews out of whatever more money they could get!  And cheat they did!  And many tax collectors got rich from such cheating!  No wonder they were hated!  Now Zacchaeus was a tax collector supervisor!  He had worked his way up to that position – or maybe bribed his way to that position – and he was very rich!  So despised were tax collectors (also called publicans in some versions of the Bible) that the worse slam of criticism given to Jesus by the Jewish leaders was “Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34 – English Standard Version).

Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus – this One who some people believed was the promised Messiah, and the reports of His teaching and miracles had touched something deep within this Jericho tax collector.  And now he had heard the Lord was going to be passing through Zacchaeus’ very hometown!  He wanted to see Jesus – just had to see Him!  But when Jesus…passed through Jericho, there were so many people in the accompanying crowd, Zacchaeus, being of short stature, couldn’t see above the heads of the crowd!  And no one was going to let this despised little man push through to see Jesus!  No one liked him, and he was not about to get any assistance from this crowd!

So he ran ahead and climbed up a Sycamore tree!  We will explore what happened to this seeking man up a tree in the next blog.

Don’t Stop There!

May 13, 2016

Psalm 34:6-10

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Psalm 34:6 through 10:

      This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out
      of all his troubles.  The angel of the LORD encamps all around those
      who fear Him, and delivers them.  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is
      good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!  Oh, fear the LORD, you
      His saints!  There is no want to those who fear Him.  The young lions
      lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the LORD shall not lack
      any good thing.

Psalm 34 is a wonderful psalm, full of great truths.  And in verse 8 David presents his readers with a challenge:  “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good….”  In other words, “Take a bite! He really tastes good!”  But too many people stop there!  It is like they say, “Yup, that does taste good!  Thanks’ for inviting me to taste the Lord.  But I gotta go now.  Bye.

This Davidic invitation should be teamed up with what Jesus said in John 6:51 and 55 through 58:

      I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of
      this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh,
      which I give for the life of the world….For My flesh is food indeed, and
      My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh, and drinks My blood,
      abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live be-
      cause of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This
      is the bread which came down from heaven….He who eats this bread will
      live forever.

The first taste may be good – very good!  But Don’t Stop There!  Go on to consume the full meal!  And David tells us the same thing in the second half of verse 8:  “…blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”  After the first taste and see, go on and trust in the LORD – take in the full meal!

This was quite a controversial statement Jesus made about consuming His body and blood!  It even tells us in John 6:60 and 66, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’  …From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

In a second century document called The Octavius of Minicius Felix, a conversation is described between Octavius, a Christian, and Caecilius, a pagan.  Caecilius throws out an accusation of cannibalism among Christians:

      You Christians are the worst breed ever to affect the world.  You deserve every
      punishment you can get!  Nobody likes you.  It would be better if you and your
      Jesus had never been born.  We hear that you are all cannibals–you eat the
      flesh of your children in your sacred meetings.

Octavius responds:

      That story is probably based on reports that we share together a meal of the
      body and blood of Christ.  That we do. But it is not human flesh we eat.  It is
      bread and wine we consecrate to commemorate our Lord’s death.  But the rumor of Christian cannibalism persisted!

What is the danger of only taking a first taste, and that’s all?  I have met too many people who have done just that.  Many of them have been members in the churches I have pastored over the years.  Having tasted, they think they are full-fledged Christians!  And it is so hard to reach someone who thinks they have already arrived!  It is like someone once said about such church members:  “They have been inoculated with just enough Christianity that they have now built up a resistance so they won’t ever catch the real thing!

In our John 6 passage, what is Jesus saying to His followers?

      Consume Me!  Get Me inside of you!  I am totally in the Father, and the Father
      is totally in Me.  So consume Me totally – both initially trusting in Me as Savior
      with all your heart, and then daily following and obeying Me as your Lord.

It is as He told “…those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31 and 32).  Abiding in His Word – the Bible – is what Paul admonishes his readers to do in Colossians 3:16:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom….”  In order for the word of Christ to dwell in you richly, you must daily dwell in the Bible – reading it (see Isaiah 34:16), studying it (see II Timothy 2:15), meditating upon it (see Psalm 1:2), even memorizing it (see Psalm 119:9-11), and of course, obeying it (see James 1:22)!

So Don’t Stop There with just taking a taste of the LORD!  Go on and feast every day on the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ!

300 Million Steps! – II

May 11, 2016

Colossians 1:9-12 (English Standard Version)

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

300 Million Steps is the number of steps I calculate that I will tale in my lifetime!  This huge number of steps is the result of my addiction to walking (at least my wife says I am addicted to walking!)  To keep arthritis as bay and to stay limber, I average over 40 miles a week!  And over an anticipated 65 years of walking (if I live to age 85), I will have taken about 300 Million Steps!

All this came to mind as I considered Colossians 1:9 through 12 (English Standard Version), which records the Apostle Paul’s prayer and desire for the Christians of Colosse:

      …from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking
      that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual
      wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the
      Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and in-
      creasing in the knowledge of God.  May you be strengthened with all
      power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience
      with joy, giving thanks to the Father….

Paul prayed that the believers in Colosse “…may…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…,or to live in such a way that their lives would please Jesus Christ!  And he surrounds that statement with eleven things relevant to their Christian walk.  We covered the first four in our last blog. Let’s continue:

•      Colossians 1:10 – “…bearing fruit in every good work….”  Jesus told us in John 15:1-8 (the parable of the Vine and the Branches) that we are to be fruitful.  As a matter of fact, in verses 2 and 5, He qualifies that in three degrees:  We are to bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit!  But the fruit we bear must be good works, good in God’s sight!  And the only way to produce fruit that is good in God’s sight is to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us vitally connected to the vine, Jesus Christ!  He tells us in John 15:5, “For without Me you can do nothing.”  But the flip side of this is Philippians 4:13:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

•      Colossians 1:10 – “…and increasing in the knowledge of God.” We are challenged in II Timothy 2:15 (1899 Douay-Rheims Bible) to “Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.This should be a life-long pursuit for the Christian – to know more and more about the Savior, His Word, and His way!

•      Colossians 1:11 – “May you be strengthened with all power….”  This power will happen if we pursue “…increasing in the knowledge of God.”  The Holy Spirit takes that increasing knowledge and somehow turns it into the spiritual power to live out the life God intends for us to live!

•      Colossians 1:11 – “…according to His glorious might….”  Remember, it is God’s doing, for He is the One with all power and might !  As Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12 and 13, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

•      Colossians 1:11 – “… for all endurance and patience….”  This is why God gives you “…power according to His glorious might….  It is not all happily dancing through life after we accept Jesus as our Savior!  As it is written in II Timothy 3:12:  “…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  The world system is opposed to God and His Christ because it is under the control of Satan!  Jesus was persecuted for living godly and teaching righteousness, and so shall it be with us!

•      Colossians 1:11 – “…with joy….”  One of the most remarkable statements in Scripture is Hebrews 12:2, which admonishes us to keep…

      …looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy
      that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has
      set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What joy could have kept Him on the cross when He could have called…more than twelve legions of angels…” (Matthew 26:53) to come and rescue Him?  It was the end goal of that great sacrifice – our salvation and glorification!  And that same idea should give us joy even through the trials of life and persecution (if it should come) in our experience!
•      Colossians 1:12 – “…giving thanks to the Father….”  Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 5:20 and I Thessalonians 5:18:

      …giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our
      Lord Jesus Christ…in every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in
      Christ Jesus for you.

This is a lot to consider as you take you journey of 300 Million Steps (or however long your Christian walk will be).  May you be faithful to… to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him….


May 9, 2016

John 5:24

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Tomorrow I am conducting the funeral service for Mitch, a dear friend and brother in the Lord.  He was more than that – he was my spiritual son!  In I Timothy 1:2 Paul called Timothy, whom he had led to put his faith in Jesus Christ, “…my own son in the faith…” (see also I Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:19-22; I Timothy 1:18; II Timothy 1:2; 2:1).  You see, I had the privilege of leading Mitch to the Lord.

It was a year ago last January.  I was getting ready on this cold evening to go to a meeting at the church.  God had been telling me over the last couple of months, “You have to go see Mitch.”  It is not that I audibly heard His voice, but I knew it was the Holy Spirit within me (see Isaiah 30:21).  “I know, Lord,” I said more than once.  “I will go see Mitch one of these days.”  The truth was, I did not want to go see Mitch!  Although I knew him, I did not know him well, or count him as a close friend.  Mitch had gotten himself into trouble from heroin use.  He had lost his job and his family.  I didn’t know how I would be received – he might even throw me out of the house on my ear!

That January evening the directive from God came again:  “Go see Mitch.”  And again, I said, “Yeah, Lord, I gotta go see Mitch one of these days soon.”  “NOW!God fairly shouted.  I looked up kind of over my shoulder.  “Now,” I asked?  “NOW!God repeated.  I put on my coat and trudged the two blocks to where Mitch lived.

One thing I have learned – and I hope I keep this in mind as God calls me to minister to other people – when the Lord tells you to go speak to someone, the Holy Spirit has been working on that person to receive what you have to say!

I knocked on his door and Mitch let me in.  I sat and presented the gospel to him in a simple way according to ‘the Roman Road’ (see Romans 3:10; 23; 5:12; 6:23 (first part); 5:8; 6:23 (second part); 10:9-13 – in that order).  I invited Mitch to pray a simple prayer telling Jesus he was sorry for his sins, and asking Him to be his Savior.  With tears, he did just that!  I left that evening praising God, and thankful that I had obeyed!

My wife and I started a Bible study on Wednesday evenings in our home, mainly for Mitch, although others were invited and a few came.  Over the months I saw my new friend, my brother, my son in the Lord grow in his faith.  He hardly ever missed the Bible studies.  More than once he told me, “You saved my life.”  No, I didn’t!  The Lord Jesus saved Mitch’s life!  I was just the obedient messenger!

But his lifestyle had taken its toll.  Last Wednesday he and his friend Chuck were at our house again, but Mitch was not feeling well.  I did not know then that 43 hours later he would die from complications of liver disease!  He left this life to be with his Savior!  It brings to mind what Jesus said in John 5:24:

      Most assuredly, I say to you, He who hears My word and believes in Him
      who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but
      has passed from death into life.

The moment Mitch prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior – the moment during that cold January evening at his house he prayed his salvation prayer – Mitch passed from death into life, he will never come into judgment !  As Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:8:  “…absent from the body…present with the Lord.

Now, as I prepare for Mitch’s funeral service, my prayer is for his family, his relatives, his friends and neighbors.  I want them to know the Lord Jesus as their Savior also!  I believe a funeral service is not necessarily a eulogy for the one who has died.  It is more to be a comfort and challenge for the living – for those who remain to face life without the deceased.  There always seems to be regrets when someone dies unexpectedly – things unspoken that should have been said, forgiveness asked and given, love expressed that was not, etc.  But Paul tells believers in I Thessalonians 4:13, “…I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [died believing in Jesus], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”  We Christians have a sure hope of being forever in heaven with our Lord and again with our believing loved ones!  We will see them there, never to be separated! (See I Thessalonians 4:14-17).

My job?  I want to take them all to heaven – where Mitch is now, and where I am headed!