Friday, July 31, 2015

Of W.A. Trotman

Good morning,

When you get my age sometimes you really have to stop and think (especially at this time of morning).  So, I was thinking, "Who DID baptize me?"  Then, I remembered!  It was in August of 1967, at Moss's Mill in the Hollingsworth community, after an August revival.  This particular summer revival was preached by my home church pastor, Rev. W.A. Trotman.  I don't know if our little church was too cheap to bring in a visiting pastor or not....Regardless, I distinctly remember both the night I threw my lot in for Jesus and also the hot, hot afternoon I was baptized.  Our text this morning is 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

Paul is beginning to "dig in" here and address the specific issues going on in the church of Corinth. He names as the most fundamental issue that the church had begun to be divided according to who had baptized whom.  And, what, most likely was at the root of that?  Pride.  "Well, I was baptized by Paul!"  "Did you know that Apollos baptized me?"  And so forth.  Stinky, old pride!  It is no accident that we read in Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV) - - -

Pride goes before destruction,

And a haughty spirit before a fall.

Bible-believing ministers today do not baptize in their own name, heaven forbid!  (If you are in a church where that is done, you'd better run...and FAST!)  Most often, the minister who is baptizing a new convert says something similar to this:
"Based on your profession of faith, I baptize you, my (brother or sister) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Buried in the likeness of His death, raised to walk in newness of life."
At least, that is what is spoken in the Baptist denomination.  But, the most key point is that the person is baptized in the Name that most accurately describes our Triune God, Father, Son, Spirit, not in the name of a man, which seems to have been occurring in the Corinthian church.

So, senseless, prideful divisions have been the trend in local congregations since the early church, have they not?  That does not make such behavior Christ-honoring.  It is not hard to see how these prideful divisions led to a fractured gospel and to the people diving off into further sin.

Today, we still tend to have divisions in the local church, and should pray to the Lord that these be minimized, for the glory of God (rather than for the glory of man).  Even worse, we have many Christian denominations, some who have a less-accurate interpretation of the Scriptures than others. For example, whether to "sprinkle" or "pour" in baptism is less an issue than whether we should worship the Virgin Mary and pray to her.

The more opaque the Scriptures are about a teaching, the greater the propensity for divisions and spiritual pride.  An example of this would be "when the Rapture will occur", or even if there will BE a Rapture (some believe that).  I think that is fine to study the Scriptures and form an opinion.  But, remember, the Pharisees completely missed the Savior, and they studied the Scriptures harder than anyone (supposedly).  So, I think that a heaping helping of humility is called for when the Scriptures are not perfectly clear.

One thing we must be clear on is this:  there is one gospel, and that is the saving gospel of God's grace toward us, only through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Grace which leads to us putting our total faith in Jesus Christ's finished work: faith plus....nothing.  Let's all "speak" that and be of one mind (vs. 10).

You know, I was reading the other day and was rather appalled to discover that some Bible teacher was putting forth that Peter preached one gospel of Jesus Christ and that Paul preached another. (SMH - - - which, for the uninitiated means "shaking my head".)  This is not of God, Y'all.  This is the very thing that Paul was warning against in this passage!

Spiritual discernment followed by obedience with humility and brotherly love lead to unity.  Yes!

Father, You and I both know that zeal for my Savior can sometimes be contaminated by pride.  I know it better than most.  Help us to be watchful of that horrible, sinful pit and to recognize when we are about to step (or have stepped) into it.  Lift us out, by Your strong arm, and forgive us for when our pride has harmed our relationship with You and caused division in Your Body, the Church. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Right Back (to) Where We Started From

Good morning (well, afternoon now),

I had an 8:30 appointment this morning which dictated that I not eat breakfast.  Believe me, you don't want to read anything I've "digested" and blogged about on an empty stomach!  And, then, the air conditioner had to be repaired, etc.  So, I'm just now getting down to my "morning" Bible study.

There is some disagreement among Bible scholars as to when Paul did what and went where. He gave several clues in his letters by mentioning this ruler and that one.  According to Matthew McGee, Paul's first visit to the Corinthian church was in the spring of 52 A.D., during his "second missionary journey".  He stayed there about a year and a half, meeting Priscilla and Aquila, and making tents to support himself.  During this stay, Paul also preached the gospel and wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians. After leaving Corinth, he traveled across the sea to Ephesus.  Paul wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians near the end of his approximately 3-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 16:8, 19), around 57 A.D.

The reason that Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians is that the young church had become so carnal and worldly in their living that the rest of Corinthian society could tell no difference between the Christians and the non-Christians.  Corinth was a city full of every kind of vice, overrun with philosophers spouting their particular brand of virtue.  Instead of listening to and holding true to what they were taught by Paul, the Corinthian church was swayed by the worldly crowd around them, allowing themselves to become polluted, allowing their gospel message to become diluted.  This was a bunch of "take-it-easy Christians":  discipleship and holiness were sadly lacking.

In order to address the situation Paul reminded the Corinthians in 1:1-9 of "where they started from": their holy calling in Christ Jesus.  He attempted to re-frame the situation and re-focus their allegiance to their Lord.

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in youso that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I find this interesting...Despite their having become mired in the sin that surrounded them, despite their "practice" (daily walk) having become defiled, Paul talked about the Corinthian believers' position in Jesus Christ.  He did not start out by saying, "Well, Buddy, you've DONE IT NOW!  You have LOST your salvation!  Onto the trash heap of God's judgment you will forever go!"

Instead, he said, "Hey, Folks, you have been called to be saints, to live the sanctified (set apart) life, the holy walk by faith.  People!  Get right back to where you started from!"  He hearkens back to that day when "the testimony of Christ was confirmed in" (them), the day they had received the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving grace.  He pointed out that he had observed in their local church all the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work.

He further pointed out (and this really amazes me) that the Lord Jesus would continue His work of holiness (blamelessness) in them until either they died or He returned to earth, and that the Lord would do that because God is faithful to keep those who are His.  Now, keep in mind, Paul made these affirmative statements to a severely wandering church!

Be assured that by affirming these truths Paul was not condoning the rampant sin that raged through this body of believers.  Not at all!  However, Paul knew that nothing has the power to transform more than the grace of God.

You see, these believers knew, for the most part, that they had gotten off track.  They didn't need to be beat over the head with that fact.  My pastor says that there is no more miserable person on earth than the saint who knows he or she is not walking in holy obedience to the Lord.  When a Christian leaps into sin and wallows in it, the Holy Spirit will make him or her pretty miserable.  Thank God for that!

What these folks needed was to be reminded of the truth of the grace of God.  And, they were probably surprised that Paul took this approach.  Did they deserve this grace from Paul?  No.  IF grace is "deserved", then it isn't grace.  It is "merit".  Grace has everything to do with the One extending the grace, and nothing to do with the merits of the one receiving it.

Why do you think that Peter was called "the rock" by the Lord?  Because of his outstanding track record as a disciple?  Because he tried to walk on water and failed?  Because he tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross?!  Because he fell asleep 3 times in the Garden of Gethsemane?  Need more examples?

Tullian Tchividjian, in his book One-Way Love, puts it like this:
"It is no coincidence that Peter was both the weakest and the one who recognized who Jesus was.  He could recognize the Savior, because he knew how much he needed one!"  
Peter knew that there was no way he could follow God on his own.  I imagine the Corinthians were discouraged, believing the same thing.  They needed a fresh infusion of God's grace, and that is what Paul gave them.  I think Paul might have liked this song:

Ok, dance session over!  :)
Look at the underlined and italicized portions of today's Scripture passage again.  Do you see how Paul reminded them of the glorious grace they had received?

So, God's grace is the antidote to all sin.  It is grace that draws the wandering Christian or the lost rebel home.  Hallelujah!

Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to be the recipient of your grace.  I need it every, single day.  Even knowing this, it is stupefying how easily I tend to deny that healing grace to others, instead responding with the hammer of the Law.  But, you are teaching me, and as painful as the lessons are, I am blessed to receive them.  They are intended to mold me more into Your image.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Needful Things

Good morning,

Sorry to disappoint you but this post is not going to be about that really terrible (according to reviewers - - I didn't see it) movie with this title, based on a Stephen King horror novel of the same title. No, this post is about taking care of what is most important.

Being an inexperienced blogger when I began, I did not take the time to tag my blog posts or to record the scripture verses used in each one.  Well, now there are 347 posts!  And, what I need to do, before the craziness of my 10-month work year begins, is to take some time and do just that.  Today is that appointed day; today, this task is the most "needful thing".

 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:42 (NKJV)

The necessary, although often tedious tasks, are not always fun (although this one will be interesting). If we don't do them, however, we often find our effectiveness diminished.  Life is a balancing act, where we often struggle to keep "all the balls in the air".  It is critical that we correctly order our priorities, as Mary did in this Bible story.

In the Luke 10 passage, Mary and Martha had houseguests, one of whom was Jesus.  Rather than focusing on less important tasks, as Martha did, Mary chose to sit at Jesus' feet and learn from Him. In so doing, she exercised her faith in Him, becoming a more devoted disciple/follower of Him and His ways.  Our relationship with the Lord is always going to be our "most needful thing", our highest priority. If this relationship is right, all other relationships and tasks will fall in line.

I challenge you to do that today: think about all that you have going on, and see if you are taking care of "the needful things".  Make sure that your relationship with Him is #1.

Good morning, Lord, sometimes I feel like I flit around from thing to thing during the day, accomplishing nothing.  I know that's not true, exactly, but it feels that way.  One thing I can be sure of, though, if I have started the day by seeking You, meditating on Your word and spending time with You in prayer, I've started the day well.  What a blessing to be Your child!   In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Hand in His

Good morning,

Having studied 2 Thessalonians over the past few days, we are going to move on to 1 Corinthians soon.  But first, let's take a brief dip back into the Old Testament songs for just one day.  The psalms were songs, you know, although they appear as poetry to us.  I've always wondered what the original music sounded like.

Today's text is Psalm 73, a psalm of Asaph.  Most of the psalms were written by David, but not this one.  In fact, there were a total of 12 psalms ascribed to Asaph, who was not only a composer, but also a singer and a "seer" according to 2 Chronicles 29:30.  Some have thought that these 12 psalms were not written by Asaph, but were merely allocated to him for the purposes of singing them.  In reverse, though, no one says that about the psalms of David.  So, I tend to believe that Asaph truly wrote all 12 of these psalms which bear his name.

Well, the theme of Psalm 73 is that age-old lament, "why do the wicked prosper and seem to get away with their dastardly deeds?"  (vs. 4-12)  The psalmist admits that he has fallen into the trap of envying these people (vs. 4), which led to his heart becoming grieved and his spirit bitter (vs. 21). He seems to have written this psalm to affirm his allegiance to Jehovah God, which he does in verses 23-28.  These are some of my favorite verses!

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

"Yet" is a pivotal word, in verse 23.  In spite of the battle of his double-nature (human nature warring with his regenerated spirit, verses 21-22), "YET, I am always with you because you hold me by my right hand." (vs. 23)  Isn't that a beautiful image?  God holds on to us.  It is because of His steadfastness that He holds on to us when we stumble into sin; it is not because of our goodness that we remain connected to Him.  "My heart and my flesh may fail...."

Listen to what Charles Spurgeon1
had to say about these verses:

His God would not fail him, either as protection or a joy. His heart would be kept up by divine love, and filled eternally with divine glory. After having been driven far out to sea, Asaph casts anchor in the old port. We shall do well to follow his example. There is nothing desirable save God; let us, then, desire only him. All other things must pass away; let our hearts abide in him, who alone abideth for ever.

As we walk with Him, our hand in His, He guides and counsels us for the rest of our lives.  And then? Glory!  Eternal life with Him forever, in Heaven.

Father, I thank you that You are my "portion" forever.  At those times when my heart fails, You rescue my soul with Your boundless forgiveness and restoration.  When fear overwhelms me, You are there to re-align my focus and give me Your supernatural peace.  Earth has nothing better than You. In Jesus' name, amen.


Monday, July 27, 2015

"I'll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends"....

Good morning,

Remember that old song from the '60's?  I was not sure...had to look it up on Google.  But, it is titled, "With a Little Help From My Friends" and was popularized by the Beatles.  I was reminded of that chorus as I was reading this morning.  (Of course, later on in the chorus, the writer extols the virtues of "getting high"....there the analogy breaks down!)

Today we will finish up the last chapter of 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3.  This letter was written to encourage, commend and also to direct.  In this last chapter, Paul addresses a persistent and unhelpful behavior on the part of some of the members of their young church.

All churches, young or old, have their "issues".  Don't be fooled.  Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., the chancellor of Bob Jones University said from the pulpit once, "If you find the perfect church, don't join it!  You'll just mess it up!"  Perhaps you have known Christian brothers and sisters who have hopped around from church to church because they discovered some "defect" in their local church.  They kept "hopping" because they could not find the perfect church. That's because it doesn't exist!

In the days of the early Christian churches, the brothers and sisters had much more interaction than we typically do today.  They shared many meals together throughout the week, supported one another, shared their possessions freely and worshipped practically every time they got together.  It was more like a "commune" than our modern-day church model in America.  They were extremely interdependent upon one another.

In Thessalonica, it seems that one or two of the members of that fellowship had decided to "freeload". Paul referred to this behavior as "unruliness born of idleness".  Because these folks were not pulling their weight, they had too much free time on their hands.  And, they used that free time to become busybodies, folks who kept others unsettled or agitated.

Paul pointed out that even he and his team had not behaved this way when visiting the young church, even though they could have been considered honored guests.  Instead, Paul wanted to be an example to them, showing how to live in "community", by earning his own way.  And, he did!

The remedy that Paul prescribed for such a situation was given in verses 10, 14 and 15 - - -
1.  Don't enable.  In other words, don't support such persons in their negative behaviors.
2.  Admonish the wayward brothers/sisters, as opposed to kicking them out of the fellowship, with the hope and prayer that they would begin to act in accordance with the way they had been taught.

It is human nature to freeload; anyone who has ever had children knows that.  Children must be forced to adopt good habits, not the other way around!  It is also counterintuitive to confront someone about their un-Christ-like behaviors, whether you are a parent or a fellow believer.  Instead, most of us pray that folks will "come to their senses" and just straighten up, right?  Sometimes, though, they need a little help. And, that's okay.  We help each other.  Not a single one of us is perfect.  If someone loves you, truly loves you, he or she will not just let you keep on rockin' along in some ungodly behavior.

A common pitfall is to have our own noses too high in the air when we "sally forth on our white steed" to correct a brother.  Jesus warned of this when he spoke of us having a two-by-four plank in our own eye as we correct a fellow believer about a splinter in hers (Matthew 7:3).  In the play our church is producing, one of the characters proclaims herself a "fruit inspector"; another character points out that, rather than being a fruit inspector, she is more of a "fruit bruiser" than anything else! Satan loves to play on our sinful pride by helping us to ignore our own sin while gleefully calling someone else on the carpet about theirs.  So, we need to be very wary of that trap.  You can't "walk resplendent" unless you walk in humility.

Of course, the best way is to examine our own hearts continually, and to be responsive to the Holy Spirit when He points out our OWN sins.  If all of us did that, there would be many fewer problems in the Body.  Sigh!  Well, we can begin with ourselves.  The "power of one".  Revival has to start somewhere....might as well be with me.

This is how the peace of Jesus Christ reigns among us, His children (vs. 16).  May it be so in our families, our workplaces, and especially in our churches.  Paul's final word to this lovely group of Christ-followers:  16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every[r]circumstance

Lord Jesus, may Your peace be the hallmark of our Christian families and churches!  Not a false peace, which allows dysfunction or misbehavior, but a true peace that is the result of loving each other.  You do not leave us as You found us, wallowing in our sin.  Instead, you remind us constantly of your grace, and how what you did on our behalf is so mind-blowingly amazing that it compels us to walk in Your holy way.  Hallelujah!  And, in Your blessed name, amen!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Blessed Tho Pressed

Good morning,

Now we find ourselves at the end of 2 Thessalonians 2 and in verses 16-17 reading one of Paul's beautiful blessings.  There are so many beautiful blessings and benedictions in the Bible!

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.

I am amazed that, despite their terribly adverse circumstances, Paul declares the Thessalonians blessed!  (Remember, they were undergoing intense persecution at the time of this writing. They were "blessed tho pressed"!)

The first thing we need to see from these verses is that Paul is affirming the co-equality of the Son with the Father, by using in the Greek a singular verb, not a plural form, indicating that the two are equal.  (Paul used this same word construction in 1 Thess. 3:11.)

The word "loved" here is agape love (Greek: agapesus), perfect, holy love. 1

Our Triune God (although the Spirit is not mentioned in this phrase) has not only loved us but has given us "everlasting consolation", or in some translations "eternal comfort".  The Greek word used for "consolation" or "comfort" is "paraklesin"2, which you may recognize as the English "Paraclete" - - - "one who walks alongside".  This is the same word/name given by Jesus to the Holy Spirit, The Comforter.
Note the Amplified Bible's version of John 14:16 - - -

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby), that He may remain with you forever
 The Holy Spirit, like the Father and Son, IS from everlasting to everlasting.

Now, what about this "hope"?  People often read the word "hope" in connection with Paul's remarks about heaven and salvation and incorrectly deduce that neither is certain.  The Greek word for "hope" is "elpida", which Strong's Concordance translates as an expectant certainty, "an expectation of what is sure" 3.

And, how do we have this sure salvation?  By God's own grace to us, through His Son, Jesus.  Verse 17 hinges on verse 16.  It is because of this truth, this certainty of Heaven, that we can be comforted no matter the circumstances.  It is also this certainty and this grace which establish us in good works and words.

This is a key tenet, making Christianity different from all other religions.  Whereas all other religions require the follower/devotee to work for salvation, Christianity affirms the disciple's works as evidence of his/her salvation.  Our good works flow from what has already been accomplished in our spirits by the Holy Spirit.

Make no mistake: we are unable in and of ourselves to accomplish anything good.  It is our Triune God, working within us, who produces good works and good words.  As Paul says here, it is the Lord Jesus and God the Father who "establish", or as the NASB put it, "strengthen" us.

What a beautiful blessing and prayer to meditate on today!  No matter what trial we are currently experiencing, we have the certainty that God perfectly loves us and continues to bless us.

Heavenly Father, we rejoice in Your Triune-ness, Your Trinity.  As one of my favorite hymns says, "God in three Persons, blessed Trinity".  Thank you for first loving us with agape love and then for establishing Your children, grounding us in the eternality of Your glorious salvation, strengthening us to perform Your work on the Earth.  This is the source of our peace and our joy.  We praise You today for Your magnificence!  In Jesus' name, amen.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Strong Delusion

Good afternoon,

I mentioned in yesterday's post that we'd be focusing on 2 Thessalonians 2:11 today, and dealing with the topic of "the strong delusion".  Take a look at verses 8 through 12 (NASB).

Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

As I mentioned yesterday, "the lawless one" or "the son of perdition" is generally deemed to be the person elsewhere referred to in scripture as The Antichrist.  Most Bible scholars agree that he will come to world power at the beginning of the 7-year period known as The Tribulation.  At the end of that period, the Lord Jesus will physically return to Earth and "slay him with the breath of his mouth". Isn't that an amazing thought?

It is plain in verses 10-12 that Paul is referring to those people who have rejected (did not receive) the love of the truth.  In other words, these are people who have rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not only that, but these people took pleasure in their wickedness.  This group is obviously not the true Church of Jesus Christ.  Whether you believe that The Rapture of the Church has occurred prior to this time or not is irrelevant, because whether the Church is still present on Earth or not, Paul is talking about those who have rejected Christ.

Upon those people God will allow a strong delusion to fall.  Already spiritually blind, they will become even more deceived, mesmerized by the Antichrist and his Satanic antics.  They will blindly follow him, even though judgments of God are falling upon the earth, even though their "house" is caving in all around them.  The judgments will serve only to harden their hearts all the more.  {This is one passage used by some to support their belief that it will be impossible for people to be saved during the Tribulation period (the "Left Behind" series notwithstanding!) }

So what is "the lie"?  What is this "strong delusion"?  Well, at it's most foundational, the lie is that Jesus Christ is not who He claims to be.  All of Satan's lies have this at their foundation, along with "God's word is not true."  Look at the first lie told in the Garden of Eden:  "Did God really say that?"

But, beyond that, many have speculated about the form this delusion will take.  As I was sitting here typing this post I got an alert on my phone from Fox News:  "Discovery of Earth-like planet with a sun like our own."  Hm-m-m-m....what odd timing!  I was just about to state my personal belief, which is that the delusion will be that we sprang from an alien race, and that they have returned to affirm that fact.  Ok, now before you go thinking that I've lost it, think about this....

The seeds of this are already being sown.  Discoveries about DNA have disproven Darwinism.  It is truly no longer tenable.  If you listen closely to atheistic scientists, they are speculating (because they desperately NEED another false narrative) that an alien race created the Earth and all life that is in it. All that is needed is for those "aliens" to show up and "reveal" themselves as our creators.  Perhaps this is part of what "the restrainer", spoken of earlier in this passage, is holding back?

Paul immediately follows this pronouncement of doom with words of comfort and assurance for the Thessalonian believers.

13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
2 Thess. 2:13-17

This passage reinforces the belief of some that the true Church will not go through the Tribulation period.  Will Christians experience persecution?  Yes, they have and are and will.  But, even though many have been and will be martyred for their faith, the Tribulation period will be a time when God's judgment is poured out on the Earth and all who dwell in it.  Over and over we are told in Scripture that Jesus Christ's Beloved is not marked for God's wrath, but for salvation.  This passage, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 speaks to me as affirming that position.  Paul seems to be saying, "This is not the time of the Lord's Return, that period of Tribulation, although you are now being persecuted.  God has marked you for salvation; so, stand firm in your faith during this intense time of trial which you are experiencing."

Ah well, many will disagree.  As always, search the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. What we need to focus on is Paul's admonition to "stand firm" in our faith and to be ready for His return, whenever that may be.

Father, although it is clear that many things remain a mystery to us now, in due time all will be made plain.  In the meantime, empower us by Your Holy Spirit to stand firm, and to walk....resplendent!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"When, did you say?"

Good morning,

The Thessalonians were in a dither!  Communication back then, of course, is not what it is today. The apostle Paul had spent a great deal of time with these young believers, teaching them no doubt more than we currently can determine from what our Bible says about the Lord Jesus Christ's return. Thinking that he has gotten them "solid", Paul moves on to other local churches in his ongoing "missionary journeys".  Next thing Paul knows, he gets wind that the Thessalonians have been led astray by false doctrine, namely that they are living in the "last days", going through the "Great Tribulation".

Now, it is for sure that the Thessalonians were being persecuted.  Paul is very plain to affirm that fact and to encourage then to "lean in" --- to use those oppositions/trials to deepen their faith in their Savior. But, his main purpose in writing 2 Thess is to clear up the misunderstanding as to when Jesus will return.

Our text for today is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11 (NASB).

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

Ironically, in this passage, in his attempt to be clear to the Thessalonians, a lot of present day confusion has been created surrounding the translations of this passage.  Part of the problem is that Paul was "reminding" these folks.  You know that when you "remind" someone of something, a detailed explanation is not necessary.  You simply reinforce the key points.  That's what we have here, the "Cliff's Notes" version.  Accordingly, we tend to try to fill in the blanks in the passage, and this results in more than one interpretation.  It's pretty much a mess, but let's see what we can make of it.

Paul says, "Look, He is not going to return until two conditions are met:  (1) prevalent apostasy and (2) the man of lawlessness is revealed."  First, "apostasy" is rendered in some translations as "the falling away".  What does this mean?  According to Alan Kurschner1, the Greek (ho apostasia) means "defiance of established system or authority, rebellion, abandonment, breach of faith.  Paul is speaking in a religious context here; so, it is reasonable to assume that he means that the faithful will abandon the faith.  He follows this up in the next few verses by once again exhorting the faithful to "stand firm".   So, the first sign that the Lord's coming is near is that "Christians" will (in droves) breach the faith.  Does that mean that believers will "lose their salvation"?  I don't think that that is possible; furthermore, in 2:13-15 Paul goes on to talk about "the elect", apparently affirming that those who are Christ's are forever His.  What I do believe will happen is that many who call themselves Christians, who self-identify as Christians, will be revealed as having been pretenders. Now, to be fair, there are those who think "the apostasy" means something else, and I refer you to Kurschner's website1 for an excellent exegesis of those other positions.

The other criterion that must precede the Lord's physical return to earth is the revelation of the identity of the Man of Perdition, the lawless one.  Almost every Bible scholar agrees that this is the man referred to elsewhere as "the Antichrist", who will be possessed by Satan and will wreak such havoc on the earth during the 7-year Great Tribulation.  The revelation of the Man of Perdition (perdition means "eternal punishment or damnation") and the falling away (apostasy) are related. They don't necessarily occur in chronological order; it's entirely possible that one could lead to the other or that they could happen simultaneously.  Regardless, they are related.  Personally, I also think that verse 11's "strong delusion" is also related; but, we'll get to that tomorrow.

Allright, then, if that weren't enough, there is a whole controversy about verses 6-7.  Who is this "restrainer"?  Or, what events are "restraining", and so forth.  If you want to delve more deeply into this, let me suggest these websites:

Randy Alcorn's take on it (he's the guy who wrote that book, Heaven, recently):

David Rogers' take on it:

{Both these views tend to depend on the original Greek having been mistranslated.}

Warren Wiersbe has a different view of who the Restrainer is:

Dear Paul, could you have not been a little more clear?!  :)
Ahhh, that is why we can study the Bible for a lifetime and still not understand it all!  "God is good, and all His ways are righteous." (Psalm 145:17).  As my parents said to me frequently, "If I had wanted you to know more, I would have told you."

Well, tomorrow we'll look at verse 11, quite the interesting verse as well.

Dear Father, we know that what you have revealed in Your Word is exactly what we need to know at the moment, in order to walk resplendent.  Thank you for speaking to us, teaching us by Your Holy Spirit and may we not fight with each other over minor matters of interpretation.  The important thing is that we draw ever closer to Your side, in order to prepare our spirits for what is to come. Draw us nearer to You, Lord!  In Jesus' name, amen.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Remembering Why

Good morning,

According to a Fox News poll conducted in mid-July, just a few days ago, Americans feel that Christianity is under attack in their country, (by a margin of 56% Yes, 42% No, and 3% Don't Know). 1   What do you think?

The believers in the Thessalonican church were enduring strenuous persecution.  In spite of that (or perhaps because of it) they were continuing to grow in their faith and also their love for each other. While commending them for that and thanking God for them, Paul also encouraged them to continue to keep their eyes focused on their Savior, as they endured their awful time of tribulation.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[b] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here, we see Paul claiming that the persecution that church was enduring was a GOOD thing!  Does that surprise you?  Paul made the case that when Christians experience "push-back" or full-blown persecution, it sanctifies those believers, making them more like Christ, making them more "worthy of the kingdom of God" (vs. 6).  Paul goes on to elaborate about how those who afflict the children of God will receive their fair punishment when Jesus Christ returns.  In that day of judgment, our Savior will be fully glorified in us and we will be astounded at His glory.

What does it mean to be "considered worthy of the kingdom of God"?  First, let's explore what that does NOT mean.

There is no way, no how, we can be worthy of what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Ever. God's grace is entirely one-way, entirely a free gift with no strings attached.  We can't earn it.  We don't deserve it.  We can only accept it.

Here, then, is the foundation for "walking worthy".  We find it in 1 John 4:19

We love, because He first loved us.

Boom!  We "walk worthy" because we love Him.  True Christians, not just those who call themselves that, are in love with Jesus Christ.  His grace provokes that response in us.  We have caught a glimpse of who He is and have an inkling of what He has done for us.  Our response then is to love Him by imitating Him in our daily lives. That's it.  That is "walking worthy".  It is not a way to be saved.  It is a result of being saved.  It is as natural a response to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ as the beautiful fruit that grows on a fruit tree.  (Luke 6:23; Matthew 7:18).

This is a consistent theme of Paul's, and it appears alongside his consistent emphasis on the completeness of God's grace.  We see the "walking worthy" theme here in 2 Thess 1, but also in Colossians 1:10-11, 1 Thess. 2:12 and Ephesians 4:1-2.

Does Paul pray for the Thessalonian believers to escape their difficult times?  No.  Look at his prayer for them in verses 11-12.  In the New King James version, it is translated as this:

11 Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power,12 that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What if God calls you or me to experience intense persecution for our faith?  Paul is praying here that God would strengthen these Thessalonians by His Holy Spirit and that He would fulfill His purposes through them, that through their lives the name of our Lord Jesus Christ would be glorified and that they would see their greatest glory through serving Him.  Let's pray this prayer over each other today, Brothers and Sisters!  We can't see the future.  Extreme persecution may hit us tomorrow...or even today.  But, no matter what comes, may this prayer of Paul's apply to us, Jesus's Bride, today and for all our tomorrows, as we seek to follow Him, to walk....resplendent.

Father, there is no greater honor than to be Your child because there is no greater love than the love You have showered on us by giving us Your Son to be our Savior.  Your great love compels us to chase after our Lord with all that is in us, to yield to Your Spirit Who lives within us so that Your glory may be seen through us in all that we do.  I confess that much too often I have resisted Your work in my life, taken things into my own hands and run the car into the ditch.  Thank you for picking me up, pulling me out of the mire and leading me again, with holy patience that is only possessed by You.  In Jesus' holy Name, that Name which is above every other name, amen.