What gets you in the mood for the holidays? Is it all the holiday paraphernalia that gets
stocked onto the shelves of stores in October? Maybe it’s all the different light displays that get put up, be they icicle, colored, blinking, twinkling, etc. How about Christmas trees and “decking the halls” with decoration and ornaments? For some folks, holiday music gets them in the mood, from Jingle Bells to Silent Night; while others prefer the crunching of snow beneath their boots and the wintry cold air for holiday cheer. Speaking of cheer, this is what often sparks the holiday spirit or should I say “spirits” as some indulge in holiday libations while others can’t seem to get enough eggnog (yours truly) and hot cider. Of course there are the smells… If you have ever been to NYC and smelled chestnuts being open-air roasted, you know what I’m talking about! But no doubt there are many a kitchen these days with wafting scents of freshly baked Christmas cookies (my mom’s and Julie’s grandma’s being the best, of course!) and sweets (no I’m not talking about our church secretary Sue) such as fudge and divinity that seem to arouse our holiday senses. Who could also forget holiday parties, Christmas shopping at the mall, delightfully wrapped gifts, the colors red, green and gold, “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas (can you believe that I actually met someone recently who had never seen this!?)” and jolly ole’ St. Nick?
Now while many of these things are nice and certainly to be enjoyed, are they
representative of true Christmas spirit? JI Packer in his classic book Knowing God addresses the matter, “We talk glibly of the Christmas spirit, rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity…it ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temperament] of Him who for our sakes became poor,…the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow men, giving time, thought, care, and concern to do good to others…in whatever way there seems need.”
Philippians 2:1-8 might seem like kind of a strange Christmas text, it’s not Isaiah 9 or
Luke 2, but I think it sums up true Christmas spirit in the most appropriate of ways. Listen to Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired words: “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Friends, this passage is all about true Christmas spirit; how in Christ believers have unity
and how this unity should spawn in us humility and selflessness. That as new creatures in
Christ, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are to put off selfishness and empty conceit and humbly regard others as being more important than ourselves. We are to not just be concerned with our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
And why is this? Because this was the attitude present in Christ! Jesus’ whole life was
about being a servant and putting others first. Christ had to humble Himself by leaving behind, for a time, His heavenly home with His Father and all of the honor and glory that surrounded Him. He had to trade the worship of angels for the abuses of wicked men. He also had to subject Himself to certain human limitations while on the earth and in addition He had to experience sorrow, pain, torture, humiliation and even death in one of the most grotesque and excruciating ways. Why did He do this? The answer: John 3:16. Because of His great love for us, Jesus demonstrated true “Christmas spirit.” He was a selfless, self-sacrificing, humble servant whose whole entire life was about putting others before Himself and He did this because of His deep and unconditional love for you and for me. Remember, God didn’t start loving us once we became righteous people; no, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 6:8; emphasis added).”
This Christmas season (and really always), let us ask God to help us demonstrate true
Christmas spirit by looking out for others first, considering others as being more important than ourselves, taking on a self-sacrificing attitude and being a servant to others the way that Christ did, to all we come in contact with. This means our family and friends (who are often times the hardest to be self-sacrificing towards); our co-workers, bosses or employees; the people at the grocery store, post-office, Costco, the pharmacy, the mall including unruly shoppers; other students at school or teachers; acquaintances, people you’ve never met before (even telemarketers and tail-gaiters!) and even your enemies. Ask the Lord to give you a humble heart and a desire to serve others this Christmas season. With so much on our plates this time of year, I know it’s tough to be others-focused but I also know the blessings and rewards you will receive will be some of your most cherished gifts!
Oh, and don’t forget to say “Merry Christmas!”
“More Change…and the Sovereignty of God
The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.”Psalm 33:10-11
When I first arrived here at FBCW some 16 months ago I wrote about change in another Body Builder article. Here is what I said: “Change. Some people like it, some people don’t. Some consider it a blessing, some a curse. Some see it as something exciting, some see it as something dreaded. Some see new possibilities, others see their world falling apart. Regardless of whichever way you see it, change is a reality of life.” There are also often many “realities of life” that we don’t particularly care for; things that happen that we dread or dislike; things that are painful or disheartening; job trials and relationship woes; trials and sufferings and even things we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. Yet throughout every circumstance of life, positive or negative, there is a great truth of God that we can cling to and when properly understood, is like medicine to our soul and healing to our bones and that is the “sovereignty of God.” As God’s created beings in His created universe, the sovereignty of God means that He is 100% completely in control over all aspects of His creation, including His “big picture” plans for the universe, earth and all of mankind as well as His control over the daily affairs of each of our lives. Author Jerry Bridges in his book Trusting God described the essence of God’s sovereignty this way: “His absolute independence to do as He pleases and His absolute control over the actions of all His creatures. No creature, person or empire can either thwart His will or act outside the bounds of His will.” -Jerry Bridges, Trusting God, (Colorado Springs, CO.: Navpress, 2008), p. 34.
Understanding this doctrine should give all of us enormous amounts of encouragement and relief, especially in light of the “bad” things that seem to go on around us or when issues of undesired or unwanted change occur. For many, the recent political election has become one such situation. Many have desired a certain outcome, not only for the presidency, but also for congressional seats, state propositions and local issues of government. Now if you’re on the side that won, you’re probably very happy and content with God’s sovereignty, but if you find yourself on the other side of the fence, you may be struggling in your acceptance of what God has decreed. “Decreed?” you ask. “Does God really decree or decide who our government leaders will be?” Paul, while speaking of the governing authorities in Rom 13:1 answers this question with a “yes” saying, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Peter affirms this same principle in 1 Peter 2:13-14 with these words,“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” I don’t have enough time here to show you the many facets of each of these verses and the other immediate texts surrounding each (especially Romans 13) but I will note that both make the case for government being there to protect the innocent and law abiding and to punish those “evildoers” that aren’t. Of course, as I recently noted in my sermon on Government, Politics and the Christian (11-2-08), this doesn’t always happen. There have been many cases throughout human history where evil and despotic kings, queens, dictators, presidents, etc. have risen up into power and authority over people and yet when we go back to the Scriptures (read all of Rom. 13:1-7 or listen to the recent sermon online or get the sermon CD) we find that God says we are to submit ourselves even to these. The Roman government that provides the context for both Paul and Peter’s writings was some of the most evil you will find. But let us get back to the ‘decreed aspect or the notion that God does indeed either ‘allow’ certain people to come to power or ‘appoint’ certain people to their positions in government, even those that go against Him and His commands, mandates and principles as set forth in His Word, the Bible. Jesus, while speaking to Pontius Pilate the Roman governor at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, said “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above (John 19:11)” and Lamentations 3:37-38 has Jeremiah asking, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?” So again we see that God is sovereignly in control over the authority of such leaders as well as even controlling those who speak and do evil, the “good and the ill.” Yet, in the case of those leaders and governments that do go against Biblical commands, mandates or principles, we still might want to ask why would God put them into power? Here are four things to consider: 1) Remember it was man and not God, who, because of man’s sin and God’s punishment of that sin, invited sin into the world for all time (Rom. 5:12). 2) God can either allow or cause these things to happen because of His sovereignty and the fact that He has a plan for all of human history knowing the “end from the beginning (Is. 46:10). In other words,God sees the big picture and the glory He will get from it (even in cases of evil), we don’t. 3) Also having to do with His sovereignty, Rom. 8:28 tells us that God will cause all things to happen for good to those who love Him. Meaning, whether things in our lives or the world seem bad or negative, ultimately, good will come out of it for the true believer of Jesus Christ. So believers need not fear even the most tyrannical of rulers or situations. 4) God will use all things to bring Himself glory (Is. 43:7), even evil governments (Is. 66:18). Sometimes God will receive even more glory from an evil government. Remember the persecution of the Israelites by Pharaoh and the Egyptians and how God glorified Himself and took care of the people in the process? Or how about the story of Nebuchadnezzar with Daniel and his three friends and the glory that came to God because of the wickedness in the government and what God did through it? So what’s our reaction to be when things don’t really go the way we would like them to go, even issues of politics and government? We need to fall back and rest ourselves on God’s sovereignty; on the fact that He is absolutely in control of all things and that we can trust that all things will work out for the Christian’s good and God’s ultimate glory. Consider and meditate on the following verses having to do with God’s sovereignty: Proverbs 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 19:21 Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.Isaiah 14:27 For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?
Psalm 103:19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. James 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” During my recent “Government, Politics and the Christian” sermon, I asked this question concerning the sovereignty of God in light of the very historic presidential election that would happen two days later: “How does the sovereignty of God affect how a Christian views government and politics in general, including voting and elections?” Here was my response: “Lastly, but just as important in this discussion is to have a proper understanding ofGod’s sovereignty in regards to our world, and certainly with government and politics. To say that God is sovereign, is to say, as the Scriptures do, that God is in complete control of all things; He has ordained the beginning of time from the end; He is in control of the good and the bad; He allows and even orchestrates government, it’s leaders and it’s laws – even in those cases that we don’t agree and yet even in those times He still always work things for the good of the believer and His ultimate glory. “When things in the world don’t seem to be going in a very favorable direction as far as you are concerned, that is not a time to grow worried, become anxious, get stressed out, become fearful or let dread and pessimism become the rule of your life. Rather, it is a time to rejoice because you know that even in these times God is still ruling over, reigning in and is 100% completely in control of, not just the world, the country, the government and its leaders, but He is also completely in control over your individual lives as well.
“Do we want things to go downhill in our country and world; do we want them to go from bad to worse? Of course not, but as we are living in the last days, God has told us this is exactly what will happen (2 Tim. 3; Eph. 5:16)! Praise Him that He told us this and has told us everything else we need to know about these end times! Praise Him that His plan for this earth and all of human history along with His eternal plan will be accomplished! That being said, be involved in government and politics and most definitely vote but remember that God is ultimately the one in control and there’s nothing we or anyone else (good or bad) can do to thwart that plan. “So go and vote the day after tomorrow and don’t worry, fret or be anxious but instead, give God glory. Praise Him for the outcome, no matter which candidate wins because He has decreed it. King David petitioned and prayed for God to spare the life of His infant son and when God said no and the boy died, did David shake his fist and curse God? Was he angry with God over God’s decision? Did he fall apart with grief, despair and hopelessness? No. What does the Bible say He did at that point? “David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped(2 Sam. 12:20).” He worshipped God even though God had taken the life of little baby! How could David do this? Because he completely trusted in God’s sovereignty over the affairs of his life, and knew that any decision from God was a just and righteous one, and also that God would do what was best for David’s good and God’s glory. “And so it should be with us. Two days from now if the candidate that you wanted to win doesn’t or the proposition that you wanted to pass fails, still fall to your knees and praise and worship God who is sovereign and completely in control and give Him glory because He has decreed this outcome for He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Lord who “has established His throne in the heavens” and whose “sovereignty rules over all (Ps. 103:19);” who sits on His holy throne reigning over the nations (Ps. 47:8), who raises up governments and leaders and brings them down and the One“who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).” So on Tuesday, no matter the outcome, what are we all going to do? That’s right, praise and worship God!” Now here we are, a few days later with a new president-elect and new congressional leaders and even some new propositions and local leaders, so what should the Christian’s‘ method of operation’ be? I think 1 Timothy 2:1-3 sums it up best, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 forkings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” Pray for our new president and those he will bring along with him and remember that now is not a time for us to separate ourselves as republicans and democrats but rather as RudolphGiuliani pointed out post-election in this paraphrase, “We are all Americans…who need to support and help our new president because if he fails, our whole country fails”…but only if our sovereign God has decreed it!
“Why Believe the Bible?”
“Creation vs. Evolution”
(Pt. 2 of 2 – July, 2009)
Last month I continued our study of why we can believe in the Bible with a look at the basics of evolution vs. creation. The reason I did, as I commented last month, was because “the creation account (Genesis 1-3) is one of the first places of attack when people don’t believe in the Bible; they will say “I don’t believe in a divine intelligent designer because it’s not scientific and everyone knows that science has proven the big bang and evolution.” Oh really? Have they indeed “proven” these things? They absolutely have not. Yet, if they can come to the conclusion that the Genesis account is not really true, then they can tear down the rest of Scripture.” This is sad but true.
In any case, my objective was to give you several questions and the beginnings of answers to stimulate your thoughts on this very important subject and then also to provide you with a list of resources for further study. The first 4 questions were: 1) Is evolution a scientific fact that has been proven empirically (through observation and experience) and logically by scientific method; i.e.: has it been scientifically proven that life is really a product of a material universe that came into being by random chance and accident? 2) How did life begin? 3) Why did life begin? 4) How did various plants and animals develop? 5) Which theory between evolution and creation best explains the fossil record?
If you missed the last issue (June) please stop by the office and we’ll give you a copy. Now we continue on in our questions:
6. What theory best explains our most recent biological studies?
When Darwin looked at a single cell (the simplest form of life) through a microscope of his day (200-300x), what he saw he described as a cell with a membrane, nucleus and the nucleus was filled with what looked like clear fluid and that was about it. It looked very simple. Darwin believed that the formation of life started out simple and grew more complex and that if it could be proven otherwise, then his whole theory would fall apart.
Guess what modern science has proven? The single cell that Darwin thought was so simple is actually astoundingly complex! Even with our super computers of today, we still don’t completely understand it and cannot duplicate it. We do know this, single cell organisms are more like high-tech factories with artificial language and decoding systems; they have central memory banks that store and retrieve impressive amounts of information; they have precision control systems that regulate the automatic assembly of their components; they have proof reading and even quality control programs that safe-guard against errors; they have assembly systems that use principles of pre-fabrication and modular construction as well as a complete replication system that allows the cell to duplicate itself with amazing speed (did you get all that?!). In addition, for a single cell to come to life, 445 amino acids would have to accidentally line up perfectly, not just once, but 239 times to form 29 proteins that would make a living cell. Friends, the probability of having 10 pennies in your pocket, each one marked from 1-10 and then pulling them out in sequential order, 1, 2, 3, etc. is 1 in 10 billion!
Even Carl Sagan believed that the probability of evolution occurring, life from non-life was 10 to the 2 billionth power!! Probability experts say that anything 10 to the 15th power is virtually impossible and anything 10 to the 50th power is impossible!
In addition, the single cell is filled with DNA which, in itself, can have millions of component parts. They are also arranged in a very specific sequence. DNA is like the computer software of a cell; it’s what allows it to work, grow and replicate. ,If spelled out in English, the genetic information in the DNA of a microscopic single cell organism would equal an entire volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Mind you the human body has an estimated 100 trillion cells!
Truly, a simple cell is not simple at all but astoundingly intricate and the notion that non-living matter could have come together by random chance and created this amazing life form is not just far fetched but very inadequate as an explanation for how life began, or as Darwin believed, that life went from simple to complex. Evolutionist and world class expert on the chemistry of DNA, Dr. Robert Shapiro has commented that the odds of DNA being formed by random process is “none, its nonsense.” Discoverer of DNA, Dr. Francis Crick has said that he is convinced that life could not have evolved on this planet from non-life.
The belief that an intelligent designer had to have been behind all of creation, especially when considering such biological wonders as the complexities of a single cell, is, even for secular minds, a much more plausible theory. Likewise, what’s really interesting is that while some of these secular scientists are coming to this conclusion, that life cannot come from non-life and evolution is not so plausible, not all of them are turning toward an intelligent designer as the next option. Instead they are coming up with new theories of how life was brought to earth from somewhere else in the universe. Really?! But how did it start there? Some say it came from a meteorite and some say from crystals and I’m sure there is a host of other “theories.”
7. Which theory has had the greatest social and/or moral benefit to mankind?
Simply put, the natural consequences of Darwinism promotes “self” in that if we live in a merely material world and there is no reason for us being here, that is, we are here solely by random chance and natural selection, then we would have no thought or concern towards others and would only do what was pleasing to ourselves. Chip Ingrim calls it the “sovereignty of self.” There would be no moral absolutes, no right and wrong, no sense of justice, yet isn’t it interesting that we all have some sense of these things? The Bible even tells us so much in Rom. 1. The sexual revolution of the 60’s said that people can do whatever they want and its okay. Funny how std’s and even AIDS was not far behind this way of thinking.
Racism including Nazism as well as the battle of the sexes is also a natural conclusion of Darwinism in that if we are all animals and natural selection is occurring (the survival of the fittest) and the best of a species becomes dominant (and we are just another species), then there is no room for the weak and/or disabled, etc.; all those inferior to the dominant or “best” species should be weeded out and gotten rid of to make way for the superior of the species, the best of the species. Isn’t this what Hitler believed and why he was exterminating different groups and races of people? Hitler was a disciple of Charles Darwin! Even Darwin himself believed the white race to be the more civilized race and that other “lesser” races would eventually be eliminated. In regards to men and women, Darwin also believed that males attain to a higher eminence in whatever they take up over women.
Of course the Bible says otherwise; that in Christ, we all have equality and value. Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Women are men’s co-heirs of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7)!
Think about it, how many Darwinists do you meet at a funeral? It sure seems that when tragedy strikes and death comes about, suddenly its, “Well they’re in a better place…” Not for the evolutionist who believes that life is only material and came about by random chance. There would be no such thing as a soul, spirit or afterlife for people who evolved from some kind of primordial soup, solely by random chance. A soul, spirit, and afterlife presuppose an intelligent designer. So from primordial ooze they came and back to primordial ooze they will go.
8. Which theory reflects most accurately the laws of empirical (observable/experiential) science?
It seems that science is based on the presupposition of the harmony, orderliness and predictability of the universe, not time+chance+randomness. We have come up with amazing mathematical formulas based on the orderliness and predictability of the universe! Science heavyweights like Leonardo DaVinci, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Francis Bacon, Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein all believed in the Biblical creation account over evolution.
Consider cause and effect. The evolutionist would have you believe there was an effect without a cause as life originated from no-life. If a cell has life, it had to come from somewhere. Some would say it came from some ‘primordial soup,’ but where did this come from? And the circle continues.
Also, evolution violates the first law of thermo-dynamics which basically says that matter cannot be created or destroyed yet that is exactly what is going on in evolution as energy is being created. The second law of thermodynamics has to do with “entropy” and is also violated with evolution. This says (in a most basic nutshell) that things in the universe don’t go from worse to better, but from better to worse; from order to chaos. Evolution says the opposite, from worse to better, chaos to order.
Again folks, I recognize this is only the tip of the iceberg and I hope it might ignite some sparks in you to study further and do your own research, always starting with the truth of the Scriptures. Friends, I hope you’ve been able to start to understand that Darwinism is not just a theory but a religion; a religion that has removed God and replaced Him with “self.” This is exactly what Paul described in Romans 1:18-25…
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Rom. 1:18-25).
Resources for Further Study:
The Facts on Creation vs. Evolution by John Ankerberg & John Weldon (Great little booklet – short and concise)
Beans, Daniel (Our in-house creation expert! Seriously, folks.)
Darwin’s Black Box by Michael J. Behe (A refutation of Darwin and his theory)
Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin (Let Darwin and his theory speak for itself)The Answers Book 1&2 Ken Hamm, General Editor
Why I Believe in Creation Pts. 1&2 Audio message by Chip Ingrim
Battle For the Beginning by John MacArthur
The Biblical Basis for Modern Science by Henry Morris
The Genesis Record by Henry Morris
Coming to Grips with Genesis Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, Editors
Evolution Exposed by Roger Patterson
Expelled (documentary movie with Ben Stein – really excellent!)
Christian Websites with a Biblical Worldview:
www.answersingenesis.org (Ken Hamm’s – Answers in Genesis)
www.icr.org (Institute for Creation Research)
www.lote.org (Chip Ingram’s – Living On The Edge)
 This article’s main points follow that of Chip Ingram’s message entitled Why I Believe in Creation Pts.1 and 2.
 Michael J. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box.
 Per Ingram’s Why I Believe in Creation Pt. 2
 Per Ingram’s Why I Believe in Creation Pt. 2
“Why Believe the Bible?”
“Creation vs. Evolution”
(Pt. 1 of 2 – June)
I decided to include this debate in this series of articles because of the fact that the Bible starts with the creation account (Genesis 1-3) and so this is one of the first places of attack when people don’t believe in the Bible; they will say “I don’t believe in a divine intelligent designer because it’s not scientific and everyone knows that science has proven the big bang and evolution.” Oh really? Have they indeed “proven” these things? They absolutely have not. Yet, if they can come to the conclusion that the Genesis account is not really true, then they can tear down the rest of Scripture.
Why would somebody want to do that? One simple reason: they want to be their own God – they don’t want to bow the knee to anyone but themselves. You see, if the Bible is true and people were created by an intelligent designer, then they would be accountable to that designer, but people want to be accountable to no one except themselves so they look for ways to discredit the Bible. Even professing Christians will do this. They will try and fit the theory of evolution into the Biblical account so they can have their cake and eat it too. In other words, they play fast and loose with the text, make it mean whatever they want it to mean, thus allowing them to take the same liberties with other parts of the Bible, discounting or discrediting all the things they personally don’t like or agree with.
“Time…How Much Do You Have?”
“If I could catch time in a bottle…” or so the song goes. Sometimes we are obsessed with time. Usually it’s in the “I never feel like I have enough” department. We don’t usually wish for time to go quicker but rather that it would slow down. As I turned 40 this month, the issue of time seems to have bore down on me different than when I turned 30. Now mind you, I’m not one of those people that despise having to grow older. I appreciate the added knowledge and wisdom that older age usually brings even though I do wish I could still do some of the things I did back in my teens or twenties – like a round-off, back-handspring, back tuck! My wife would probably like it if I didn’t continue to try many of the things I have enjoyed doing in the past. I just keep reminding her not to worry – the insurance premiums are all paid up…
But what about this issue of time? Actually, what I want you to consider is not how much time do you have, but how are you using the time God has given you? As we’ve established, none of us are getting any younger and time is slowly (or quickly) getting away from us in terms of our life right now on this earth. We all wish we had more time and maybe even some of us try to cajole God by saying to Him, “You know Lord, if you would just give me more time, think of all the great things I could do for you,” as if God needs any of us to do “great things” for Him! God doesn’t need any of us; He chooses to allow us the privilege of serving Him and accomplishing His good pleasure here on earth and on into eternity; He has created and saved us to do good works (Eph. 2:10) for the advancement of His kingdom.
Consider what God would have us understand about the amount of time we will spend in this first life: James says that our life is “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” In Psalm 39:5 our days are described as “handbreadths,” our lifetime as “nothing” in God’s sight and that man “is a mere breath.” Ps. 144:44 also adds that man’s “days are like a passing shadow” while Job comments in 7:7, “Remember that my life is but breath…” Psalm 90:3-6 has Moses praying to God, “You turn man back into dust And say, “Return, O children of men.” 4For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night. 5You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; Toward evening it fades and withers away.”
We are exhorted to make the most of our time as wise and Godly people (Eph. 5:15-16), we are to make the most of our time in order to share the gospel (Col. 4:5) and we should fear God in how we use our time for God will judge our works, the things that we fill our days with (1 Pet. 1:17). There is also the principle of faithfulness in our service to the Lord that can be applied to how we use our time. We find this kind of faithfulness in passages like 1 Cor. 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” and Mat 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?” Of course Christian faithfulness is about action and action requires our time. Most notably James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
Are you getting the picture here? Our lives on this earth will be quick and fleeting when compared to the eternality of God, therefore, as Christians, we should want to make the most of our time for the glory of God. Moses even entreats God a few verses later in Ps. 90:12, “So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” To be able to present to God a heart of wisdom means that we have to put God and his priorities first in our lives; whether it’s through your own devotional time in the Word and prayer or leading other members of your family in this way; or through serving in the church or exercising your spiritual gifts to edify others or fellowshipping with the saints, etc. Practically speaking, ask yourself, “Do I take the time to “do” the word? What are my days filled up with? What percentage of my time is spent on things that will have some kind of eternal value?”
Consider how many minutes are in a day: there are 1,440 minutes in a day. Now what if I told you that I wanted to give you $1 for every minute of the day, every day, for the rest of your life just “because?” Now mind you, you didn’t do anything to earn or deserve this money, it’s just a gift from me to you. But there’s just one little stipulation – everyday that I give you this money, you have to spend at least $20 on me. That’s $20 out of every $1,440. And you could spend it any way you wanted to; you could buy me something that I might want, give me a surprise gift or you could even pay me the 20 bucks back in cash – it doesn’t matter. What would you say to this offer? You’d take it in a second!
Yet God gives us 1,440 minutes a day, every day and what portion of that are we willing to spend on Him? What are we willing to give back to Him? Could we not give Him even 15 minutes out of that 1,440? What about 30 minutes…or an hour…or two? Think of all the ways you spend your time in a 24 hour period. Of course there’s things like sleeping (can you dream to the glory of God?!) and work (homemakers included) or school (you can certainly work, raise a family and go to school to the glory of God) but think of all of the other things you and your family might do. For instance the time students spend on extra-curricular activities like band, choir or school clubs or for parents, hobbies and special interests. What about relaxing time; hanging out with friends, hanging out at the mall, hanging out at Starbucks; students hanging out in their room or on the phone, or on the computer, playing games, listening to music, reading things with no spiritual value, taking a nap, sports, sports, and more sports with some of them having 2 practices and a game each week (which often includes the whole family), and do I have to even mention…T.V. and movies?
Yet do we have even 30 minutes a day for God? Can we not open our Bibles and feast upon all the delectable and delightful treats that He has graciously given us (Ps. 19:10)? Can’t we give time to Him in humble prayer (1 Thess. 5:17); to the God of the universe who has created and upholds all things by His powerful word (Heb. 1:3)? This God who has known us before time even began (Eph 1:4)? Who has loved us before we loved Him (1 Jn. 4:19)? Can we not bow before Him and give Him praise and thanksgiving for all He has done in our lives and all that He does for us each day (Ps. 69:30)? Can we not take a moment and confess our sins to Him, begging for His forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9)? Can we not show our trust and dependence on Him by asking Him to meet our needs and the needs of others (Matt. 6:11, 7:7)? Can we not show Him our deep, deep love and gratitude by serving Him in the body of Christ (Jn. 13:14)?
After all, isn’t He the one that gives us the 1,440 minutes in the first place? Think about it, He creates us and loves us, saves us and wants what’s best for us and gives us time, but what do we give God? What do we do to say thank you to Him? What do we do that shows God we truly love Him? What do we do that shows our obedience to Him? Do we give Him anything back? Do we give Him our…time? Consider 2 Cor. 1:12 and how having godly wisdom through God’s grace might affect your decisions as to how you spend your time. It speaks of a life following after God, loving God and obeying God. Of course the Bible has much to say about fleshly “wisdom,” just look at Prov 28:26 “Better is the poor who walks in his integrity Than he who is crooked though he be rich.”
This very day I ask you to consider how do you spend your time? Are you using it for the glory of God so that you can cultivate a heart of Godly wisdom or are you preparing a heart of unholy foolishness? If the answer to the previous questions is yes, you are cultivating a heart of Godly wisdom, then praise God! Keep it going and be blessed! If the answer is no, you don’t have a heart for His Word, you don’t have a heart for prayer, you don’t have a heart for service, you don’t have a heart for being with other believers, then you need to seriously examine your life and see what’s missing. That’s kind of a trick question because I am going to tell you what’s most likely missing: repentance or maybe repentance and a personal relationship with the One True Living God, namely, Jesus Christ. And it’s only through true repentance and faith in Him and His work on cross that you can even begin to live for Christ and make your time here on this earth count for all eternity; that you might one day present to Him a heart of wisdom and hear Him say to you “Well done good and faithful slave (Matt. 25:21, 23).”
Keeping the “Christ” in Christmas!
We are all well aware that every year the world seems to be moving further and further away from the true spirit and meaning of Christmas, to the point where now it is considered politically incorrect to even use the word Christmas for fear that you might offend someone. Yet the holidays Hanukah, Kwanza and Ramadan don’t seem to bother many (and isn’t it funny that few in the world seem offended by Halloween, arguably the most pagan and even evil-rooted “holiday” of all?!). Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that we live in a country where we can all worship freely and participate in any religious practice that we care to be a part of but lest we forget, this country was founded on Christian principles.
Frankly, I’m really not that surprised that people are offended by Christmas; in fact, these sentiments are Biblical. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.” In addition, Peter, in 1 Peter 2:8 describes what an unbeliever thinks of Jesus when he writes, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.”
We also know that things will only get worse for Christianity in the world. Consider what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and 13, “1But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these… 13But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
So is it any surprise that the world is trying to remove “Christ” from Christmas? Surely not, and in fact, they have done it with Easter as well. No longer is Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection celebrated, but rather the season of springtime and little bunnies. We have spring breaks, spring-flings and “renewal” parties.
Some would say, “Well let’s just do away with every kind of religious or pagan holiday. That way, nobody will be offended.” That might just seem like the ticket because really, when you think about it, does the Christian need the birth of Christ to be sanctioned by the government or retailers in order to celebrate it? Absolutely not; believers will always celebrate Christmas, even if the secular world doesn’t. Part of me even thinks that might be the better way because then we’d know we were celebrating Christmas for all of the right reasons. But of course that will never happen. Why? The almighty dollar. As much as people say they don’t want Christmas, it’s Christmas that fills the pockets and bank accounts of many. Christmas is big business and though they’ve changed the name from “Christmas” to “the Holidays,” it was really Christmas that started it all and keeps it all going. In recent years, I’ve even heard of some stores putting “Christmas” back in their sales plugs as opposed to “Holidays” because enough Christians raised a stink and threatened to boycott, the stores got scared. So basically, the dollar wins out in the end.
So what’s a Christian to do with all of this? Boycott the stores that say “holiday sale” versus “Christmas sale?” You could, but then you also might want to stop renting videos at your local video store because they have rated R and X titles and you’ll probably never go into a convenience store again because of the pornographic magazines they sell, not to mention the liver destroying alcohol. You will also probably want to stay away from the supermarket because they sell products made by Kraft which is owned by cancer-causing cigarette giant Philip-Morris. Stay away from anything put out by Sony such as tv’s, cam-corders, DVD players and movies because they released the Di Vinci code, a movie that is blasphemous toward the word of God. Maybe we should just avoid all businesses owned by unbelievers or better yet, just avoid all unbelievers period? I hope you know I am being facetious now to make a point – the point being, where do you draw the line? For most, this will be an area of conscience; being Biblically informed, you will have to decide for yourself where you land.
Here’s a few things to consider from God’s Word. The Bible tells us that we are not of this world (Jn. 17:16 – our true home is with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven) yet we know that we are to live in this world for the duration of our human lives. We’re to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 13-14). How are we to do this if we become isolationists? The Bible doesn’t tell us to shun unbelievers and their businesses but that we should not “love the world nor the things in the world (Jn. 2:15).” Meaning, nothing in our lives should be more important to us than the Lord and bringing Him glory and anything that would usurp His priority in our lives would not be a good thing. In other words, when we start loving the things of the world more than God, then we’re in a very bad place.
But we will always be wheat among the tares for as long as we are here and God knows that we need to survive while in the world. That is, we need to work and support our families and go to stores to buy the necessities of life. For better or for worse, we have to live, work and function in the world. It just so happens that is largely an unbelieving world filled with the evidences of unbelief. Yet, we can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers; we can’t expect them to live by the godly standards set forth in Scripture. It’s just not going to happen.
Now you can boycott whomever and whatever you want and maybe you’ll even be able to convince some stores to put the word “Christmas” back into their advertising but until people’s hearts are filled with the gospel and they come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, it will only be a temporary change; a band-aid that will only stay in place so long. Remember what Paul writes to Titus in Titus 1:15 “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.”
True and lasting change only comes when someone repents and believes in the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. When this happens, they become a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), they put off the old self and with their minds renewed “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph. 4:22-24),” living each day for the glory of God rather than for themselves (1 Cor. 10:31). What we can and should do is pray for their salvation. Then, and only then, can real change occur.
As believers, we need to be in a position where we can evangelize and show Christ to the unbelieving world; we need to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. But we’re not going to be able to do that if we don’t have some kind of interaction with the world, while at the same time being careful not to become so caught up in the things of the world. We are to follow the command of Paul to Timothy, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-15).”
Offended this holiday season? Don’t be! The world is just behaving like the unbelieving world that it is. God knows what’s going on and He will certainly have His day. But in the meantime, enjoy the Christmas season in the most God-honoring way you know how and don’t be concerned with how the stores and people who hate God observe it (or don’t observe it, as the case may be!). Instead of worrying about what others do with Christmas, let the true spirit of Christ’s birth ring out loud and clear to you and yours. As Scrooge’s nephew said to his uncle Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good [the true spirit of Christmas], and I say God bless it!”
God bless us, everyone and merry Christmas!
Thankfulness…for the Most Incredible Thing!
This month and possibly the next, I thought I’d take a short break from our Disciplines of the Christian Life articles to reflect on some other good and worthy things, and this month being November with Thanksgiving around the corner, it always seems appropriate to address the topic of being thankful. Of course Thanksgiving always seems to be a time when we stop and reflect back on the many things that we are thankful for. For some, this happens in the semi-public arena of the thanksgiving meal table and for others it may happen in a moment of quiet, prayerful reflection. However you give thanks rest assured that this is God’s wish, even His command for you, His adopted child (see Scriptures below).
But what are we to be thankful for? Personally, I’m thankful when my body joints all move in the right way and I can get out of bed – some of you know what I am talking about! I’m also thankful for Suzie’s bakery being right across the street from the office. I’m thankful for the fact that I’ve got to go fishing more in the last four months than I did in the last twenty years in Los Angeles. I’m also thankful for the autumn leaves and brilliant colors that surround us (in LA, we have one autumn color…brown!). I’m thankful for the crispness of the air, a warm wood stove, a wily salmon or steelhead (even if I am having some major trouble keeping them on my line), and the new Panda Express Chinese place in Redding.
Yes, I realize that these are all very superfluous things to be thankful for yet I’m also thankful for the things that are more meaningful, especially people. I’m thankful for my loving and caring helpmate – my wife of 14 years, for my three kids who I love, for family from here to Kansas, and for the many dear friends and saints that we’ve gotten to know at FBCW.
I encourage you all to take a little time and consider what your “thankful” list is. Maybe it’s for God’s provision, the place where you live, the food you eat or the clothes you wear. Maybe you’re thankful for the big things like air to breathe or mountains to gaze at or maybe you’re thankful for simple pleasures, similar to the one’s I’ve already mentioned. In any case, there is no doubt that there is much for each of us to be thankful about, yet can I propose what I think may be the biggest, most important thing to ever be thankful for? It’s both a gift and a miracle…your salvation. The fact that Jesus Christ took your place on the cross, dying for your sins and has saved you from the consequences, namely eternal hell, really makes life and all of the other things in it worth while.
Consider for a minute the thankfulness of the unbeliever. Sure, they may be thankful for life, health, food, clothing and shelter. Of course, they probably are thankful for their wives, kids, family and friends. Yes, it could be that they are thankful for jobs, finances, cars and luxuries. I imagine that they might be thankful even for simple pleasures, but who are they thankful toward? A ‘higher power’ that they really don’t know anything about? Who or what is the object of their thankfulness? Do they even know? I can tell you this, it’s not the God of the Bible. They may as well thank themselves.
So in reality, if unbelievers are not even sure who they are thankful towards, there is no real point to their thankfulness. Therefore, they may say that they are thankful for things but how can you be truly thankful when you have no hope of the future? For those who are apart from Christ, whatever love, peace, joy and thankfulness they seem to have in their life is to some degree a façade, for without hope, everything in life is futile and meaningless. Oh some may think they have hope; they have some ideas in their mind of an afterlife but these are just that, ideas, wishful pipe dreams, a straw house kind of hope and somewhere in their heart of hearts they know this is true because Romans 1 says so clearly they have been given a knowledge of God but have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and are now without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20). What a burden to carry through life!
I met a couple of guys (they we’re actually a homosexual couple who were our neighbors down in Burbank) who were unbelievers for whom it was obvious that the only hope they had was just that, a very uncertain ‘hope of good things to come’ by way of some kind of heavenly afterlife if they were good enough people. Certainly a far cry and a world apart from the Christian’s hopeful promise of what is to come – a promise from the God “who cannot lie (Titus 1:2)” that those who repent of their sins and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ will be saved unto eternal life with Christ. Now that’s something to be thankful for! But again, what is the point of thankfulness for anything in life, if when one dies, one wakes up in the pit of hell, the lake of fire and brimstone, and has only torment, torture, pain and suffering to look forward to for all eternity? Can they truly enjoy the life they have here? Can they truly say they are thankful?
Why do I mention all of this? Am I trying to be a ‘downer’ during this wonderful holiday season of Thanksgiving? Absolutely not, but as you are giving your thanks to the One who deserves it, make sure you thank Him for the most incredible thing, the most wonderful gift you could ever receive or be thankful for…the gift of salvation; the gift that makes all of the other gifts in life worthwhile! Also, along with your prayers of thankfulness, pray for the salvation of others. Pray that God would remove the blinders from those family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors – anyone who hasn’t yet placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and that through His grace He would save them. I leave you with four Scriptures to meditate on during this month of thanksgiving…
Psalm 103:2-5 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; 3Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; 4Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; 5Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always; 17pray without ceasing; 18in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 106:1 Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Happy Turkey Day!
“Questions and Answers” Since I realized very quickly that I had way more questions than I could answer during 2 or 3 Sunday sermons, I decided to answer some of them via the Body Builder. So here goes! 1. When God said in Genesis 1:26 “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” who is it that God is referring to when He says “Us” and “Our?” Good question! We see God use this plural form in other places as well such as Gen. 3:22 “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us,…” 11:7 “Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language…” and Isaiah 6:8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” There are a few different thoughts on how to interpret this plurality of the Hebrew word elohim which means “God.” One is that God is referring to His heavenly hosts that seem to always be around Him as in Is. 6. The problem with this view is that we know from other places in Scripture that God alone created man, the heavenly hosts had no part in this act as clearly understood in Genesis 2:7, 22 “7Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 22The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man (cf. Is. 44:24).” In addition, man is made in the image of God, not in the image of the heavenly hosts (Gen. 1:26). A second view is to say that the plural form of elohim refers to “plural majesty.” In other words, the plural form of God is the most full and majestic way of understanding God and all of His divineness and power which is the truth for the basis of the Trinity. A third, and certainly the most popular modern view, is to say it’s a direct reference to the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The problem with this view is that it infers much. For instance, there is no number mentioned as an explanation for how many are included in the “Us” or “Our.” One also has to remember that the original Hebrew audience knew of Yahweh as a singular God, in opposition to the many pagan gods worshiped by non-Hebrews. That is not to say that there aren’t other places in the Old Testament as well as the New that clearly lay out the doctrine of the Trinity or speak of the Godhead in a plural way, it’s just a big jump to say that these verses in Gen. and Is. are specifically pointing to this. The answer? I believe the plural form of elohim in these specific references of Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7 and Is. 6:8 are best understood as teaching that the Godhead is a plurality but it’s only when we go to other Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments that the doctrine of the Trinity is completely revealed. There was a second part to this question which asked (paraphrasing), “What does this mean that man is created in the “image” and “likeness” of God? One aspect is that, “It establishes a personal relationship between God and man that does not exist with any other aspect of creation…God was the pattern for the personhood of man.” I also refer you to what we learned in the Basic Bible Doctrines class: “God created man in His “image” and “likeness.” “Image” and “likeness” relate to those non-physical qualities we have that are like God to some degree. We have many attributes that God has which are unique to humans, ones that animals do not possess. Thus, animals are not made in His image or likeness. For instance, man is a thinking creature, he does introspection, self evaluation, has awareness of self, has emotion, has complex initiative, has complex social abilities, has a historical reference, etc. All these things set man apart from animals.” “But probably the greatest “image” and “likeness” is in the area of function. Just as God is ruler over heaven and earth so man was given dominion over the earth. God not only gave man a sphere of dominion but the commission to rule over the fish, birds, animals, plants, and “creeping things.” This is clearly emphasized in the context of Genesis 1:26-30. Man was created to be ruler of earth like God who is ruler over all of creation.” 2. In staying with the Genesis theme (I have re-worded this question slightly), “Who are the ‘Sons of God’ mentioned in different places but more specifically in Gen. 6:2? Are they angels? Gen. 6:1-2, 4 says, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose…4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” There are several major views regarding this passage: 1) Because the phrase “sons of God” almost exclusively refers to angelic beings or heavenly hosts elsewhere in Scripture (i.e.: Job1:6), the first view is just that – these “sons of God” are angels who violated the natural order of pro-creation and were marrying and having children with earthly human women. Matthew 22:30 says of human beings, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” This would tell us that angels are not allowed to marry but could they procreate? If so, it would seem that these angelic beings would have to be sinful, fallen angels, otherwise known as demons and they would have to either possess or somehow take on a fleshly, human form capable of procreating. 2 Peter 2:4-5 does indicate that there were angels who sinned that are seemingly associated with the “ancient world” around the time of Noah (some would say that these are the same disobedient angels spoken of in Jude 6). 2) The second view is that in this instance, the “sons of God” are simply mortal men in the line of Seth (the Messianic line) who co-habitated with the “daughters of men,” “beautiful” Canaanite women (pagans), producing offspring. 3) Thirdly, it has been said that the “sons of God” were earthly kings and princes who married commoners (“daughters of men”). A literal interpretation is always best. Therefore, the phrase “sons of God” (which has never before been used in the preceding pages of Scripture) could only refer to true sons of God which could only be Adam or some other being that was directly created by God, not born in a human sense. This would leave the angel/demon view (#1) above as being the most viable option. That being said, it would also seem more viable that these fallen angels/demons had possessed the bodies of some godless men who then procreated with the “daughters of men” thus producing fully human offspring. It starts getting very complicated, theologically speaking, to consider angels that might be able to take on a human form and participate in some kind of angel-human sexual union. This is a complicated study on which much more time could certainly be spent! 3. Why is 666 considered to be the number of the devil? Is it really an evil number? Numbers are simply numbers; the number 13 and 666 are no more evil than 25 or 2,471 just like the letters that make up a curse word are no more wicked than those that form “good” words. In fact, the number 666 is used in 1 Kings 10:14 to describe how many talents of gold Solomon received in one year! So what makes a word or in this case a number significant? The meaning given to it.
Revelation 13:16-18 (speaking of the second beast, that is, the false prophet of the antichrist) says “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.”
This passage is in reference to the time period of the second half of the 7 year tribulation period (often called the Great Tribulation) where the antichrist (“the beast” who is indwelt by Satan) has come into power along with the false prophet and is deceiving the nations. During the time period of vv. 16-18, the false prophet is declaring that all who follow and worship the antichrist shall have a mark of identification put on them showing their allegiance to the antichrist. If they would refuse to take this mark, they would be killed. This mark will also serve as a way for these people to buy and sell goods. In other words, it is a way for the antichrist to try and turn all people into his followers by making life as difficult as possible those who won’t swear allegiance to him, especially Christians who have been able to avoid taking the mark without the consequence of death. The text says the identifying mark will be “the name of the beast or the number of his name.” The number that believers in that time period are to calculate as being the beast is 666. In other words, believers need to understand what is happening around them and the significance of this number connected with the antichrist’s name. But what does the number mean? If you can answer that question, you win the million dollar prize! This question has intrigued theologians and lay people alike since it was written in the Bible 2000 years ago. Who knows, maybe the apostle John didn’t even fully understand. People have tried to come up with mathematical formulas, schemes involving different historical figures, Greek, Hebrew and Latin numerical equivalents and the like to explain it. There has been no end to people’s speculation of how to figure out its significance. I think John MacArthur has it right when he says, “This sobering passage (vv. 1-18) is not intended to be the source of fruitless speculation about its details. Rather, it stands as a warning to the unbelieving world. It challenges believers to live careful, godly lives (1 Pet. 4:7; 2 Pet. 3:11) and to evangelize a world headed for destruction.”
“On A Clear Day…” “On a clear day you can see forever…”How most of us here in Trinity County have longed for the clear, blue sky days of summer! Of course I’m referring to the almost constant and incessant smoke that we’ve had these last couple of months, all do to one night of lightning strikes a short time ago. This ‘dry lightning’ sparked off a series of wildfires seemingly unparalleled in California history. What does fire bring (besides brave firefighters from all over the country) but smoke – and lots of it. I remember riding my bike to church the day after the fires started with all of the smoke that was invading the town and figuring that by the next day or so it would pretty much clear out and we’d be back to normal. But of course that was not to be. The smoke stayed…and stayed…and stayed…and stayed some more! At first we were keeping our house closed up pretty tight and the kids indoors, kind of like on rainy days, but as time went on and cabin fever set in you realized you couldn’t keep them locked up forever. So we started to not worry about it as much and at some point I think many of us just started to get used to it.It was funny because on a recent trip to Sacramento to visit my sister and her husband, we brought our suitcase into the house and my sister commented on how she could smell the smoke in our clothes and from our bag. Sure enough, even getting back into our truck, after having been exposed to the clean air of Sac, it smelled like a campfire. All we needed was some wieners and marshmallows! Other residual effects of the smoke have appeared with increase visits to doctors and emergency rooms. I can remember in Burbank having bad enough smog days that your eyes would get itchy and start tearing up, but nothing like this here with your chest getting congested and even burning while you try and walk your dog. I’ve seen people around town with masks over their noses and mouths trying to limit their smoke and carcinogen intake.One of the things that I’ve found most interesting about this smoke-soup we’ve been living in is the general attitudes and demeanors of people and how they’ve changed. Let’s face it, this smoke has got many of us “down.” It’s got us bummed out, cranky, not feeling well and just flat out tired of it. I didn’t really notice this until I saw it in myself. It happened when we had one of our rare super-clean air days early this month. It was one of those days when you could see the mountains, not just their outlines, but you could differentiate trees, rocks and colors! When you looked up you didn’t see brownish-gray haze but a bright and vibrant blue sky. The smell in the air was not of a campfire but of trees, flowers and clean mountain air. It was then that I noticed a change in myself. Not to sound too sappy but I felt renewed, happy, joyful, filled with life; I had a bounce in my step that hadn’t been there for several weeks. I told Julie and the kids to pack up a lunch and grab the inn-tubes, we’re going to the river – and go to the river we did! We had a wonderful time of playing in the cool, refreshing water, flying off the rope swing, looking at the fish through a mask and snorkel and “shooting the rapids” into the swimming hole. It was one of those summer days where you thank the good Lord for all of His blessings. In any case, this renewed feeling is what caused me to reflect on my own attitude and demeanor of the previous two months and realize just how this smoke has affected us. This got me to thinking about it all from a spiritual perspective. As a pastor and teacher of God’s Word, sometimes you think you sound like a broken record because you’re always telling people to read their Bibles: “Have you read your Bible?…You should be reading your Bible…If you want to grow as a Christian, you need to read your Bible…Reading your Bible is where you’ll find the answers to your questions…Read your Bible daily…Don’t stop reading your Bible, etc.” Certainly the Scriptures affirm that reading and meditating on God’s Word is vital. Yet how often do we take this to heart? How often do we put this most basic discipline into action? For most people the question is not, “Do you know that you should read the Bible?” But rather, “Are you reading your Bible everyday?” It’s not enough to pick it up once a month or even once a week, the Scriptures teach that we need to be meditating on God’s Word “day and night (Ps. 1:2).” This means all the time! Consider the following Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments: Deuteronomy 6:6-9 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 8:3 “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus re-iterated this to Satan during His temptation in the wilderness (Lk. 4:4). Joshua 1:7-8 “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” Psalm 19:7-11 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. 8The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. 10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 119:97 “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day…105Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 1 Peter 2:2 “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” 2 Peter 1:3 “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” How do we have this “true knowledge” of God? Through His Word, the Bible! “But what does this have to do with all of this talk of smoke,” you ask? Simple, when we are not in the Word of God on a regular basis, the smoke settles in and our spiritual lives start to get hazy and things aren’t as clear to us including God, His Son Jesus and His will for our lives. Our vision starts to blur, and our minds get cloudy regarding spiritual things. We start praying less and less. Our church attendance becomes sporadic and maybe not at all. Our serving tapers off and we’re not even fellowshipping with the saints anymore. Without God’s Word in our daily life we lose sight of the path that He wants us to be on and it causes us to be less discerning between godliness and worldliness. If we continue to live in this smoke-soup without God’s Word long enough it’s starts to take it’s toll – it causes us to choke and gag and we don’t get the oxygen we need that only His Word contains; it make us spiritually sick and we start to whither and die.On the other hand, when we are actively reading our Bibles and filling our bellies with the milk and meat of His word; we’re filling our lungs with the pure oxygen of Scripture; we’re watering our stalks with His brand of “Miracle Grow,” then the wind of His Spirit pushes out all of the nasty smoke and haze; all of those hurtful carcinogens; all of the bad smells and foul odors and ushers in the clear, clean blue skies of a life with Christ. Our joy returns, along with our positive attitudes and Christ-like demeanors. Am I trying to say that life is perfect for the Christian? No, not here on this earth anyway. But how different is our life here when we live each day soaking up the promises of God’s Word by way of His forgiveness of sins and the eternal hope and promise of everlasting life with His Son Jesus Christ?! This is what gives us joy through sorrow, contentment through trial and perseverance in pain; it’s our blue sky and clean, fresh mountain air that we get to enjoy as long as we are rooted in His Truth! “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.”Psalm 1:1-6
FBCW – “Body Builder” 7/08
Spiritual Disciplines Part 7:“Giving”
We’re back to continue with the spiritual discipline of giving. Now giving can include one’s time, talents and abilities through service but for the sake of this article, the focus is on our financial giving. Incidentally, this will be the last article in our series on Spiritual Disciplines. Last month I shared with you the first 5 principles of New Testament giving from Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. They were: 1) God Owns Everything You Own, 2) Giving is an Act of Worship, 3) Giving Reflects Faith in God’s Provision, 4) Giving Should Be Sacrificial and Generous, and 5) Giving Reflects Spiritual Trustworthiness. Now we’re on to the last five starting with…
6. Giving – Love, Not Legalism As a quick reminder, legalism can manifest in different ways but the way referred to here is when someone tries to do something to gain favor or merit with God apart from the proper heart attitude. In this kind of legalism, giving becomes a man-centered work versus a God-centered one. In other words, giving should be motivated by your love and devotion for God; it should be a reflection of how much you love God.The apostle Paul made this principle clear when he was exhorting the Corinthians to be like the Macedonians in their giving when he said in 2 Corinthians 8:8 “I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.” Paul didn’t give them a rule or law in regards to their giving; instead he wanted them to give from sincere hearts as proof of their love for God. He continues this same principle in the next chapter when he says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart…(2 Cor. 9:7).” Whitney writes, “Paul never gave them an external, measurable standard of giving. He said that giving to God should be measured in the heart, and the standard is their love to God.”
7. Give Willfully, Thankfully and Cheerfully Let us consider all of 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” One person said, “There are three kinds of giving: grudge giving where the person gives because they feel they ‘have to,’ duty giving where they feel they ‘ought to,’ and thanksgiving because they ‘want to.’” Which one are you? Do you give with resentment in your heart or because you feel like you’re supposed to or do you truly desire to give to God? As Whitney asks, do you give like you would to the IRS after an audit or to the electric company when paying your bill or as if you are presenting a beautiful engagement ring to your fiancé?A legitimate question might be why should we give willfully, thankfully and cheerfully? Hopefully for the believer in Christ, the answer might be somewhat obvious – the Bible teaches us that it is God who created you along with a beautiful world to live in; He saved you (by His grace) from the pit of destruction; He sanctifies you by making you more and more into the image of His perfect Son; He is the one who has promised to glorify you when He re-unites your body and soul making you perfect and without sin ever again and He is the one who will bring you into His heavenly kingdom and allow you to live there with Him for all eternity. Not to mention the fact that while you are here on this earth He does everything by way of taking care of you. So when you think of your motivation and heart attitude for giving to Him, think about these things.
8. Giving – An Appropriate Response to Real Needs How do you react when you see a Christian brother or sister or your church with some kind immediate financial need? We see this kind of giving in the Scriptures. For instance in Acts 2:43-45 right after Pentecost when the early church had just been formed we read “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” The reason this was happening was because many thousands of Jewish people had descended upon Jerusalem form all parts of the Roman Empire to celebrate the Jewish feast. After Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish believers, many others got saved. In fact the Bible says that 3,000 of them became believers that very day and thousands more would follow. Of these thousands, many decided to stay in Jerusalem and make it their new home. This meant that there was an incredible need for all the basic necessities and that need was met by believers who were willing to pool their resources to help others. We see this play out again in Acts 4:32-35.How do you know if something is a legitimate need? Well if it’s your church taking a special offering, one hopes that the leadership has done its homework and have deemed the need legitimate. What about people you see on the street asking for money or those who claim to be Christians and say they are simply ‘down on their luck?” One way to be a little surer of these kinds of needs is to give to places like a Christian homeless shelter or our transient ministry here in Weaverville. These places are set up to help assess the true needs of those that come to them and they can give appropriately based on certain criteria. One other option is to give to the Deacons Fund here at FBCW which is specifically set up to be a benevolent fund – a fund that can be used for immediate or emergency type needs.
9. Giving Should Be Planned and Systematic Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” What happens if, when you get your paycheck or social security check or whatever means of income you have, you don’t take out that first portion and give it right away to the Lord? If you’re like many of us, you start spending the money on other things – needs like food, mortgage, rent, utility bill, etc., then maybe you have other things that are important but not necessarily needs like new clothes or shoes, water for your flowers and trees, etc., and then there are the ‘wants,’ things that we really don’t need but desire like entertainment, more clothes and shoes, frequent trips to Susie’s bakery or Starbucks, fishing gear (Ah! Did I say that?!), etc. Then after we’ve spent most of what God allowed us to bring in, we kind of remember that we forgot to give Him His portion. But now our bank account is so low we feel uncomfortable giving what we wished we had and opt this time to hold back from God because of this. We make a little deal with God that next time we will not only give right away but we will cover what we missed this week or this month. The problem is, when the next pay period rolls around, we forget about our little deal and the vicious cycle starts all over again. Can anyone else identify with this or does this only happen to people who ‘live back east?’ This is why Paul tells us in this passage to plan out your giving and be systematic with it. It doesn’t matter whether God gives you a lot or a little, however He has prospered you, you are to put aside and save whatever it is that God has purposed in your heart to give and have it ready for when the collection is taken. When Paul or one of his disciples would come to a city, they would take a collection for those churches in need; we take a collection every Sunday (as well as special collections) for the needs of FBCW which includes all operating costs, salaries, general ministry expenses (such as curriculum), missions budget, new building construction, benevolence, etc. God doesn’t want our leftovers; He wants our first-fruits. Doesn’t He deserve them? Lastly, when you give, do you leave it up to feelings or emotion? If on Sunday morning you wake up after a restful sleep, have a good breakfast and are now feeling generous do you give a little more than those mornings when you wake up late, forget to eat, fight with the kids and barely make it to church on time with giving the last thing on your mind? Do you give less those days because you’re not in a good mood? Christian, this should not be the case and that is why we are called to be systematic in our giving, “to put aside and save, as he may prosper.” This also means you might want to consider consistently giving a percentage of your income and as God blesses your finances, plan to increase your giving along with that. Tithing (10%) is an Old Testament term but when one examines the books of the OT Law, you’ll find that in actuality the required amount for the Jews to give was more around the 25% range! So where should you start? Take it up with the Lord but let your giving be planned and systematic.
10. Generous Giving Results in Bountiful Blessing Isn’t it interesting that we partake in different spiritual disciplines, including giving, and we are doing it out of our love, devotion and gratitude for God for His graciousness to us and then He turns around and blesses us even more!! Yet that is the great goodness of our heavenly Father who loves to bless His children! Listen to Jesus in Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”Or Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;”Please don’t misunderstand, this is not “prosperity theology.” God is not saying that if you want to get rich all you have to do is give to Him and He will make your bank account bulge with zeros. That’s not say that couldn’t happen, for God can do anything He wants for His people, but that is not the meaning behind these verses. Certainly, there is a promise of blessings and I believe this means earthly blessings but not always of a financial nature. He does promise bountiful reaping, abounding grace and because of this grace, an abundance for every good deed if we are generous with our giving. Remember Romans 8:28? “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This includes even our finances in that when we are cheerful and generous givers, God will use this not only for His glory, but also for our own good. If we let God be the one to have control over our finances, He will orchestrate things that will benefit us the most as well as bring us even greater joy than if we did things our own way with our money.Let’s not forget one other aspect of blessing: the spiritual and heavenly variety. Certainly by our generous, cheerful and proper heart-motivated giving, we are indeed storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20). Friends, there most assuredly will come a time when God will heap those heavenly blessings upon you in a way that is almost unfathomable here on earth! You will be rewarded as God will “open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows (Malachi 3:10).” Test God with your giving…I dare you!