Sunday, September 29, 2013

Final Warning

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.    2 Peter 2:1-2  NKJV
We talked last week about the final words the apostle Peter chose to share with the believers scattered around the country when he became aware that his life was about to end.  One of the subjects he chose to discuss was the importance of living the godly life as a witness to an unbelieving world which we discussed last week.  This week I want to talk a little about what we could call Peter’s final warning to believers, and one which I believe is the most relevant to the Church today.

After spending most of his life serving God by spreading the Gospel of Christ and His atonement for our sin, Peter saw a troubling future for the Church because of the influence of false teachers who would abandon the message of Christ and begin to teach other beliefs which were contrary to what Jesus had taught.  Peter called these “destructive heresies”, which in the day was probably the strongest condemnation he could use to describe them.
I will apologize in advance if today seems more like a lesson in Greek than usual, but I think it will help us to better understand exactly how important this message was to Peter, and why it should be to us as well.  The phrase “destructive heresies” comes from the two Greek words apōleia, which translates as "the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell”, and hairesis, which means “dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims”.   Clearly what Peter was warning the Church about was the influence of those who would teach not the saving Gospel of Christ, but rather a theology which would not only cause divisions, but ultimately lead those who chose to believe them straight to hell.

When I read this, my first thought was that it seems clear Peter was warning us to be suspicious of what we hear from those who teach, and not blindly accept what is taught as being correct according to scripture.  Now if that seems like it might be a strange attitude to have, one only needs to look back to the Bereans in Acts to see this in action.
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.                          Acts 17:10-11  NKJV

The word for “searched” in the Greek is anakrinō, which means toexamine or judge, to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinize, sift, question, specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an investigation, to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses, to judge of, estimate, determine (the excellence or defects of any person or thing)”.  Now for me at least, this gives a whole new meaning to the idea of studying scripture, and exactly how important it is to take what we hear and compare it with what we find in scripture to see if it agrees with what has already been revealed.  One of the first verses I can remember memorizing as a child is found in the book of Timothy, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with it as well.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.                                     2 Timothy 2:15-16  KJV

Study is the Greek word spoudazo, which means to "exert one's self, endeavour, give diligence"; workman is ergatēs, which means a "workman, a labourer"; and shun is periïstēmi, "to turn one's self about for the purpose of avoiding something".  Obviously the idea is clear that we are not to just sit idly by in our comfortable seats and blindly accept whatever we hear, but rather to take the time and effort to study, compare, and examine what is taught in order to differentiate between what is right, and what is false. 
If we do find someone trying to teach what Peter calls a destructive heresy, we are told to shun, or actually turn our back on that teaching and the one who is trying to teach it.  That in itself might seem not only harsh, but to many a somewhat cruel thing to do, but I believe we need to understand that Peter tells us clearly that this type of false doctrine leads people to hell.  It is not the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we as true believers need to stand up and fight against it.

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.                   1 Timothy 6:12  NKJV
The word translated fight is agōnizomai, which means “to contend with adversaries, fight, to contend, struggle, with difficulties and dangers, to endeavour with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something”.  Obviously this is telling us that it won’t be easy, and we are in for a long and dangerous fight, but it also seems perfectly clear that this is our responsibility as believers.

O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.    1 Timothy 6:20-21  NKJV
The warning from Peter has never been more relevant for the Church than it is today.  There are many false teachers infiltrating the Church and preaching ideas that are totally inconsistent with what is revealed in scripture.  Our responsibility as true believers is to watch, examine, fight against, and turn our backs on any teaching that is contrary to the saving Gospel of Christ.  It won’t be easy, and it will be a fight, but this is our calling as true believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Last Words

Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.                                       2 Peter 1:1-8  NKJV
Sometime, if you have a little spare time on your hands, you might look up “famous last words” and read some of the things people have said before they die.  You will find that while many are comical, some are in fact a serious attempt on the part of the individual to impart some wisdom that those left behind can use.  Have you ever thought about what you might wish to say if you found yourself in that position?  In this book we see that Peter understands his time on earth is about to end, and this book is, in fact, the last message he will leave for his readers.

Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.     2 Peter 1:13-14  NKJV
Peter is held captive in Rome by Nero, and understands that he will shortly be killed.  Jesus did in fact predict this by telling Peter that he could expect to die just as He Himself had.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”  John 21:18-19  NKJV
So it is with the awareness of his impending death Peter chooses to leave us with the words we find in his two letters.  As I studied them it became apparent that a subject Peter felt was very important to get across to his readers was living a godly life, or what he called “godliness”.   As I thought about this, it occurred to me that many might have expected an exhortation to attempt to do great things, yet it seems that Peter tells us that how we live should be our focus rather than what we might do.

Peter goes on to tell us that not only should living a godly life be our focus, we have in fact, already been equipped to do just that.  Look closely at verse three in the passage above where he tells us “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,”.  What this means to us as believers is that when we made the decision to follow Christ, we received everything God ever intended for us to have in order to live the life He planned for us.  The downside of this knowledge is the understanding that any failure to live a godly life falls on our shoulders because we fail to use what He has already given us.
I believe one of the keys to living a godly life is found in the word “diligence” that Peter uses in this passage as well.  But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  When I think about the word diligence I immediately think about exercising, or working out physically as many of us do.  If you are like me, you understand the importance of having a routine and sticking to it in order to accomplish your goals.  A wonderful passage that puts these two in perspective is found in the book of Timothy.

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.  1 Timothy 4:8  NKJV
Now most of us understand that one of the results of exercise is getting stronger and in this passage Peter tells us that the same result can be found when we pursue godliness.  Notice that the progression as a result of diligence is virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and finally love.  So how do we begin to pursue the goal of living a godly life?  The answer is back in verse three where Peter tells us that the first step comes “through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue”. 

Now this may be a humbling question to ask but in all honesty, do any of us spend as much time trying to know God better by studying His Word as we spend on exercising,  or on our hobbies, or recreation, or any other distraction life can put in front of us?  Are we really committed to living a godly life or is it something we think just happens naturally as a result of our decision to follow Christ? 
Of all the things that Peter could tell us as he approaches the end of his life, the one that he chooses to share with his readers is the importance of pursuing godliness.  For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peter's last words to us are to live a godly life by increasing our knowledge of God our Savior.  If we do, we will accomplish much for the glory of God.

Keep watching.     

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not Of This World

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.         John 17:14-16  NKJV
Have you ever traveled away from your home for a short period of time?  If so, I wonder if you experienced a longing to return home just as I have.  Now I love to travel,  and I made it a point to take my family on vacations every year either to visit relatives or to go camping by ourselves.  Now I find myself spending a lot of time away visiting my children as they have all left home to live in different parts of the country.  Yet as much as I may enjoy either seeing my daughters or vacationing, it doesn’t take very long for me to begin to miss being at home. 

Have you ever felt a longing to return home when you were away?  As much as you may have enjoyed where you were or what you were doing, you began to miss the comfort of home?  Most believers are aware that Jesus prayed in the Garden on the night of His betrayal, yet many would be hard pressed to remember what the subject of His prayer was.  That prayer is recorded for us in the seventeenth chapter of John and if you read it you will find that rather than praying for Himself, Jesus was praying for us!  One of the things Jesus tells us in His prayer, and something I feel we all need to remember and never forget is that we are not of this world.
What exactly does that mean?  I believe that Jesus wants His followers to understand that as much as we might begin to enjoy the comforts of this world and the distractions it might place before us, we are not at home here!  This world is just a temporary “hotel” where we are staying before we travel home to spend eternity with our Father in Heaven.  Peter refers to this in his letter to the believers living in different parts of the country some thirty years or so after the resurrection.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.         1 Peter 1:1-2  NKJV
The word translated pilgrims in the New King James Version is the Greek word parepidēmos, and the meaning of it is as follows; one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives, a stranger, sojourning in a strange place, a foreigner, in the NT metaph. in reference to heaven as the native country, one who sojourns on earth.

You see, the very first thing Peter wants his readers to remember is that no matter where they are or what they are experiencing, they are just sojourners here on earth for a short period of time.  If you have ever experienced being homesick, you know how comforting it can be to know that your time away will come to an end.  I can remember telling my daughters when they took their first trips away from home for school functions or even sleepovers with friends and got homesick that it would be over soon and they would be back home soon.  The knowledge that their time away from home was temporary was a comfort to them, and made their time away easier.
It would appear from the many times we as believers are reminded of this in scripture that God is trying to do the same for us by reminding us that we are only here for a short time and our real home is in Heaven with Him for eternity.  When I consider these things, I can think of at least three ways that knowledge can help us as believers living on this earth.

The first is simply hope.  Looking forward to what lies ahead gives us hope for tomorrow knowing what we can expect when we finally get home.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.               Hebrews 11:13  NKJV

Second, it gives us strength to fight against the temptations of this world which Satan uses to try and get us to forget what lies ahead, and to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this world.
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,                       1 Peter 2:11  NKJV

Third, it is a warning to us of what to expect from the world when it realizes that we are different, and in Jesus’ words, “not of this world”.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.             John 15:18-19  NKJV

Many believers today are experiencing troubles and hardships and persecution.  The world seems to be getting increasingly hostile to those who are not of this world, and it shows no signs of getting any easier for those who believe.  If you have made the decision to believe that Jesus died for your sins, and have accepted the salvation He offers based on His sacrifice for you, you can have the comfort provided with the knowledge that you are not of this world any longer.
Your “home” is in Heaven with the Father, and your time here on earth is temporary.  We have the promises from God that our reward will be in Heaven with Him and there is nothing this world can do to take that away.  If you are homesick and wishing you could find comfort, remember what Jesus prayed for you in His prayer that night in the Garden.

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”                     John 17:20-26  NKJV

We are not of this world!

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Happiness According to David

Blessed [is] the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly [are] not so, But [are] like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.                       Psalm 1:1-6  NKJV
In the Hebrew, the word translated “blessed” is ‘esher; which literally means to be happy.  It is, for all purposes, the same as the Greek word makario which we talked about a few weeks ago when looking at the Beatitudes.  As I was studying the subject of happiness, I found this passage by David which gives us an Old Testament perspective if you will, about how we can go about achieving it.  I also thought it curious that David, a man described as being after God’s own heart, begins his book of Psalms talking about the very same subject Jesus chose to begin His ministry discussing.  So I thought today we would look at what David says are the three things we need to do to be happy as believers.

Blessed is the man who;
…walks not in the counsel of the ungodly.  The phrase, “counsel of the ungodly” is made up of two Hebrew words, ‘etsah rasha’ which literally means “advice from those hostile towards God”.  It is probably a given that unbelievers would ignore the advice we find in God’s Word, but how often today do we find those who claim to be in the body of Christ looking to the world for advice and taking positions which are in direct contrast to God’s laws?  David tells us the very first thing we need to do as believers is to look to God’s Word and take our positions based upon the laws we find given to us there.

Notice too that David says not to “walk”.  I think this tells us that in order to be happy we must at all costs avoid making it a habit to look outside of God’s Word for guidance as to what positions we must hold to concerning many of the positions society is trying to force on us today.  Using the term walk certainly makes it appear that many will choose to make it a habit to look to the world for advice before looking to God.  As believers, adopting positions contrary to God’s laws is a recipe for unhappiness and guilt, no matter how much you might want to deny it. 
Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; Keep her, for she [is] your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; Turn away from it and pass on.  Proverbs 4:13-15  NKJV

… Nor stands in the path of sinners.  Do you notice a progression here?  First we are cautioned to not “walk” in the counsel of the unbelieving world, and next we see we are told not to “stand”.  The word for stand is ‘amad which basically means to make a stand, or to hold one’s ground.  I think the message is clear here in that what we are being told is that if we first listen to the advice of the world, we next adopt that position as our own.  Rather than examining the advice in light of what we are told in God’s Word, we begin to not only consider it but also chose to believe it.
The word for “path” is derek which is translated as “journey”.  The idea here is that when we choose to align our beliefs with the world’s position, we also begin to join them in spreading the falsehood that their concepts of right and wrong are more to be trusted than the instruction we are given in the Word.  Consider that Satan introduced sin into the world by convincing Eve that God’s instruction was not to be trusted, and you can see how the world continues down that same path.

Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips [will come] right things; For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness [is] an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth [are] with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse [is] in them. They [are] all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge.   Proverbs 8:6-9  NKJV

… Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  The last step in the downward progression is found in this phrase where the believer chooses to “sit”.  The Hebrew word is yashab which translates as to remain or abide.  We see here that Satan’s plan comes to final fruition when the believer makes the choice to take the final step and join the world in spreading the falsehood of a position contrary to God’s revealed instruction.  This, according to David, is how the believer loses the happiness God intends for His children to enjoy in this life.

This, according to David, is Satan’s three step plan for stealing our happiness and making us of no use to our Father and His plan for our lives.  I think the best illustration of this warning by David is given to us by his son Solomon in the book of Proverbs.  Read the following passage and look for the three steps we have just been warned about in the life of the young man who chooses to ignore “understanding”, and notice especially what it costs him in the end.

And saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understanding, Passing along the street near her corner; And he took the path to her house  In the twilight, in the evening, In the black and dark night…With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, With her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, Till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, He did not know it [would cost] his life.                               Proverbs 7:7-9,21-23  NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Watching for the Harvest

"The harvest is past, The summer is ended, And we are not saved!"
Jeremiah 8:20 NKJV

There is a saying among believers who study prophecy and the history of the nation of Israel, and it goes something like this; “the past is prologue”.  What this means is that quite often we find that events in the Old Testament are somehow a sign of things to come because they often repeat themselves, especially when it comes to Israel.  This lament from the book of Jeremiah is one which I believe may hold a clue as to the timing of the rapture of the Church, an event I believe most of us are very interested in.
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  1 Thessalonians 5:1-2  NKJV

When speaking of the rapture, many scholars believe we are told that if we watch as we are commanded to do, we will recognize the “season” of the rapture of the Church.  With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder if the many references to the “harvest” when talking of the rapture is something we need to take note of.  So I would like to take a moment today and share some of my thoughts about the harvest season in Israel, and how it might relate to our time of deliverance.

"For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey;
Deuteronomy 8:7-8 NKJV

In Old Testament times, the harvest season ran roughly from April to November beginning with the Barley harvest, and ending with the olive harvest. The three main harvests were considered to be the grain, grape, and olive harvests, with a celebration of the first two at the Feast of Tabernacles.

"You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress.
Deuteronomy 16:13 NKJV

Considering the season of summer, and the fact that the Bible refers to it, I was curious to find out when summer ends in Israel.  In the western world, the seasons are calculated by the solstices, but in Israel it is a different matter. In ancient Israel, the seasons were determined by the harvests, so when I looked into summer in Israel, I found that traditionally summer ends at the end of the grape harvest. However if you think about growing crops, and waiting for them to ripen, it seemed likely to me that if we asked if it was possible to know exactly when the harvest would occur, we would have to come to the conclusion that  "no man knows". Now can you see where I am going with this?

When talking with His disciples about the end of this age, and in referring to the rapture, Jesus said this;

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
Matthew 24:36 NKJV

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Feast of Trumpets, many believers get excited as it has traditionally been thought to be a strong possibility for a day for the rapture of the Church. Since the calendar in Israel is lunar rather than solar, the beginning of the month is determined by the sighting of the new moon which may or may not occur on the day you determine to be the first of the month. That is why Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days rather than just one since there is a possibility the moon won't be sighted when you would expect it. Like many, I have always thought it no coincidence that this holiday is described as one where "no man knows"

The fact that it is unlikely you can know exactly when the harvest will be ready, and also have a Feast of Israel referred to in the same terms with both occurring at approximately the same time on the calendar, it just makes me wonder if we are being given a clue as to the “season” of the rapture.  Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets, will be celebrated in Israel this coming week.  It is followed closely by Yom Kippur, and then the Feast of Tabernacles.  With all that has been going on in that part of the world lately, and especially this past week with the world holding their breath over what may or may not happen regarding Syria, it certainly seems as if our attention is being directed to watch closely the events, and the timing, of this season in Israel.

I began this post with a verse from Jeremiah where the cry in Israel is a lament over the fact that summer is over and they are not saved. The question that came to mind is if the summer is over, it should be a time of rejoicing and celebration for the harvest. If indeed God is trying to tell us that the rapture may come at the end of summer, is the cry of Israel a response to that event? We know the tribulation is the time where God turns Israel back to Him by means of judgment so is it possible we find here another clue as to when that might occur? Summer ends with the completion of the grape harvest, and no one knows exactly when that will be. It is supposed to be a time of rejoicing, but the Bible tells us there will be a future time where it won't be.

Of course, of greater importance is the question we all must ask of ourselves, and that is am I prepared for the return of Jesus for His bride, the Church?  If you have never made the decision to ask Jesus to come into your life and accept the gift of salvation He has offered you I urge you to do it right now. Simply pray to Him and confess that you are a sinner in need of salvation, and then ask Him to forgive you of your sins. Tell Him you believe that He died on the cross to take your place and because of that you want to turn your life over to Him. If you do that you have His promise that you are saved.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
John 1:12 NKJV
Keep watching.