Sunday, June 18, 2017

All Alone

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.”  2 Timothy 4:16  NKJV

Have you ever felt alone as a believer in Christ?  While most of us might say certainly, because believers are outnumbered by unbelievers and most of them are hostile to hearing the gospel, it might surprise you to know that Paul in this verse is talking about being abandoned by fellow believers!  If I were to ask you “who killed Paul”, I am sure most would say Caesar Nero and you would technically be correct.  Yet it can easily be asked, and justifiably so, how big of a part did Paul’s fellow believers play in his death because of their attitude towards him and their refusal to even acknowledge his presence in Rome?

Just how bad was it?  Did you notice that in this passage Paul says that “all forsook me”?  The Greek word for “forsook” is egkataleipō, which is translated to mean, ”abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, totally abandoned, utterly forsaken, to leave behind among, to leave surviving”.  Frankly I find this truly hard to believe.  Not only were the  believers in Rome unwilling to come to Paul’s defense or to stand beside him with a show of support, if we look even closer at what Paul tells us about this situation we see that the believers there probably denied even knowing he was there.

“The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me.”  2 Timothy 1:17  NKJV

The word translated here as zealous is also translated as “very diligently”.  Have you ever wondered why Onesiphorus had to work so hard to find Paul?  It was certainly no secret to the believers in Rome that Paul was there, and I find it hard to believe that they had no idea where he was being held.  That said, the logical conclusion is the no one was even willing to tell Onesiphorus where Paul was!  Picture this man travelling all that way to support Paul and then finding out that every believer he asked knew nothing.  Paul who?  Sorry.  Never heard of him.

Is this beginning to sound too harsh of a criticism of the believers in Rome?  Clement of Rome was one of the early church fathers, and is believed to be one of Paul’s converts and the Clement mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Philippians.  One of the things he is most known for is his letter to the church at Corinth, which, outside of the New Testament, is one of the earliest Christian documents in existence.  While the letter was written to address problems pertaining to authority within the church, in it he lists seven examples of how jealousy and envy among believers resulted in trouble, as well as death and destruction to others.  One of the examples he wrote of was Paul.

At first I found this incredibly hard to believe, yet as I began to consider the possibility of Paul suffering at the hands of fellow believers the thought occurred to me that there was no reason he would not suffer the same as many believers in the church today.  Jealousy and envy are not new problems within the body, and there are certainly those who preach today who have suffered at the hands of others.  The closer we get to the end of this age; it would seem that those who choose to stand on the principals of the gospel as taught by the Word of God are subject to much the same treatment as Paul endured.

“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.”  Philippians 1:15-17  NKJV

Envy and jealousy are self-explanatory but what about the “strife” that Paul mentions here?  It is the Greek word for “wrangling” which would seem to indicate that there were those who were jealous of Paul’s ministry and decided to attack his positions on doctrine by preaching something different than the gospel Paul taught.  Obviously that is certainly nothing new within the Church today as there are many disagreements among believers on doctrinal issues, with the results often approaching the level of what Paul reveals to us that he had to endure.  Yet the response of Paul to this type of treatment from fellow believers is not only what most of us would expect from him, it is what we should strive for as well should we ever suffer the same as he did.

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:18-21  NKJV

Paul taught and defended the Gospel of Christ to the very end.  It did not matter to him what others thought of him, nor how he was treated as a result of their jealousy or envy, but only that the Gospel was preached to an unbelieving world.  Many believers today are being ridiculed and attacked because of their beliefs or positions on what the Word of God teaches.  The temptation is always to either strike back or withdraw to a safer position but as Paul shows us by his example, our response should always be to rejoice in our affliction and continue to share what God has laid on our hearts and preach the Gospel just as Paul did.  Paul knew his time was short, and wanted only for Christ to be glorified by his suffering, and the Gospel be preached with boldness.  Doesn’t that seem to be where we are today?  By most accounts, our time on this earth is just about over.  We should all follow Paul’s example and share the Gospel boldly with anyone who will listen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Press On

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14  NKJV

We talked last week about struggles, which as we all know, most of us have if we choose to be truthful about it.  My personal struggle is impatience; that is, specifically I am impatient for the rapture of the Church which by all accounts is not only imminent, but to many, already overdue.  This in effect makes it even more difficult for me and my impatience as I, just like you, see all the things happening in the world around us and wonder why we are still here.  Dealing with this struggle more often than not leads me to this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, and to his perspective on having to “press on”.

Something I noticed about this passage and something that I find reassuring is Paul's use of the phrase “press on” twice when referring to this life. It is actually a rather interesting word because if you look closely at its meaning, it's not as simple as it might first appear. My first thought was we are being told to “grind it out”, but if you examine it, it's something quite different. In the Greek, the word for “press on” is diōkō, which means;” to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away.” So actually Paul is instructing believers to do two things at the same time. When we are told to press on towards “the goal for the prize” which comes at the end of race, in essence, Paul is saying we need to run FROM the things that might hold us back and TOWARDS the finish line where we will receive our reward.

If this passage from Paul is any indication, it would seem that our focus should not be on the past, and the disappointments we might have experienced, as much as it should be on the future. The Greek word for forgetting is epilanthanomai, which is a verb meaning; “to forget, neglecting, no longer caring for, forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for”. Paul, as he reflects on his present life, understands that his focus and ours as well, needs to be on the future and not the past. As I considered this it became apparent to me that I need to focus on doing and serving and living, just as Jesus did with the knowledge that our time is indeed very short.

It’s important to remember that in this letter Paul was writing to the believers in the Philippian church, people who had already made the decision to give their lives to Christ.  What Paul tells them in this passage, and tells us too, is that our focus should be on becoming more Christ-like in our daily lives as a witness to those around us.  This is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” that he speaks of and it should be the focus of every one of us who have chosen to believe the Gospel.  When we made that decision we became “sons of God” and as His children we not only accept but follow the direction He has for us in our lives.

Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.  Philippians 3:15-16  NKJV

What have we already attained?  When we made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we became children of God, and His heirs.  As part of the family of God, we are instructed to live in such a way as to bring glory to God as His representatives on earth.  Jesus set the example we should all strive to follow by becoming a servant to all, and humbling Himself to the point of death.  Pressing on in light of our struggles and disappointments is not only our service to Him, but it serves as an example to those around us of our faith that God is in control of our circumstances.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.    Philippians 2:12-13  NKJV

The words “work out” are actually one Greek word “katergazomai” which means "to work in order to fashion a result making one fit for something". That is fit as in fitness. In other words, as we would say today, you need to “workout”. Paul is simply telling the believers that in order to grow the first thing they needed to know was to “workout”. Of this passage Charles Ryrie comments that they needed to “learn to stand on their own feet”. So this passage is all about the individual learning how to grow strong in their faith in order to stand tall in light of the discouragement we often suffer from.

The word for salvation in this passage is most often used to refer to an individual’s personal safety. With that in mind, and seeing that in the context of this passage where Paul is discussing the believers responsibility to exhibit humility just as Jesus did, it seems they are being told that they would need to grow strong in order to withstand the trials that would come their way. Doing this with an attitude of “fear and trembling” refers to someone’s anxiety because of their knowledge that they might lack the strength necessary to do this. Paul addresses that anxiety by telling them that God is in charge of not only providing the strength they will need, but also engineer the circumstances that they will find themselves in.

My personal feeling is that the closer we get to the rapture of the Church, the harder it will get to deal with what life will throw at us.  Satan knows the time is short and he will do everything in his power to make us stumble and grow weary.  Discouragement and disappointment are powerful stumbling blocks but Paul’s advice to us is sound.  Forget the past, “press on” and focus on what is ahead.   Above all, remember the prize that awaits us when we finish the race.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Why We Struggle

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”                                       Ephesians 6:12  NKJV

What do you struggle with?  Did you know you are not alone?  One of the unfortunate facts we live with as believers is the struggle inside of all of us between our sin nature, and our desire to live a holy and acceptable life for our Father in Heaven. If you spend any time at all reading and studying the writings of Paul the Apostle you will find he often describes the Christian walk as a lifelong struggle between two opposing forces.  This struggle plays out in every believers life as a battle between our redeemed spirit, and the sinful body we must live in until the day of our redemption when we receive our new bodies which are free from the sin nature we now possess.

One of the most encouraging things to me about Paul the Apostle is that although many might look at him as an example of a believer who had it all together, so to speak, he none the less makes clear that he himself struggled just as we do.  He explains that situation and the reasons for it in the book of Romans where he describes for us his own personal struggle, and tells us that he is guilty of sinning much the same as we are regardless of the fact that we are believers.  While many might believe that as long as we still sin, there is no difference between the saved and unsaved, the truth is that the struggle itself proves you are a believer.

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.”        Romans 7:14-16  NKJV

Paul wants to make the point that while the law of the old covenant was good to show man his need for salvation, it couldn’t save us.  What it could do was to show us our need for salvation, and the grace given to us by a loving God.  Therein lays the difference between the law of the old covenant and the grace of the new covenant.  It is impossible to keep the law, but the law shows man the need for grace. Yet Paul still wonders, if he is a believer saved by grace, why can’t he stop sinning?

“But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”        Romans 7:17-19  NKJV

While believing that the sacrifice made for us by God’s Son, Jesus Christ will result in our eternal salvation, Paul also makes the point that we are still stuck with our fleshly bodies which also carry the baggage we call our sin nature.  While grace can provide for our eternal salvation, it can’t remove the sin nature inside of this body.  This is the reason Paul gives us to explain why he himself, and we too, struggle to do what is right but often fail.    I think an important point he makes in this passage is found where he tells us that he cannot find the answer of how to do good when he looks for strength to do good inside of himself.

“Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”                                         Romans 7:20-23  NKJV

Only born again believers experience this fight.  The struggle inside is between our minds which are committed to Christ and desire to do right, and our sinful flesh with its sin nature which desires to do wrong.  I have an old truck that I have been slowly restoring, and the best part about it is the new motor I put in.  I never have any problems with the motor because it is new, but it is the rest of the truck that gives me problems because it is old and trying to fall apart on me.  As believers, we have a new mind which is, unfortunately, stuck in an old body with its sin nature.  How long will this struggle continue?  Unfortunately for us, we must wait until we get our new bodies delivered to us at the rapture of the Church.

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”                      Romans 7:24-25  NKJV

The Greek word for wretched literally means exhaustion as a result of toils and troubles.  Paul wants us to know that he himself, as well as each of us, will struggle with our sinful nature as long as we inhabit this fleshly body.  The law only showed man the need, but grace gives us the means to succeed. Don’t look inside for the strength to win this battle, look up.  Because of grace, thanks to God, we will not held accountable for the sins of the flesh.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”         Romans 8:1  NKJV

Being saved does not mean we are no longer able to sin, rather being saved means that when we do sin, God does not hold it against us.  He sees our sin as a result of our sin nature, and instead takes pleasure in watching us try to live in a manner that pleases Him, as a way of expressing our gratitude for the gift He has given us.  Paul goes on later in Romans to explain that this is what we as believers should choose to do as our gift to God.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  Romans 12:1-2  NKJV

All believers struggle with their sinful nature, yet how many look at this struggle as a sign of their salvation?  As much as we would like it to end, our struggle with sin will continue as long as we inhabit our earthly body.  The difference for us as a believer is simply this, that because of God’s grace towards us, our sins are forgiven; past, present, and future.

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”  Romans 4:7-8  NIV

If you have never accepted the free gift of God’s grace, and the forgiveness of your sin, you can do it today.  Just pray a simple prayer like this and believe that He will do as He has said He will.  Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for saving me. Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Who Knows?

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  1 Corinthians 2:7-8  NKJV

know; to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty

Let me begin today by asking you a question; if Satan had known that the crucifixion would result in the salvation of the world, would he have gone through with it?  If you think that the reference to the “rulers of this age” is speaking of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Pilate of Rome I suggest you might want to reconsider.  The crucifixion was Satan’s master plan and it backfired in his face in a spectacular way.  He had absolutely no idea that what he thought would be his crowning glory would end up being God’s plan to save mankind by salvation through grace as the result of the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”  Colossians 2:13-15  NKJV

Speaking of Satan, Jesus said he is the ruler of this world;

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”  John 14:30  NKJV

Paul calls him the god of this age;

“whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”  2 Corinthians 4:4  NKJV

John describes him as the wicked one;

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”  1 John 5:19  NKJV

The “mystery” of the “wisdom of God” was that Jesus’ death and resurrection would result in the creation of the Church, a body of believers He would call His own and who would spread the gospel, the good news of salvation by grace available to all who choose to believe, to the ends of the earth.  Look back at the definition of “know” from the dictionary at the beginning of this article.  Paul refers to this plan as a “mystery” because it was not known or understood as a fact or truth, and Satan was the one God was hiding it from.

Considering that the mystery of the Church was hidden from Satan, it is logical to question if there might be something else God has chosen to hide.  Something many do not realize is that while the creation of the Church was called a mystery by Paul, he also called something else a mystery as well.

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  1 Corinthians 15:51-54  NKJV

Now to me, personally, I think it makes perfect sense that Paul describes the rapture of the Church as a mystery.  If the birth of the Church had been known in advance to Satan, he would have come up with some sort of plan, devised some kind of scheme, and done everything in his power to stop that from happening.  Does it not then seem logical that if it were possible to know the timing of the rapture that Satan would do the very same thing if he could?  That is not to say that Satan doesn’t understand prophecy for he has had two thousand years to study it and probably knows it much better than we do, but by not revealing the timing of the rapture God forces him to be defensive in his planning rather than offensive.

There are some today who believe that it is possible to know or somehow deduce when the rapture will occur.  Many have actually revealed dates they believed the Church would be taken, only to be disappointed when those dates came and went.  Can we “know” the time of the rapture?  Although some might disagree, I would say that according to the definition of know, “to apprehend clearly and with certainty”, no one knows when this will occur.  Yet that does not mean that the signs we are seeing are not meant to alert us to its imminent fulfillment.  Jesus made it clear that we are to be watching, and that if we do we will know the time is quickly approaching when we will hear the trumpet blow and Jesus will call out to His Church to meet Him in the air.

On that subject, I thought I would leave you with an interesting take on the rapture from Jack Kelley, a wonderful Bible teacher I have come to know and respect for his deep understanding of God’s Word.

To underscore the Church’s uniqueness, its departure will have to be even more dramatic, even more cloaked in mystery than its arrival was. Soon and very soon, on a day that no one could have predicted in advance, believers will hear a loud command, “Come up here!” (Rev. 4:1), accompanied by the trumpet of God. Immediately the spirits of dead believers will receive new resurrection bodies and the living will be transformed from mortal to immortal. Together we will meet the Lord “in the air” having disappeared from Earth in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thes. 4:16-17, 1 Cor. 15:51-53) and then we’ll proceed to His Father’s house (John 14:2-3).

This has always intrigued me. The Greek word for air refers to that space between Heaven and Earth called its atmosphere. So we’re not immediately going to Heaven, nor is the Lord coming all the way to Earth, as He will in the 2nd Coming. Instead the meeting will take place in the atmosphere.

The atmosphere was created on the 2nd day when God made an expanse to separate the water under it (the sea) from the water above it (the water vapor canopy that surrounded the Earth until the flood.) He called it the sky or firmament (Genesis 1:8). Unlike all other creation days, the 2nd day was not pronounced good. Some scholars speculate this is because demonic spirits immediately inhabited it. This may be why Paul also referred to Satan as the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).

If this is the case, then it means the Lord is going to shock Satan again, this time by suddenly assembling the raptured Church in his front yard without any warning. Each list of sins that Satan saw nailed to the cross 2000 years ago will be represented by one deliriously happy redeemed believer in a final grand display of victory before we fly off to our mansions in the sky. Talk about a dramatic ending for the Age of the Church. What a day that will be. Now do you see why its exact timing has to be kept secret?  We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.  

Have you ever made the decision to accept the salvation God has offered to you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ?  Romans 10:9 states that there are two conditions necessary for salvation. 1) confess with your mouth and 2) believe in your heart. Verse 10 continues, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:13 says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  If you have never done this I urge you to do it right now, and not be taken by surprise when the Church is called home to spend eternity with God our Father.

Keep watching.