Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

Matt 1:21-23 (ESV)
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

With Christmas being less than two days away now, I've been doing some relevant reading on the 'net and stumbled upon some rather disheartening news. While I should say that it isn't too surprising, it is still troubling to think that the number of people who actually believe in the facts of our Savior's birth lessens with each passing year.

The words of this hymn are becoming more and more "myth" to more and more people every year.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ, by highest heav'n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788


In 1994, 85% of professing Christians believed in the virgin birth:
"A Harris poll taken in July 1994... Of the four in five Americans who described themselves as Christians, 85% believed in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. "
Reeves, Thomas C. Twentieth Century America: A Brief History. New York: Oxford University Press (2000); pg. 284.


In 2003, 80% believed:
Nearly one out of five (20%) people don't believe that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, one of the central points in the traditional story but the most disputed idea in the survey. Sixty percent said they "absolutely believe" Jesus was born to a virgin, 16 percent mostly believe and 5 percent are uncertain.

"This shows a glaring inconsistency in the American mind to hold that Jesus was divine but that he did not rise from the dead or was born of a virgin," said the Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"Americans are growing increasingly comfortable with a cafeteria-line-style spirituality in which they pick and choose whatever doctrines seem pleasing and leave those that seem distasteful," Mohler said. "The denial of the virgin birth eventually comes as a part of a wholesale denial of orthodox Christianity itself."


Then in 2007, only 75% believed:
Three out of four adults (75%) said that they believe Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, Mary, as described in the gospel narratives.


I understand that surveys and statistics have their purposes and that one can really paint any picture one wants to paint with just about any numbers. Yet, sadly I find a consistent set of brush strokes regardless of the medium in which I read about these things.

While secular society and science may walk hand in hand with their "faith" in Darwin's theory of evolution, we as Christians need to protect the facts held true in the accurate and inerrant word of God. This year, remember the absolute miracle of the Christmas season and the infinitely valuable gift found in God being born to a virgin, living on Earth as a man - a perfect and sinless life, His suffering and dying on the cross (bearing my sins and yours), then being buried and rising again three days later (defeating death), and finally ascending to heaven to reign at the right hand of God for all eternity (upon where He intercedes for us to the Father). In this amazing story we find the true meaning of what it is to be a Christian and the joy that we should have everyday, especially during this time of the year.

I pray that each and every one of us has a safe and joyous fellowship with family and friends this Christmas. May we all too have a chance to share the real story of Christmas with someone this year, sharing the forgiveness and love of which we are so richly blessed!

The grace and peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, be with you all. Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Devotional from Charles Spurgeon

"The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." (Proverbs 16:33)

If the disposal of the lot is the Lord's, then whose is the arrangement of our whole life? If the simple casting of a lot is guided by Him, how much more the events of our entire life--especially when we are told by our blessed Saviour: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered: not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father." (Matt 10:29-30; Luke 12:6-7)

It should bring a holy calm over your mind, dear friend, if you were always to remember this. It would so relieve your mind from anxiety, that you would be the better able to walk in patience, quiet, and cheerfulness as a Christian should. When a man is anxious he cannot pray with faith; when he is troubled about the world, he cannot serve his Master, his thoughts are serving himself.

If you would "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," (Matthew 6:33) all things would then be added unto you. You are meddling with Christ's business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances. You have been trying "to provide" work and forgetting that it is your role to obey. Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing.

Come and survey your Father's storehouse, and ask whether He will let you starve while He has laid up so great an abundance in His storehouse? Look at His heart of mercy; see if that can ever prove unkind! Look at His inscrutable wisdom; see if that will ever be at fault. Above all, look up to Jesus Christ your Intercessor, and ask yourself, while He pleads, can your Father deal ungraciously with you? If He remembers even sparrows, will He forget one of the least of His poor children?

"Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." (Psalm 55:22)

My soul, rest happy in thy low estate,
And do not hope nor wish to be esteem'd or great;
Take the impress of the Will Divine,
And let that be thy glory, and those riches thine.

(from MORNING AND EVENING By Charles H. Spurgeon)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Be a doer, not just a hearer

Rom 2:13 (ESV)
For it is not the hearers (akroataí) of the law who are righteous (díkaioi) before God, but the doers (poieetaí) of the law who will be justified (dikaiootheésontai).

Rom 2:13 (KJV)
For not the hearers (akroataí) of the law are just (díkaioi) before God, but the doers (poieetaí) of the law shall be justified (dikaiootheésontai).

poieetaí (Poietes): a doer, performer; one who obeys or fulfills the law

akroataí (Akroates): a hearer

Have you seen the movie The Matrix?  The lead character, Neo, is supposed to save humanity from "the evil Matrix".  But, he struggles in reconciling what he knows he is supposed to do, with actually doing it.  He is full of doubt and disbelief, denying what his role is at the cost of the lives of those around him - and possibly even his own life.  He has been told what he must do, but he doesn't do it.  His "mentor/guide/commanding-officer", Morpheus, tells him:

"There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path." — Morpheus, to Neo, in The Matrix

Now, I am not crediting this movie with portraying any divine inspirations or suggesting that the Christian should watch this movie to glean from it any spiritual truths.  What I mean to suggest, is that even in popular culture, there is the common wisdom that knowing the answer is different than acting on it.

There is a lot of talk out there.  Many people say one thing and do another.  For instance, many people attend some form of religious service regularly. A significant part of American society professes some Christian affiliation (source), yet there seem to be few who exhibit the "fruits" of a true saving faith. There are many hearers, but few doers.  And this is not a new phenomenon, it's happened for thousands of years.

The Old Testament is full of examples of God's chosen people having a complete disregard for the truth that they were entrusted with.  God had chosen Israel to be His people and He revealed His Law directly to them in the form of the 10 Commandments, and later through the Prophets. Yet, time and again they turned from what they knew to be right and holy, and turned to their own desires and own righteousness. The great majority relied on their ancestoral heritage as their claim to the inheritance of eternal life.  But John the Baptist tells them in Luke 3:8,

"Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham."

While it is true that "with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10), one must also "bear fruits in keeping with repentance".  It's not just those that hear the gospel, even repeatedly every Sunday, but those that hear and do that will be justified.

 

John MacArthur speaks on this passage:

"Paul went a step further in his argument, apparently realizing that the Jew might disagree with his argument, saying, "We have been the guardians of the law and the agents God has used to reveal the law. We have written, rewritten, and preserved it. We should have the higher honor, not the greater condemnation. We who have possessed the law should be protected from God's wrath." People today might say, "We've been going to church all our lives. We've tried to be religious. How can we be condemned?" Paul replied, "Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law." -John MacArthur

No true Christian will refute the claim that salvation is made possible only by the grace of God, through faith alone in Christ alone.  However, many professing Christians twist this to mean that obedience is not a requisite work with faith.  They twist this in saying that we make obedience a pre-requisite to saving faith, when this is not the case at all.  If there has been a genuine work of salvation performed by God through the convicting and regenerating power of His Spirit on the heart of a man, then it will be evidenced by a changed life - a life of submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ, a life of obedience to the will of God and His law.  

---------------------------------

2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 

James 1:22-27 (ESV)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Matt 5:17-18 (ESV)

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

John 13:17 (ESV)

"If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Trust and Obey

Easier Said Than Done

Repent and Believe. Trust and Obey.

These are easy words to say. These are not easy things to do.

"Practice what you preach." Have you ever said that someone? Or have you had that said to you?

There is a lot wrapped up in those words, isn't there? If someone gives you advice regarding some problem you have, and then you watch them do something totally different in the same situation - how much value are you going to put in their advice? Not very much, right?

I'm sure you would not be surprised to hear that this is a major problem in the ranks of professing Christians today. People call it many things, but one euphemism that I really like is "Easy Believeism". The basic idea behind 'Easy Believeism' is that you can say all of the right things, but it's not necessary to actually behave differently.

It happens all the time, and not just in "Christian circles". How many people do you hear say that they know cigarettes/tobacco/nicotine is bad for their health (may even kill 'em) but they light up anyway? How about dieting? We know about the risks of obesity, like heart disease and diabetes, but there's no change in their food intake or the amount of exercise. Hey, I'll admit it - I'm guilty of that one.

A little illustration that I heard somewhere, and I have told to others: say you believe in semi-trucks. You know they exist. You can talk at good length about what they look like, what they're used for, and all of that. But then, you walk right out into the road, in front of an oncoming semi-truck, with no apparent concern. Do you really "believe in semi-trucks" then?

Please don't press that analogy beyond the point it illustrates. That point is, many people can talk all about church doctrine, all about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Many people go to church and participate in church activities. Yet, amongst all of the talk and religious ritual, they're basically the same people they were before they were "born again". Many do not exhibit the "fruit" of a true, saving faith.

Read the following passages from the Gospel of Matthew:

Matt 7:13-14 (ESV) [emphasis mine]

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV) [emphasis mine]

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

'Many' and 'few'. See how they are used here. 'Many' enter the wide gate, taking the easy way. 'Few' enter the narrow gate, taking the hard way.
'Many' will say 'Lord, Lord...' but are called 'workers of lawlessness'. What is being said here? It seems that those professing to have done 'mighty works' in His name are being sent away. What are we to understand by this?

Read this parallel passage from the Gospel of Luke:
Luke 13:23-28 (ESV) [emphasis mine]

And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out."
These are difficult passages to read. I don't say that because it's hard to understand them, but because the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, seem to be directly contradicting the teachings of many professing Christians today.

Do you notice something about the people knocking at the door, those looking to enter the kingdom of heaven? They do not appear to be ones that rejected the message of the gospel outright, do they? They call him "Lord, Lord" and reference their works in His name. They claim to have eaten and drunk in His presence - even participated in the Lord's Supper, in Communion, perhaps in many of His 'sacraments'. He taught in their streets. They were party to his teachings, they sat in church and learned all about doctrine and law. They are good church-going people. And they knock on the door of heaven with confidence and assurance that by all of these things that they have done, they are owed admittance - they deserve to be in the kingdom.

Yet they are called "workers of lawlessness" and "workers of evil" by Christ Himself. Through all of their professions and pious works, in their hearts they still possessed and held onto their sin. Oh sure, it was all in secret - no man saw their sinful deeds and thoughts. But then, men will not be our judge.

Through all of our pretense and lies, Jesus knows what is in our heart. On that day, on Judgment Day, there will be no final statements or persuasions. No one will be able to offer up a defense of "religion".

This should be a wake-up call to all of us! Wake up! Now - not later! Don't put this off until tomorrow. Put off your pretense of "But I'm a good person" or "But I asked Jesus into my heart when I was a kid". Being a disciple of Jesus, being a Christian, isn't joining a club, putting your hand on a Bible, saying a quick prayer, and then going about your everyday life having "done did all that". Jesus did not call us to "say a little prayer" and "ask me into your heart". He called us to repent and to believe (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Matthew 21:31-32; Acts 10:34-43). These words "repent" and "believe" are not light words to just throw around.

Repent from the Greek word "metanoeo": to think differently or reconsider (morally, feel compunction); to change one's mind; to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins.

Repentance from the Greek word "metanoia": compunction for guilt, including reformation; by implication reversal of another's decision.

(New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary)

As we discussed before, true belief, or faith, manifests itself visibly and noticeably in your life - by repentance. However, it is not enough just to say, "I believe". James 2:19 says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" You see, Satan and the demons "believe" that God exists, so this little confession is nothing. In their heart, every man knows God exists - no matter how much they argue to the contrary. True belief in the fact that you cannot effect your own salvation, and that you must rely 100% on Jesus Christ for your salvation, this is the difference between your belief and that of the demons. Faith is made evident in true repentance, and the good works that proceed out of and because of that faith.

True repentance means you now hate the sin you once loved, now desiring holiness and a new found love of God's law. It means that you truly believe that all of the good things you do or all of the right words you say will earn you nothing towards salvation. You now love God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30) and your only claim to the inheritance of eternal life is on the sinless life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in His work on the cross.

You should know: others will see the change in you because you will be "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Your very nature will be different. Sinful pleasures you once loved will now rack you with guilt. Oh sure, the flesh may still be pulling you to it, but now your soul is repulsed by it. You will be tempted and may stumble and fall into those sins occasionally, but you will find that there is no pleasure in it anymore. This change will permeate every aspect of your life. This change may offend your friends, co-workers, even your family (Luke 9:24-25; Luke 12:51-53; Mark 10:29). Your friends, the ones that participated with you in all of those sinful activities, will not let you off the hook easily. They will throw your prior behavior in your face. They'll call you names, like "church boy" or "holier-than-thou" or "goody-two-shoes".

And despite this persecution, you will undoubtedly want to share the gospel with them. You want them to know what you know. It's perfectly natural - if you were made aware of an impending danger that was bearing down on your town, wouldn't you want to get the news out to as many people as possible, in order that they would have time to flee from the destruction to come? Sure you would.

Monday, December 1, 2008

2 Timothy 2:15

Have you ever read an old book from, say, the 19th century? If not, you should pick one up sometime (Might I suggest Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan). In doing this, you'll quickly realize that we, as a general society, have been, in many ways, degenerating, but especially in our vocabulary. Take, for instance, this excerpt from that book:
"Now Christian looked for nothing but death, and began to cry out lamentably; even cursing the time in which he met with Mr. Worldly Wiseman; still calling himself a thousand fools for hearkening to his counsel. He also was greatly ashamed to think that this gentleman's arguments, flowing only from the flesh, should have the prevalency with him so far as to cause him to forsake the right way. This done, he applied himself again to Evangelist in words and sense as follows."
One cannot help but be presented with numerous words that most probably require a dictionary to be close at hand. I can not tell you how many times I've told my wife, after having spent only about 30 minutes reading a single paragraph of a sermon by Charles Spurgeon, how rich and full-of-meaning each and every word is.

I don't know exactly why it is so different today. Perhaps it is because we feel that "texts" and emails are cheap, so we just cram word after word in, trying to describe with
quantity where our ancestors communicated with quality.

So, what am I getting at? In studying God's Word, I find it interesting to place side-by-side, several versions of the same verse or passage. I like using tools like a Greek and Hebrew Lexicon to see how the original languages were translated. Since I've started incorporating this small amount of research into my studies, I've found that I can almost put myself in the minds of the men who wrote the words.

Inspired entirely by the Holy Spirit, these men did not just throw any words down when communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is not to say that the different authors
didn't use different words, but the meaning was always conveyed perfectly. The words that were written were chosen carefully and there was an intended meaning and purpose within each one. These were not just scribbled notes, hurriedly written with little care about how they would be interpreted by the reader. Even today, in our hurried day-to-day lives, do you not tend to choose your words carefully, so as to be sure that your intended audience does not have to speculate about your meaning? How much more so would the writers of the Old and New Testaments have taken care to see that their words were chosen carefully so as to convey the correct meaning?

Therefore, when we read our Bible, we need to be sure that we have a translation that is as true to the original as possible. Of course, I'm sure that here and there, nuance and detail is lost in the processes of translating the Greek and Hebrew, but we can have faith that the richness and power of the words have been maintained by the Holy Spirit, allowing us today the priviledge to mine this treasure through careful study and prayer.

Take a minute to look over this brief "study" of 2 Timothy 2:15.

From the English Standard Version (ESV):
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, RIGHTLY HANDLING the word of truth.

From the King James Version (KJV):
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

From Young's Literal Translation (YLT):
Be diligent to present thyself approved to God — a workman irreproachable, rightly dividing the word of the truth.

From the Greek New Testament:
spoudason seauton dokimon parastêsai tô theô ergatên anepaischunton orthotomounta ton logon tês alêtheias (source)

From Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary:
Spoúdason (
4704) seautón (4572) dókimon (1384) parasteésai (3936) toó (3588) Theoó (2316) ergágteen (2040) anepaíschunton (422) orthotomoúnta (3718) tón (3588) lógon (3056) teés (3588) aleetheías (225)

Do your best yourself approved to present to God, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Do your best (4704) Spoúdason: endeavor; to exert one's self, to give diligence; be earnest

yourself (4572) seautón: thyself; to be distinguished from those whom Timothy was "to charge" (2 Tim 2:14)

approved (1384) dókimon: acceptable; tested by trial; as opposed to "reprobate" (adokimon: one who cannot stand the test Titus 1:16)

to present (3936) parasteésai: as in "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God" (Rom 12:1)

to (3588) toó

God, (2316) Theoó: the Godhead, trinity; spoken of the only and true God

a worker (2040) ergágteen: a workman; a laborer, usually one who works for hire, alluding to Matt 20:1; implying the laboriousness of the office (2 Tim 4:5)

who has no need to be ashamed, (422) anepaíschunton: having no cause to be ashamed of his work; "will not be put to shame" (Phil 1:20). As opposed to the "deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ" (2 Cor 11:13)

rightly handling (3718) orthotomoúnta: Translated as 'rightly dividing' in the King James. This Greek word appears only this once in the whole New Testament. It literally means, "to cut straight, or to cut straight ways; to proceed on straight paths, to hold a straight course, as on a road or in a furrow; to make straight and smooth, to handle rightly, to teach the truth directly and correctly". But to translate it as "handle rightly" sticks true with the Old Testament teaching to "make your paths straight" (Prov 3:6), and "smooth his way" (Prov 11:5). Therefore, "the word of truth" is a road to be laid out straightly. Paul is telling Timothy that he must not deviate from this line "to the right or to the left" (Isa 30:21; 40:3; Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 17:11; Deuteronomy 17:20; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 1:7; Joshua 23:6); He is 'not to teach strange doctrines' (1 Tim 1:3). The opposite of this concept would be found in 2 Cor 2:17, "corrupting the Word of God."

the (3588) tón

word (3056) lógon

of (3588) teés

truth. (225) aleetheías: the truth; used 98 times throughout most of the New Testament - six times just in this letter to Timothy. (See 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 2:18; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:4).

Sources:
Interlinear Transliterated Bible & Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary