The Empty Nest

Parents with grown children who have left home know this “syndrome” as a result of the “quiet” which has come into their lives as a result of their children being gone.  I don’t know why the psycho-babblers think of this normal experience as a “syndrome.”  It’s not a disease or a maladjustment; it’s just life.

My wife and I have experienced this twice now.  The first time was when our own children left home, although, to be perfectly honest, it was we who moved out from under our youngest, then in his 20s, when we left Colorado and came to Indiana to be near the grandchildren.  At the time, we had them only here.  I suppose it’s only poetic justice that he then got married and moved to Montana, where they are expecting their second.  We’ve met and loved the first and are looking forward to the trip to do that to the second child.

The second time?  This morning.  On the 6th, I posted about some baby robins nested on our front porch light.  So, for more than 3 weeks, I’ve watched the nest, watched Mama and Daddy Robin take care of their young.  Watched them keep a close eye on me as I disturbed them by opening the front door to do whatever outside.  Talked to Mama (?) to assure her that she had nothing to worry about from us.  Seen little beaks above the top of the nest.  Even got to the point where we’d leave the porch light off for when I came home so Mama wouldn’t be disturbed when I came home from work.  I could dimly see her sitting there, still watchful, but not flying away, even when I opened the door to come inside.  Would talk to her some more.  Did this just last night.

I was looking forward maybe to seeing the little robins on their nest or out in the yard.

After I got home last night, Sharon and I got to talking about the robins.  She mentioned that she had been startled by a bird she thought was too small to be one of the parents flying into the nest just as she came out of the door.  She asked if I had looked into the nest lately.  I hadn’t.

This morning, I took the mirror and looked into the nest.  It was empty.  Not a bird to be seen anywhere, not even in the crabapple tree.  I felt a distinct sense of loss at “the empty nest.”

Weird.

But then, I like “weird.”  Give me a TV program about “fafrotskies” (google?) or some other oddity in our world and I’m all eyes, although I don’t think wearing a tinfoil hat is going to keep the aliens from reading my mind. 🙂   I like “Fringe,” “Warehouse 13,” “Stargate, SG-1,” “The X-files,”  though I don’t care for the evolutionary underpinnings of these programs.

I have no problem with the idea of extra-terrestrial life.  After all, God, Who is life, created all the billions of stars we see in the night sky.  Why would He leave them all barren and lifeless?  Just sayin’….  I just don’t think, if there is “life” out there, they’d be all that interested in this backward dust mote.  Besides, this planet would probably be “under quarantine” because of our sinfulness. (This isn’t to discount or deny angelic beings, which the Bible clearly teaches.)

As I said, “weird.”

So, what does this have to do with robins and nests?

Just this.  Why do we name animals?  Why do we have “pets”?  At last count, my family has 10 dogs and two lizards.  Why do we name them?  Cats, dogs, even fish.  Names.

Minerva, Rags, Greybeard, Oscar.  (Actual names out of my youth.)  Why?

And why do we talk to them?  We’d be totally freaked out if they answered!

While I do not believe in “racial memory,” that is, that we have some dim recollection of the ancient past hidden in our brains, I still wonder if this isn’t some faint echo of the Garden of Eden.  [Some enthusiast for the benefits of blue-green algae in our diets was rhapsodizing about what it would be like if we could tap into the accumulated wisdom of millions of years of algae(!)]

The Garden of Eden, I believe in.  The “accumulated wisdom” of algae, not so much!

Anyway, Adam named all the animals.  This probably was nothing more than “horse,” “camel,” “cow,” “hippopotamus.”  Still, the precedent was there for “names.”

And there was “talk.”  Granted, the only such recorded conversation ended poorly for us, but still, Eve was not shocked or surprised by a talking animal.  Scripture says nothing about it, just leaves it to those of us who like “weird” to muse about it in lesser moments.

Further, it wasn’t until after the Flood that God told Noah, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air,…, Genesis 9:2 (NKJV) – hence Mama Robin’s reactions to me.  And Scripture prophesies a time when that “fear” will apparently be gone, Isaiah 11:6-9.

So, who really knows what “relationship” man and beast may have had?  It’s not one of the things God apparently thought we needed to know.  And I’m not trying to make some startling revelation about what might have happened.  This is just a light-hearted post (no, not “light-headed”) about something I wonder about every so often.

As I said, “weird.”

But, why do we name pets and talk to them?

“Firstfruits”

“Firstfruits” were important in the Old Testament.  “Firstfruits” were, of course, “first fruits.”  The first apples off the tree.  The first grapes off the vine.  The first sheaf of wheat from a field of grain.  There were also “firstripe,” “firstlings,” and “firstborn.”

And God said that they were His, Exodus 23:16, 19.

This was a reminder of where they came from.  The Israelite indeed had to sow the seed, but he was dependent on God for the rain and sunshine necessary to bring the seed to fruition and then to harvest.

They were also a promise of more to come.

I’m not so much interested in the Old Testament references to them as I am to the fact that the New Testament also has some things to say about “firstfruits.”

In the order, more or less, in which they appear in the New Testament, because I haven’t worked out a “logical” sequence for them, they are:

1.  Romans 8:23, …we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, [NKJV]

Romans 8 is a chapter on the Holy Spirit and His relationship to the Christian.  The section from vs. 18-25 deal with the earnest expectation of…creation as it looks forward to the time when it, too, shall be delivered from the curse brought on it by Adam.

In Ephesians 1:13, 14, Paul wrote that the Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,… [emphasis added].  The word translated “guarantee” means “earnest money.”  We might think of it as a down payment.  When my wife and I bought our present home, we had to put down some money as “earnest money.”  This secured to us the right to move into the house, but it also led to an obligation of  30 years of payments to the lender who financed the purchase.

Without wishing to demean the ways of God in any way, or to teach that they are comparable to the way man does things, cf. Isaiah 55:8, 9, God has only given us the beginning or “down payment” of what it will take Him eternity to reveal to us, Ephesians 2:7, the exceeding riches of His grace.  It also, if I may be so bold, obligates Him to finish the transaction.  We have the Spirit until the redemption of the purchased possession.  In other words, once God has truly saved a person and given him or her “the earnest of the Spirit,” He can never take the Spirit away or “unsave” the person.  There will be no “foreclosures” in the real estate of heaven.  (That will be because the full price has already been paid.  There’s nothing left of the debt.)

2.  Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15, firstfruits of Achaia.

These respectively are, the beloved Epaenetus, about whom nothing else is said in the New Testament, and the household of Stephanas, who are also mentioned in 1:16 as one of the very few households Paul personally baptized, and who, Paul said in 16:15, had devoted [“addicted”, KJV] themselves to the ministry of the saints.  A good “addiction” to have.  Stephanas was also apparently Paul’s secretary in writing 1 Corinthians.

3.  1 Corinthians 15;20, 23, Christ the firstfruits of the resurrection.

In this defense of resurrection answering those who denied it, Paul asserts that Christ has indeed risen from the dead, and, furthermore, is only the “firstfruits” of it.  As the firstfruits in the Old Testament were a harbinger of things to come, so also is Christ the promise of resurrection, each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.  Death isn’t the end of everything.  It’s just the “planting” from which will spring the harvest of eternal life and blessing for those who are Christ’s, those who have “the earnest of the Spirit.”

If I were to choose the epitaph for my tombstone, it would read, “This, too, shall pass.”

4.  James 1:18, Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

I believe James is here referring to all those Old Testament verses which promise a restoration of creation, mainly by the removal of the Adamic curse.  When that happens, the OT tells us that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as waters cover the sea, Isaiah 11:6-9. Life will also be greatly extended, so that a child will still be considered a child at 100 years old, Isaiah 65:20.

I think it does a great disservice to Christians, and removes the Old Testament from any intelligible understanding, to say that all this is “fulfilled in Jesus” and the church is “the kingdom.”  I know that many will disagree with me, and without wanting to get further into that discussion here, just let me say this.  That Jesus will indeed be instrumental in the actual fulfillment of these and similar verses should go without saying, but I believe we may also say that “the church” – believers – is “the firstfruits” of that worldwide kingdom the OT prophesies so often and so eloquently.  We are a “kind of firstfruits” of that harvest, but we’re not the whole harvest.

5.  Revelation 14:4, These  were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.

I realize there is considerable discussion about Revelation and what it all means.  What one believes about that will determine what one thinks about this verse.  As I understand Revelation, these 144,000, also see 7:1-8, are “the firstfruits” of that nationwide conversion of Israel that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ, Romans 11:25-27; Zechariah 12:10-14.

Conclusion

This world is not heaven. Nor, for that matter is it hell.  It’s just the preface, if you will, to eternity.  The blessings we have as believers, and they are without number, are nothing compared with what waits for us “over there.”  In Romans 8:18, Paul wrote, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.  Not “to us,” as some read it, but IN US. 

IN US!

IN US!

IN US!

When The Red Lights Flash.

I went outside this afternoon to mow the yard, and there was an ambulance across the street, in front of an elderly neighbor’s house.  The neighbor’s brother had called another  neighbor who did a lot of yard work for this man because he himself couldn’t get hold of his brother.  This neighbor found the man dead inside the house.

I always wonder what people who have just landed on the other side of death would tell us if they were able to come back.  And, no, I put no stock in seances, etc.  Such things are forbidden by Scripture.

Though I hadn’t thought of it when I started this post, the Apostle Paul had something to say about this.  In Philippians 1:21, he wrote, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (NKJV).  The interesting thing about the second phrase is that, in the original language, Paul is “looking back” at his death: “to have died” is gain.  He’s writing about having passed through the door of death into eternity and seen what’s on the other side of death.

For the Christian, it’s far better, v. 23.

For the unbeliever, ah, who can say what really lies over there for them?  What Scripture tells us about the end of the unbeliever seems almost too horrible to be true.  In fact, many people reject Scripture or at least parts of it because they can’t reconcile God’s love and God’s justice.

In fact, God’s justice was satisfied because God is love.  What we could never do on our own, and have no desire to do apart from God’s grace, God did in and through His Son, the Lord Jesus.

Those who repent of their sins and turn to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, and they only, are assured of a place that is far better.

Oh, to be ready – by the grace of God – for

when the red lights flash.

“The Romans Road”

When I was a young student in a Fundamentalist Bible college, I was taught how to “soul-win.”  This mostly revolved around a “method.”  Get people to say, “yes,” to, or agree with, four or five verses in Romans, have them repeat, or parrot, yes, that’s the word, for that’s all it really was, parrot the prayer you recited for them, and, presto, they were saved, and their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life.  Then you gave them “assurance” of their salvation with a couple of verses of Scripture – and your work was done.  You could add them to the weekly report you were required to turn in as to your visitation and outreach endeavors.  It didn’t matter if these people were never baptized or joined a church, or ever gave any evidence of a work of God in their lives.  They were “saved.”

Now, there is nothing wrong with being “fundamental.”  Even though the word “fundamentalist” is terribly misused by those who have no understanding of or interest in its origin, there are some things which are “fundamental” to being a Christian.  And there’s certainly nothing wrong with evangelism; it’s required of us by the Lord.  What I object to is the blatant misuse, in my opinion, of the Word of God for something so important as determining one’s eternal destiny.  This superficial  way of using Scripture is the main reason, again, in my opinion, for the rise of “fundamentalist-turned-atheist” organizations and websites.

And there is certainly nothing wrong with the verses in Romans.  However, as someone has said, “A text  of Scripture taken out of context often becomes a pretext.”  So, what does the “Romans Road” say?  What does the verses which comprise it really mean?

for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 (NKJV).

This was often weakened to the idea that, “well, yes, I’m not perfect,” in order to get the prospective “convert” to agree with it.  That’s not really the point here.  There’s much more to it than that.  While it’s true that the word translated “come short” means “to miss the mark,” what “mark” is it, exactly that we “miss”?  It’s easy to use the idea that we miss the mark of the righteousness that the Law requires, which is true – we do, or to chase a rabbit trail against a particular sin or social shortcoming. But it occurred to me not all that long ago in reading Romans that the “mark” we miss is “the glory of God.”  We see this earlier in Romans, referring to early mankind: although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful,” Romans 1:21.  This “knowledge” wasn’t just some superficial awareness that He existed.  I believe, from Genesis and Job, that there was a widespread knowledge of God among the early inhabitants of this planet, long before the giving of the Law to Israel.  These people knew, that is, were acquainted with, the God of Heaven.  But they couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge Him as God, so God gave them up to their own desires.  Romans 1:18-32 is a terrible description of what happens when God takes His hand off of us.

We see this also in Revelation 16:9 of some who will go through the terrible events of the end times and who will not repent and give Him glory.

The “mark” we miss is giving God the honor, the adoration, the worship, the service He and He alone deserves.  Not just some, “well, yes, I’m not perfect.”

Because

He is.

for the wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23a.

This verse would lead into some conversation to the effect that the person knew he wouldn’t live forever, but would eventually die.  Revelation 20:11-15 might be brought in with its references to hell and the second death, which, in turn, would lead to the question, “You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”

Of course not.  Nobody in their right mind wants to go there, even if they don’t believe it exists.

We can’t even really begin to understand all this verse entails.  We live in “death.”  It’s all around us.  I’m not just talking about physical death, even though this planet is just one gigantic graveyard.  And as far as Revelation 20 is concerned, we have nothing with which to compare the terror and horror of that time and place.

Before all that, though, we live in “death.”  Dead hope.  Dead dreams.  Dead love, …relationships, …health, …finances, …and on and on.  So many of the blogs I read bear eloquent testimony to this.  Death stalks throughout our land and our lives.

The wages [consequences] of sin is death.

Salvation is much more than just some relief from the consequences of our sin, like the filter on a cigarette, or “safe sex.”  It’s also more than just a fire escape from its final, eternal consequence.

But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8.

Here the talk would center around how much God loves everybody, John 3:16 often being quoted as well.  Yet I find it fascinating that the early church never mentioned the love of God in its preaching.  Indeed, there’s only one occurrence of any of the words translated “love” anywhere in Acts, and that’s in Acts 28:2, where Paul, writing of a shipwreck experience and his deliverance from it, wrote ‘the natives showed us unusual ‘kindness’.”  It’s not “the message” in 1 John, either, 1 John 4:8 notwithstanding.  See 1 John 1:5.

The cross of Christ is all about satisfying God’s justice, about taking care of our sin problem, not just about showing His love.  Now, God does have a redemptive love for humanity, considered as a whole, as a race.  Otherwise, He’d never have gone to the lengths to save it that He did.  Individually, however, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we are under His wrath, John 3:36.  We are subject to His judgment.  Romans 8:39 and 1 Timothy 1:14 tell us that the love of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This is why the early church never mentioned it.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, not a single one of us has any claim on or right to the love of God.

but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 6:23.

Here, the “method” would be to begin to move toward getting the “convert” to “make his decision,” to get him to “pray the prayer.”  So the talk would revolve around the idea that one must “receive” a gift.  Oh, there might be some talk that we can’t earn a gift or something like that, but the intent was to move the person toward that moment of decision.

That’s not what Paul was writing about, at all.

He’s contrasting two ideas:  “death” is the result of something we do, namely, sin.  Now, not all “deaths” are the result of sin; babies die who are yet incapable of it.  “Death” itself, though, is a result of sin.  If Adam and Eve had not sinned against God, there would be no death.  In contrast to that, “eternal life” IS NOT the result of something we do, as much as some would like to make it.  It’s something God gives us, freely, because of and by His grace.  We could never earn it, deserve it or make it.  We can only receive it, as something foreign to ourselves and to which we contribute nothing.

This lead us to the last verses.

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. … For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved,” Romans 10:9, 10 13.

Here, the “soul-winner” would be trying to “close the sale,” as if “the customer” were doing nothing more important than buying a car or a vacuum cleaner.  The idea was to get the person to “pray to be saved.”  I even knew some “soul-winners” who would actually begin to “pray” before the person did, as a means of pressuring him or her to do so.  And “pressuring” is the right word.  This was how they understood “calling on the name of the LORD.”

Oh my, my brothers and sisters!  This “calling” isn’t just the repetition of a canned prayer that someone else recites to you, with no real understanding of what is supposed to be going on.  It’s not just a prescribed number of “Hail, Marys” or “Our Fathers.”  It’s not just words on a page.

It’s a cry for help, a call for rescue.  It’s a 911 call to heaven.

“Lord, save me!” was Peter’s cry as he began to sink in the water, Matthew 14:28-33.  He didn’t need someone in the boat to tell him what to say.  He didn’t try to remember what some rabbi or his parents may have told him as a child.  His situation told him what to say!  “Lord, save me!”

Now, I’m not suggesting that one needs to be a theologian or scholar to be saved.  I’m simply saying that Romans 10:9-10,13 themselves tell us what is involved.  And I’m not trying to put them into “steps,” the following of which will lead you to salvation.  But there are some things to consider.

1.  Confess the Lord Jesus.  Not just “accept Jesus,” or some such thing.  It means, in effect, to agree with what God says about Him.  God says He is Lord.  God says the name of Jesus is above every other name, in heaven or on earth.  You can’t have only part of Jesus.  You can’t have Him as Savior without at the same time having Him as Lord.  You can’t separate what He does from who He is.  In fact, if He weren’t who He is, He couldn’t do what He does.

2.  Believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead.  This really involves everything about Jesus from eternity past, that He was the Word, into eternity future, that He took on Himself humanity in order to live and die for sinners.  That He rose from the dead and is even now seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for those for whom He died.  That He one day will return to this earth.  Having said all that, the verse does focus on His death, and the whys and wherefores of that, as well as the fact that He rose again.

3.  believes unto righteousness.  Here we’re brought face-to-face with our condition before God.  That we have indeed “sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We have nothing approaching the righteousness God requires of us, nor can we on our own ever approach it.  This brings in “the righteousness of Christ” which is imputed to believing sinners and which we must have if we are ever to come before God uncondemned.

Conclusion: These are just a few suggestions as to what is involved in “the Romans Road.”  There is so much more that could be said.

Again, I’m not saying that there has to be complete understanding of these things.  Who does that?  Who can do that?  And I’m not trying to discourage people from using these verses in their witnessing.  It’s just that I wish that salvation were treated as something more than just “one of the great things of life.”  Have you ever heard preachers or someone say that?  “If you miss salvation, you miss one of the great things of life.”  I have.

Oh, if you miss salvation, you miss life itself!

Baby Robins

This spring, some enterprising Robins built their nest on top of our porch light.  It’s protected by the roof overhang, so that nothing can get to it.  I’ve been watching, though I can’t see directly into the nest.  I have to use a mirror.  The first time I checked there was only one blue egg.  A few days later I checked and there were four.  Then there were two hatchlings, all beak and fuzz, then, finally, all four were safely hatched.

The nest being on the porch, every time the front door is opened, if there is a parent Robin on the nest, they fly into the crabapple tree out in the front yard.  The first few times, Mama Robin, I guess, would sit there and chirp in great displeasure at this disturbance.  Now, she just flies over there and watches me closely til I drive out of the driveway.  I try to tell her that she has nothing to worry about, but I guess her “human” is no better than my “Robin.”

Anyway, Sharon, my wife, told me she could hear the little ones chirping.  I wear hearing aids and even with them couldn’t hear them if they were screaming at the top of their little voices.  Then she told me that one time when she left to go to work, she had seen the little ones.  Parent Robin was there with a worm and four little beaks were stretched out, wanting to be fed!  Of course, the parent flew away when Sharon opened the door.

Well, today I finally got to see them myself!  I was sitting in my truck, ready to leave, but I was watching Mama (?) Robin as she watched me from the safety of the tree limb.  The other Robin flew into the tree and she left.  Papa (?) Robin flew onto the side of the nest with something in his beak.  I couldn’t tell what it was. The little ones knew!  It was breakfast!  Immediately, there were four little beaks, open wide and stretched out as far as little necks could take them, wanting to be fed!

I had to laugh.  It’s one thing to see pictures of all this; it’s quite another to see it in living color, even if not close up.

Their eagerness made me reflect.  I wish we had that kind of hunger for the Word of God.  I wish I had it.  Oh, I have a “schedule” to read a certain number of chapters a day, going through the entire Bible and then again through the New Testament.  But how often is it just “routine,” to mark off, so to speak, the reading for today.  How often do I find my mind wandering, with thoughts that have little or nothing to do with what I’m reading.  Oh, I’m ashamed to have to admit it.  Here is something the God of Heaven, who loves Me and whom I claim to love, has been kind enough to give me of Himself, and I sit there, half-attentive to it, too often just “going through the motions.”

While I was in Bible college, I was introduced to a young woman at a Bible conference in a different state.  I was smitten!  knocked over dead!  We wrote.  How I waited for the mail!  I devoured those letters!  I didn’t have to have a “schedule”;  I didn’t have to just sit down and read them!  My mind didn’t wander while I read them!  They were letters from one whom I loved and whom I hoped and prayed loved me.  I wanted them!  Couldn’t wait for them!

If you’ve read my earlier post on stuttering, you know how this is going to end.  She broke up with me.  Broke me up, too.  I didn’t know it at the time, but God had someone else for me, someone just right!

Anyway, I read those letters again after this.  Funny thing, they didn’t have the appeal that they had once had.  They were empty.  The sentiments in the letters were no longer mine.  She was no longer “mine.”  I threw the letters away.

I don’t know; maybe I’m just preaching to the mirror.

Maybe our reaction to the Word is indicative of our relationship to the One who wrote it.  Maybe it’s not what it should be….  Granted, things change.  One of the Puritans said that not every day is a wedding day.  The eagerness with which I pursued my then-future wife is different from the completeness I feel now as we sit and talk about our day.  I don’t know what I’d do if that were ever taken away from me.

Job said, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food,” Job 23:12.  There’s some discussion among the scholars as to the meaning of the phrase translated, “necessary food,’ but I take it to mean that there was nothing in Job’s life more important to him than the word of God.

What would we do if the Word were taken completely away from us, as it is in some parts of this world, and may be in this country [the US]?  Don’t think it’s impossible.

Oh, for a heart for the Word!  just like those little robins, hungry for what their daddy had for them!

1,004

When I logged into the blog this morning, I saw the number in the title listed as the number of views it’s received since I first posted on March 2 this year.  I know it’s not the same as the number of people who’ve actually visited, but it’s still a milestone.  I try not to make this blog about numbers or awards or things like that, but, at the same time, when one sows seed, one likes to see the seed sprout and green begin to color the earth,

When I first started, I had no idea what would happen or where it would take me.  From the bottom of my heart, I’d just like to thank you all who’ve visited, left comments, nominated the blog for awards,  You have encouraged, strengthened and helped me in ways you’ll never know.  Through this medium, I’ve been able to visit 13 other countries, when actually I’ve just barely been into Canada and Mexico, in Toronto and Ciudad Juarez.

Above all, I wish to thank my Lord and Savior for making all this happen.  Without the breath, strength and ability He daily enables, indeed, without the life He loans me each day, none of this would happen.  Yet, this is nothing compared to what He was willing to do for me – and has done.

Even before the events in Genesis 1, He had thoughts of love toward me and wrote my name in His book.  He “foresaw” no faith, no love for Him or His Word, no obedience, just vile sin and rebellion.  Desperate forays into things best left unsaid.  Nothing at all worth saving.  Yet, He was willing to leave the glory and worship of heaven, be born into an ordinary family, live an extraordinary life, die a death beyond description – for me.  Even now, after rising from death and leaving the waywardness of this world, He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding – for me.  And one day, soon, I hope, He’s coming back – for me.

How I long for that day, to be free of myself and to able to worship and serve Him as He deserves.  “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

If you’re a believer, He’s coming back for you, as well.  We’ll meet one day, I pray, in front of the Throne in that glorious praise service that will echo throughout infinity.  Some of you endure and suffer things which are beyond imagination, but soon – no more.

If you’re not a believer, what can I say?  I wish I could show you how beautiful, how wonderful the Lord Jesus is.  What He’s done for sinners like you and me.  Oh, that even today, right now, you might turn to the Lord Jesus and cry out for forgiveness and life.  No priest, no church, no religion, no works can do that for you.  Only Him.

Once again, thanks to all of you who’ve been a part of this.  Thanks, and God’s best to all of you.

A Death Bed

As I lay sick upon my bed
I heard them say, “In danger.”
The word seemed very strange to me;
Could any word seem stranger?

“In danger” of escape from sin,
Forever and forever?
Of entering that most holy place
Where evil enterest never?

“In danger” of beholding Him,
Who is my soul’s salvation,
Whose promises sustain my soul
In blest anticipation?

“In danger” of soon shaking off
Earth’s last remaining fetter,
And of departing hence to be
With Christ, which is far better?

It is a solemn thing to die,
To face the King Immortal;
And each forgiven sinner should
Tread softly o’er the portal.

But when we have confessed our sins
To Him who can discern them,
And God has given pardon, peace,
Tho’ we could ne’er deserve them,

Then dying is no dangerous thing;
Safe in the Saviour’s keeping,
The ransomed one is gently led
Beyond the reach of weeping.

–  Martha Snell Nicholson

Faith… ! ?

There are a lot of “definitions” of faith, a lot of thoughts about it.  I just saw one talking about a “leap of faith.”  “Faith” has become a synonym for “religion,” so that we hear of “people of faith,” regardless of what that “faith” might be.  There are “faith-based” organizations.  “Faith is the willingness to act upon your sense of what you think lies behind the external circumstances.”  This one from a well-known Christian artist whose paintings are indeed beautiful.  However, faith deals with what God says lies behind the external circumstances.  Our “understanding” of such things tends to be faulty, to say the least.  Then there are those who think faith is some sort of bell we can ding to get God to do something for us.

The world has its “definitions” of the word.  “Faith is believing what you know not to be true.”  “Faith is a leap in the dark.”  “Faith is believing in something despite the evidence.”  Now, there may be some truth in that, though not the way the world thinks of it.  “Faith” is irrational and unreasonable.  Faith is for the weak and ignorant.  Faith is for the gullible.

To  restate one of the “definitions” above, I prefer to think of faith as “a leap into the light.”  Or maybe, because of the light.

Faith is not some vague, nebulous, wishful thinking.  According to Hebrews 11, it is something based solidly and only and completely on the Word of God.  As you go through that list of Old Testament saints, you’ll find that their guiding light was what God had told them and promised.

The writer starts off with the idea that “faith” indeed deals with things not “in evidence.”  This is what I meant a moment ago in my comment about one of the world’s definitions.

The writer starts off with creation itself:  the worlds were framed by the word of God.  He refers to and corroborates Genesis 1 and 2.  God said.   God said.  God said.

By the way, how did the “ignorant goat herders” who are alleged to have written the Bible know that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible?  That is, they were not “in evidence”?

Abel offered the sacrifice God commanded.  Cain thought the best he could do would be good enough.

Enoch walked with God in a time of increasing ungodliness and wickedness, kind of like 2013.

Noah built an ark to escape a flood in a world where it never rained.

Abraham pulled up stakes and moved somewhere he didn’t know about simply because God told him to.

[Have you ever really thought about that?  Abraham comes home one day and says to Sarah, “Start packing.  We’re going to move.”

“Oh?  Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”]

Abraham and Sarah both believed they would have the child God promised them, though they were well beyond the ages for such things.

Abraham believed God could raise Isaac from the dead when he was told to sacrifice that very same beloved son of promise.

On and on.  I leave you to read the rest of the chapter.  See how the Word of God guided and controlled what these “faith-worthies” did – and suffered.

So you see, “faith” is an active and obedient response to the Word of God.  It isn’t about what we think or can see, but about what God says.  It isn’t just some vague feeling.  It’s not about some momentary emotional response based on some “experience”.  It’s a solid, every-day commitment to what God says.  It isn’t  just about “doctrine,” though doctrine is very important, and should have much more attention paid to it than is usually done.  It does matter what you believe.  But what we believe must be based on what the Bible says, not just on what men say the Bible says.  This means that we have to read it ourselves.  One of the sad things about the church in our time is the fact that only a small percentage of “Christians” read the Bible and know what it really says.

Why do you think there are such attacks against the Bible?  Why are there such efforts to destroy its credibility?  Because it tells us things the enemy of our soul doesn’t want us to know.  It tells us to do things that we don’t want to do in and of ourselves.

Oh, let me encourage you.  Read the Bible.  Believe what it says.  Do what it says.  It’s God’s love letter to you.

[If you want some more on this, read my earlier posts of “Abraham and Isaac,” and “Look Now Toward Heaven”.]

Do You Need To “Retire”?

I think the greatest joy when I retired was the realization on that first Sunday afterward that, for the first time in a very long time, “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!!!”  I cannot tell you how happy that made me!  I had worked pretty much steadily since I was 19, but “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!!!”  Sunday had always been kind of a downer for me, even though I went to church and was active in it, because there was always the thought in the background that I had to go to work tomorrow.

Though you’re probably not interested, I could give you my complete work history going back to 1961.  And time has passed since that joyous Sunday.  The thought of no work on Monday has diminished.  And I’m working part time now.  So I’m not as “foot-loose and fancy-free” (whatever that means) as I was on that weekend.

What’s my point?

Spiritually speaking, I wonder if some who read this post might not need to “retire.”  There’s a HUGE amount of thought in “Christendom” that one must “earn” salvation, or at least contribute something to its obtaining.  In effect, we’re asked to midwife at our own spiritual birth.  There’s a long list of things one “must” do in this regard.

We must belong to a certain church.  Pope Francis recently reasserted the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, even for “Christians” who belong to other churches.  But believers belong to Christ; we are Christians, not “Churchians”.  There is no salvation in ANY “church”.  Babies don’t go to the nursery to be born, but because they have been born.  So it is with “church”.

Then there’s baptism, communion, “confession,” works, lists of “do” and “don’t”.  On and on.

If you have such a “list,” then you need to retire.

If you’re not experiencing “the joy of the Lord, then perhaps you need to retire.

You need to quit trying to “save yourself.”  You need to quit relying on things which cannot save.  You need to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him for your salvation.  He lived the life you and I cannot live.  He died the death you and I dare not.  He said, “It is finished.”

The work has been done.  The price has been paid.  Redemption has been accomplished.

By works.

But not yours or mine.

The Lord Jesus Christ’s.

God’s Will, My Will, Whose Will?

As I wander along the highways and byways of blogtopia [not my term, but a great one!], I see a lot of questions and comments about God’s will and “free will.”  I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps I might have one or two thoughts that will help shed some light on this sometimes gritty subject.

[[Something I don’t normally do on a post, but this one is so important that I feel compelled to do this in print:

“Father, we are so foolish, fallible and finite that when we come to the idea of asking questions about how You do things…, we must have Your guidance to understand even the simplest things You have revealed about Yourself.  This is anything but ‘simple,’ but deals with things philosophers and thinkers have pondered and discussed for millennia.  Open our understanding so that we might know something of the wonder and greatness of Your dealings with us….

“In Jesus’ name, through Whom alone we come into Your presence.  Amen.”]]

Some are so focused on God’s sovereign will that they seem to make man little more than a puppet or robot.  I knew a brother who would always say, “I was caused to believe in Jesus.”  Never would he simply say, with Paul, “I know whom I have believed,…  2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV).

Others are so focused on man’s will that, as it were, they put up a “no trespassing” sign and believe that God cannot do anything in their lives unless they give Him permission.  They put limitations on God that they would never dream of putting on themselves.

This latter viewpoint, though much more prevalent than the former, is no more Scriptural.

What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Actually, Scripture doesn’t address this issue as such at all.   It does say some things about the subject almost in passing, as if there should be no question about it.  So, let’s look at some examples of what I mean.

Genesis 50:20, “…as for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good….”

This, of course, is Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, who, because of their hatred for him had sold him into slavery years earlier, then lied to their father about it.  In the providence of God, they and their families and father had come to Egypt where Joseph made himself known to them and took care of them for several years.  Now Jacob was dead, and the brothers thought they were [rightfully] in for it.  The verse above was part of Joseph’s response to them.

There was nothing “good” about what they did to Joseph or how they covered it up.  Jacob grieved for many years over the death, as he thought, of this son of his beloved Rachel.  Joseph suffered for about 13 years in Egypt, even though God put him in a place where he could save many people alive.

There is no attempt to “reconcile” these two disparate things: the evil that the brothers meant, the good that God meant.  They are just simply recorded.  The same word is used both times, that what the brothers purposed and willed to do to Joseph, God purposed and willed that they should do to Joseph.

Did God “do” something to the brothers in this?  Did His will “force” their wills?  No, they did freely to Joseph exactly what they wanted to do.  At the same time, without thought or knowledge on their part, they did exactly what God wanted them to do.

Exodus 4:21, speaking to Moses about Pharaoh, God said, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  This is indeed a difficult nut for people to crack.  What did God mean?  How could He do this to Pharaoh?

In order, perhaps, to understand this a little better, we need to look at Pharaoh.  Was “his heart” “neutral” in this matter?  Was he open to the things Moses said?  Was he a “seeker” after truth.  Did he want to know about the God of Israel?

No, indeed!  At Moses’ first encounter with him, Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?  I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go,”  Exodus 5:2.  I imagine the emphasis was on the “I”: “…that I should obey…?”

There was no “harden” button on Pharaoh’s heart that God had to push.  His heart was already hard!  God just demonstrated that by bringing some things to Pharaoh’s attention that he didn’t want to deal with, namely, that he wasn’t a god himself, and that the God of the Hebrews was God, the only God, the true God, as opposed to the pantheon of gods Pharaoh worshiped.  All the plagues against Egypt were against the gods of Egypt, to show their impotence and falsehood.  And to show that the God of the Hebrews, as we said, was, indeed, the only true God.

Exodus 31:1-6; 35:6-36:2, With regard to the construction of the Tabernacle, God told Moses, “I have put wisdom in all the hearts of the gifted artisans, that they may make all I have commanded you.”  God gave some the artistic ability to craft and construct the Tabernacle, and just underline all the references to “hearts” and “willing,” etc.  There are at least 15 such references in the 16 verses of 35:6-36:2.  God willed and the people willed.  As for the “offerings” to supply the necessary materials, note 25:1 and 36:6, 7 as well.

One more from the Old Testament.

2 Kings 11:29-36; 12:15, 24, though you should read both chapters.

This has to do with the reason for the breakup of Israel into two camps:  the two tribes, who became known as Judah, and the other 10 tribes, who retained the name Israel and were also known as Ephraim or The Northern Kingdom.

King Solomon had been unfaithful to God and had introduced idolatry into Israel, probably at the instigation of his pagan wives.  In 2 Kings 11:9-13, God promised judgment on his line and on the nation for this sin.  He finally died and his son Rehoboam took over.

Solomon had heavily taxed the people in order to finance his lavish lifestyle.  The people understandably asked Rehoboam to lessen their load.  (And you thought complaints about taxation were something new!)  Rehoboam asked counsel of some who had served his father.  Their advice was to listen to the people.  Then he asked some of his friends what to do.  Their advice was to tell the people, in effect, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Rehoboam, being young and stupid (though he was 40 or so), followed the advice of his friends, who were also stupid and arrogant.  2 Kings 12:15 says, “So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from the LORD, that He might fulfill His word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Naturally, the people didn’t care for this, so they said, “See ya’,” and went their way.  Rehoboam called out the army to go and bring them back by force.

In chapter 12, God forbade this.  Too bad Rehoboam didn’t seek God before.  Anyway, through another prophet, God told him, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. …for this thing is from Me.”

Rehoboam’s arrogance and stupidity.  The anger and decision of the people.  All their own. Yet God’s will, as well.

Now to the New Testament.

When I was a young student at a Bible College, struggling with these concepts, I came across some verses.  My roommate and others were also struggling with these ideas.  The verses are

2 Corinthians 8:16, 17,  In the context of Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth, he wrote, But thanks be to God who puts [or, “has put”] the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.  For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord.

Once again, we see the interconnection of God’s will and man’s will.  God worked in Titus’ heart.  Of his own will, Titus did something.  This activity of God neither negates, diminishes nor undermines the choices and activity of man.

And there is also

Revelation 17:17, For God has put it into their hearts [the “ten kings” of vs. 12, 13] to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.  Here is a clear verse about the will and purpose of God and the will and purpose of man.

However, someone might say, “Well, yes, there are some verses like what you say.  But in salvation – ‘whosoever will.’  Christ is standing at the door of our heart, knocking for admission.”

That’s true.  “Whosoever will.”  At the same time, please read the rest of that verse.  How many people do you know in the world, or even in the church, for that matter, who “thirst” for the water of life?

As for Revelation 3:20, it’s in the context of the Lord’s words to His churches, especially the church at Laodicea.  This church was so filled with itself that it didn’t even realize that Christ was on the outside.  There are lots of churches like that, so filled with programs and personalities that they don’t even miss the Lord Jesus.

Two final verses, and they are about “salvation”.

John 6:39, 40, The Lord Jesus says, This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Our Lord has no difficulty with divine sovereignty and human activity.  He never sought to “reconcile” them; they’re not enemies.  He never tried to “explain” them or make them palatable to fallen human nature.  He just simply taught that they are both true.  So does the rest of the Bible.

In John 6:39, 40, there are on the one hand, those indeed whom the Father chose and gave to the Son to redeem.  (By the way, in a nutshell, the biblical doctrine of election is that had God not chosen some to be saved, nobody at all would be saved.)  On the other hand, the door to salvation stands wide open.  There isn’t a single verse in the more than 30,000 – if memory serves me – verses  of Scripture  preventing the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  The difficulty lies with us, not with God.  Those who believe in the Son have eternal life; those who do not, do not.  It’s as simple as that.

Conclusion:  There is SO MUCH more that could be said on this subject.  I’ve just barely scratched the surface.  And I’ve probably raised questions, as well as trying to answer some of them.  I’m sorry.

Whether you agree with what I’ve written or not, remember that we’re “discussing” God.  Do you really want a God you can get your mind around?  One that little?

Oh, if we can’t “understand” what God has told us about Himself, can we at least “trust” Him?  After all, isn’t that what “faith” boils down to, trusting Him and His Word?

God bless this study, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.