“…You Have Not Passed This Way Before,” Joshua 3:4.

At long last, Israel was ready to cross over the Jordan River and possess the land which God had promised her ancestors so long ago.

There’s a lot we could say about all this, but wish to focus on only one thing.

The verse in our title was the instruction for the people to watch for and follow the ark of the covenant.  Granted, they could not see the actual ark for that was covered when being moved and was not simply to be an object to be looked at, Numbers 4:5, 6.  It was the place where God met with His people under very strict conditions, indeed, only one man was permitted once a year on the Day of Atonement to enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of a specific sacrifice on it.

We no longer have an actual piece of furniture called an ark.  All the things the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple foreshadowed are found in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We no longer are forbidden to enter His presence except on one day of the year.  We have freedom to come into His presence and seek His blessing and aid at any time, Hebrews 4:14-16.

The point is that even as Israel was to look to the ark as it entered the land, so we must look to the Lord Jesus as we enter a new year.

I’m actually writing this post a few days before Christmas, to be published on New Year’s Day.  I don’t know what will happen next year; I don’t even know what will happen in the few remaining days of this year.

I am very concerned with the direction this country is being taken by its leadership.  I’m very concerned with the direction the organized church, for the most part, is taking.  Wolves have indeed taken over.

Things which were unthinkable just a few years ago, to say nothing of in my youth more than a few years ago, are now commonly accepted and are considered “rights” by many. Considering where this year has taken us, I can’t begin to imagine what might happen this next year.  And I don’t want to.  The tipping point may finally come when this country crashes and burns, to become a smoking ruin on the trash heap of history.

Yes, I am pessimistic.  It will take more than a new Congress or a new President.  The problems in our country aren’t merely political or economic or social.  They are moral and spiritual.  It will take a mighty moving of the Spirit of God.  It’s certainly not beyond His power.  It just may be that we’ve told Him to go away, and He has.  I do not mean this in the sense that we somehow have defeated Him or made it impossible for Him to work.  There are no such foolish limitations on Him as that.  I think it’s just that we’ve told Him to go away, and He’s showing us how that works out.

Not well.

So, this new year, let us reject self-will, self-assurance and self-image and return to the only One Who can really do anything about it.

Because.

We have not passed this way before.

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Life’s Hardest Lessons

Our “education” doesn’t end when we finish school, whatever level that may be.  I sometimes joke that I’ve learned the most from that school whose colors are black and blue. 🙂  I seem to keep getting set back a grade, though, because in some things I never seem to learn.   This world isn’t the only one which believes in “continuing education”.

The most difficult lessons are about something the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV),

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

Spurgeon had a tremendous sermon on this text, and if I still had it, I would be tempted  just to print it, even if it is twelve pages long.  He’s not to be blamed, though, for the thoughts which follow.

There seem to be two “grades,” if you will, in this school.  These are found in connection with the word, “rest.”

In the first grade – would that it were that simple because that was where we learned the ABC’s and 123’s – in the first grade, our Lord says to “come” and He will give us rest.

This, I believe, is the “rest” of salvation.

With this phrase, I don’t mean that there is something “more” to salvation, that is, the “rest” of it.  Perhaps I should have said, “the rest which comes from salvation.”  There are those who look for something more, some experience, some emotion, something… beyond “salvation.”  They look for the “abundant life,” as if eternal life itself isn’t enough.  They want a “second” blessing, as if we haven’t already received every spiritual blessing in the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 1:4.  They just feel that something is missing.

Nor, by this phrase, do I mean that we can “kick back and take it easy;” we can just “rest” and goof off.  We’re on our way to heaven.  Saying this, I DON’T mean that we somehow have to work our way to salvation, or that we even can do such a thing, though our Lord does address those who labor and are heavy-laden. 

No, no, I believe He’s talking to those who “labor” in the shackles of sin, though modern “wisdom” has lessened that thought to a mere “addiction.”  They are “heavy laden” with the effects of their lives: disease, poverty, crime, violence, to name just a few.  Just in passing, though I’m not really railing against “evil Joe Camel” or “Demon Rum,” but how much do you suppose an average person spends in a year on tobacco or alcohol?  In a life?  I don’t know, though I suppose someone has figured it out.  But at $5 or so a pack for cigarettes – and a pack or two a day?  No wonder folks are “poor!”  And that doesn’t figure in the cost of alcohol.  Or the price of a “fix.”

Even for those who aren’t one of “them,” life apart from the Lord Jesus is expensive. How much will some pay for “success,” however that may be defined?

What will they pay for “stuff?”

No, no, our Lord talks about “rest” because the work of salvation is done.  When He cried out on the Cross, “It is finished,” He didn’t mean there was something left for us to do to “complete” salvation.  He lived the live we can’t live; He died the death we can never die – the only life and death which can satisfy God’s law and justice.  That work is forever done.

Some people look to the “merits” of saints to help them out.  Beloved, there’s only ever been One Who had any merit to begin with, let alone have any “left over”!

To “come” doesn’t mean to walk an aisle or pray a prayer or do any of a hundred other things religion says to do.  It means to believe, to trust, to “rest” on Christ, Who He was and what He did for sinners like you and me.  To rely on Him to the point that if He were to fail – and He can’t!  He won’t! – there’s no other hope for us.

Because, apart from Him, there IS no other hope!

However, there is another word our Lord uses.  He said, “Take.” 

This, I believe, is the “rest” of submission. 

Oh, that word raises the hackles.  It makes us arch our back and spit like a cat.  There are whole bunches of religious people who oppose this idea with all their might.  And these aren’t just “liberal” folks; they might otherwise be very “conservative”.  They might even “believe the Bible from cover to cover.”

I spent several years among them.  Saw perhaps hundreds of “professions,” but only handfuls who were ever baptized or joined a church.  But they were “saved” because they had “prayed the prayer.”  Or so it was said.  I really don’t know in any particular case because I can’t see the heart.

But I do believe that there will be multitudes who will “weep and wail” at the judgment because they did what some preacher or soul-winner or priest or rabbi or imam or guru or whatever told them to do, only to find out when it’s too late that it’s not what God told them to do.

The “yoke” speaks of service.  It was put on the neck of animals so they could pull a plow or some other item.

All of us have a “yoke” of one kind or another.  But our Lord tells us to take His yoke, to serve Him, not sin, nor self, nor stuff.

It amazes me even after several years of study and writing, etc., that even in the middle of writing this very post, I saw something I can’t say I had really noticed before.  In reading over our Lord’s words, I was struck that there was a third thing He told us to do.

He said to “learn” from Him.

There are multitudes who are “Doctors” or “Masters” of some particular branch of learning.  And I am not against “formal” education.  I have a degree, though not as exalted as those.

Ah, but to learn from Christ Himself!  And not just about Him!  How I would love to have been with those who sat at His feet or those on the road to Emmaus who listened to Him and who testified later, “Did not our hearts burn within us, …while He opened the Scripture to us?” Luke 24:32.

But why Him?

“I am gentle and lowly in heart.”….

Yesterday was Christmas.

Today – not so much.

The wrapping paper has been picked up and put in the trash.  All the food has been put away, though I fear the scale might tell us we put too much away!  In the retail world, this is a very busy day, with gifts being returned and exchanged, and with all the “after-Christmas sales.”

The nativity set probably still sits there, sharing space with a tree and ornaments and decorations.

Christmas was yesterday.  (Sounds like the title of a post.)

In a few days, there will be a New Year, the ball will drop in Times Square, and life will go on.

Will the lesson have been learned – the gentleness and meekness of Christ?

“Very God of Very God.”

Born a Baby.

In a feeding trough.

Probably not….

But there’s another reason “why Him”?

“My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” 

So much easier than that burden you’re carrying right now.

The world looks at Biblical Christianity as a terrible thing.  I had a man tell me that God  forbids all the things we want to do.  That’s because they’re bad for us, now and forever.

So, why do that?  Why “come”?  Why “take”?  Why “learn”?

Because we will “find rest for our souls.” 

The most popular drugs are tranquilizers.  One of the most common ailments is stress.  That’s because this world has no resting place.  There’s nothing that really can say, “That’s enough.”  There’s always another dollar, another pleasure, another rung on the ladder, another “thing.”  We need this year’s model; last year’s model isn’t any good any more.  We have been taught to believe that “new” is “improved.”  That it’s better.

But it wears out or becomes old itself.

Only God’s blessing, in Christ, in new every morning, Lamentations 3:23.  (You might take note of the surrounding verses and chapters in this short book.  It isn’t about “health and wealth” or any of the other things our modern superficial spirituality looks for.  It is about trusting God when everything around us says, “Why?”)

Oh, there’s so much more I could write.  So many things.

But I don’t know you, my dear reader.

I pray the Spirit of God will do that which I cannot, and find you wherever you may be in life and make you a student in the School of Christ, that One Who alone has the words of eternal life, John 6:68.

May God add His blessing, for Jesus’ sake.

On Cancellations And Endings

A few days ago on my Internet homepage, there was an article about the 90 or so TV shows that were cancelled during 2013.  Out of curiosity, I went through the list.  Since we don’t have cable, and the only “dish” we have is one we eat out of, I hadn’t heard of most of the shows.  There are some shows we follow on Netflix or Hulu, but otherwise we’re pretty much out of it.  Three of the shows we follow were on the list.  I knew about two of them.

What was interesting to me were the comments reacting to the cancellations.  One show apparently was just dropped in the middle of the story and people complained that there was no ending.  They’ll never find out what “happened” to A and B.  When I got home from work last night, my wife told me to hurry because one show we follow was having its finale.  It actually completed the story.  Very satisfying.  Even though we’re several episodes behind on Netflix, we now know that the “story” will end “like it should.”  Silly, isn’t it, to get so wrapped up in artificiality.

The final show of 2013 will happen in three days.  I’m not talking about TV, but about the year itself.  It’ll be time to close the books and start over with new ones.  People will make resolutions.  In the coming year, people will break resolutions.  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  I’ve only made one resolution over the last several years and that is not to make any resolutions.  It may be a new year, but it’s still the same old me.

There is another “finale” and that comes at the end of life.  And there’s another use of the term “cancelled,” although in this day of e-commerce and direct deposit, it’s probably way out-of-date, and I’m giving away my age.  The younger generations have probably never seen one.  When was the last time you got “cancelled checks” back from your bank or credit union?  

A cancelled check is one that has been paid by the bank to whomever it was written.  It was “cancelled,” that is, marked “paid,” and every month the bank would send the checks that had cleared that month back to the check-writer.  There was more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.  Since it usually took two or three days for the check to “clear,” some people would take advantage of “the float” and write checks and then run to the bank to deposit money so the check wouldn’t bounce, that is, it wouldn’t be rejected by the bank.  Hard to do that when transactions clear electronically.

You couldn’t spend a cancelled check.  It had already been spent.  Very soon, we’ll be done “spending” 2013 and will be issued a new year to spend.   And sooner or later, unless the Lord comes back, we’ll all come to the finale of our lives.  And even if He comes back, that, too, will be a finale.  We can’t “re-spend” 2013.  Except for a few days, it’s already been spent.  And we won’t be able to spend our lives again when they’re “cancelled”.  They will already have been spent.  (If you’ve suffered such a thing recently in your family or among your friends, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)

How will we spend 2014?  How will we spend the rest of our individual lives?  May the Lord enable us to spend them wisely.