Monthly Archives: March 2015

HOW SWEET IT IS!

A TV show I used to watch as a young man was called the “Honeymooners” staring Jackie Gleason. When he was successful over the ongoing situation he usually said, “How sweet it is!” You could see by the look on his face and by his body posture that he really believed what he was saying. Gleason’s statement causes me to ask myself the question “How sweet is my Christian life?”

In 1912, Mrs. C. H. Morris wrote both the words and music to a song entitled “Sweeter As The Years Go By”. In the first stanza Mrs. Morris’ depicts the life of a person sought out by Jesus’ love and brought into the fold. She extols Jesus’ love and mercy and she declares that such would ever be her theme. I especially love the chorus to this great song.

“Sweeter as the years go by,

Sweeter as the years go by,

Richer, fuller, deeper,

Jesus love is sweeter,

Sweeter as the years go by”

Sadly, the love of many believers throughout history has grown weaker as the years go by. Israel had this problem throughout their long history. Their burning fervor to serve God was replaced by cold embers. They became bored with religion and failed to stoke the flame in order to maintain their love for the Lord. Even after all of the written evidence depicting their “on again and off again” service to Jehovah, the people of Malachi’s day (444 B.C.) lost their love and fervor for the Lord.

WHEN THEY LOST THEIR LOVE FOR GOD

(From the book of Malachi)

  1. They questioned God’s love for them, 1:2
  2. The priests failed to honor God by offering polluted sacrifices, 1:6-8.
  3. They considered worship and service to God a great weariness, 1:13-14.
  4. They considered evildoers to be more blessed than they, 2:17.
  5. Because they lost their love for God they, themselves, became evildoers, 3:3-5.
  6. They were robbing God by offering substandard sacrificial offerings, 3:8-10.

The only cure for Israel was to repent and turn back to God. They desperately needed to revive their love for the Almighty and for His commandments. Is it any different today?

THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS

The book of Revelation contains letters from Jesus to the seven the churches of Asia. The first letter was to Ephesus, Revelation 2:1-7. A major problem with that church is revealed by the following verse: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first, Rev 2:4. Isn’t it strange how little we learn from the past? Ancient Israel turned from faithfulness towards God in almost every generation. Over and over again they turned from the Lord. God used various methods to punish them. He used the nations around them, crop failures, natural disasters and disease as a means to bring them back to Him. When they did turn back to the Lord it did not last long. Very soon they fell away again and the cycle repeated itself. Had they maintained their love for God there would have been no need to suffer so often. Jesus, Himself, said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him,” John 14:23. Deep love for God, Jesus, and the word will cure unfaithfulness.

Jesus commanded the church at Ephesus to “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do again the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent,” Revelation 2:5. To remove the lampstand is to remove the church at Ephesus from this earth, for the lampstand is the church, Revelation 1:20. Sadly, the congregation to whom Jesus spoke, no longer exists. Don’t let that happen to you or your congregation. Maintain the thought, “O how I love Jesus!” Believe it! Make it true!

THE CHURCH TODAY

Consider the following: If you arise on Sunday morning and begin to think, “What a weariness it is”, you are in serious spiritual danger. If you do not give of your means as you have been prospered, you are in serious spiritual danger. If you refuse to take the time to read and study your Bible, you are in serious spiritual danger. If you spend little time considering the importance of worship, love for God, love for Jesus, and the sweetness of the word, you are in serious spiritual danger.

Look deeply into the depths of your soul and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you stronger in your faith than you were in the past?
  2. Do you plan to be present for every worship opportunity?
  3. Do you often have devotionals and worship with your family at home?
  4. Has your monetary offering to the Lord grown in proportion to your income?
  5. Is your giving a sacrifice? Sacrificial giving requires us to give so much that we have to give up some of life’s pleasures.
  6. Do you love the Lord fully, even more than you did when you first became a Christian?
  7. Can you sing the song “Sweeter As The Years Go By” and really mean it?

Let’s not make the same mistake ancient Israel made. Let’s learn from the past. Strive to love the Lord more and more with each passing day. Fall in love his word and become like the Psalmist who said the word of God was, “More to be desired than gold, even much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb,” Psalm 19:10.

I think it would help me love Jesus more if I just stopped right now and sang the song “Sweeter As The Years Go By”. You are invited to sing along with me! Come on! Lets do it! How sweet it is!

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TIME TO GROW UP!

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” Hebrews 5:12-14. (ESV)

When I was a teenager I worked after school and on Saturdays for a grocery store. We had a regular customer who had a grown son who was mentally challenged. He had the mentality of a toddler. One day, the store manager gave me a couple of sacks of groceries and asked me to deliver them to this customer’s home. Upon arrival, I rang the doorbell and the lady asked me to carry the sacks of groceries into her kitchen. As I walked by, I saw her son, a 30 year-old man, dressed in a diaper, jumping up and down on the bed. “How sad,” I thought.

I am convinced that the apostle Paul had seen a few mentally challenged people during his lifetime. In the passage above, he used this analogy to describe Christians who were not growing in the Lord. When Christians drink only the milk of the word they are in danger of spiritual death. At the very least, they will not develop and grow as they should.

The Bible clearly teaches us to grow in our knowledge and in our service to the Master. A failure to do so brings a swift rebuke from Paul. The apostle did not mince words with the recipients of the Hebrew letter. In Hebrews 5:12-6:8 Paul taught:

  1. Christians are expected to grow in knowledge.
  2. If we don’t grow in knowledge we will regress and forget what we once knew.
  3. When we do forget, we will need to re-learn those things we once clearly understood.
  4. We are expected to learn the word so that we can teach others.
  5. Bible knowledge is compared to a baby who, as he matures, not only drinks milk but also eats meat. The result is a strong, growing, healthy (spiritual) body.
  6. Without spiritual maturity we cannot distinguish good from evil.
  7. Those who remain babies in their spiritual knowledge can lose their taste for the word of God. This could result in a person losing his soul, Hebrews 6:1-8. Spiritual digression leaves one “cursed,” and the “end is to be burned”.

Paul concludes his harsh warning by telling the weak Christians these encouraging words. “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation,” Hebrews 6:9. You can see that Paul expected the recipients of the book of Hebrews to change their evil ways and to grow in the Lord.

I once had a discussion with a graduate from a preacher training school who was preaching fulltime for a congregation. He told me that he no longer needed to read the Bible because he read it while attending school. Are you surprised to know that he has forgotten much of what he learned in school? Are you surprised to know he is no longer preaching? It seems that our ability to forget is stronger than our ability to remember.

All who name the name of Jesus must study the word of God continually. Doing so just makes the Bible more precious. The word becomes sweeter than honey to our taste. It also makes us stronger in our faith, “so faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ,” Romans 10:17.

Surely, all of us who follow the Lord Jesus Christ desire to grow in faith, and in grace, and in the knowledge of our Savior. No wonder Peter wrote, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” 2 Peter 3:18. When you study diligently and when you pray for wisdom, you WILL GROW! That is just the way it is when you feed you soul. Give it a try and you will see what I mean.

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A LIVING HOPE

The apostle Peter spoke of hope in an unusual way. In his first epistle he wrote of “being born again to a living hope”. The Greek word for hope is: “ἐλπίς elpis; expectation, hope”. Bullinger’s Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek Testament defines hope as “a well-grounded expectation and a gladly and firmly held prospect of a future good,” (page 383). Hope bursts forth when faith is strong. Hope deals with things not yet seen. Speaking on this topic, the apostle Paul said, “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” Romans 8:24-25.

What, then, is the basis for our hope? According to Peter, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That incredible event provides us with a hope that is unshakeable. Look at 1 Peter 1:3-5 for a wonderful expression of our hope and the assurance it provides for us.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,”

In this tremendous passage we learn the following truths concerning hope:

  1. Our hope is a blessing for those who have been born again. Read John 3:1-8 to see the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus. In that passage we learn the need to be born of water and the Spirit if we are to see the kingdom of God. Conjoined with the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus is the passage found in Romans 6:1-7. Paul speaks of those who were baptized as people who died to sin and now walk in “newness of life”. When we are baptized, βαπτίζω (baptizo),An immersion or washing in water, we die to sin, we are buried, and we are raised to walk in newness of life. This is the process of being born again. Paul taught that when a person is baptized he is “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” Romans 6:11. Hope is a blessing provided for those who are born again.
  2. Our hope assures us of our coming inheritance. Paul concurs with Peter. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” Romans 8:17. To be in heaven and to become heirs of God’s blessings is assured to us by our Christian’s hope. Remain strong in hope because a great day is coming when you will receive your inheritance.
  3. Our hope is imperishable. Every living thing upon this earth eventually dies. This is true of mankind, animals, plants, and every living organism. Solomon wrote, “For the living know that they will die,” Ecclesiastes 9:5. Yet, those who have the living hope that is found in Christ Jesus know for certain that one day they will be raised to die no more. Through our hope, we hold firmly to the promises concerning our resurrected body. “For this imperishable body must put on the imperishable,” 1 Corinthians 15:53. It is comforting to have assurance of eternal life. Faith provides hope and hope provides assurance.
  4. Our hope is undefiled. The Greek word translated undefiled is ἀμίαντος (amiantos) and means “unstained, unsoiled”. The word is also used in James 1:27 when the author tells us that pure religion – religion that is undefiled helps widows and orphans in their afflictions.
  5. Our hope is unfading. This is just a simple way to tell us that the kind of faith that produces biblical hope does not disappear when the difficulties of life appear. Hope stays strong in the face of persecution, failing health, or a lack of income. Hope stands firm in spite of life’s difficulties.
  6. Our hope is reserved for us in heaven. Instead of the word “reserved” the English Standard Version says, “kept”. The Greek word is τηρέω (tēreō) and means to watch over, to guard . . . preserved, reserved”. The same Greek word is used in 2 Peter 2:4 speaking of sinful angels who are cast into hell and kept in chains until the judgment. The idea is: What God has reserved for you will surely be given to you at the proper time. Our hope is in the power of God Himself. He will not fail to deliver what He has promised.

Another benefit of Christian hope is mentioned in 1 John 3:1-3. The passage speaks of the love God gives to His children. John explains how the world does not know or understand us because they do not know or understand Jesus. We don’t know everything about the second coming or the resurrection body. Even the great Apostle John could not explain what Jesus would look like when He returns. However, he informed his readers that they would see Him as He is and that they would be like Him. Then John wrote, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure,” 1 John 3:3. Purify comes from the Greek word ἁγνίζω (hagnizō) meaning “to purify, cleanse from defilement”. The word translated by the word “holy” is similar in meaning. Holy means “Free from ceremonial defilement, holy, sacred: – chaste, free from sin, innocent, pure”. Can you see how hope provides us with motivation to live a pure life that is free from all that would defile us? If you lack motivation to live the Christian life increase your hope in God’s promises and you will persevere.

Hope is so much more than wishful thinking. Because we believe in God’s mighty power we have hope. We believe that God will provide us with every single thing that He promised to give us. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope. If God could raise Jesus from the dead then he can fulfill every single promise He made to us. Therefore, be of good cheer. Good things are coming to YOU!

Increase your faith and you will increase your hope. Increase your hope and you will be motivated to live a life that honors God and Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you Lord for the exceedingly great and precious promises you have given to your people. We trust you Lord and we fully expect to receive every single thing you promised to give us.

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TROUBLESOME TIMES

In 1904 Civila D. Marin wrote the words to a beautiful song entitled “Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide”. The words she wrote showed complete trust in God for deliverance regardless of the troubles we face. Read the first and last stanzas of her song to receive encouragement in times of trouble.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide

God will take care of you.

Beneath His wings of love abide,

God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test,

God will take care of you.

Lean, weary one, upon His breast,

God will take care of you.

 CHORUS:

God will take care of you,

Through every day, O’er all the way;

He will take care of you,

God will take care of you.

Serving the Lord is never easy! That is because we are at war against the devil and his workers. Paul put it this way, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over the present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 6:12. To illustrate the difficulties one faces as a child of God, let’s reflect upon the life of the apostle Paul.

Paul’s early life was a life of privilege. He was blessed to be in the school of Gamaliel, the premier teacher of young Jewish boys and men, Acts 22:3. He was a talented and prominent Pharisee who approved of the stoning of Stephen. The murderers laid their coats at the feet of Saul of Tarsus, Acts 7:59-8:1. Immediately afterwards, Saul became a fanatical persecutor of the church – so much so that the church in Jerusalem fled from the city to other towns and villages. After his early success in Jerusalem Saul now attempted to punish Christians in other cities. However, while on his way to Damascus he saw Jesus in a vision. While he was in Damascus he was baptized by Ananias and became a proclaimer of the Gospel of Christ.

It is important to note that the life of Saul was one of rigorous study that led to prominence among the Pharisees and Jews of Jerusalem. Once he became a Christian everything changed. Paul (that is the name we know best) now counted those things that were gain to be of no value, Philippians 3:2-11. Now that he was a believer in Jesus Christ his life became increasingly more difficult. Paul, the apostle, would have enjoyed singing the song “Be Not Dismayed”. The Bible well describes how he faced adversity throughout his days as an apostle and Gospel preacher.

Notice with me a few of the difficulties Paul faced after his conversion:

  1. He faced danger in Damascus, Acts 9:23-25. He entered the city a triumphant persecutor but he left Damascus in secret, hiding in a basket. This was because he was now teaching that Jesus was the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Paul was experiencing troublesome times!
  1. He faced danger in Jerusalem, Acts 9:23-30. After being taught by the Jesus Himself in Arabia, Galatians 1:15-17, and after escaping from Damascus in a basket, Paul showed up in Jerusalem. The believers were afraid of him – understandably so. After Barnabas took Paul under his wing he was accepted by the Christians and began to powerfully proclaim the message of the cross. The Jews, who once thought Paul to be the “darling” of the Pharisees now sought to kill him. Therefore, our newly appointed apostle was sent home to Tarsus. The man who was once the darling of Judaism returned to his home in disgrace. Not disgrace in God’s eyes but in the eyes of his former Jewish friends. No doubt about it. Paul was experiencing troublesome times!
  1. Throughout his career Paul suffered persecution. A summary of Paul’s troubles is recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:16-28. The scope of his many troubles is found in the following verses, “far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. A night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers’”, 2 Corinthians 11:23-26. In addition to troubles from his enemies, Paul was pressured by his anxiety over the churches. No wonder he wrote, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” 2 Timothy 3:12. Throughout his career as an apostle, Paul experienced troublesome times!

Right about now you might be wondering, “What is the point of this article?” Or you might be thinking, “I already know about the sufferings of Paul.” Well, the point is: Being a child of God does not exempt you from problems. In truth, the stronger we take our stand for the Lord the more likely we will experience problems. Therefore, when troubles come to your life don’t think that God is picking on you or that He has abandoned you. You are not alone. He is with you. As Ms. Marin wrote, “God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way. He will take care of you, God will take care of you”.

Oh, Lord, please help all of who profess the precious name of Jesus to be faithful in the bad times as well as in the good. Help us to rejoice, even in our suffering. Lord, help us believe that You WILL take care of us, just like you promised:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say,

‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

Hebrews 13:5-6.

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