Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where are you going on your life-journey?

The most important question of your life. The problem is that many people deny what ought to be so obvious—that we are eternal creatures found in mortal bodies. Immortals bound with the decaying bodies of mortals. It should be self-evident to all of us, but strangely it is not.

By his word, he spoke the world into being, filled with animal diversity, and all the wondrous beauties of nature. The Bible teaches that it happened almost instantaneously; men have now stretched the life of the earth back to nearly 5 billion years, to try to make the impossible seem more likely with time, and still they find they have a monstrous task. But God says he did it, creating and making and fitting and designing all the things in the universe that would make the earth have life, and have it abundantly. But by their own designs, men have plotted to replace this work of God with a work of accident, time, and mutation. Still, the word of God rings for those who will listen: “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away” (Psalm 102:25).

I understand on our life-journey, if we are lucky, we find animals to bond with. I have done that myself. But there is a great void of difference between us and the nearest animals. Perhaps Descartes came closer than he realized when he said I think therefore I am. Rationality is a great mark of difference, and though it appears in some of the higher animals, particularly the higher animals that spend time with man, it is not well formed. If man just fished, he would be like other animals. But man fishes with a hook and a pole, and there are fewer animals that can imitate that. How many animals take it a step further, and create a boat, that they might be more successful fishermen? Even if we find such an exception in the wonders of nature, how many of those boats are powered? And which animal cultivates and grows fish that he may eat? On every hand, man so far outstrips his fellow animals that there is a great divide between them than cannot be surpassed.

Men have thoughts—perhaps animals do some reasoning. I think I can see it in my dog at times. But man does not stop with reasoning. He writes. He collects ideas, and ruminates upon them. He puts them into books, and then builds libraries to hold the books. To make it yet easier on himself, he puts the books into electronic format, that he might literally have vast reservoirs of books at his whim. Animals never approach this standard. What does God say but that he breathed into man and he became a living soul? There is a vast ocean, broader than the Pacific itself, between man and animal.

All of this the tiniest child seems to intuit; it is only when we “grow up” that we forget our basic beginnings, our roots. For indeed, we are rooted in the image of our Creator, and stand in all our earth as something unique, the only animal, if you will, to receive the breath of God. Perhaps that is why Jesus directed us to be like the little children in coming to him. As a teacher, I saw young children all the time, and it greatly saddened my heart to see so many of them becoming captivated by the things of this world, instead of being opened to the Creator-God who makes all life possible. Their life journeys were being set in the wrong direction, a direction that leads them away from God.

Ezekiel, chapters 3, 18, and 33, all make it clear that the will of God is that the wicked should turn from their ways and find faith. I do not pretend to understand the sovereignty of God; in my morning prayers I see the hand of God as everything, all-powerful and everywhere present. And yet within God’s nature, as powerful as it is, he still commands us to turn from our self-centered lifestyles to one that is centered in him. Ezekiel makes it plain that it is not the will of God for men to perish; instead their plight remains upon their own heads as they careen their way through life, bashing their way through the stop signs of warning, never heeding those signs until their life ends in a stupendous crash. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

In the time of coming judgment, the prophet warned Israel, prepare to meet your God, Israel. That warning certainly applies to all of us today. As eternal creatures, created by God in his image, our journey is this lifetime is as but the first step. It might seem strange to consider it so, with all of our years’ of experiences behind us, but the time of our lives is frequently compared to grass and flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow. Still, God gives us this first step that we might start correctly, with him leading us throughout the rest of the journey.

Therefore, all the other journeys that we would take are by definition wrong. There is one way, Jesus teaches, the narrow way, and few there are that find it. The blindness of our world as they plunge into darkness is amazing to this old man. The tolerance taught in my own country is so wrong—Jesus also taught that the way to Hell is broad, and that there are many who are treading its pathway. Every lifestyle apart from one of faith is doomed to destruction; it matters not how virtuous one may paint such a lifestyle.

“I am okay,” says the non-thinking person. “I will be alright when I face that last day.” After all, they reason, I am better than my neighbor who is a drunkard. I raise my kids carefully. I do my best, they say, and I will trust God with the rest. Their ill-measured idea of God is that he will overlook their faults, and see somehow inside their hearts, and know that they are really a decent sort, worthy of heaven. But the reality is so far from that picture. We are a woeful and sinful people, and when we compare ourselves to others, we are taking our eyes off of our needs, and pointing fingers at others. The truth is that God does see into our hearts, totally and completely. He knows you better than you know yourself, even when you are being candid with yourself, which if you are like me comes all too seldom. God knows that heart of yours, that it is fully disobedient, and in desperate need of a divine solution. It is no good saying that you are better than someone else—it may be true, but it belies your need, and God cannot “fudge” the scales in your favor, and overlook your sin.

But such people can go blithely on through their life-journey, never seeing themselves as God sees them. What a surprise it is to so many when they fail their expectations of a glorious afterlife based on their own deeds. God has given a divine solution in our trusting Jesus Christ. You see, God did not overlook sin—instead, he poured out all of his divine wrath upon his son, that by believing we might be saved. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, John tells us, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Perhaps you are not familiar with the story. Poisonous vipers were loose and plentiful in the camp of the Israelites, biting and killing many of them. Moses, listening to God, took a pole, put one of the poisonous vipers on it, and commanded all who were bitten to look upon the serpent. Those who trusted Moses and looked upon the serpent were healed.

In a manner, the Son of God is like that serpent. He took upon himself all of your sins, indeed, the sins of the world, and in doing that, became a fiery serpent, drawing all the wrath of God. If you will look today and understand and have faith in what God did, you will be saved. But nothing less than divine wrath for your sins can get you out of judgment. What a folly it is to trust your own efforts, when provision has been made for you to escape the wrath of God. Yet, the blind go on, trusting themselves yet another day, and doom themselves to total and complete failure.

I know people who want so much to make it on their own; isn’t that the first cry of the infant who wants to do it for himself? But if you will not look to the cross, and see the provision that God has made, there remains no provision for you, and you doom yourself to perdition. How much better that the wicked man should turn from his way and live!

The classic definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. From the beginning of time, the pathway to Hell is paved with men and women who have tried it their way, presenting themselves to God, and expecting that to be merit enough. There is only one merit acceptable to God, and he had fully provided that in his divine solution, the only solution that will carry us on our life-journey to heaven. I close with something Tozer has to say about a man dying without Christ: “An old sinner is an awesome and frightening spectacle. One feels about him much as one feels about the condemned man on his way to the gallows. A sense of numb terror and shock fills the heart. The knowledge that the condemned man was once a redcheeked boy only heightens the feeling, and the knowledge that the aged rebel now beyond reclamation once went up to the house of God on a Sunday morning to the sweet sound of church bells makes even the trusting Christian humble and a little bit scared. There but for the grace of God goes he.”1Is it not ironic that men go through all of their lives, somehow never having looked seriously at the claims of Christ? There is not a more tragic event than someone who spent their life not looking where they ought to—upon the Christ who has been lifted up that all men might have life, and have it abundantly.

1. Tozer, A.W.. Man - The Dwelling Place of God (Kindle Locations 554-557). . Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What do Christians look forward to?

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Song of Solomon 2:10

One of the most precious prayers of Jesus occurs near the end of what is properly called the Lord’s Prayer, in John 17. It is found in verse 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Some mistakenly interpret this verse to be talking about the death of the saints, but nowhere is death mentioned. Alliteration is totally in the mind of the interpreter, and he gives the text any meaning that he deems appropriate. That is why alliteration being used to finding meaning in the text of the Bible is so scary. The interpreter is allowed to bestow whatever fitting meaning he wants to on the text. One may look in vain for any mention of the doctrine of saint’s death and afterlife, and thus we ought to have confidence that whatever Jesus meant, he did not mean for us to be thinking about death and the afterlife. Instead, it is talking about the most beautiful love story of the universe. Jesus, the bridegroom, is so completely in love with his bride, the church. Over and again, he petitions the Father about the church, showing his love and steadfastness toward his bride. Can I prove this from the text? Very easily. Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer and see evidences of his love for the church.

In verse nine Jesus prays, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Looking forward, Jesus is actually praying for those the Father has given him, the church. In verse eleven, Jesus again prays for the church (specifically, those whom thou hast given me), “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Again, in verse fifteen, Jesus prays, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” In all these three instances (and there are more), Jesus is clearly praying for his followers, his chosen ones, and is looking forward to those that the Father has given him.

This high priestly and intercessory prayer is thus made on behalf of the bride of Christ, present and future, the seed of what would become the church. His love is apparent throughout the prayer, as he most carefully prays through for the church. Notice again the verse of my topic, v. 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Notice now in particular the petition part to the prayer, “I will that they. . .be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” Where was Jesus going? Of course, he ascends to the Father, and assumes his throne, where we see him in Acts. He is in heaven. This is referring to the translation, often called the Rapture, when Jesus will come and gather his church and take them to heaven, that they might behold all the fullness of his glory.

There are a great many arguments about exactly when in prophetic events this event takes place; there should be no argument about it actually taking place. There is a much more famous passage in John 14:2, 3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Again, there are commentators who wrest this Scripture to be talking about the dead, or when Christians die and go to heaven. There is absolutely no context to support such a contention, and allegory, it should be remembered is always in the mind of the interpreter.

I believe that the Bible clearly teaches the Rapture taking place before the Tribulation, or the last week of Daniel. In fact, most believers have acknowledged the imminence of his coming, even while they may not agree on the order of prophetic events. Perhaps it is because Jesus warns us over and again to be watchful for his coming, lest we be surprised. The apostles follow up with this warning. It is very difficult for those who would place the Rapture after the Tribulation to follow this doctrine, of his imminent coming, if events of the Tribulation have to come first. That would mean, that instead of looking for Christ, we should be looking instead for the beasts and the false prophet. Instead of Christ’s sudden appearance we should be looking for these rascals. In our history, hundreds of saints have identified hundreds of people who were to be the beasts or the false prophet, and history has proven all of them wrong. That should give a holy pause to the student of Scripture. Nonetheless, this doctrinal ground has been furrowed by others better than me, and ought not to be the subject of this peace. I instead, just want us to look at the beauty of what is happening.

The passage of John that I started with, that of Jesus praying for us that we might be with him is not just beautiful because of the words. It is an altogether fine thing that we are called to be with him, and that we will see him in his glory, but if we stop there we do not see the love story. This whole prayer is full of Jesus’ love for the church; he is praying his last words as a living man for us, but more than that, this is the love of a bridegroom being expressed for his bride. I am told that there were three great steps to a Jewish wedding. First, while yet children the two in question are betrothed. The church and Christ fulfill this picture as the Bride and the Bridegroom are bonded in the Holy Spirit, sealed unto the day of redemption. Second, the groom comes and retrieves his bride from the home of the bride. This will be fulfilled when Christ, the groom, comes and finds us at home here on earth. Third, the groom takes the bride to his home, where they have a marriage supper. This picture is represented when Christ, the groom, gets the church, his bride, and takes us to his family home, heaven, and there we have the marriage supper.

Jesus is dripping with love and concern for his bride in his last intercessory prayer. His is the love of a groom infatuated with his bride; he is concerned with her welfare above all else. How else will we explain this beautiful prayer of Christ, that we may be with him where he is, and that we may behold his glory?

I think of when I was courting my wife. I remember sharing things little by little with her, as she learned to do with me. The delightful thing about falling in love was that we learned to trust one another. I would share a peculiar taste, or a favorite of mine, and she would endeavor to remember it, and make it precious to her. I did the same for her. We endeared each other’s peculiarities to each other, and so we learned to trust. It is all part of falling in love, and is very evident here. Christ has a warm and passionate love for us. He wants what perhaps all good grooms would want.

First, he wants to show us off to the heavenly host. Ephesians 5:26 says, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it [the Bride] with the washing of water by the word.” He has cleaned us, put us in clothes that shall never be sullied or dirty again. He has washed us as white as snow. But Revelation 19:8 tells us, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” In other words, there are two things here Christ finds wonderfully attractive in his bride, that attracts his full love and devotion. First, he washed us white as snow, and second, we are clothed in the fine linen of the righteous acts of the saints. Not that these are works originated by us; rather they are works that the Holy Spirit has done in and through us, so that in both senses, we are the product of Christ’s adornment.

The trouble with the church today is that we are not acting much like the beloved bride. We do not seem to realize the divine favor that has been poured out upon us, and we do anything except act like a bride in love. And, I fear there are many of us, who do not seem to realize we are getting ready for the event of the universe, and we are not busy about our Father’s business. We are like rats scurrying around and working, but we have forgotten our purpose—we are to be serving the Master. Some of us endeavor to become experts in theology rather than worrying about being a bride ready for her groom. We are ready to argue points of doctrine, and will do so very often, even to the point of offending our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, doctrine matters, but we have lost sight of the fact that our brothers and sisters matter more. Christ prayed in the Lord’s prayer over and again that we might be brought to unity, that we might be marked by his love. The least knowledgeable saint found busy for his Lord is going to be immeasurably and fantastically ahead of us, for he has taken his little mite of knowledge, and applied it vigorously toward the one he loves. It ought to teach us to stop and ponder, how much of our day is really spent getting ready for our Groom? If we are really in love, hadn’t we better act like it?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Who prayed the greatest prayer?

In all of the Bible there are so many outstanding prayers. While yet at Biola, many years ago, I did a study in a class on prayer for Dr. Mitchell. I found thousands of verses on prayer, or which were prayers themselves, and most of the prayers were answered. A few of the exceptions were those offered while in obvious sin, like Saul did often when he was king. But the record of answered prayer is so great that it almost defies imagination. God hears our prayers, and Jesus tells us that now that we have the Holy Spirit living within us, the record of answered prayer is truer to even a greater degree. Jesus repeats his promise at least 3 times: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23, 24). Whatsoever, Jesus says. And we are not to ask Jesus, but rather the Father who loved us enough to send us the Son, and to give us the forever gift of the Holy Spirit. But who in the Bible prayed the greatest prayer? I am going to give you seven possibilities of the greatest prayer, but this is by no means a definitive answer, rather it is an opinion of someone who delights in the sovereign record of God answering his children.

First, it seems very hard to beat the intensity of the prayer of Jonah, answered so affirmatively by our Lord. Jonah, a type of Christ, in that he spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, as our Lord spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the earth. But for all of that, I find Jonah to be a weak type of Christ in that he was an unwilling witness to the Gentiles in contrast to our Lord who came as a babe in the manger that he might grow into a willing sacrifice for us. Even in the end of Jonah, we find him watching the great city of Nineveh, hoping to see the judgments of God poured out. What a difference there was in our Lord, who came the first time in the guise as a mere servant, that we might be found ready for the second time he comes, as our Lord and our Master.

However, when I imagine myself in Jonah’s position, somewhere in the belly of the fish, it is easy to imagine the desperation of his prayer. Could any prayer be more desperate? I want to note for the record that God hears prayers even when we are disobedient. How often I would remonstrate the incautious Christian, who sins and then cries out to God! I would exclaim that you should not use God as a crutch, but that is exactly what Jonah did do—he disobeyed himself into a great quandary, and turning to God he sought deliverance. How I ought to learn of the mercies of our Father! He is willing, more than willing, to be our Father even when we are the naughty child. He loves us with a boundless love, and he does not stop being our Father when we are not following him. What a great comfort it is to know that God hears us even when we have been disobedient!

Of course the book of Daniel suggests two prayers that could easily be nominated as the greatest prayers of the Bible. Daniel in the lion’s den suggests awesome prayer—just think, Daniel spent all night with those lions, for all we know, staring at their dinner. What did he pray? The same with the three in the fiery furnace. They at least are more open about their prayer. God is able to deliver us, they declare, but whether he does or not, we will not bow down to your image. I connect these two prayers on the basis of their both being commands of the King to worship other than the true God, something that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all refused to do. How refreshing it is to learn of men of God who would not leave their faith because of new kingly morality! They were willing to stand on principle, even if it meant their deaths. How unlike the men of faith are compared to American Christians today, who seem to be willing to be anything, and follow the winds of heathen morality wherever it may lead.

It seems to me that in scoring their prayers, Daniel and company earn some extra points. Theirs was not disobedience, like Jonah. Rather their aim was to remain faithful to the most high God, whatever the cost. Their cry, for all of that, was meaningful, loud, and plaintive. They needed God’s intercession, and they needed it immediately. Their prayers, like that of Jonah, were necessarily short, abrupt, and to the point. “God help me!” Theirs was not a flowery prayer, built on hours of praising God, but rather on the needs of the next few seconds. Daniel and his friends stand in contrast to Jonah here, for we are told that they frequently prayed, and being trained as they were, undoubtedly had learned all the right ways to express gratitude and praise to God. But, like Jonah, the needs of the moment swallowed up all the needs to think about and praise and thank God. Could any of them prayed anything but, “God help me!”

David gives us the next prayer, a prayer that I think we dare not forget. It is the prayer of David for forgiveness, when his sin became known before all of Israel, before God, and all of his deceit became exposed by the light of day. It comes to us in Psalm 51. “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin,” David cries aloud to God. Now he had sinned, definitely in the murder of Uriah, but as much in the adultery with Bathsheba, and perhaps against the nation of Israel itself, because he involved his general in the murder plot, and tried to hide his behavior with intrigue and deceit. But what does David say? “Against thee, and thee only have I sinned.” There is a sense in which all sin that we do is against God, principally and chiefly. Thus, it was altogether proper for David to say, against thee, and thee only have I sinned. Leaping ahead in progressive revelation, long before it was revealed to us in teaching, David exclaims for God to take not his Holy Spirit from him, but to restore unto him the joy of his salvation. All of which God was more than willing to grant.

David’s prayer is a different sort than Jonah’s or Daniel’s. They were praying for their lives, that God might intercede for them. In Jonah’s case we have seen that he prayed to God in spite of his disobedience while Daniel prayed through to God with his obedience. Jonah did indeed pray that God might deliver him from the “hell” of being in the fish, perhaps metaphorically alluding to that greater hell also. But Jonah never seems to have a deep sense of his own corruption like David does. Jonah never seems to face the fact that he is in deep sin, but that is okay as we might not expect an early prophet to understand that which is not yet made apparent. David understands his folly, and I might expect that understanding to dismay and dishearten him, but quite the contrary happens. David looks at the mercies and love of God, and wants restoration, much like we would when we sin. What a joy it is to know that our Father loves us so!

The next prayer is that of Elijah while on Mount Carmel, and it simply is a spectacular prayer! Can you just imagine Elijah? He went to Ahab over 3 years before, and proclaimed to Ahab that there would be no more rain, “except by my word”, and then he disappears from Ahab. Ahab probably did not think too much about the crazy prophet dressed in a camel’s coat, hairy face, and perhaps a demented manner. But as the years passed and rain did not, did not, come, Ahab must have had second thoughts. In fact, the Bible tells us that Ahab scoured the land for this crazy man, this man that dared to face the king and stop the rain. At last, Ahab finds Elijah (not knowing it was the other way around—Elijah had found Ahab), and Elijah at last gets his confrontation. Summoning all the prophets of Baal, some 850 prophets, he takes them to the summit of Mt. Carmel. There he challenges them to get their god to answer by fire, and what a delight he must have had. I can quite imagine a line being drawn on the side of the mountain, with 850 prophets dancing and cutting themselves, and working themselves into a frenzy, trying to get the attention of Baal. What is Elijah doing all of this time? I can picture him by himself, on the other side of the line, lying down with a piece of straw in his mouth, watching the prophets dance their jig. The prophets of Baal work for hours, and Elijah mocks them. Then at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah rouses himself, lays the wood carefully, drenches it in water (where did they get the water?) three times, and then lays out his prayer to God. “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”

Oh, it was such a different prayer than those I have spoken about before! Elijah was engaging in something we term intercessory prayer—praying for others. Jonah’s prayer, and Daniel’s too, were used for others, but I think they were too caught up in the moment to worry about others. They were praying for themselves, but Elijah is praying for someone else besides himself—he is praying for the whole nation of Israel, and through the power of God, is about to pull off the biggest revival in the history of Israel. “Oh, that the people might know that you are the Lord God.” His prayer is built not on himself, but rather on God’s revealing himself to a lost nation. Does God answer? By the fires of heaven, in perhaps the most vivid and dramatic answer to prayer, Elijah has his answer. Elijah has yet to learn that God is found more often in the “gentle whisper”. It is enough for Elijah to know that his God is a God who answers by fire. I think in Elijah we see time to prepare that the others might not have had. The emergency was upon David and Jonah, but Elijah has three and one half years to pray, to get his thoughts marshalled for the big day. Thus, Elijah can teach us that preparatory prayer can be essential when we want to be used in the great event.

The next prayers I have selected to review are also intercessory prayers just as Elijah’s, and perhaps because they are prayers for others, we might deem them as a bit greater. The fifth prayer came from David’s son, Solomon. It came after the dedication of the temple, which Solomon was years in building. I think it must have been, like in the time of Elijah, a time of great revival. Actually, the first prayer of Solomon is also famous, and ought not to be skipped. Solomon prays not for riches, or wealth, or honor but for wisdom to govern the people of Israel. This prayer is actually done in front of the tabernacle, and it is years later, at the completion of the temple, that Solomon makes his longer prayer, again an intercessory prayer. Again and again, he represents the sinful people of Israel to God, asking God for mercies and justice and forgiveness in what may be the longest prayer of the Old Testament. Solomon, in both of these prayers, is a type of the Christ to come. Indeed, such a priestly prayer for people comes not again until John 17, the Lord’s prayer. In these prayers Solomon gives us a picture of the one who “ever lives to intercede for us.”

If Solomon’s prayer is long, the answer is also long, and I know of no answer in the Bible to compare to it. God seems to take each part of Solomon’s prayer and provide a specific answer to it. He famously provides the verses which shall yet guide Israel in the future, the near future if my guess is right. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” God promises mercy towards the repentant, toward the humble. Blessed are the meek, says Jesus, and this is the starting point of our relationship with God.

What an encouragement this prayer of Solomon is to those of us who pray for lists. Solomon must have figured out all of the needs of his people, and prayed for them specifically. God answers those prayers in detail, giving us all encouragement as the things that we see in our lives mount up into lists. We have a God who knows our needs, and when we are interceding for others, are we not taking on the very image of the One who loved us and gave himself for us?

The sixth prayer is the prayer of a great prayer warrior Nehemiah. I would remind you of how much of a prayer warrior he is, for in the beginning of Nehemiah we find him mourning and fasting and praying for the nation of Israel. He was very conscious of the sins of Israel, confessing them before God, and being mindful of the fact that God would be faithful in restoring Jerusalem. So it is not that Nehemiah is not a great warrior in prayer, he is that and more. But his great prayer is not long, and is but practically instantaneous. Nehemiah, being sad, appears one day before his king. The king, seeing his sadness, asks Nehemiah why. Nehemiah begins to tell the king why he is said, and the king asks plainly what is your request? Nehemiah does not even record his short prayer, merely telling us, “so, I prayed to the Lord of heaven.” Did he take a break from the question, and tell the king I will get back to you on that? Not likely. Very likely instead, he said a short prayer to God, which may again have been as short as “God help me.” It was his greatest prayer! Like Jonah, like Daniel, and like all the others, God answered his prayer, and brought the people of Israel back from their captivity.

But the seventh prayer, the prayer that I think overshadows all the others is found in a prayer of our Lord, almost his last prayer before dying on the cross. He gazes out at mankind through his bloody eyes, his marred face, and his broken body hanging on the cross, and declares, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Can a prayer possible be greater than that which was so given before you and I were ever in existence? We are born into the world, and if we have received the grace of God, we have been reborn. We lived and walked in our sin, and how gracious is the God who hanging on the cross, cried out for our forgiveness. Never shall there be a prayer to top this one.

Remember the first six prayers? Each of them answered, and many of them in dire circumstances. But without the coming and giving of our Savior it would amount to nothing. Thanks be to God for sending his son into the world, that we might be forgiven for we know not what we do. Thanks be to God for restoring us that we might walk, and fellowship, and have our prayers set before him. Let me end this piece with the reminder of Revelation where God takes all the prayers of the saints of all time, and burns them in a sweet smelling offering in heaven itself. This means that God takes your prayers, precious saint, and saves them. They are so important to him. He listens to your every word for your sonship is important to him, just as a caring father might do for his son. We can pray. We can have confidence. We can come knowing that he hears us, that he knows our hurts, that he shares our pain, and that he is indeed our loving Father. For the prayer of Jesus is answered, and we have been forgiven.

Lessons for our prayer lives:

1. Jonah
a. it is okay to pray expecting help even when you have been disobedient
b. it is comforting to realize when we are hurting God is listening

2. Daniel and friends
a. standing for what is right definitely gets God’s attention
b. refusing to do wrong, even when we do not know if God will protect us
c. praying steadfastly in other times builds the character to stand when challenged
d. all of them often prayed together, and gained strength through their community

3. David
a. know that we have a forgiving and merciful God
b. we can come with confidence and confession
c. our deepest shame is known about plainly to God, and he chooses to love us anyway

4. Elijah
a. God is our strength especially when we are one against many
b. praying ahead of time builds our ability to pray effectively during stress times

5. Solomon
a. there is great wisdom in seeking the welfare of others while in prayer
b. detailed prayer offered in faith can get detailed answers

a. being a prayer warrior puts you in a place where God uses you
b. building lists of prayers helps you focus sharply on God and his provision
c. prayer before you get to the emergency is fruitful

a. we are not worthless; Jesus gave his all that we might be forgiven
b. we often do not know what we are doing, but we do have access to one who does
c. even when we were against him, still he prayed for our forgiveness

Monday, November 28, 2016

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

I am nearly at 160 questions now, and am about to publish the fourth book, each containing 40 questions. Yet, when I considered this question, I thought surely I have answered it already. But, no, I found that I have never answered this question, when I seem at last to be running out of questions. It is such a basic Biblical question that I assumed I had gotten to it. By Biblical, I do mean it is foundational, but also I mean it literally. It is found in the Bible. It is found in Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”. It is what we call a rhetorical question—or a question which suggests its own answer. The writer of Hebrews goes on to remind us that the Lord himself validated this salvation by his words, and then witnesses further validated it with signs and wonders brought by the Holy Spirit.

One of the many mistakes modern man makes is to assume the historical man was easier to fool. It is one major excuse I hear for not considering the gospel. They dismiss the gospel as silly superstition, and then, sadly, a great many people never consider it further. But man has always recognized that our world is governed by certain laws, even if they could not enunciate those laws. They knew already that miracles did not happen, voices did not speak out of heaven, and the dead did not rise. That these things did happen resulted in a huge historical reaction, with many people testifying of its truthfulness in the face of much persecution, even sometimes resulting in death.

It is natural for even an infant to know when these normal laws are broken. I was reminded of how quickly even babies know these rules recently when I saw a talking doll speaking to an infant. The infant showed surprise, dismay, and then began crying. She knew that only living things talked. She knew that all sorts of laws or rules were being broken when she heard one speak. It does little good to pretend that prior generations did not have this nearly innate ability to tell fraud from reality. Skeptics like Thomas have always said expressed their disbelief. Why do we believe Thomas’s skepticism when he wants to see the nail holes in the hands and the hole in the side? It is our reaction, one that we recognize we might well have said ourselves. Jesus had already shown the other disciples, and for Thomas, not being present at the time, that should have been enough. Instead, like many of us, he insists that he must see for himself. Imagine his embarrassment when Jesus later tells him here are the holes, thrust your hand into them. Thomas looks, and then replies, My Lord, and My God. It seems to me that too many of us are ready to believe the first initial skepticism of Thomas while not accepting his later testimony.

Behind it all, in the mind of Thomas, he must have been thinking that people are not raised from the dead—therefore the Lord could not have come back. You see, Thomas was just as rational as you or me, and he knew beyond a doubt that coming back to life was an impossibility. Of course, Thomas is wrong, but it is his presumption that I want to talk about here. I think Thomas was exactly like many of us living today. He knew that the miraculous did not happen. He knew that dead was dead, and for him that was the end of the question. He did not have to speculate on whether it happened or not. He already knew that it could not happen.

Thomas was guilty of the same presumption that many of us make. We say: there cannot be miracles because I have never seen a miracle. It is the worst sort of circular logic, and has led to the demise of many a soul. God could not have parted the Red Sea because I do not believe in the supernatural. Lewis had a firm hold on this notion when he has Aslan speaking into existence the creation of Narnia, but all Uncle Andrew hears is fearsome noise, and eventually he is able to shut that out. Our Father spoke from heaven declaring that before his Son went to the cross, that he had glorified his name and will glorify it again. Some heard the voice for what is was; others heard but a thundering; still others paid no attention at all to the voice. If you are determined not to see God, if you are willful and bent against even the possibility of his existence, if you only get angry when confronted with the miraculous, then God will let you have your way. For those who will be willfully blind in the end cannot see—not even the forest for the trees.

The time is drawing close to when a man shall be tested whether his foundation is firm or not. Who has built on sand and who has built on rock? As our pastor said this morning, “You cannot tell the foundation until the storm has passed.”1 The time of the great storm is yet ahead, when the foundation that all men have built upon shall be tried. In that day, and at that time, every man’s choices will become clear, and we will know whether they have built on an enduring foundation or not.

Strange as it may seem to critics, Christianity is strong enough to withstand all inquiry, if the inquirer comes with real questions. There is a plethora of books which do a strong job of defending the particulars of Christianity, and one of the delightful things in coming to Christ is beginning to figure out the arguments and realize that your side is not the side of ignorance. Faith is quite capable of enduring questions, and even becoming stronger when tested. I would invite those who are skeptical, but at least questioning, to begin with taking a look at The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel. It is a delightful read from the perspective of a questioning skeptic, and includes a lot of further resources to check out if you still find yourselves with questions.

When I came to Christ at 19, I had pretty much already settled my beliefs. Yeah, there could be a God, but it didn’t seem likely to me. Science had nearly explained everything. I had three years of Biology at that time, and did not see much reason why it was not true. But then I made the mistake of taking chemistry. We learned the chart of elements and discussed the three states that matter is found in. It was while contemplating the three states of water, that I first began to get an idea of probable purpose and design. What if water had slightly different properties? Suppose it boiled at 95 degrees instead of 212 degrees? Suppose it froze at 50 degrees? Life could not endure on our planet if its properties differed in the least. And that was only one common molecule in our earth! There were a lot of other molecules, all acting in certain ways to enhance life on earth. Even looking at it from my rather simplistic viewpoint, it became obvious to me that things were highly organized, and that screamed design to me—and thus implied a Designer.

But even when I admitted Design as a possibility, that was a long way from the Christian God who is said to give his very presence to us. How could a God who designed the whole universe possibly care about me? It was a couple of years before I encountered Christians who claimed to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe, and when I investigated that, I found it to be true. It was the most mind-boggling experience of my life! It was not until much later that I would read in Psalm 40: “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (v. 5). Perhaps it was not until that point that I would absorb the gospel. Nevertheless, it was the first time that I found out that the baby Jesus was more than just a baby.

You see, I had heard, with all Americans I think, that Jesus was a baby sent from God to come into the world, but if I had to explain the gospel to others, I might have stopped there, not at all realizing the sacrifice that Jesus had done—for me. Jesus said, “I have come to do thy will, Oh God.” And he came into the world, to be scourged and despised of men, to die an ignoble death on the cross, and be raised on the third day—for me. My sins were nailed to that cross, with him, that I might have life, and have it abundantly. And he did it for me. Knowing me, my inner sinful self, and still choosing to love me. For me.

I think we can supply all the answer books to questions that one could ask, but at the end of the day, there is no more powerful testimony than this: He changed my life, unalterably and completely. There is no better way of describing it than Jesus did when he proclaimed “ye must be born again”. Millions of people, throughout the previous 2,000 years have all proclaimed his saving power, and have lived changed lives because of it. That should be your most powerful reason to begin questioning whether there might indeed be something more to His story—for you.

1. From sermon delivered on 11/27/16, Sunday, Dave Flaig.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Where is God when I need him?

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

Psalm 139:7, 8

Evangelicals teach a doctrine of God being omnipresent. We believe it, and act upon it, trusting that a God who is completely sovereign is a God who always knows what is going on. Anywhere, anytime, anyplace. But anyone who has been a Christian very long knows that there are periods of drought in the Christian’s life, where God simply is not to be found. Our critics laugh in glee at those places, declaring that proves that God does not really exist, but the enduring Christian knows better. Time proves out the substance of faith and builds maturity to our faith. I want to show first that God uses those periods of drought to build our faith, and second that he uses those periods to use us in new places.

The Old Testament is so replete with examples of God teaching us through his supposed absence that I hardly know where to start. We find Joseph languishing in Pharaoh’s prison, sold into slavery by his scheming brothers, and without hope of his God-given dreams coming true. We see David, proclaimed and anointed the next king of Israel, running for his life, even to the point of fearing so much for his life he pretended madness. We see Jeremiah stuck in the mud at the bottom of a well, after being assured God would protect him. Yet, in all these cases and more, in the end of their doubts, they came to believe that God would do the impossible—as indeed he did.

It seems to me that we, as new converts to the faith, must go through a period of time where our faith is to be built up. I find it very common to find a building experience taking place in Christian’s lives, and for lack of a better term, I have called it the crucifixion-resurrection syndrome. In the Old Testament we find this syndrome again and again. Men are taken to places beyond rational expectation of help, and then they are spectacularly delivered. In my lifetime, I have seen this theme played out again and again in the lives of new believers. Men and women are taken to a place beyond themselves, and God takes their plight and makes a new stronger faith out of it so that they can thrive in the place that God has put them. It is almost as if there is a college of faith to go to when we become believers. Maybe the host in heaven looks at us in our new faith, and God decides that we need Faith101 to begin building our lives.

It is all the more painful to endure this faith walk because God seems to do something very remarkable in our new lives. I remember it well in my own early faith experience, and I frequently have detected it in the new walk of believers. We are told doctrinally that God does many things when we decide to believe. To mention just a few, our names are written in the Book of Life, we are baptized into the Holy Spirit, and we are given the lifelong gift of the Holy Spirit. Such a dramatic change takes over our lives, and I can remember my perspective on nearly everything changing. But early in my new life, there came a multitude of signs and wonders that confirmed to me the miraculous nature of what had actually happened. I see similar wonders and signs frequently taking place in the lives of new believers. Although there is an actual and literal sealing that takes place in our conversion, I think of this time of blessing as sort of a spiritual sealing into the body, where the believer is given plenty of assurance of being loved by God and part of his church. At this point, God is building the basic faith of the believer. But altogether too soon, it seems, he moves on further train us, and part of that training is to build our trust.

We can liken this early stage of belief to Joseph, who early in his life had some dreams that did indeed come from God. At this point of time, God appears to be giving Joseph confirmation is his faith, declaring that one day he will rule over both his father and his brothers. But Joseph had a problem, a problem that many of us may share when we are newly growing. Joseph had pride, and in his pride, told his wonderful dreams to both his father and his brothers. Scripture actually says that Jacob took note of the dreams, as if he did not quite know what to do with them, but as for his brothers, we well know what the dreams did. In their fury, in their anger, in their need for revenge, they took their own flesh and blood and sold him into slavery. In acting out their condemnation of their brother, they ended up doing exactly what God intended all along, though Joseph was not to see the fruit for many years.

So it is with us, we often cannot guess what God is doing in our lives, and we see only the pain, but if we persist in following him we will end in a place of utter holiness, a place where he foresaw that we needed to be, and apart from the trauma would have no way of attaining. We have completed our Faith101 course, becoming certified in the place God would put us. We, figuratively, if you will, have been crucified and resurrected, following a similar model to the one that Jesus foreshadowed. So we see clearly that God builds maturity to our faith. Paul uses the analogy of the old man being put to death, that we might put on the new man, and it is the same sort of idea.

But the new places frequently come at the end. Joseph, ministering for his owner, and running his estate was all along learning skills that would help him run all of Egypt. Even his being chased by his owner’s wife was to sharpen his character, to mold him into a person devoutly following what he thought was right. God repeated the administrative experience in the end, giving Joseph the duty of running the whole of the prison, and it was only after all of those experiences that Joseph finally came to realize his God-given dream. He did indeed come to rule over both his father, and his brothers, and in God’s plan so much more, becoming the second ruler over all of Egypt.

So if you are in pain, and it seems that God is not hearing you, perhaps you need to change your perspective. God may be hearing you loudly and clearly, and may even now be putting you through his school of hard knocks. Undoubtedly Joseph prayed when he found himself at the bottom of the pit. Undoubtedly Joseph prayed when he found himself in slavery, and then later in prison. In the end, did not God hear those prayers, even though perhaps Joseph felt abandoned? We are not told of his doubts, only of his persistence, but the doubts that he had to go through were part of his maturing.

With the example of Job, it is much harder to see why Job endured so much tragedy. Job had his doubts, and unlike Joseph, they were vividly expressed. “In the most complete picture of doubt in the Scriptures, the book of Job, it is the questioning, doubting, yet stubbornly believing Job who is ultimately rewarded. As for Job’s friends, with their hard, sure answer and certain theology, at the end of the story God has Job pray that He would forgive their error.”1 And it is to doubts now that I must turn and finish this short piece.

We are not told of those who failed in their faith. We are told of a God who teaches all the fullness of faith, but never of failures. Perhaps Jesus gives us the failures when he talks of the seeds cast into stony ground and burned up quickly by the hot sun. But I would urge you, as indeed the New Testament does, to continue on in that which you have begun. If you find yourself in a place where your visions do not make sense, logically either your visions must come true in an unexpected fashion, which would indicate God’s leading, or you must work on examining your vision. Isn’t it interesting that all the people who schemed against both Job and Joseph failed in the end? In the case of Job we are never to exactly understand why Job had to go through what he did; we only see in the end that God is faithful, and the poor counsel of his friends came to naught. With Joseph we see that all those who schemed against him came to naught, his brothers, his jailer, the false accusations from the wife—all came to exactly nothing when the purposes of God were fully revealed.

There is a Psalm which I take great comfort in—Psalm 2. It says that the kings of the earth will scheme and plan against the intentions of God, but will in the end come to exactly nothing. Persistence in seeking God through your doubts will have only one good outcome—the building of your faith just as God intends.

1. King, L. A. (1991). The way you believe: Thoughts on the nature of faith. Newberg, Or.: Barclay Press.
p. 51

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What does it mean to live well?

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Of course a life that is lived well is a life lived by faith. But the question immediately arises: What is faith? Biblically, faith, in the same chapter, is said to be: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (v. 1). In other words, we look forward by faith to the things our God has promised. My problem with that kind of definition is that it is internal. How does faith exhibit itself externally? What kind of life reflects faith?

I would say that first we have to have a life that is in tune with what God wants. Tozer says, “The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear.”1 In my last post, I alluded to the tragic picture of Christ knocking on the Christian’s door, and asking to come in. What kind of life are we living if we are indeed leaving Jesus out on our front doorstep? He wants to come in and be treated as the guest of honor. I am come that you might be free, he says, and you shall be free indeed. If there is a place where this freedom is defined, it is in the freedom to lock Jesus out of your house, or to invite him in. You do not have to live a Spirit-filled life. Having come to Christ, you can wallow in the sins of the world, but you need to know that you will receive the worst censure. It seems to me that there are two possible outcomes for choosing to continue to wallow in the world’s pigpen.

First, you are ignoring the holy calling God would give you. He intends to make you to live saintly. You are already his saint, but he will spend your lifetime teaching you to live saintly, if you will listen. His will is plainly written, and a lifetime of study should be spent in the Word, that you might draw closer to him throughout your life. Once a long time ago, I bought an anniversary gift for my wife with the quaint and pithy saying, More than yesterday, Less than tomorrow. It was instantly a favorite of hers, for she got the meaning immediately. How much more we should say it to God! Our march onward through this lifetime ought to be one where we are loving him in an increasing fashion each new day—no matter the trials of life.

Second, if you are really content wallowing in the mire, is that not an indication that perhaps Christ is not in your life after all? God forbid that should happen, but over and again the New Testament warns us of people who think they are ready for the last judgment, only to find that they are not prepared at all. Christ tells us the story of the man finding himself at the wedding supper, but without the proper clothes. The apostles warn us repeatedly to check our hearts and lives to make sure of our salvation—to make sure that we are of the faith.

If we indeed picture our life as a house, and invite Christ into it, we might of course insist that he come into the guest room, where all is neat and tidy. We would want to entertain him with the best food, and the best company we could provide. But I should warn you, he is a guest unlike any other guest you have ever had. He is not content to remain a guest, sitting wherever you may put him. It will not be long before he will want to see your other rooms, the ones that are not so neat. Come in here, he will say, and let us see this room, perhaps taking you to the bedroom where chaos seems to reign. So you will find yourself straightening and cleaning and trying to get it just so. Meanwhile, he is off to another room. And that closet that you are sure no one knows about. You keep it tightly locked, so tightly locked that you are sure it is secret from all. Rest assured that your guest will aim directly for the closet, and all the locks you have placed on it will come bursting apart, the door will open, and even that embarrassing mess will become open. So our walk with Christ throughout our life should ever be one of progression, where we are finding old places to clean and mend.

If I left the analogy there, you might notice that it is all well and good that you have a cleaner house, but it is still a house that seems to be a “dirt-magnet”, and you can no more get it clean than you have to start the whole process all over. You can never seem to get it done. If God left us there, we could at least say that we were living the better lives for it, but still we are stuck in the cycle of dirt, of being always in need of cleaning. But he has a different plan, one that we will fit into as we follow him through our lives. He says I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also. He plans on taking us one day to a new house, one that he is in charge of cleaning, just as he cleans us, and all this lifetime of helping us clean here is meant to prepare us for that new house.

Then we are to be the kind of people on The Great Journey, where we walk by faith all of our lives. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the Scripture. All through our lives we look constantly to him, with our eyes fastened on him. At first it takes great effort to bow our heads and pray, to study the word, and learn his will for our lives. It may take a little effort to fasten our eyes upon him at the beginning, when we have so much of the dusty glitter of the world caught up in our gaze, but as we go on we notice a difference. Looking at him is not an effort anymore; it has become interesting to look, and before we know it, we cannot tear our eyes from him, as we have found him to be of such compelling attraction that we disdain all else that we might maintain that fellowship, that sense of him being near, even in us. Disdain is even too strong a word; rather we find all else of lessor importance, though when we are called to do that of lessor importance, we find ourselves able to do that, whatever it is, with our eyes upon him. We are learning meekness, humility, and in learning it, we find to our great delight that whatever we do we are able to see him in the midst of it, and that he accepts this too for his service, since we are doing it as to him, and not unto men. Jesus said it this way, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” He who is meek has at the cross taught us what meekness is, and we find the rest of the phrase is true also. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our destination lies ahead, our destiny begins its fulfillment, now, with each step of faith we take beginning that celestial walk that with go on through eternity.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted no less than four times in the New Testament, “the just shall live by faith.” I think of the Christian walk as that Great Journey, where the new Christian is maturing as he should, but also the mature Christian finds to his marvel that he is maturing also. There seems to be no end to deepening faith in Christ, but if there is an end, I might suggest it comes when the Christian realizes that things, that life itself, dims to almost be invisible in comparison to that relationship with Christ. It does not come easily, as we learn from Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, there are incessant attractions that would turn our gaze from him. The Holy Spirit, in us, constantly teaches us to love the bridegroom, and to prepare ourselves as the bride. And over the walk of life, we find him being closer, as our teeth and sight and hearing fail, yet he is closer, filling all of our sight, as we anticipate the marriage at last consummated. The Song of Solomon is becoming realized in the walk of faith, love is spilling out everywhere, and your eyes are fixed on your Lord, your Bridegroom. One day soon the day will come when that passion the bride and the Groom feel toward one another will light up our universe for all to see. For are we not the love story of creation itself?

Some of us, I think, only learn that final step of love when death rears its ugly head as the worst thing that can befall us. Yet, Paul teaches that not even death itself will separate us from the love of God which is in Christ, and those faithful Christians who come to their deathbed, seem so often to be able to look past the ugly monster to see the handsome groom awaiting his bride. Which brings me to the last point. Many passages allude to our needing to watch for the coming of Christ, and I have included but one, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). This is a great verse, not only telling us to watch, but also in the passage before Christ is giving us details of the great tribulation. Notice again the words of the verse, “that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things.” Those who believe in the rapture happening before the tribulation can look at this verse and see God’s promise of keeping us from that coming wrath. I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am ye may be also. Where is Christ? In heaven. Where is he preparing the place? In heaven. When Christ returns with his saints, where does he go? To Israel, and we go with him. Says Walvoord, “The nature of the Tribulation is also one of practical importance. If the church is destined to endure the persecutions of the Tribulation, it is futile to proclaim the coming of the Lord as an imminent hope. Instead, it should be recognized that Christ cannot come until these predicted sorrows have been accomplished. On the other hand, if Christ will come for His church before the predicted time of trouble, Christians can regard His coming as an imminent daily expectation. From a practical standpoint, the doctrine has tremendous implications.”2 But regardless of where you might place the rapture, the point is that all of us are to be watching and waiting, looking and hoping for the return of our King. It is one of the great hallmarks of our walk of faith.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 820-821). Christian Miracle Foundation Press.
2. Walvoord, John F. The Rapture Question (Kindle Locations 122-126). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Is it logical to have faith?

The answer to whether it is logical to have faith is a resounding yes, but it is a very large question with lots of possible answers. Let me see if I can narrow it down into the confines of a short answer. My answer to evolutionists is that it simply takes much more faith to believe in that fairy tale than it does creation. In evolution, an accidental bang of resources unexplained happens to start the whole universe. Out of the chaos of a massive blast comes a perfect mix of air, water, and resources to sustain life. Chaos is over the face of the waters for perhaps millions of years awaiting a mix of oxygen-less chemicals that immediately need oxygen upon coming together, and over the course of time, somewhere and somehow they find it. Mutation mixes with selection over the course of time to produce simple and basic life. Complex life was produced purely by accident, beneficial mutation and time working to produce the vast, different, and utterly complex forms of life we find today. There is no right or wrong, and all we see of life is here purely by random chance, with morality being only that which somehow evolution has given to us, that we might act to preserve the species. On the other hand, creationists believe that God designed the universe in a specific manner with all the full diversity of species suddenly. It seems a vastly simpler explanation to me, and on that basis alone, ought to be the one sought after.

In any case, evolutionists find themselves in a dilemma today. Even if it was accepted that all started with a big bang, who set the bang off? What was there in the first place to bang? A designer is self-evident within the theory. Those who will insist there is no reality but the one that they see will often see no other reality. In other words, they explain the rational world by the rules of the rational world. It might make sense to some people to test the world as such, but who made the rational rules? What is there within us that tells us there is a rational world? Can we be at all certain that our rationality can be the basis for understanding all of creation? But all of this is an aside to my argument: there is no right and wrong within mankind at all if we are just here as an act of selection.

And I think that is the strong argument, for it seems to me that man will have some right and wrong in spite of it all. We do live in a pluralistic society today, and there are many definitions of right and wrong, but I daresay there is more common agreement than might be thought. For instance, stealing would be something that most would agree is wrong, but if we are accidents of evolution, on what basis is it wrong? We are forced then to look at the “herd” and find some sort of rule that anything that harms the herd is by definition wrong. But even looking at the herd, and determining that rule, or standard, is, of course, making right and wrong out of nothing. What I am trying to say—perhaps poorly—is that the common basis of right and wrong in itself proves that Someone designed us. We cannot arrive at so many similar ideas of right and wrong without it clearly being placed within us—no matter how corrupt we have become. If you are still unconvinced that we have such agreement, I would point to things like the condemnation of slavery, warfare being so universally disdained, the rights of countries to self-determination, and the basic dignity of individuals. No matter that we do not in any sense maintain these ideals; the fact that we have them is in itself nothing short of miraculous. Somehow we were made with this common idea of right and wrong.

Tozer has this to say about one of my favorite Bible passages: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. —John 1:1 “An intelligent plain man, untaught in the truths of Christianity, coming upon this text, would likely conclude that John meant to teach that it is the nature of God to speak, to communicate His thoughts to others. And he would be right.”1 If the Bible message is at all clear, it is evident that man is in a blinded condition, and he needs a message to clarify his condition. This is what the Bible is: God’s speaking to man, that if man will but heed, will set about rectifying the whole of creation—beginning with the inside of the heart. Paul is very clear when speaking about creation: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:20,21). Can God be expressing his thoughts through Paul? A common doctrine of inspiration says that is exactly what is happening; God uses Paul to tell us what we need to know. And what do we need to know? It seems to me evident that we are to know two things: 1) a casual look at creation should point to the Creator (the raccoon with his bandit mask certainly points to a Creator with a sense of the comic, whereas the evolutionist is forced to dream up unlikely scenarios for the mask), and 2) we are darkened or blinded to the very creator who built us.

There are a couple of analogies that can be drawn from Lewis in two of his books from The Chronicles of Narnia. First, in The Magician’s Nephew, Uncle Andrew does not hear the voice of Aslan. His mindset is that there is no creator, neither can a lion talk, and all he does hear, sounds like noise or gibberish to him. How like the Bible this is, for in the gospel of John, it tells us that the voice of God was spoken to his Son, saying, “I have glorified it [his name] before, and will glorify it again” (12:28). The interesting thing is that the next verse lets us know there are people like Uncle Andrew. Instead of hearing a voice all they heard was thundering. It seems that Lewis found this passage and based his character loosely upon it. The blindness of men is not just in eyes that cannot see their Creator—it extends to ears that will not hear.

If you are determined not to see God, or even the necessity for God, you likely will receive the fruits of your expectations. At the most you might hear a thundering, or see a flash of light, but you will be incapable of seeing it for what it is. If you are determined to live your life within your expectations, God will likely allow you to do so. It is not that he is not speaking; rather it is that you are not listening. It is not logical. Missing the light and hearing only thundering when there is aught else to see and hear is the antithesis of logic.

The second book, Prince Caspian, is where only Lucy is allowed to see Aslan at first. Edmund alone trusts her, because of his prior misdeeds, but even he trusts without seeing Aslan. As Lucy pulls her group along, Aslan begins to glimmer and sparkle to one at a time, becoming more evident as they continue to follow Lucy’s lead. And thus we have a picture of progressive revelation—it is only as we begin to look and search that we begin to find validations for our beliefs. I am reminded of the man whose son was demon possessed, and asked Jesus if it was possible for him to be healed. Jesus replied to him that all things were possible to him that had faith. The desperate father’s response? “I believe. Help thou my unbelief!” He wanted help from God as he walked the path of faith, and Jesus gave it to him. So we, when we walk the path of faith, pleading for help, will find God becoming ever more visible to us.

As an old man, I marvel at the way that children so readily see him. It is as if they are not so far from what they should be when they are young, but sadly, when we grow older, do we not blind ourselves to the glimmerings and the sparklings? I see us being blind in so many ways. Did you know that Revelation 3:20 (Behold, I stand at the door and knock) is addressed to a church? We frequently misapply this verse to the picture of Christ standing at the heart of the unbeliever, and asking to come in. And so it proves to be an apt picture for receiving Christ. The tragedy is that Jesus, in this verse, is standing at the door of the church, and asking believers if he can come in. Sadly, too often, they let the door go unanswered, perhaps thinking that the knock was just a thundering. They miss fellowship with the Christ because they will not heed the knock. Too be able to see, we have to look. To be able to hear, we have to listen. That seems to me to be basic logic.

And when we come to the person of Jesus, as Chesterton and Lewis were apt to point out, there are but three logical choices. The first choice, taken by almost no one, is that Jesus is a madman, bent on confusing mankind with a diabolical fantasy that millions would uselessly give their lives to. Obviously, it is self-evident that he could not have been mad; his followers would have disavowed him instantly. Instead, most of them gave their lives away in his behalf. The second logical choice, taken by many people, is that Jesus is a great teacher, but this choice is not logically allowed by any student of the Bible. And if he was just a great teacher and a good man, then why did his teachings destroy so many? His teachings say that most people are on their way to Hell, hardly what most people would call good. The third logical choice, no matter how we may disdain it, is the only viable option. He is who he said he was. He was the Son of God come into the world.

Is it logical to have faith in him? I would submit that it is illogical not to have faith in him—to live a life that does not check his claims, a life that does not realize the logic behind the claims of God. If you only see sparklings and glimmerings I would encourage you to stay the course. Revelation often comes in bits and pieces; I still marvel at the new wonders of God he unravels for me as I get older.

Finally, there is the great logic of those who have gone before. I am not just talking crowds, but multitudes beyond counting, millions who have lived lives, professing knowledge of the Savior, counting themselves saved. That is no small testimony, and in every generation it has seemed to delight God to bring us Sauls of Tarsus, changing them into mighty Pauls. Last generation it was Whittaker Chambers, and this generation, my generation, it was Charles Colson. These men have found God, and changed mightily their lives as a consequence. I believe they are meant to be logical signposts along the way, that we might see them and take note of what God has done. Logical to have faith? I cannot see another way of getting there.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 775-779). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

How shall we then live?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

If we will live ignoring God, pretending that he is not real, then God will, in the end honor that unbelief. I recently reread The Magician’s Nephew, and I want to recall the person of Uncle Andrew, as I think it important. The creator of Narnia, Aslan, begins his creation with a song, a song that Uncle Andrew at first hears, but finds strange. So strange does he find the song that in the end, he determines to not hear it at all, and it all turns to gibberish. To Uncle Andrew, the idea of creation coming through a creator (who is a lion) is inconceivable, and finally he determines to make it so. He cannot conceive of a beauteous creation, much less a noble creator behind it. To the children, Digory and Polly, the song is the most beautiful thing that they ever heard, and they listen attentively, striving to remember each note in all its beauty. Thus, Lewis masterfully paints the picture of the two types of man, both hearing the song, but one turning its beauty to utter gibberish, while the other sees the creator in the beauty of his creation.

So it is today we find two types of men, those who will see, and those who will not. Although the Bible is clear to us that God sovereignly and powerfully must present himself to us, or we would not be saved at all, still there remains something within us that must be willing to see, or if you will, to hear the song of creation. Behold, I stand at the door and knock, says the Lord, but if you will not answer, and if you will not listen to that knock, God does finally choose to respect your wishes.

Which brings us to the final judgment, of which there are two parts, one of which every man must face. There is the judgment seat of Christ which Paul talks about, and those who are his sons and daughters must appear to be judged for what they have done with his gifts, but there is also the last judgment to which every man must come, however unwillingly, if he has chosen not to become a child of God. It is referred to in Revelation as the Great White Throne judgment.

Many of us are given our seventy years, and if we choose, we can be like Uncle Andrew, holding our hands over our ears, and shaking our heads, as if to shake the music out of us altogether. If we persist with this and declare that there is no song, are we not saying no to God? At the end of our years, if we persist in saying no, will he not let us go? We are choosing not to hear the song, and in that choosing we elect to build our own song of life, as it were. In the last judgment, then, we must attempt to present God with our song, instead of the one he provides.

And in a very literal sense, that is exactly what so many choose to do. Rejecting the gospel, the free provision of God to salvage the ruins of mankind, we reject the only possible means of saving ourselves. Instead, making our own song, we will feebly present it to God, asking the impossible, that he might receive our song, flat and sour notes altogether. For sour and flat it must be when compared to that beautiful song which he provides. I know that those of you who might read this with a little discernment might wonder about what I am saying about election, and I wish you to know I absolutely hold up the sovereignty of God as complete and whole, doing everything for us in salvation, so at the end of our lives, we realize that we do indeed owe everything to God. Tozer says it well, “God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, "O Lord, Thou knowest."”1

But still, in a way that may be beyond our comprehension, God very definitely holds us responsible for our choices. Do we still ourselves and listen to the song, or will we shut it out? Choosing the latter, man is left only with the works of his own hand, and it is with these works he will present himself at the final judgment.
I am convinced that one of the outcomes of all of our creation, fall, and redemption is that the absolute holiness of God will be seen by all. No longer will there be mysteries, either unrevealed in the heart, or within the deep counsel of God, but we will see the love of God mingled with his mercy and judgment that will add scores to the music we have already heard, finishing a grand symphony in our heavenly march. God will be vindicated in his every judgment, and in his every mercy as his evident love for lost mankind will be exhibited to all.

So, how should we then live? Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it best, for Solomon represents in many ways how a natural man might think of God. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc. 12:13, 14). Know that for every act you do, whether in Christ, or out, you someday will be judged. In one judgment though, you will be judged as a son or a daughter. In the other judgment, you will be judged, not on the basis of your unbelief, though your unbelief has kept you from the easier judgment. Instead, you will be judged on the basis of your works, or the lack of your works, as the case may be. All of those carrying to the judgment their own good works shall perish in the outer darkness, where Jesus tells us there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

How should we then live? First, avoid that judgment. Cast all of your cares upon him, for he cares for you. Believe God for sending his own Son into the world to pay for that which you could not possibly pay. Be set free from your own works, and begin relying on that which has been done for you. Second, if you have already believed, be sure of your salvation. Are you indeed reflecting God’s sacrifice for you in your daily living? If God were to come today, would he find you busy at his tasks, working them in the power of the Spirit, which he so freely gave to us? God is a person, and every person can be known. If he is a person of your acquaintance, then hadn’t you better prioritize getting to know him? Does your life reflect one where your hunger for knowing him better is a consuming passion? Tozer reminds us,” Honoring Jesus Christ is doing the things which Jesus told you to do, trusting Him as your All, following Him as your Shepherd, and obeying Him fully.” How can we even begin to know him apart from his word, apart from earnest hungry prayer, apart from fostering and building a relationship with him? For God the Father sent Jesus the Son to fully satisfy all judgment, that we might enter into a HOLY relationship with him, forever, and for no other reason than he simply chose to love us.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 731-733). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Tozer, A. W.. How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit (p. 41). CrossReach Publications. Kindle Edition.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why do most people go to hell?

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there at: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Matthew 7:13, 14

Many people are offended at this question, for it baldly states that most people are going to hell. However, that statement is on the best authority, Jesus himself, for he told us that the broad way was often followed, whereas the narrow way is hard to find. Somewhere else Jesus tells us that he is the way and the truth and the life and still somewhere else he tells us that he that believes not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of the Father. Not my words, but his words, and words that are crystal clear, leaving no room for doubt. Most people are doomed to hell.

We are told that as many as 1\3 of the population of the world are professors of Christ. That probably is a large overestimate of those who really have taken Christ as their Savior, but let’s take it as complete and true. That means that there are about 4 billion people headed for Hell today. Broad indeed is the path to destruction, and many are very busy helping others get to Hell ahead of time. Jesus points to the blind leading the blind, and certainly that is true during our day.

The great irony is that “progress” is hailed by so many, and yet nothing improves; rather it continues its decay. We see this vividly in the United States where culture is not content with setting new lows, but is setting new speed records getting there. Americans can be likened to lemmings, each following the one ahead of them in their headlong plunge over the cliff. I find it interesting to study history and notice how often the morals of America do indeed “evolve”, only to find out later there is a return to normal as people are aghast at how far off the base they have gone. Morals do not evolve ever; the best that can be said about them is that some morals we once held were truthfully found out not to be morals at all. Nevertheless, morality remains perennial, as unchanging as God himself (see 10 commandments).

The common man does not entertain the claims of Christ. The society in which we live does have a constant—we consistently deprecate the spiritual things of Christianity. In the midst of all the cold Christians, the diseased society, and the decadent morality, the Bible yet stands as ever, presenting a man that will confuse you, condemn you, and ultimately save you, if you will but believe. But presenting his claims is more difficult than ever in our society; it little wants to hear, and less wants to be told of a man who promised to free you from the bonds of sin forever. It is not that we do not have plenty of books written about the claims of Christ; my current favorite is The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel, a book guaranteed to make you think about his claims.

At the end of the day, each person is to be judged singularly on the basis of whether he has accepted and believed the Son of God, or whether he has rejected him. Says Spurgeon, “remember that if you are damned, it will be unbelief that damns you. If you are lost, it will be because ye believed not on Christ; and if you perish, this shall be the bitterest drop of gall-that ye did not trust in the Savior.”1 Many in the world reject this statement—a statement that so clearly is just a summary of the importance of the gospel. Their reasoning is false, but they cannot understand a God who would not figure out a way to make heaven available to most, if not all, people.

But there are impossible things for God too. It was impossible that he would make man with the freedom (many argue about the degree of that freedom) to choose, and yet at the same time, take away that choice from him. There is no doubt that God is sovereign, and as sovereign could take away all choice, but even He would find it impossible to create a free being with free choice, and yet still do the choosing for him. Hell is going to be full of people who knew better, but insisted that they were going to keep their choices. And what was God to do? He could sovereignly take away all freedom, but with that “take away”, would he not destroy the very image of created man?

So this is the divine dilemma. How could God restore fellowship with his created? And God chose to solve it through the sending of his Son, that whosoever believes might be saved. If you insist on crafting your own solution, it is bound to end badly. The tragedy, at least in what I see in America, is that most people do not seem to make a conscious choice—instead, they blithely go along, assuming that it will somehow work out all right, and thus blindly stroll through their lives towards hell. Thus, even in the recognized “Christian country”, most people are willfully progressing toward damnation.

It is not that God will not judge some as being more wicked. Remember that Jesus told Pilate that there was someone else who was guiltier than Pilate? He it was, says Jesus, who was subject to greater judgment. Greater judgment? Thus we can see that God will fully judge wickedness for what it is, and that no one will escape his misdeeds. We certainly see wickedness going on in our country, and I daresay that there are many points at which we might all agree on points of evil, but that actually leads to the development of a troubling blindness of many people.

It is never that people do not see their own failures. Instead, they comfort themselves by comparing themselves to others. Yes, it is true that I have the sin of gossip, says one, but I do not drink like my neighbor. Yes, it is true, says another, that I neglect my children with all my work, but at least I am caring for them, not like the guy across the street, who seems to be letting his children starve while he feeds his drug habit. Or if we think of it politically it might go more like this: I care for people. Can’t those others just see that? I admit that sometimes we go wrong, but do we not get credit for trying? Or the other side: I believe in a world where all are given opportunity. Can’t those others see that such a world is infinitely better? You see both sides, blinding themselves to their own faults, while strongly condemning the faults of others.

But God does not work that way. In Psalm 2, God tells us that even the kings of the world will plot against him, but in the end he will laugh at their foolish efforts which will come to nothing. Man is constantly devising “improvement” plans, ways of reforming. In our own country we see this particularly in education. I taught for 30 years, and yet there never was a single year in which education was not reforming itself. Most of us would recognize that education is not nearly what it was 30 years ago, and even that was a long way from being ideal. We compare ourselves to others, and take comfort that we are better than some, but we never seem to realize that we are all on the same road together, doomed to judgment unless we wake up to our own need.

And thus the need to return to the Bible, the statement that God has made to man, the gospel that is given that men might be at last made free. In our own country this has become a sadly neglected book. Most Christians seem to routinely ignore it. Never mind the ridicule our society makes upon it. And yet if we were mindful of history we would see the Bible as the hinge upon which all history swings. As dreadful as things are in the Western World, they are so much brighter than the darkness which rules the rest of the world. The difference is that the Bible provided so much of the foundational thinking of our part of the world.2

But I would be remiss not to emphasize the many points of history where the Bible seemed to change the lives of individuals. We have in every generation had our Chuck Colsons, men who seem to come to grips with the Word, and who dramatically change the focus of their lives. The examined Bible seems to produce some lives which are changed, but our society, while being prideful on the multiplicity of Bibles, often seem to leave it on neglected and dusty shelves somewhere in the back of the house. Says Tozer, “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”3

The end of our lives seems to come too quickly (observations by a 64-year-old). I remember reaching young adulthood after waiting an eternity to grow up, and all of a sudden I am a senior citizen. Time indeed flies too quickly. But God gives us this life, that at some point, we might recognize the gift, and believe him. Are you upset at the question, why are so many going to hell? I certainly am. And God is too. The very unexamined Bible I was talking about before says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Someone said the unexamined life is not worth living, but I say that the unexamined Bible always leads to a worthless life. I remember getting my own dusty Bible off of the neglected shelf at the age of 19, and examining it, finding to my amazement that a God of the universe would actually know and care about me. Perhaps your examined life would be better if you would consider it in the light of the Word. I suggest starting with the gospel of John, because John presents to us his very best friend, the Savior of the World. You might find that he has room in heaven, even for you.

1. Spurgeon, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Spurgeon: Volume 1, Sermons 1-53 (Kindle Locations 1148-1150). Kindle Edition.
2. See Rodney Stark, How the West Was Won.
3. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 95-97). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.

Monday, November 07, 2016

What can I do about the besetting sin?

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

The sin which doth so easily beset us? What is it? Perhaps I might define it as that thing which you do for just a few seconds when you think no one is looking. For many of us, at least, that might provide a discerning picture into the depravity of our hearts. For others the sin is obvious to all. A man forsakes his wife of decades and chooses a younger replacement. Alcohol calls to a young man, and he awakes to find himself old and bereft of the gifts of life. Alcohol has stolen his life. Those are some of the obvious sins, and I am sure that there are many others, but the besetting sin is not necessarily obvious.

Rather it is the sin which frequently hides itself under the guise of one of our personality traits. With me, having an Irish background, I might excuse my loss of temper by saying, “Don’t mind that, it’s just my Irish temper showing off.” I fear that I did have a bit of a problem with temper when I first became a Christian, but it was not long before I was convicted of my “besetting sin”, which I could not really hide as a personality characteristic. Often the besetting sin is that familiar little whisper in our minds that comes to us as an excuse that we might avoid our duty. It begins ever so softly in my mind, at least, but is strangely persistent and creative in inventing excuses. I find that the only way of overcoming it is to refuse its whisper with the facing of what I ought to do. But God knows how many times that seductive whisper gets through before I recognize it.

Getting out of the presence of sin within our own hearts is not possible this side of the Lord’s return, but the good news is that Jesus left us another Comforter, even the Holy Spirit. There are besetting sins of Christians all around us. We see many of them ending in broken marriages, orphaned or partially orphaned children, and drunkenness. Sometimes pollsters give us alarming statistics, telling us that there is little or no difference in the sin rates of the general population compared to regular churchgoers. “What disheartening reports these are, and surely they do not apply to my church,” we say. But they do. And perhaps the stats are not as accurate in my church, or in yours, and I would hope that was the case, but sin is running rampant in our churches. We turn a blind-eye to judgment; we are told to be tolerant and accepting towards others, and it all becomes more confusing when we know that Christ forgives us totally of sin. But when he gives us forgiveness, it is complete and whole, making us as white as snow. We know that forgiveness applies to others; we hope that it applies to us, but it was never given that we might continue in sin. Jesus, after healing, frequently told the person, “go and sin no more.” The apostles certainly carried that expectation forward into Acts and the epistles. Luther and Calvin and Wesley and Whitefield all agreed on this point at least—that the Christian should demonstrate godly living.

James 1:22 says: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” James teaches that works is supposed to come out of our faith, just as naturally as bread and butter go together. One follows the other, and we see it over and again when we see a genuine conversion. That such a person is changed inwardly manifests itself outwardly, and we are dismayed by those that we see it not happening.

But what are we to think of those whom it does not happen? This I find to be a circumstance that happens all too often. There are two major categories the besetting sin falls into: 1) that which I just spoke about, where the Christian does not seem to be able to escape the pull of sin, 2) and that which the Christian finds victory over, through living in the power of the Spirit.

I am going to examine the first one, the besetting sin which seems to always have victory. I think perhaps that the best way to think about it is when the alcoholic is looked at. Even Christians must walk carefully away from their problems; and alcohol is a problem for many people. Today it is unfashionable to talk about how what was once termed “demon rum” takes over and ruins so many lives, but it actually is ruining many lives all the time. But how do we explain the Christian who seems to so desperately want to leave alcohol and who still seems unable to?

I worked for several years with just such men, alcoholics, many of whom professed Christ, and permanent victory was very hard. Often we would count victory in the time length without alcohol. Some might just make it a few months, while on the outer edge some would make it for a few years without drinking. But one of the major difficulties we had to face in dealing with these men is that they had already ruined their lives, often destroying all family relationships before we ever saw them and started working with them. I am convinced that many of the men that I worked with were as Christian as you or I. Often they were more intelligent than the average, and I have read studies that back that up. But they still seemed unable to find victory.

But if we follow the common path of addiction, perhaps we can understand better why they faced such difficulty. Imagine a very young man taking his first drink. He is at a party, and having fun, and all his friends are doing the same thing. Repeating the experience seems to be the thing to do and before he knows it he has a weekend habit, signaled by his looking forward to Friday, and the “letting loose” that comes with it. Perhaps he is not yet alert to the fact that it is becoming a problem; he still looks at it as if it were entirely normal fun, but in fact what is happening is the early stages of addiction.

Jesus, in one of his last promises to us, told us, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). Notice the statement, he shall guide you into all truth. All truth. But the sad truth is that many Christians do not open their Bibles all of their lives. Others read light devotionals from commentators who we are not sure are genuine Christians, and their theology lacks wholeness, not finding the substance of the whole word of God.

I know professing Christians who have not opened their Bibles in years. Unfortunately, the world knows them too, for often they have allowed themselves to become part of the world, and are totally caught up in one sin or another. It need not be, as outlined above, the sin of alcoholism. A besetting sin can be anything that is allowed to fester, and to infect the body. Like a gigantic cancer that infection can spread outwardly into the body of Christ, his church. I have seen an elder who did not keep his counsel, but spilled his trusted secrets readily to his wife, who devoured them as tasty morsels. You may ask what is the harm in talking to your wife? An elder has many things that he is forced to keep close to his heart, and which he has promised not to share. In this case that I personally know of, in a church long ago and far away, the woman had a besetting sin that she allowed to infect her whole life—the sin of gossip. In this case, she was able to take her gossip, spread it viciously, and ruin a church of several hundred. By the time she was through there were less than ten people left! What damage the besetting sin can do if left unchecked! But thanks be to God, as Paul says, that we can walk no more after the flesh but after the Spirit.

But what about the second case? We should be much more interested in the second case, for do we not all want to find victory over sin?

Our armor comes from being in a wholesome church where the word of God is continually preached, and also from our regular attendance there. How simple is the soul who tells us that he goes to such and such church with such pride, until you ask him where he was the prior Sunday. He was nowhere to be found. He may tell you of the good work his church is doing with the homeless and with school children, but has nothing to say when you ask him where he serves. Does not James tell us, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:17, 18). But being in a solid church is just the first step; the next step comes from a lifetime of building an appreciation of the Word of God. “Search the Scriptures,” says our Lord, “for they are they which testify of me.” Is not knowing the Lord the very calling of your life? How can you possibly learn about him if you do not bother to read about him?

And so the process of building the chains that can so easily encircle us is described as one link at a time. We build the sin of gossip one tasty morsel at a time, until we have changed ourselves into something rather frightening. The process of victory over sin is just the reverse: to remove one link at a time. Do not look for quick victory over sin that you have been faithful in building up over a decade. If it took you a decade to build it, it may well take you a decade to tear it down. How much better it is that we are able to reach the young, before they are confirmed in besetting sins, and to tell them of the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, that the very presence of God may indwell them as they learn to walk and talk and live the faith. How many of us reach the end of our lives with lamenting that we wasted so many years on the unimportant. Let us be zealous therefore to teach the word to the young, that from an early age the children may learn to abide in him, and put aside that sin which does so easily beset. And if you find you have a besetting sin, today is a new day, a day in which you may lay ahold of the power of God, and begin unforging those chains, one link at a time.