Tuesday, January 27, 2015

While There is Time

I read recently that in California, it has been determined that no one can be a judge who is associated with the Boy Scouts.  The Boy Scouts of America, it was decided, is such an evil institution (because it does not endorse men marrying men) that mere association with it makes one unfit to serve as a judge.
As people are losing their respect for the Son of God, goodness is becoming disgraceful and disgraceful things are becoming the new “goodness”.  What used to be commonly understood as righteousness is gradually being outlawed, and wickedness is being imposed on us and our children by this increasingly godless society.
It’s happened before.  In ancient Israel, among God’s own people, the truth became so hated and wickedness became so loved that anyone who dared to speak the truth or dared to stop sinning made himself a target:

Isaiah 59
14b. Truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. 
15a. Yea, truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

As is happening now before our very eyes, ancient Israel drifted so far from God that good was everywhere condemned as evil, and evil was praised as good:

Isaiah 5
20. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

And as is happening now, perverse immorality became standard practice in the nation that God had chosen.  Very few of God’s people loved Him enough to resist the pressure to embrace the socially acceptable wickedness of the time:

Isaiah 1
9. Except the Lord of hosts had left for us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like Gomorrah.

Heartbroken as God was about the direction His people had taken, He extended a precious promise even to those who had embraced the worst of the dark spirits of the time:

Isaiah 1
18. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord.  Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

And since our God does not change (Mal. 3:6), but is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), I feel sure that He is extending that same promise of mercy now to those who have fallen victim to the dark spirits of our time.  May we all be wise and “seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6).  It is supreme importance that we do that, that we take advantage of God’s compassionate offer of forgiveness and cleansing because “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
When that day of Final Judgment comes - and it is coming - the time for repentance will have past, and no offers of forgiveness will be extended.  On that day, we will “all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad” (1Cor. 5:10).
“Now is the day of salvation”, the man of God said.  But what makes that statement true is that God is now offering mercy to those who turn from sin and come to His Son Jesus, whom “God has made both Lord and Christ”.  Let’s all do that while we still can!  A life of righteousness is much preferable to a life of sin and shame.  And an eternity of peace and joy is much preferable to an eternity of torment and regret.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Leave Your Gift for God at the Altar, Part 3

So, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar and go your way;
first be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24

What this person was offering to God on His altar was a gift; it was not a sacrifice for sin.  Gifts were optional.  They did not have to be brought.  Sacrifices for sin, however, were required of those who hoped to be saved from the coming wrath.  What, then, does it tell us that the person in Jesus’ parable was bringing a gift to God?  It tells us that he was there to worship God simply because he wanted to be there, not because he needed forgiveness for some sin.  At some point in the past, he had already made things right with God and was now bringing an offering out of gratitude and joy.
But notice what Jesus said God wanted such a worshipper to do: “Leave your gift there before the altar and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift.”  Did you notice that Jesus did not tell the worshipper to take the gift away with him?  In other words, God wanted the gift!  He was not rejecting it!  God wanted the worshipper to come back and enjoy the sweet communion of worship with Him!  At the same time, He loves all His children and couldn’t accept worship from one who had not made things right with others.  As long as there remained someone who had been wronged by the worshipper and was still hurt by it, God could not rejoice with that worshipper as He would have liked to.  God wants us all – together – to enjoy communion with Him, but that cannot happen if are there are things still dividing us such as wrongs that have not been dealt with.
The worshipper in Jesus’ parable had been forgiven, but it is precisely because he had been forgiven that God told him to go heal his brother’s heart.  Before he was forgiven, before he himself was right with God, he was unable to do the good work that God now asked him to do.  Now was his opportunity to demonstrate that he had a renewed mind, a right spirit, and a heart of love for others, like God.  God was not condemning him when he told him to leave his gift at the altar; He would have gone with him as his Helper and Guide.  With the demand to go be reconciled with a wronged brother, God was showing him a new way to think and live, a way that considered others before oneself, as God does.
My aunt “Onie” was in a prayer meeting one night when she saw a visitor there whom she knew.  It was Mr. Grady, the owner of a local furniture store, to whom she and her husband owed money and had not been making their agree-upon payments.  Aunt Onie knew that if she worshipped God with the saints that night, it would trouble the man she and her had not been treating right.  So, she held herself back and sat still throughout the service.  After the meeting was over, my father went to his beloved sister, Onie, and asked her why she had been so quiet that night.  She explained the situation and then added that the next morning, she intending to go see Mr. Grady and humbly apologize, and to start making payments again, immediately.  True to her word, the next day she went to Mr. Grady and asked his forgiveness, and then she and her husband began fulfilling their obligation to him.  The next night when the saints came together for a meeting, Aunt Onie rejoiced with them as she normally did, and she would have been glad if Mr. Grady had been there to see her do it.  She had left her gift at the altar, taken care of the business that she needed to take care of, and then came and offered her gift of worship to God, who, I feel sure, accepted it gladly.
God was glad that worshipper had brought an offering to Him.  But He was willing to postpone His joy a little while until others could partake of it with Him and the worshipper.  He was showing the forgiven worshipper how to be like Him!  God would humbly wait for His gift, and He wanted the forgiven worshipper to wait to give it, until everyone in the body could rejoice with them.

Leave Your Gift for God at the Altar, Part 2

So, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar and go your way;
first be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24

In the late 1940’s, Brother Oral Roberts, a prince in the kingdom of God, wrote a book titled, If You Need Healing – Do These Things.  In it, he dealt with many aspects of healing, including what to do after being healed.  Part of his counsel to healed people included this paragraph, from page 44:

Some people lose their healing because after being well they cease to receive attention. . . .  When you are healed, God expects you to get your mind off yourself and devote your attention to His service by working as a laborer in the white harvest fields of suffering humanity.

This is an extremely important point, for it applies to being forgiven and cleansed from sin as much as it does to being healed.   One’s repentance before God will last and have its full effect only if after being forgiven by God, he reconciles with those whom he has wronged.  There is something wonderful that happens within our hearts when we humble ourselves to a wronged brother or sister and confess our fault.  Nothing can take the place of that simple, godly act, for, as Jesus said, it makes our repentance truly complete and our worship acceptable to God.
May God help us to do His will quickly and not miss the golden opportunities God gives us to do the things that “make for peace and joy”.  If we love the fellowship of Christ enough to pursue it, we will reap the benefits that are promised to the faithful children of God.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Do Not Pray for These Problems

Many people pray for things that God will not do, and He will not do them because He knows, as they know in their hearts, that they can answer those prayers for themselves.  This thought reminds me of the farmer’s wife in eastern North Carolina who refused to go pick the beans out of her garden until she prayed about it.  She didn’t need to pray about it.  She had the power to solve the “problem” of her ripe beans herself.
The “Pearl” for January 21, “You answer every prayer you can, and leave the rest to God,” reminds us that we can answer some of our own prayers if we will just do what we are supposed to do.  The point that Preacher Clark was making in that Pearl from his long-ago sermon is that our prayers should always be for the miraculous, not for things that we can fix on our own.
After reading that Pearl, I heard my daughter Rebekah say something yesterday that struck me as being beyond true; it was more like revelation knowledge than just a wise observation.  It went along with the January 21 Pearl, and I wanted to pass it on.
There are people who have vexing, life-impacting problems that they themselves could fix if they would just do the will of God.  Righteousness is their answer, and by it, they could fix their problems if they would just do it.
On the other hand, there are people who have vexing, life-impacting problems that they cannot fix, no matter how righteous they are.  Many times, in fact, those problems burden their lives because of their righteousness, not because of the lack of it.  These are the kind of problems that only God can fix, and they are the only kind of problems that we should pray for deliverance from.  The rest, we can fix by just doing right.
Through the years, I have seen but had not thought about it until I heard what Rebekah said, that the people who have the problems they could fix by doing right are also the people who usually receive the most attention and sympathy.  In hindsight now, I can see that those who suffer because of righteousness instead of because of their lack of it, suffer without burdening the body with their sorrow or vain prayer requests.  Their prayers are for what God alone can do because they are not bogged down with problems that are caused by unrighteousness.
What have you been praying about?  Is your problem something that would go away if you just did what is right in the sight of God?  If so, stop praying about it and do something; you are wasting your breath.  Pray instead for spiritual strength to face up to the real issue and deal with it.  Jesus will gladly give you that strength!  Then, when you have fixed your problem, you will find that you have the time to think on the hurts and needs of others, and you can pray then for those whose problems require the intervention of God.  That way, you will fulfill the desire for God’s children expressed by Paul:

Philippians 2
4. Let each one of you look not only to his own interests, but each one also to the interests of others.
5. Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.

Paul found few who were righteous enough to be free enough to feel as he did toward God’s children.  That is why he loved Timothy as he did, even calling him his “son in the faith”.  Timothy had no problems caused by unrighteousness, and he was free, therefore, to be used by God, as this from Paul’s letter to the saints in Philippi indicates:

Philippians 2
19. Now, I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your state.
20. For I have no such kindred soul who will genuinely care about your welfare;
21. they all seek their own things, not the things of Christ Jesus.

Don’t you want to be useful for God’s people?  Don’t you want to be free from “the weights that so easily beset us”?  Don’t you want no problems except the ones that only God can fix?  Aren’t you tired of the dismal Swamp of Self?  Aren’t you tired of trudging through the muddy ditches of self-pity and self-will?  Let’s go!  Let’s lay hold of eternal life and rid ourselves forever of self-inflicted wounds!  If we are wounded, if we are faced with suffering, let’s let it be, from this moment on, because we have done what is right.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Leave Your Gift for God at the Altar

So, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember
that your brother has something against you, 
leave your gift there before the altar
and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother
and then come offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24

Virtually every religion on earth teaches repentance, in one form or another.  That’s not surprising, for there are some real benefits to be had by ceasing to do bad deeds and starting to do good deeds.  So, if you repent, you are going to feel better, maybe even much better.  But the revelation contained in the scriptures above, is that genuine repentance is not about how you feel.
Whenever sin happens, it hurts people.  It is impossible for anyone to do wrong without causing someone else to suffer.  What Jesus revealed about God was that until the transgressor has repented, personally, to the people he has harmed, God does not accept his worship, no matter how much better he feels.  Our repentance, when it is perfect, is not about us; it is about restoring damaged relationships.  Jesus said that God demands that we do more than repent in our hearts.  He demands that we also go to anyone whom He brings to our mind who “has something against you”.
Remember this!  True repentance is not about you; it is about those you have wronged.  True repentance focuses on repairing relationships damaged by ungodly behavior.

“Having Something Against”

Many people think that “having something against” someone means holding a grudge or being angry with someone, but that is not the case.  There were many in Israel who thought they had something against Jesus, but they did not have something against Jesus because he had done no evil to them.  They thought they had something against him only because they did not like what he taught, not because he had done wrong to anyone.  And because they did not really have something against him, Jesus never went to such people to say, “I am so sorry if I have done anything to upset you.”  He knew better.
We are never to try to repent to people who have nothing real against us; to do so only emboldens them in their error, and it will not bring peace and joy to anyone.  In fact, for a godly person to humble himself like that to an ungodly person confuses and harms everyone concerned.  Solomon said it this way:

Proverbs 25
26. A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.


Everyone who goes astray goes astray because they prefer self over God and others.  At some point, they chose to “go it alone”.  Genuine repentance is a changing course; it is the opposite of self importance.  It is to deny self for the sake of others, to choose the will of God, and to prefer others.  
Self-willed people who repent are completely content with the joy that God gives them when they turn from their own ways and begin to seek to please Him.  But God is not content with that.  And He is not satisfied because He doesn’t just love the person who is repenting; He also loves the ones who have been wronged.  This is an absolutely critical point:  If those who have been wronged do not feel good about the worship of the one who wronged them, God will not accept that worship!  That is what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:23-24.  Read it again:

Matthew 5
23. So, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24. leave your gift there before the altar and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift.

God is so good, and He cares so much about us all, that when one of us repents before Him, as happy as that makes Him and the angels, He insists that we go to those whom we have wronged and who, therefore, have something against us, and that we humble ourselves to them first.  Then, the worship we offer God will be acceptable to Him.  Fellowship is the goal; it is not that one of us repents and is happy all by himself.
Get in the Spirit, and get the heart of God in what you are doing!  Think about it.  If God were a loner, if self was what He cared about most, He would accept the worship of everyone who repented, regardless of their relationships with anyone else.  But God is not a loner; He loves people and wants to be close to them.  He began creation by creating a Son to love, and everybody who has been created since then has been created to be loved, too.  It is only when we feel that way, the way God does, that we are able to repent the way Jesus said God demands.
There is another important point I should make that is, it is much more likely that one’s repentance will last if he does what God says and reconciles with those whom he has wronged.  There is something that happens in our soul when we humble ourselves to a wronged brother or sister and confess our fault.  Nothing can take the place of that simple, godly act, for, as Jesus said, it makes our repentance truly complete and our worship acceptable to God.
May God help us to do His will quickly and not miss the golden opportunities God gives us to do the things that “make for peace and joy”.  If we love the fellowship of Christ enough to pursue it, we will reap the benefits that are promised to the faithful children of God.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What's Done is Done

People speak of “making things right” when they have done something wrong.  In a real sense, however, we can never make anything right that we have done wrong.  What’s done is done.  We can repay something we wrongly took; we can regret a deed; we can confess a sin; but we can never undo a deed once it is done.  We can never make a wrong deed right.
Knowing this, God only requires that we confess our errors openly and determine not to repeat them – and if we have caused others harm, to do what we can to diminish the harm done.  God has promised to forgive and to cleanse us from our sins if we do that, and to remove the record of that sin from His Book.  But He does not undo the deed.  A deed done is a deed done, and it will forever be a deed that was done.
Live in the love of God and you will do no wrong, for “love worketh no ill to his neighbor.”  And it is certainly better not to do an evil deed than it is to do the evil and be forgiven for it.  It is better never to have had sins written in God’s Book than it is to have had sins in there and had them removed from it.
Being human, we all have had sins written in God’s Book, but Jesus has cleansed us and given us a new start.  And Jesus told us all, “Go, and sin no more.”  If you did not take the best advantage of his precious gift of a new start, and if you did wrong after Jesus cleansed you, then by all means, go back to Jesus and take advantage of the opportunity he offers to start again with a clean record.  But this time do what he says, and “sin no more”!
In the meantime, remember that the wrong you did remains something that was done, and those you hurt may still be hurt.  If God brings to your mind someone who is still living with the unpleasant consequences of your deeds, then show Jesus how thankful you are for his mercy and go to that person in all meekness, and seek their forgiveness, too.
What’s done is done, and God does not undo it.  But He can restore lost fellowship, and joy, and love, and hope, and He can heal bruised spirits and broken hearts.  He can renew lost friendships and ruined marriages.  He can make us feel the peace and joy that comes with a sinless life because it is His sinless life that comes into our hearts and cleanses and heals us.
“Though our sins be as scarlet,” He will make us feel as if our souls are white as snow.  He can restore lost years, lost health, wasted money, missed opportunities, and anything else we need to be happy!  “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  AND GOD IS FOR US!
The phrase, “What’s done is done” does not apply only to us.  It applies to what God does, too.  And if He has cleansed, if He has forgiven, if He has restored, it is done!  Let’s rejoice in His work, and forever abandon our own.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Do You Really Love, or Just Think it?

Most people judge themselves by what they think they are, within.  In the Final Judgment, God will judge us all by what we have done.  Whose judgment do you think will stand?
You can flatter yourself by saying that you love people, but if you do not express love to those people in a way that makes them feel it, your “love” is imaginary; it is worthless.  In fact, it isn’t even real.  Remember the words of this song; they are true:

A bell’s not a bell ‘til you ring it.
A song’s not a song ‘til you sing it.
Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay;
Love isn't love ‘til you give it away.

Now, go give your love away!

Friday, January 9, 2015

All Things John Said Were True

   Yesterday, Brother Damien and his family dropped by for a short visit, and while here, he pointed out a verse that we have all read many times but, if you are like me, have never really thought about. It is from the Gospel of John: 

John 10:39-41 
39. Then, again, they attempted to seize him, but he escaped out of their hand.
40. Once more, he departed to the other side of Jordan to the place
      where John was first baptizing, and he stayed there.
41. And many came to him, and they said, “Though John did no
      miracle, everything John said about this man was true.”

   Now, we know that whatever John said was true, but what were those things? The above verses from John make it seem as though he said a lot about Jesus, and he may have, but if he did, the Gospel writers did not tell us.

   One of the very few things that we know John said about Jesus is that he would baptize “with the holy Ghost and fire”. The people who excitedly declared that everything John said about Jesus was true did not know that statement from John was true because Jesus, at that time, had not baptized anyone with the holy Ghost and fire.

   Another statement John made about Jesus was that “he was before I was.” The people did not know that was true, either, because no one yet knew about the pre-existent Son of God.

   Another statement John made about Jesus was that he was “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” The people did not know that statement was true, either, of course.

   According to what we find in the Gospels, that is just about all that John said about Jesus. He did say that Jesus was greater than he was, and the people could have known that was true, just seeing the miracles that Jesus performed. But what else did John say about Jesus that they knew was true? What were the “all things” to which these people were referring, the things they said they now knew were true?

   If John said about Jesus only the things found in the Gospels, then what we find in John 10:39-41 is just another case of people becoming over-excited and saying things in their excitement that they would not think or say at a later date. Jesus certainly took this proclamation of faith with a grain of salt, so to speak, as he did every confession of faith in him that people offered, even the confessions of faith offered by his disciples:

John 16:30-32
30. We know now that you know everything, and you have no need for anyone to question you; by this, we believe that you came from God.”
31. Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?
32. Behold, an hour is coming, and has now come, when you’ll be scattered, each to his own house, and you’ll abandon me, and yet, I’m not alone because the Father is with me.

   Jesus was wise. He knew that no man’s testimony can be trusted who does not have the Spirit, even the testimony of a comparatively good man. The Bible makes this very clear:

John 2:23-25 
23. During the Feast of Passover, while he was in Jerusalem, many people believed on his name, seeing his miracles that he performed.
24. But as for Jesus, he did not trust himself to them because he knows all men,
25. and because he had no need for anyone to testify to him about man, for he knew what was in man.

   Let us follow Jesus’ example and trust no testimony of man until the Spirit has born witness to his faith. If we accept the testimony of those who do not have the Spirit, if we do not wait for the Spirit to testify of the genuineness of a person’s faith, we will be trusting our souls to something Jesus never trusted – what man says.

   What the “all things” are which the people in John 10 claimed that John the Baptist said about Jesus, we cannot say. But we can say that whatever those things were (if they were at all), the people did not really know they were true, no matter what they claimed to know. The sure knowledge of the Son of God came only through the Spirit that was poured out on the day of Pentecost, and none of those people had it.