Saturday, June 27, 2020

200628 Time to Wake Up

Romans 13:11-14 continues Paul’s – and the Holy Spirit’s --theme of encouragement building on the first eleven chapters. Let’s read and then ask the text to speak to us…
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
For most, if not all, of Paul’s ministry he was intensely looking for the return of the Lord Jesus. Paul was a classically trained scholar with regard to the Old Testament and parallel literature. When we compare his writing to the OT we can see for ourselves. There is a massive body of truth taken from Isaiah. With regard to his expectation of the return of Jesus we hear Isaiah “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1). “Soon” is a word often used with regard to Jesus’ return. Here the Prophet sees the time when Jehovah God would settle the problems of the world. “Soon”, for Isaiah, refers to 700 years in the future and at least another 2000 years to bring it up to today. That is, if we believe Isaiah was seeing the coming of God’s salvation.
Jesus, Himself, warned the people while he was on the Earth, (Luke 21:25-28) “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I believe the first letter to the Thessalonians is the first written by Paul. The letter is written to encourage the new believers. I believe he was on his second missionary journey when he preached in Macedonia, where Thessalonica is located. He had been unable to complete the establishment of the church there. He sent Timothy back to carry on the work he had begun. Timothy brought him good news about their faith and love. That report prompted Paul to write 1st and 2nd Thessalonians.
Part of Paul’s reason for writing was to inform them about his expectation that Jesus would return soon. He did not want to frighten them.  Clearly, he believed in the soon coming of Jesus. In chapter 4 verse 15 he told them “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord” is evidence of his own expectation. The letter to the Romans was written about 7 or 8 years later and the urgency is no longer there.
He had told the Romans that “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11).  Those words still hold. With regard to Jesus’ second coming most of us no longer say “soon”, but we can say “surely” — he will come.
Just as Christ’s first coming was at the right time so will his second coming be. At the right time in the right way.
Remember, we owe a debt of love. Our love for Christ is related to our obedience to him. John, after recounting the story of Nicodemus, tells us when we believe in Jesus we have eternal life. (John 3:36) That love will be reflected in obeying Jesus. No one can claim to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ unless they are living in obedience to him. Now, how can we live out that love? What is our responsibility as we wait on the coming King?
R. K. Hughes, in his commentary, Romans: righteousness from heaven, tells us this story to illustrate the power of love in our world:
 This principle was dramatically illustrated on the human level in the life of Kathryn Lawes.
When Louis Lawes became warden of Sing Sing Prison in 1920, the inmates existed in wretched conditions. This led him to introduce humanitarian reforms. He gave much of the credit to his wife, Kathryn,… who always treated the prisoners as human beings. She would often take her three children and sit with the gangsters, the murderers, and the racketeers while they played basketball and baseball. Then in 1937, Kathryn was killed in a car accident. The next day her body lay in a casket in a house about a quarter of a mile from the institution (prison). When the acting warden found hundreds of prisoners crowded around the main entrance, he knew what they wanted. Opening the gate, he said, “Men, I’m going to trust you. You can go to the house.” No count was taken; no guards posted. Yet not one man was missing that night. Love for one who had loved them made them dependable.
Of course this should be infinitely truer in relation to God’s love for and through us. God’s sacrifice for us, his love lavished upon us, ought to make us completely dependable in our showing love to the world.
How wonderful it would be if the majority of the Church began to do this. Surely such love would be so amazing that it would engulf whole continents.
We need to cultivate a sense of our debt of love. Just as when we owe someone money that debt is the first thing we think of when we see him, so should it be with our debt of love. We need to enlarge our definition of neighbor as, “My neighbor is not necessarily someone like me. My neighbor is any person God has put in my way whom I can help.”
When a lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor? Jesus illustrated his answer in the story of the good Samaritan, told by Doctor Luke chapter 10 verses 30-37. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
It seems obvious to me that Jesus carefully picked out his characters for the story. He doesn’t tell us anything about the man who was stripped, beaten and left for dead. We have no idea how he felt about Samaritans. Nor, do we know what he felt about the religious leaders of his day. In this story Jesus chooses to have a priest go by, look over the man, and decide to pass by on the other side of the road. The priest might have thought through the problem that he would be unclean if he touched this man. After all he was on his way to Jerusalem where he would undoubtedly go to the temple! The second man to arrive was a Levite. That meant that he would have been an assistant at the temple. This gave him the same problem the priest faced. Jesus chose to introduce the person who gave help — a Samaritan! We’re not told what kind of feelings the priest and the Levite had toward the man in the ditch. The feeling the Samaritan had was compassion. He immediately helped the man without any consideration for the consequences. He not only set out to provide the man’s immediate needs he also provided for his long-term care. The Samaritan showed love for this battered traveler. He left with the innkeeper an amount of money that would have paid for roughly two months in the Inn.
The debt of love that we owe will never be paid. We cannot earn our salvation. No one can! We are saved by grace through faith that is the gift of God. A gift cannot be earned but it should stir in us a desire to please the one who gave it. We must remember that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. The God who saves us and implants faith into our character also has good works prepared for us to do. This is explained in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 2, verses four through ten. In order to express our gratitude to God we must cultivate a sense of the time—“It is later than it has ever been before.”
Our salvation will be completed when Christ returns. While we wait on him we need to consciously put away things that are detrimental to our spiritual growth. Paul called them the works of darkness. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians chapter 3:8-9 Paul again uses the term “put away”. Let’s look at that passage. “You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.”
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should never, ever let these actions govern their lives: anger — do you ever lose your temper? Wrath — a step beyond simple anger! Malice — wickedness or evil! Slander — an evil attitude without a basis in reality. Obscene talk — our world is filled with it today! These things should never, ever be a characteristic of a Christian believer. Believers will not lie to one another. Lying is a characteristic of Satan and we no longer follow his direction. Jesus, on the other hand, is the epitome of truth.
And we have put on the armor of light. The world around us is sunk in sin and therefore is a world of darkness. Jesus identified himself as the light of the world and he extended his light to his people. John told us about our relationship to the light. He quoted Jesus: The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” John 12:35-36.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had told his people, Matthew 5:14-16, You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
In the beginning of John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus had life in himself when he came into the world, and that life was the light of men.
Looking back to Romans chapter 13. Paul continues. We must put off the work of darkness and put on the armor of light. We are to live our lives in a manner that is honest. We must put aside all the things that represent the darkness.
Our passage for the day tells us how to avoid the passions of the flesh. We do that by putting on Lord Jesus Christ. We need to feed spiritual values and starve the desires of the flesh. When we find ourselves tempted to fall back into the world’s way of self-gratification we need to immediately, and consciously, put on the Lord Jesus Christ! Remember, when Jesus was tempted he quoted Scripture to Satan! Seems to me we should do the same. Now, how are we gonna do that? We need to be familiar with the teachings of the Bible so we can throw scripture back in the face of whatever is tempting us! Read, meditate upon and memorize the word of God and you will be able to put aside works of the flesh and walk in the light with Jesus Christ our Lord.
First, be certain you have a living relationship with Jesus. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord! Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead! And you will be saved! Dig into the word on a daily basis. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. So I remind you: read the word, meditate on the word, and memorize the word! It will give you the road to victory!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

061420 The Debt of Love

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a the Apostle Paul gives us a description of love - probably not a proper definition. In that description we are told that Love is: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, not demanding, not irritable or resentful, does not celebrate wrong. Instead love rejoices in truth, is tolerant, trusting, and hopeful, love never ends. That is why he can say to us…
 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10
I’m not sure this passage is usually used correctly. I find that it is used mainly to encourage thrift. “Owe no one anything”. I don’t believe that is the point the apostle is trying to make. At least that’s my opinion! I do not intend to say we should not avoid debt. Of course we should, as much as possible, be debt free because it allows us to make difficult decisions easier. For instance, if a person is heavily in debt and they sense God wants them to leave a good paying job for another job that pays less the decision is hard if not impossible.
The second phrase is more meaningful to me. Our obligation is to love each other! I am so grateful we are not commanded to “feel loving” toward each other since that is not just hard it is impossible. For example, Jesus called us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). There is no restriction to simply pray for our enemies. Even to pray for their salvation! Since the Lord Jesus put these two words, “love” and “pray”, together it is reasonable to conclude that God intends to answer our prayers even when the prayers are for our enemies! Love is a debt that we have to pay and it doesn’t matter how we feel about the person we are required to pray for. Loving our enemies is a God ordained debt!
So, it can’t be that we are required to “feel” love because feelings can’t be commanded. In the last days of his ministry on earth Jesus gave direction to his disciples, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). This is easier than the next level we will be moved to.
Jesus set the example for love. I do not believe he was referring to feelings he was talking about actions. Here Jesus is saying “love one another”. And then he laid out the measure we are to follow in loving other people, especially the disciples of Jesus.
How much did he love us? Think with me about it! For eternity he had been with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He enjoyed uncountable number of angels surrounding his throne. He left that! Not because he had to but because he chose to. Having left the glory of heaven he entered the womb of a young lady. And for nine months he experienced whatever it is we experience when we are to be born. Anyone remember? I don’t! I don’t remember the day of my birth or the next few years. I have a picture of myself when I was about one year old. I can look at that and think I remember it. I am sure that is not true. Somewhere around four years old I began to have memories that I’m pretty sure are real.
Jesus spent that time in the womb understanding what it is to be human. He was born in a manger with no attending physician. We are not even told there was a midwife but I assume there might have been.
After being born, as a human, Jesus grew up like everyone else. Mary had the privilege of teaching God the Son how to walk, talk, and all the other intricacies of being a human baby. When he entered the temple at the age of 12 he understood that it was His Father’s house. Then he spent 18 years being normal. His neighbors were not impressed with him beyond what they would be with any other boy in the neighborhood. His brothers and sisters, born after him, did not expect him to be a prophet much less the Son of God! At a very early age he was introduced quite naturally into the workforce as a carpenter. First he had to be an apprentice to his human father, Joseph. I believe he probably was good at whatever he did.
After being introduced to the world by John the Baptist Jesus lived like everyone else. At one point he said he had nowhere to lay his head! Then, he went on proving who he really was until finally being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He went through a phony trial and then was beaten to the point of near death. He couldn’t even bear his own cross to the place of execution. When he arrived there he was nailed to the cross and lifted up above the earth. That, in a nutshell, is what Jesus did to prove his love. So that is what he meant when he said, “just as I have loved you”. More than dying for us Jesus suffered in every way we have. Other than suffering because of sin he suffered every other way that we have.
He left heaven’s glory for earth’s gloom. Not only that — when he became a man, though he is God, he limited himself in time and space. Not just for 33 years on earth. Forever! Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to Timothy, For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6). He gave himself a ransom for all and limited himself in order to do so. He did not stop being God indeed he always was God and always will be God. He is one with the Father and one with the Holy Spirit but he is “The Man Christ Jesus”. What does all this have to do with us loving each other? All I can say is that’s the way Jesus loved his disciples and his people throughout history. So when we read the words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). We have something to measure that love with!
It’s not supposed to be difficult to love fellow Christians. However, if you talk to any Christian counselor you will find that one of the biggest problems in the church today is conflict between fellow believers.
How do we get back on track with this business of love?
During the last days of Jesus ministry he was often confronted by the ruling Jews. They tried everything they could to bring him down. At one point they had a lawyer asking a question to test him. It was a routine question in the Jewish studys. What is the great commandment in the law?  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
There is a feeling factor in what Jesus told them. “With all your heart” I take to mean with your feelings. At least it means with enthusiasm. So that loving God comes first in our lives. But, right next to it is loving our neighbor! This was not some new idea brought up by Jesus. Both Jesus, and Paul, are quoting from the law of Moses. (Leviticus 19:18).
What is the standard by which we love others? “As yourself” is a pretty difficult direction. When you see someone who is mean and unloving to others you can be sure that that person has difficulty loving themselves. They are a world away from loving God. Love your neighbor! Sounds good doesn’t it? The way we treat others reflects what we think of ourselves. After settling the issue of salvation I believe we need to begin forgiving ourselves. If you wont forgive yourself, and you are a Christian, you are acting as though you are more spiritual than God. When God forgives you must accept his wisdom and forgive yourself. You cannot have higher standards than God. His opinion of you is what stands!

Jesus also said,whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25). Jesus is clearly not talking about the forgiveness we receive when we are born again. That forgiveness is a one-time event. Here he is talking about a repeated prayer. “Whenever you stand praying” is speaking of any time you pray. Forgiveness leading to salvation is not to be prayed for over and over again. But, on a day-to-day basis we do sin — and that requires our seeking forgiveness from others and God. In the first of his three little letters John the Apostle assures us that forgiveness is on its way. I am encouraged by John’s self inclusion with regard to day-to-day sins. (1 John 1:9-10). It is easy to get discouraged when we do what we know is displeasing to God. That’s called sin. I thought that the men who followed Jesus might have reached a level of spiritual growth where sin was not part of their life. Well, it didn’t happen! John said, “if WE say WE have not sinned, WE make him a liar, and his word is not in US.”
This man had walked with Jesus through three years of ministry. In his gospel he is identified four times as the one whom Jesus loved. In the upper room as they observed Passover the disciple whom Jesus loved leaned back against him. John may have been the only person, other than Mary and Joseph, to hear Jesus’ heartbeat when he leaned against him that day. At the same time he recognized sin in his own life.
If we love one another we must be willing to forgive one another just as we desire for God to forgive us. After all, God forgave us at the time we received Jesus Christ as Lord. When we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord the Bible says we are saved. Not because we are good enough but because he chose to save us. When did he choose to save us? The Bible says that choice was before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4). Therefore at the right time he put in our heart a desire to be saved.This is a tough subject! One that I have struggled with for many years. What is God calling on us to do? Pray, for more than just our enemies. Especially for those who openly persecute us! Jesus went on to say that when we love our enemies we are acting like children of God! You see, God makes his sun shine on the evil and the good. He sends rain (which is very important in an agricultural world) on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).
Jesus demonstrated this concept when he healed people. Nowhere in Scripture will you find Jesus saying, “Do you believe in me?” Luke tells us (Luke 4:40) that, in at least one situation, Jesus healed all those who were brought to him. He didn’t divide them up into groups of “saints” and “sinners” he simply healed! When he hung on the cross, he simply prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). No one can convince me that is not a prayer! There is a wonderful truth here. While his persecutors divided up his clothing one of those criminals who hung there beside him was saved! First, this man rebuked the man on the other side of Jesus’ cross. Then he asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. That man did not have time to do any extensive Bible study or listen to a “plan of salvation”. We do not know how much he knew about what he was asking. He may have only known what he had heard as Jesus struggled under his cross on the way to the place of crucifixion. Jesus’ reply is breathtaking. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43).
I, for one, want to be known as a child of God. God who gives sunshine and rain to all equally. A Savior who forgives those who are crucifying him. Jesus not only called for the Father to forgive those who crucified him at the same time Jesus paid the penalty for their sin. The death of Jesus on the cross was sufficient to forgive the sins of all who will come to him in repentance and faith. I challenge you today to give serious consideration to your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you’re not sure of your salvation contact me and let me talk to you about faith in Christ. If you are not a Christian and are unconcerned about your spiritual condition be afraid ask God to guide you to the truth.
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.