Discouraged or Encouraged?

Discouraged or Encouraged?

There is a lot that can discourage us while we are isolated because of the coronavirus. We can’t do a lot of the things we are accustomed to doing, especially gathering together as members of the Lord’s body to worship and study together. It has been a little over a week and I can feel the difference. I miss each and every one of you. You all are in my thoughts and prayers daily. In addition, every day that we turn on the news, we are bombarded with doom and gloom (I will give a little credit here – some news outlets are trying to find a silver lining and give some positive reports as well). It can be very easy to be discouraged!

Make no mistake that our adversary, the devil, is using this time to weaken your faith, erode your will, and convince you to give in to temptations to doubt and sin. This is one of those occasions, like Jesus after fasting in the wilderness, when Satan thinks it is the perfect opportunity to tempt you. Heed the words of Peter:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6–11)

We need to recognize several important points Peter is making:

  1. If you will humble yourselves before God (which includes submitting to His will), you will find comfort. You will be able to cast your anxieties on Him. He does not get tired of hearing our troubles. He cares for us and wants us to rely on Him.
  2. We need to recognize that Satan is always watching. He is looking for an opening in your spiritual armor so he can attack you (Ephesians 6:16). If you are not equipping yourself with the help from God that He offers, then you are opening yourself up to attack. Without the full armor of God equipped, that attack will get through.
  3. We must be on our guard, fully equipped with that armor of God, but we must also provide resistance. No soldier puts on their equipment for battle and then sits down on the battlefield to do nothing or merely to watch! A soldier is expected to resist the enemy and follow the lead of their generals. Fight back! We are at war every single day, coronavirus or not!
  4. If you will resist, Satan will flee (James 4:7). Satan is patient. When he encounters resistance, then he will retreat and wait for another opportunity to present itself. This emphasizes that we need to always be on guard, but also that we cannot rest (spiritually) just because the current battle is over. If we do this, then we merely hasten the next attack.
  5. You aren’t the only person experiencing these issues, whether it be the isolation or it is some temptation or situation that you endure. Every one of us is in a battle for their souls. That means there is strength we can gain from each other but it also means that it is extremely likely that whatever you face today, one of your brethren has already faced in their past. Seek wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14).
  6. God’s grace is all we need. He will take care of us. The goal of every Christian is to go home.

It is your choice how you react to the present distress. You can be discouraged or you can find encouragement through the scriptures and the promises God has made to us. He cannot lie, and He has proven Himself faithful. Let us choose to be encouraged!

Up From the Grave, He Arose!

Up From the Grave, He Arose!

One of my favorite hymns is “Christ Arose”. I am thankful for those who have so wonderfully put into words the awe that we feel when we understand the truth God has revealed to us. With this particular song, the music and the words capture the emotion and joy at the knowledge of having a savior that died for us, but that He gained victory over death through that resurrection.

While Jesus was on the cross, many mocked Him. They thought that if Jesus was going to triumph over His enemies, it would be before death – that triumph would mean He wouldn’t have to die! In Mark 15:29-30 it says, “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” This was not the triumph that was planned. That would come in 3 days. When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb to finish the burial process with spices, they were told, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples.” (Mark 16:6–7). Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Without His resurrection, we cannot have hope of being raised in the end!

The chorus of the song says, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er HIs foes.” The resurrection was the true triumph, but it was a different triumph than those mocking Him at the cross were thinking of. His triumph was over death itself. He brought victory for all that are His! 1 Corinthians 15:57 states, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” My response? Amen!

Where do you want to go?

Where do you want to go?

There is a story about a Finnish atheist who stated in his will that he wanted to leave his farm to the devil. Finally, after weeks of deliberation, the court decided that the best way to carry out the farmers wishes was to permit the weeds and briars to take over the farm land, to allow the house and barn to remain unpainted and eventually rot, and to let the soil erode and wash away. The court declared in its ruling, “the best way to let the devil have possession of anything is to do nothing.”[1]

Do you have a clear sense of where you want to go? The best way that to allow Satan to destroy your goals and dreams, is to do nothing. If we have no action plan, you will never achieve those goals. The same is true of “upkeep”. Just like that farm that would become dilapidated and begin to fall apart, our faith and love toward God will diminish if we stop tending to it. Such is the nature of this world — if something isn’t growing, it’s dying.

There are some common objections people make in regard to working toward their goals. First of these is a fear of failure. They begin to think of the negative possibilities. What if I fail? What if I make a fool of myself? Where do those thoughts come from? They didn’t come from God! They didn’t come from your brethren! God and your brethren want you to succeed in your spiritual goals! Support in working toward those goals is available to all who will ask, and who will share what their goals are. You could have a cheering section beside you the whole way! The second is, “I don’t have enough time.” Well, we have time for what we choose to have time for. Yes, there are some things beyond our control, but for the most part, we make the choices about how to spend our time. Throw that excuse out the window.

There are four questions that we need to ask:

  1. What do I want? (identify your goals). Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” If your goals line up with God’s will, then they are not out of reach.
  2. How badly do you want it? (set priorities) Stephen Covey has written many times on priorities and has rightly observed, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
  3. How do I get there? We have to put together a plan of action. Setting the goals is not enough — we have to decide what actions will take us toward the fulfillment of that goal. We have to be engaged in prayer concerning this plan. “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23) If you are not certain how to achieve the goals you are setting, it is time to sit down with someone of maturity and ask for assistance.
  4. Develop the discipline to accomplish the goals. Just like the resolutions people make at the new year, plans fail because they do not exercise the discipline necessary in order to succeed. “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24) Make the tough choices and don’t give up!

Set your goals on the fruit of the Christian life, as Paul once said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24) It will take goals, priorities, following God’s plan, and discipline.

[1] The Solomon Secrets: 10 Keys to Extraordinary Success from Proverbs by Robert Jeffries

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

I was asked to aid in a discussion about the necessity of baptism this morning. As is the case in many such discussions, there was a lot “what if…” and “but why…” going on. Following was my writeup to get the discussion back on track. This is a discussion many of us come across and might struggle to formulate a response, or even be afraid of taking on the challenge of the discussion. Be encourages that the scriptures do contain the answers and that we need to be ready to make a defense (1 Peter 3:15).

In order to have a common ground, I assume everyone reading this believes that the scriptures are inspired by God and are thoroughly complete, as Paul said to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:16-17  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I would also point out that the New Testament is unique in the way information is presented, at least as far as man is concerned. Much of what we have is a preserved copy of letters written to churches that had specific issues that needed to be dealt with. In addition to this, we have the Acts of the Apostles, a record of the actions by those working to spread the gospel and establish local churches in the first century, the gospels, with each one written with specific goals in mind leading to a more complete picture of the life and teachings of Christ, and a book of comfort concerning the victory of Christ and those that are His in the book of Revelation. When we understand how and why these various books of the New Testament are written, then we also understand that each one is not written to the exclusion of the others – we can’t take one book and say that it contains EVERYTHING. It addresses issues and concerns specific to circumstances and we have to put them all together in order to get a complete picture. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Part of this seeking is to work toward a complete understanding through the scriptures. We have to put in the work. At the same time, these scriptures were not written so as to be confusing or beyond the reasoning capability of the common man. 1 Corinthians 1:20-24 says, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” There will always be those who are either unwilling to seek God through the scriptures, or they refuse to believe what they find. They shut their ears and eyes to the truth. I say all this with no intention of slight against anyone engaging in this discussion, but to point out that we can’t hang our faith on one point and pretend there is nothing else to know. We must all be students of the Word, with honest hearts, ready to receive what God has said. If there is a limitation, it’s ours and not His.

Regarding baptism: Why is there such a contention over the necessity of baptism? Can we simply accept what the Word has revealed to us of it’s purpose and necessity? Is there anything God tells us is important to our salvation that we can discount? Would we deny the necessity of hearing and understanding the gospel (Romans 10:17)? Would we deny the necessity of faith (Hebrews 11:6)? Would we deny the necessity of confession (Acts 8:37, Romans 10:9-10, Matt hew 10:32-33)? Would we deny the necessity of repentance (2 Peter 3:9, Luke 5:32, Acts 11:18, etc)? Would we deny the necessity of faithfulness (Titus 2:11-12, 2 John 9, Revelation 2:10)? So then why would we deny the necessity of baptism (Acts 2:39, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:1-8, 1 Peter 3:21)? Is it not the limitation of man that does not want to accept this? What else can we take out of scripture (if we advocate taking out the necessity of baptism)? If we refuse to accept what God has said, do we believe we will be found faithful and welcomed into heaven? Matthew 7:21-23 makes it clear that it is not our own concept of righteousness that is the standard, but the will of God!

I have seen many explanations given to try and discount baptism, and I am not going to try and address every one of them at this time. The scriptures teach plainly the necessity of baptism, so how can we reason it away? If we truly do not WANT to believe, God won’t force us. That is part of our own free will. 2 Thessalonians 2:11 states,  “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” I will share some points to at the least provoke some  thought that will hopefully help others in their study:

We have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Man can’t overcome that separation on his own — Jesus the Christ, as the lamb of God is the only solution to that separation. It was His sinless blood that brings about forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9; 4:15). So at what point do we contact the blood of Jesus and gain forgiveness of sins?

It’s not at merely the point of belief, for even the devils believe and tremble but we know they are not saved (James 2:19). It’s not at the point of repentance even. Saul, after being confronted by Jesus, was grieved, fasting, and praying. He repented, but he wasn’t saved! Remember that sin separates us from God, and he was told, “Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins.” (Acts 22:16)

It’s not the point of confession either. When the eunuch asked what hindered him from being baptized, he was told that if he believed, he could, and he made the good confession, but then was baptized (Acts 8:37-38). Confession without an obedient faith is just words.

Are all of these things necessary for salvation? Yes. Are there passages that deal with only 1 of these without the others? Yes. We seek the whole picture, though and put them all together!

Baptism does several things: 1) It is an action based on faith. 2) It brings us into Christ (Gal 3:27). Is there salvation without being in Christ? No. 3) It is the answer of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21) 4) It is the point that we are baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6). We do not gain forgiveness of sins without the faithful, obedient act! (see also Acts 2:38, James 2:14-16, Colossians 2:12)

On the day of Pentecost, Peter taught the first gospel sermon, convicting men of their lost condition. Act 2:37-38  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Did they argue? Did they ask why they had to be baptized? No. 3,000 souls obeyed the gospel that day and gained forgiveness of sins.

I pray this will be useful for you. I pray that you will search the scriptures without hesitation, without reservation, and with an honest heart, ready to accept what our Lord and Savior has given as requirements in order to be a citizen of the kingdom and gain the promise of eternal life.

Abide In The Word

Abide In The Word

In John 8:31-32, Jesus gave a simple statement (or I would also call it a requirement), “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus was issuing a challenge in this statement: If you want to be my disciple, and if you want to be free, you will have to abide in my word. Now this statement seems simple and straight forward, but there are many who will agree with this verse on the surface and yet reject the challenge contained therein.

Not everyone is going to accept the truth. We can issue the most passionate plea, the most logical argument from the word, and do so with the greatest outpouring of love, and there will still be many that will reject the truth. That is the painful truth about loving our neighbor as ourself. We genuinely seek their salvation — but they have to seek it, too!

In addition to the lost soul that may not be ready and willing to accept and obey the truth, there are also those that claim to desire salvation but will not accept all of the truth. One might confess a belief in Christ, claim a wholehearted commitment to Him, and yet still reject part of the word. You might hear someone make the statement: “I just can’t accept….” In other words, confronted with plain teaching from the word, and even though they claim belief and commitment, they will not yield themselves to some part of it.

Consider again Jesus’ statement, “if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Whether we accept the truth determines whether we really are a disciple of Christ! Remember that the definition of disciple is one who not only learns from the teacher but puts that knowledge into action. It’s not just an intellectual exercise. We have to live it from then on.

Next time you open your New Testament and start reading, think on these verses. Are you willing to accept and abide in the word? That means all of it — there’s no discipleship in picking and choosing! Our motivation in seeking truth must be to seek it all. We can’t say we seek the truth but avoid the more challenging teachings from it.

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)