Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

Elders

In ancient times, elders referred to the older men who were the leaders of the people.  As older men, they had the experience and respect of the people.  The term “elder” eventually came to be applied to the older men who governed, whether it was to govern the local synagogue or to rule over all of Israel.  In the time of Jesus, the Sanhedrin council was made up of elders of the people to include the chief priests; they ruled over the Jews under the Roman authorities.

When the early church was established, it was natural for the local church to also be overseen and ruled by the elders within the church.  1 Timothy 5:17 “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”  When the early church needed to decide if circumcision was to be bound on the Gentiles, it was the apostles and Jerusalem church elders who met to make a decision on the matter (Acts 15:6). Elders were appointed in every church during Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 14:23).  When the apostle Paul left Titus in Crete, he later wrote in Titus 1:5 “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.”  When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time, he stopped at Miletus and called for the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet with him (Acts 20:17).  The elders were the leaders and rulers of each local church.

The Bible teaches us that the elders of a church have two basic but related functions to perform: to be overseers and shepherds.  The word overseer means the same as the word bishop and the word shepherd means the same as the word pastor.  When the apostle Paul met with the Ephesian elders, he charged them as follows.  Acts 20:28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”    The apostle Peter gave elders a similar charge in 1 Peter 5:2 “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly.”  To be an overseer implies a person who has oversight over others; in other words, a person with supervisory responsibilities.  The one over the flock is the shepherd.  A shepherd is one who tends sheep.  A shepherd provides his sheep with good food and drink.  He leads them in the direction they should go.  When a sheep goes astray, the shepherd finds the sheep and brings it back to the flock.  When a sheep is sick or injured, the shepherd seeks to heal and restore it.  The shepherd protects the sheep from danger or thieves.  In other words, the shepherd is responsible for the wellbeing of the sheep.  In a Christian context, the sheep would be the members of the church.  The elders are therefore responsible for the wellbeing of the members of the church.

You don’t want just anyone being an elder and sharing responsibility for the members of the church.  The apostle Paul gave the qualifications for an elder to both the evangelists Timothy and Titus.  Here is what he wrote to Titus in Titus 1:6-9 “If a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.  For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”  I don’t choose at this time to go in detail over the qualifications of an elder.  However, in summary, an elder should not have any major character flaws but be a true Christian.  He must have a faithful family where he has learned and demonstrated his ability to lead.  He must have a good understanding of the word of God so that he can teach the church members and defend against false doctrine.

In ancient times, multiple elders ruled together; during the time of Jesus, the Sanhedrin Council had 71 elders.  Multiple elders were appointed in the early church – see Acts 14:23; Acts 15:4; Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5.  Instead of being led by elders, many churches today are led by a single pastor or a main pastor.  Other churches are led by an evangelist or a minister – neither of which are described in the Bible as having oversight or shepherd responsibilities in the church.  Some churches are led by a priest – such an individual is not prescribed for the church.  I believe that the church today should be led by multiple, qualified elders.

A problem in many churches today is that there are not multiple individuals who are qualified as elders.  What does a church do when there are not qualified elders?  This situation is not specifically addressed in the Bible.  Faithful Christians continue to assemble, worship God, and edify each other without elders.  But having elders to shepherd and have oversight is God’s plan and is much better. Older men should make themselves qualified, if possible.  Parents should train their sons to one day be elders.  Young men should seek to become qualified as elders in the future.  My encouragement to you is to develop qualified elders in your congregation. 

Fear or Faith

There are many things we can fear.  We can fear what an evil person might do to us.  We can fear the all-powerful God of heaven.  We can fear animals such as lions or even spiders.  We can fear lightning, devastating storms, floods, and earthquakes.  We can fear heights, tight quarters, public speaking, or even clowns.  We can fear cancer that can take over our bodies and cut our lives short.  We can even fear a virus that can cause us sickness, pain and death.  There are so many things that we can fear.  Many people live their lives in fear.  But as a Christian, should we have fear?

We should have an appropriate fear for God.  Hebrews 12:28-29 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire.”  He is the creator of all things; He is all powerful; He will take vengeance on all those who obey unrighteousness.  But we also know that he is a loving and merciful God who has made us His children.  The fear Christians should have for God is a respect and reverence for Him.  But what about fear for other people and other things?

Fear is the opposite of faith; it is actually a lack of faith. It is a denial of the hope that God will take care of us no matter what trials we come up against. As Christians, we should be people of faith and not of fear.  We make a choice between faith and fear.  I saw this observation the other day:  fear and faith have something in common; they both ask us to believe in something we cannot see.  In our minds we can imagine the evil and harm that can come to us because of certain situations and we develop fear.  Or we can trust in God and choose faith.

God has promised to be with us.  Hebrews 13:5-6 “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’   So we may boldly say:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?’”  Do you have faith in the promises of God?  Do you believe that the Lord is your helper?  Do you believe that He will never leave you or forsake you?  Choose faith over fear.  Psalms 118:5-6 “I called on the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.  The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

When we trust in God, we can have peace.  Jesus taught in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  The world sees peace as a lack of conflict and problems.  The peace we receive from God is not a lack of trials, tribulations or conflict because we all have those things in our lives.  But the peace that God gives is a peace of mind and spirit.  In our minds and hearts we do not fear anything that comes along because God is our helper and He will never leave us or forsake us.  We don’t have to be troubled; we don’t have to be afraid.  Peace results when we truly trust in God.

There is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  Romans 8:31-39 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The great message of this passage of scripture is that nothing can separate us from the love of our God. 

Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you; whatever that may be it cannot separate you from the love of God.  God still loves you; He is still your helper; He will still give you eternal life.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” When we put things in the proper perspective, the problems we face are light and momentary.  We do not need to fear.

Jesus told the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:9-10 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  My encouragement is that you do not fear anything you might suffer.  Be faithful until death and you will receive the crown of life.

Fear or Love

I have discovered that people have different reasons for becoming a Christian.  Many respond because of fear.  They know their sinfulness and don’t want to go to the lake of fire spoken of in Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”  Out of fear, they seek to obey God. 

On the day of Pentecost, immediately after the death of Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles.  A multitude of Jews gathered and heard Peter preach to them.  He told them that they had just crucified Jesus, who was the Lord and Christ.  Acts 2:37-39 “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’”   I believe these Jews responded out of sincere regret and fear because of the terrible thing they had done to Jesus; they were cut to the heart.

One doesn’t have to have been a Jew who asked Pilate to crucify Jesus to have fear of God.  Here is a description of what will happen to all those who obey unrighteousness.  Romans 2:5-11 “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,  who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’:  eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For there is no partiality with God.”  For those who do not repent and turn to God, wrath awaits them.  There is good reason for them to fear God.

Sometimes individuals become Christians and then depart from the faith and willfully sin.  Hebrews 10:26-31 “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  Those who depart from the faith have reason to fear God.

Even those of us who are faithful to God should have a measure of fear.  Proverbs 1:7a “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  Hebrews 12:28-29 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire.”  Even though we have a Father who loves us, we still need to respect His power and righteous retribution and have a dread of displeasing Him.  We realize that He is all knowing and all powerful.  We have reverence for God.

But we understand that God loves us.  Ephesians 2:4-7 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Since we appreciate that God truly loves us, we love Him in return.  Whatever fear we have of God will be tempered with our knowledge of His love for us and our love for Him.  1 John 4:17-19 “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.  We love Him because He first loved us.”  If we have perfect love for God, we will have no fear of Him.

Each one of us has a choice of fearing God or of loving Him.  If we are living in unrighteousness, we have reason to fear God.  If we have obeyed the gospel, our sins have been washed away and we are justified before Him; there does not need to be any fear concerning the unrighteousness we have committed in the past.  If we love Him and are seeking to please Him in all that we do, there does not need to be any fear in the present or the future.  I encourage you to choose love for God over fear.

Mercy

The world will tell us that we deserve lots of things.  We deserve to be treated fairly; we deserve certain benefits from the government; we deserve respect; we deserve a good price on something.  They mean that these things are owed to us; they are our right.  If we don’t get what we deserve, we are being cheated.  But consider what we deserve from God.  All of us have sinned.  Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We deserve punishment and death from God.  Instead of getting what we deserve, we receive mercy and blessings from a loving Father.  We had a need for salvation.  He took pity on us and chose to send His Son to die in our place.  He chose to save us by grace through faith.  Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

What great mercy God has had for you and me!  Romans 9:15 “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’”  Praise God that He decided to be merciful to whoever believes in Jesus, that we should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  God is rich in mercy towards us.  Ephesians 2:4-7 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Matthew 9:13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, God described Himself.  Exodus 34:5-7 “Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.  And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’” I think it is important that God described Himself as merciful, gracious, and longsuffering.  For those who continue in iniquity, He takes vengeance.  But for those who turn to Him in repentance, He is merciful.  Remember the story of Jonah; he didn’t want to go to Nineveh and he tried to run away from God.  After he was swallowed by the fish and vomited out by the fish, he went to Nineveh, preached, and the people repented.  God had mercy on the city and did not destroy it.  Here is Jonah’s prayer.  Jonah 4:2 “So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.’”  2 Corinthians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”  God is merciful!

Since He is merciful, God asks us to also be merciful.  Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Jesus told the parable of a servant who owed his master a large amount of money.  Since the servant did not have the resources to pay back the debt, he asked for patience.  The master of the servant was moved with compassion and forgave the debt.  Matthew 18:28-35 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’  And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’  And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.  So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” This parable illustrates how important it is that we be merciful to others.

We may have the attitude that one must pay back all that he owes; one must suffer the consequences for every infraction; he deserves what is coming to him.  It is then that we need to be reminded that we don’t get what we deserve from God.  God is merciful to us.  We, in turn, can be merciful to others.  James 2:12-13 “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  When possible, I encourage you to be merciful. 

Love Covers Sin

As Christians, we are to love one another.  Others will know we are Christians by the love that we have for one another (John 13:35).  We share much in common with our fellow Christian as opposed to those in the world.  We share a common heavenly Father, a common Savior, a common salvation, a common faith, a common hope and a common enemy, the devil.  Through the teachings of Jesus and His apostles written in the Bible, we share common principles and standards for living.  Peter tells us that we are to have fervent love for one another.  1 Peter 4:8 “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  The word fervent implies something very hot or glowing.  Our love for one another should be earnest and deep.  Since we share so much in common, it should be natural to have a fervent love for our fellow Christians.

But as Christians, we are not perfect.  Sometimes we trespass against each other.  Sometimes we sin.  The apostle Peter tells us to have fervent love for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”  No one can hide their sins from God; He sees all of our actions whether they are good or bad.  Our love does not buy pardon from God for another’s sins.  We each must receive forgiveness from God for our sins.  But I want us to consider how our fervent love can have a positive influence when there is sin within the community of believers.

We know that God is not pleased with sin.  When another Christian sins, we do not rejoice; instead, we may grieve.  Since we love the sinner and hate the sin, we encourage repentance.  We pray for the sinner.  We admonish him.  James 5:19-20 “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”  Our love will motivate us to seek to turn the sinner from the error of his way.  Even if he does not immediately repent, we continue to pray and seek change.  Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).  If we are successful, he will stop sinning and we will save a soul from death. 

Love is a powerful force.  Love for someone can motivate a person to change his life.  God loves us.  John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  God loved us very much to send His only begotten Son to die for us.  We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  We should want to be pleasing to God because of our love for Him. In the same way, when you demonstrate your love for the Christian sinner but hate the sin and grieve for him, he sees that.  If the sinner loves you in return, he will be influenced to change because of his love for you.

When you love someone, you hardly notice their imperfections and small faults – you love them!  When your fellow Christian trespasses against you, you forgive him.  Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  The Corinthian brethren were taking each other to the civil courts because of conflicts between them.  The apostle Paul admonished them in 1 Corinthians 6:7 “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?”  Because you love your brother, you accept wrong and forgive him.  James taught us in James 2:13 “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  You should not be quick to judge your brother – maybe you misunderstand and you don’t really know why he acted as he did.  Matthew 7:1-2 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”  So there can be multiple reasons to let go of what you perceive as trespasses from your brother.  The reason you do so is that you love him.

When your fellow Christian sins, you do not spread it around.  You do not gossip or be quick to tell others about him.  Proverbs 11:13 “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.”  Proverbs 17:9 “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.”  After the flood, Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent.  Noah’s son Ham saw his father’s nakedness and told his brothers Shem and Japheth.  These brothers walked backwards into the tent and covered the nakedness of their father (Genesis 9:18-27).  Out of love for our brother, we should be like Shem and Japheth rather than Ham who was quick to tell others about his father’s nakedness.

We have the characteristics of love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Many of these characteristics should describe how we treat a fellow Christian who sins.  We should suffer long; we should not be provoked; we should not think evil; we should not rejoice in iniquity but rejoice in the truth; we should believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.  My encouragement is to have fervent love for love will cover a multitude of sins.

Draw Near to God


Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for us.  He took the penalty for our sins.  He is our High Priest to the Father.  God has now made a new covenant or contract with us. Hebrews 10:16-17 “’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days’, says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them’, then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’”  As Christians and children of God, we have a wonderful position before God.  He has put His laws into our hearts and minds and He will not remember our old sins and lawless deeds.  How then do we proceed?  The writer of Hebrews gives us direction in Hebrews 10:19-25 “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let us consider what this passage of scripture tells us.

First, we can be bold and draw near to God.  Under the old covenant, in the tabernacle or temple there was a holy place and a most holy place.  God said that He would appear in the most holy place (Leviticus 16:2).  The common people could not enter either place but must depend upon priests.  Only the Levitical priests could enter the holy place to offer sacrifices and only the High Priest could enter the most holy place once a year.  The High Priest entered the most holy place with fear and trembling because if he did not do everything just right as he entered the presence of God, he would die.  There was a veil between the holy place and the most holy place to limit the access to God.  When Jesus died on the cross, this veil was torn.  Matthew 27:50-51 “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.”  I believe that this signifies that you and I now have free access to God because of the sacrifice of Jesus.  We are no longer separated from God.  We can boldly draw near to God through Jesus, our High Priest.  Hebrews 4:15-16 “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We now have the privilege of direct communication with God on His throne through Jesus as our mediator.  We are encouraged to be bold in our approach to God because of what Jesus has done for us. 

“Draw near (to God) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  This concept of drawing near to God describes the close relationship God desires to have with us and that we should want to have with Him. I believe that we draw near to God when we spend much time in humble prayer, when we meditate on His word, and when the Holy Spirit lives within us and produces His fruit.  James 4:8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  But our hearts needs to be pure and true in worship of God.  It is with faith and trust in Him that we can draw near.  Our hearts no longer have an evil conscience so that we no longer need to condemn ourselves for the evil deeds we committed in the past nor desire to now commit.  We have been washed with pure water in baptism so that our sins have been washed away (Acts 22:16). 

“Hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.”  To waver is to go back and forth like a flag whipped by the wind.  Sometimes we are with God and obeying and trusting in Him but at other times we are away from God in our lives.  Back and forth we waver.  But to hold fast is to be like a load on a truck that is tied down with a tight rope.  The load cannot shift or move because it is held fast by the rope.  We have a faith in God and a hope in His promises.  We need to hold these fast without wavering.

“Consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”  Not only do we have a responsibility to draw near to God and hold fast to our faith and hope, but we also have a responsibility to our fellow Christians.  How can we help them in their walk with God?  We are told to find ways to stir up their love and good works – to exhort and encourage them.  Since we do not all live together, the assembly is a time where we can exhort and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should not be “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  As the day of Jesus’ return inevitably draws nearer for each of us, we all need to watch and be ready.  We don’t forsake the assembly of ourselves together because our brothers and sisters need us and we need them.  We encourage and exhort each other to be faithful and make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

I encourage you to be bold and draw near to your heavenly Father.  Do not waver in your faith and hope of His promises, but hold them fast.  Then consider one another to stir up love and good works.

Faith, Great or Small?

We understand that faith is essential to us as Christians.  We are saved by grace through faith.  Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  We are justified by faith.  Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  It is impossible to please God without faith.  Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  Faith is being confident of things we cannot see.  Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

We have faith in God.  We have faith that Jesus Christ is the son of God.  We have faith that Jesus died in our place so that we have the forgiveness of our sins.  But we must also have faith in God’s promises.  We have faith in everlasting life provided by God.  We have faith in an eternal home with all the redeemed.  We have faith that God is for us and not against us.  We have faith in His power toward us.  We have faith that He works His will on this earth.  We have faith that He hears our prayers.  We have faith that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  We have faith in other promises He has given us.  As true Christians, we live our lives in faith.  Our faith should be a major influence in how we live our lives.

Is your faith great or small?  Consider the story in Matthew 8:5-10 “Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’  The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’  When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’”  Here was a gentile centurion who wanted Jesus to heal his servant. He humbly requested that Jesus just speak the word and his servant would be healed.  He didn’t believe it was necessary for Jesus to come and lay His hands on his servant; all he asked was for Jesus to say the word.  This demonstrated that this man had great faith in the power of Jesus.

I especially like the story told of the woman who touched Jesus in Matthew 9:20-22 “And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, ‘If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, ‘Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was made well from that hour.” This woman was unclean because of her flow of blood.  She was not to touch anyone.  And yet, her faith and her strong desire to be healed caused her to touch Jesus and be healed.

There are multiple examples in the Bible of people with great faith.  We could talk about Abraham who believed God’s promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  We could talk about the three Hebrews who trusted that God would deliver them from the fiery furnace.  We could talk about David who believed that God would deliver the giant Goliath into his hands.  Hebrews the eleventh chapter lists many people who had great faith.

We also have examples in the Bible of people with little faith.  One time, Jesus walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee while His disciples were in a boat.  They were afraid and Jesus tried to comfort them.  Matthew 14:28-31 “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”  We might commend Peter for his initial faith in getting out of the boat and starting to walk on the water.  But then his faith became weak and he began to sink.  Jesus rebuked him for his little faith and his doubt.  What about you?  Do you sometimes start to walk in faith but then you doubt and your faith proves to be little?

Another time, a father requested healing for his child.  He said to Jesus in Mark 9:22b-24 “’But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”  I relate to this father.  Sometimes my faith is small.  I need God to help my unbelief.  We have recorded in Luke 17:5 “And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” I think that is a worthy prayer.  Pray that God would increase your faith.

I encourage you to seek to have greater faith.  Live your life in faith.  Trust in the power and providence of God.  Trust in His promises.  2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  Live your life in faith.  Be a person of great faith.

When Will Jesus Return?

Jesus promised to return for us.  John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” This is a great promise! Many of the early disciples thought that He would return in their lifetime.  But it has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus was crucified and arose from the dead. 

Is Jesus really going to return?  The apostle Peter anticipated that question.  2 Peter 3:3-4 “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’” It sounds like today.  If people are not saying these words, they are living them with their lives.  In other words, they are living their lives as if the world is going to continue on forever and Jesus will not return.  Continuing with verses 5-6:  “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.”  This is talking about the flood that came upon the earth to destroy it and kill everyone except Noah, his family, and the animals he had in the ark.  At that time the people were living their lives as if nothing would ever happen.  But God chose to destroy the world with a flood to bring an end to that evil generation.  The same thing is going to happen again.  God is going to destroy the world, but this time it is going to be with fire.  Verse 7:  “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”

When is Jesus returning?  No one knows.  Only God the Father knows.  Here is what Jesus said.  Matthew 24:36-44 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.   For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

If we knew when Jesus was returning, we might be tempted to wait until the last hour to get ready for Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.  For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.  But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”

Since we believe that Jesus is going to return and since we don’t know when that is going to happen, we must live our lives being prepared at all times for his return. We must watch and be ready.  1 Peter 4:7 “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.”  We must be patient and not give up.  James 5:7-8 “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

Whether Jesus returns in your lifetime or you die first, He is going to return.  An accident or illness can come into your life and your life may soon be ended.  The apostle Paul gave the following exhortation.  Romans 13:11-14 “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  Purify your life.  Make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts.  Be ready.

2 Peter 3:10-14 “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”  My encouragement to you is that you be found at peace with God – that you be without spot and blameless.  That way, you will be ready for the return of Jesus.

Our Covenant

After the flood, God made a covenant with every living creature on the earth.  Genesis 9:12-13 “And God said: ’This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:  I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.’” A covenant is an agreement or contract between two parties.  Even today we can look at the rainbow and remember this covenant we have with God, that He will not again destroy the earth with a flood.

The Bible describes multiple covenants.  God made at least two covenants with Abraham (Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:7).  Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech (Genesis 21:27).  David made a covenant with Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3).  One of the most important covenants was the one God made through Moses.  After God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, He asked Moses to come up to Him on Mount Sinai.  Exodus 34:28 “So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”  You can read the words of this covenant between God and the Israelites in Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21.  This covenant was a good covenant, but the Israelites did not continue in the covenant.   Hebrews 8:7-9 “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.”  God decided to make a new covenant with His people.

Christians are the true Israelites or Jews of today.  Romans 2:28-29 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”  When you and I are circumcised, not in the flesh but in the heart and in the Spirit, we become the true Israelites.  Therefore, the new covenant God has made is our covenant.  Let us look at our covenant with God.

Hebrews 8:10-12 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  This passage is quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34.

“I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their heart.”  The first covenant with God’s people was the Ten Commandments – laws written on tablets of stone.  These laws were external to the people and, over time, they chose to disobey them.  Now, God promises to write His laws in our minds and on our hearts.  They are no longer external, but internal and very much a part of us.  From our very minds and hearts we choose to obey God’s laws.  We know what He wants us to do and what not to do.

“I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”  We are now His people, His children.

“None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Under the old covenant, Israelite children were born into the covenant with God; male children were circumcised on the eighth day.  They had to be taught about the Lord; many never came to know Him.  Everyone who enters the new covenant with God must have faith in Christ, repent of their sin, and submit to the will of God by being buried in baptism as a sign of the death to the old life and a desire to walk in newness of life. We enter the new covenant knowing the Lord.  Of course, we come to know Him more and more as we grow in His grace.

“I will be merciful to their unrighteousness.”  Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”  Psalms 145:8 “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy.”  Even when we sin, God is merciful to us.  He is slow to anger.  He is a loving Father.

“Their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” God is all knowing, so He knows all things that have happened.  He chooses to not remember our sins.  1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The past is over and He does not hold it against us.  He only looks at us in the here and now.

What a wonderful covenant you have with God!  He promises to put His laws into your mind and write them on your heart.  You know the Lord and can come to Him anytime in prayer.  He is merciful to your unrighteousness and He will not remember your lawless deeds.  I encourage you to love your God because of the great love He has for you. 

Whoever Hears These Sayings of Mine

In Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, Jesus went upon a mountain and gave His disciples many important teachings.  These teachings are known as the Sermon on the Mount.  At the end of His instruction, He gave the following in Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” You must understand that His teachings are very important.  I have made an attempt below to summarize many of the teachings He gave on the mountain. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; rejoice if you are persecuted (5:3-11).

Those who follow Jesus are the salt of the earth and the light of the world; be the seasoning of the earth and the light to the world (5:13-16).  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  Our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:17-30).

Sin begins in the heart and does not have to result in wrong action for it to still be sin; examples are given of thoughts of hatred, which is the same as murder, and lust for a woman, which is the same as adultery (5:21-22; 27-28).  Be reconciled with your brother quickly (5:23-26). If something causes you to sin, get it out of your life (6:29-30).  Do not cause others to sin by your actions (5:31-32).

Do not swear (5:33-37).  Do not resist an evil person.  Give more than is required of you (6:38-42).  Love your enemies as well as your neighbors (5:43-58).  Don’t do your good deeds and righteous actions to be seen by others; do them to please God who will reward you (6:1-7; 16-18).  Your prayers should include praise to God, requests for the success of His kingdom, your needs, forgiveness of your sins, guidance in life, and protection from the evil one (6:8-13).  If you do not forgive others, you will not be forgiven (6:14-15).

Lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth; you cannot serve God and riches (5:19-21; 24).  What you seek for in life determines if you have light or darkness within you (6:22-23).  Do not worry.  God knows your needs and will bless you; seek His kingdom first (6:25-34).

How you judge others is how you will be judged.  Correct your faults first before trying to fix others.  Avoid spiritual discussions with those who will turn on you (7:1-6).  In your requests to God, ask, seek and knock and He will bless you.  He wants to give you good gifts (7:7-12).  Whatever you want others to do to you, do also to them (7:12).

There is a narrow gate that leads to life and a wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction; seek the narrow gate and difficult way that leads to life (7:12-14).  You will know if someone is good or bad by their fruit (7:15-19).  In the judgement, you will be accepted, not because you claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but because you did the will of God and did not practice unrighteousness.

I give this summary to help you appreciate the very important principles that Jesus gave us.  If you listen to His words and put them into practice in your life, you will be wise.  When the storms of life come upon you, you will stand because you have your foundation upon the truths of God.  But if you do not put His words to practice in your life, you will be unwise and fall when the storms of life come upon you.

James put it slightly differently in James 1:22-25 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” 

The teachings we find in the Bible are the words of God.  If you want to be blessed in what you do, do not be a forgetful hearer of the word but put His words to practice in your life.