God’s Family

Pontus_Greek_family     If we are like most people, somewhere amongst all of our belongings there is a family photo album or two. From time to time we like to take out that photo album and relive the memory of lost loved ones or special times and events in our life. Maybe we gather around with others in our family and share stories from the past. Family is important and makes us feel like we belong to a group with a common background, common experiences, and a shared heritage. Just imagine for a moment what it would be like if God had a family photo album. Whose pictures would be in that album?

     We see that family was important to Jesus, but maybe not in the way that we think. There was an occasion where Jesus was teaching His disciples, and while He was still speaking to them He was told that his physical mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak with Him (Mark 3:31-2). Then Jesus said, “’Who is My mother, or My brothers?’  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother’” (Mark 3:33-35 NKJV). Jesus stated that His spiritual family was more important to Him than His physical family.

     If we want to be a part of God’s family, if we want for our pictures to be in His “photo album,” then we need to do what Jesus says to do. Notice He said “whoever does the will of God” is His family. It is important then, that we do the will of God. Compare this to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). It is not enough for us to just call Him Lord, we must be willing to do the will of the Father to be in the family of God and to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Have you obeyed God’s will? Is your picture in God’s photo album? We invite you to come and see what God’s word has to say about the will of the Lord, so that all of us can be in God’s family!

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Do This in Remembrance of Me

grapes     Recent research has suggested that the consumption of grape juice is an aid in either avoiding Alzheimer’s, or that it can slow the process of memory loss in those with the brain disease. Alzheimer’s is thought to be brought on by stress and free radicals in a person’s physiology. Since antioxidants combat free radicals, and since grape juice is rich in antioxidants, the thought is that grape juice can help combat one of the causes of the disease (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544087).

     Is it not interesting to think that grape juice can aid memory? Just before He was arrested, tried, and convicted to die via crucifixion, Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room in order to partake of the Passover. At this last supper of the Lord, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. They took the cup containing the fruit of the vine (grape juice) and divided it amongst themselves. Then Jesus explained to them how the unleavened bread represented His body, which would be given for them and us. That cup with the fruit of the vine represented His blood, which would be shed for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 22:17-20). During that discourse, Jesus instructed them to “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19b, NKJV).

     Every week, on the first day of the week, Christians around the world gather together to remember the sacrifice of Christ (Acts 20:7). One of the emblems that is used in this remembrance is the fruit of the vine/grape juice, which researchers now believe is an aid to memory! Of all the things that we have to remember, from time with our friends as children, to time spent with loved ones as we grow old, what can we remember that could ever be more important than what God did for us by sending Christ to die in our place? God, who knows all things, chose to use unleavened bread and grape juice as the symbols to remember Jesus death. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So the next time you enjoy a glass of grape juice, remember what Jesus did for you.

Instant Messaging

Texting     Have you ever prayed for God to take care of some problem that you had, and then wondered what the answer to that prayer would be? It is especially difficult for us as Americans to be patient in waiting for a response. We are so accustomed to fast food, microwave ovens, and instant messaging that we expect immediate results. Additionally, it may be that the answer to our prayer is “not now,” and so we have to wait awhile for the result. This is a normal situation, but during the time of Hezekiah, he received an instant response to one of his prayers.

     As 2 Kings 20 opens Hezekiah is sick to the point of death. Isaiah the prophet comes to him to instruct him to put his house in order, for he will soon die. This leads to Hezekiah’s prayer, and the text tells us that he prayed with such fervor that he wept bitterly (2 Kings 20:2). His prayer was heard and his tears were seen by the Lord. Before Isaiah could even exit Hezekiah’s house, he was told to return to Hezekiah with an updated message (2 Kings 20:4-5). Hezekiah was not going to die yet. Instead the Lord granted him another 15 years on this earth. God was prepared for Hezekiah’s prayer, because God knows all things even before they occur.

     Likewise when we pray to the Lord, He already knows what it is that we will say and what it is that we need (Matthew 6:8). Still, He wants for us to come to Him in prayer. We are no different than Hezekiah in that respect. God knew that He would heal Hezekiah, but yet He waited for Hezekiah’s prayer. God has the power to answer all our prayers in an instant. Whether the answer comes instantly or over the course of time, our part is to pray with the earnest expectation that God will hear and answer our prayers (James 1:6-8).

The Apple of God’s Eye

Apple of His Eye     There is an old Stevie Wonder song where he sings about someone being the apple of his eye. The descriptive “apple of his eye” is used to denote that person who is most precious to him. The one that he cannot do without. We might consider how we look at God, and whether He is the apple of our eye, but instead let us consider who or what is the apple of God’s eye.

     In the book of Zechariah, God was encouraging His people, who had returned from exile and were in the process of rebuilding the temple. As they were building, they were concerned with the lack of walls around the city for protection. To ease their minds, God instructed them through the prophet, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.  For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me’” (Zechariah 2:8-9 NKJV). God was basically telling them that He would protect them from their enemies, for they are the apple of His eye. This means that God’s people are precious in His sight.

     Over 600 years later, God would also give comfort to His people who were suffering under the persecution of the Roman Empire. At that time John wrote the book of Revelation to the church in order to encourage them to hang in there in the face of persecution and death. God was going to deal with the Roman Empire, because when they went after His people, the apple of His eye, they were basically going after Him.

     We as God’s people are still precious to Him today. It is you and me as Christians, the members of His church, who are special in His sight. We are the apple of His eye. Thinking about this and thinking about how He has cared for His people and continues to care for His people should give us pause in how we deal with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Are we treating our Christian family as the apple of God’s eye? In light of the fact that God is greatly displeased when any of His children are mistreated, we should all consider how we are treating one another and realize that all of His children are precious in His sight.

But If Not . . .

OXYGEN Volume 10     Back in the days of Daniel, when the children of Israel were exiled in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar decided to have a 90 foot tall golden statue constructed. The king then commanded that at the proper time all were to bow down and worship this golden image. There were those among the exiles, however, who were faithful to God and would not bow down to the image even though the penalty was death in a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-12). These three men, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego, were not going to violate their worship to the one true God by bowing down and paying homage to the image Nebuchadnezzar created. Did they not know that this would cost them their physical lives?

     Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego knew full well what the penalty was for refusing to bow to the statue, and yet they remained unconcerned. They responded to the king that they need not be worried over the circumstances of their refusal, because their God was able to deliver them (Daniel 3:17). They knew that God had the power to save them from the physical death in the fiery furnace. Then they uttered three words that demonstrated their great faith in the Almighty God, “but if not” (Daniel 3:18). Even if God decided to not save them from the physical trial, they knew that God could still deliver them spiritually.

     How is our faith in times of trouble or trial? Do we have the faith to stand with the one true God, or do we see our trials as too difficult and give in to the rest of the world? Do we take the path of least resistance to avoid trial or persecution? Let us look to these three young men as examples of how we should approach physical trials. God has the power to deliver us from all sorts of physical trials. But if not, He is still the only one who can deliver our souls from everlasting destruction.

Why Was God Pleased to Injure Christ?

nails     During this time of the year when many people are thinking about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, many might read from Isaiah 53, which predicts the Christ’s ordeal on the cross. Have you ever read that account, however, and wondered about just what it says? In verse 4 we read that Christ was, “Smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4, NKJV). Later it declares, “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). “He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken” (Isaiah 53:8). On and on we read within Isaiah’s prophecy about how Jesus was going to be mistreated by mankind. But then we read the statement, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10, emphasis added). Just how could this bloody sacrifice of His one and only unique Son be pleasing to God?

     There are many events recorded in the Bible, with which God was not pleased. He was not pleased with the idolatry of the Israelites. Whether at the base of Mount Sinai during their exodus from Egypt, in the high places during the time of the divided kingdom, or in the temple during the reign of Manasseh, God was not pleased with idolatry. There were times when the Israelites did not offer their best in sacrifice to God, but instead brought the lame and sick as a sacrifice (Malachi 1:8; 3:8-9). In this God was not pleased, because their heart was not in what they were doing, and they were not showing God the proper respect. “Therefore, when He [Jesus] came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure’” (Hebrews 10:5-6). Here Jesus is saying to the Father that the Father did not desire or have pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices.

     So what are we to make of this? God did not have pleasure or desire for burnt offerings and sacrifices, which He commanded, but it pleased the Lord to bruise Christ. Even though God commanded the children of Israel to make burnt offerings and sacrifices, He did not take pleasure in them. Their sacrifices represented failure on their part to keep His law. They were required because of the sins of the people. They were necessary because mankind will always fall short. God takes no pleasure in man’s sin. This is why God through the prophet Samuel says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). God would rather that man obey Him than to make the best animal sacrifice he could offer. God also did not have pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices because they could not get the job done. Just before stating that God has no desire for nor pleasure in those offerings, the Hebrew account tells us plainly, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Those animal sacrifices could not take sin away and could not make those who offered them perfect with regards to the conscience (Hebrews 9:9; 10:1-3). There was still a remembrance of those sins, and so year after year the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place with the blood of the sacrifice (Hebrews 9:7). God was not pleased because the reconciliation between God and man was not complete.

     By contrast then, God was pleased with the sacrifice of Christ. Because of what Jesus did for mankind by dying on the cross as our perfect offering, there is a cleansing of the conscience and the sins of man are remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:12). The sacrifice of Jesus was perfect and complete. There no longer remains a need for another sacrifice, because Jesus offered Himself for us once for all (Hebrews 9:11-15). Because of the redemptive work of Christ, man and God are reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:16). In this the Lord is pleased. This is how God can say that He was pleased to bruise Jesus for our transgressions. It is not that He was pleased by Christ having to endure the cross and the pain and the shame. But God was pleased in the result in that mankind has a path back to the Father. Will you follow God’s Path to Salvation? Will you take the only way that we can go to find eternal life (John 14:6)? God has done His part by offering His one and only unique Son for our behalf (John 3:16). In this He was pleased. Will you do your part to accept His sacrifice and apply the blood to cover your sins through simple obedience to the Gospel? If you want to be pleasing to God, you will.

Do You Love Jesus?

Love     If someone were to ask you if you love Jesus, what might your response be? Some may want to know who Jesus is. Others may inquire as to what is meant by “love.” There might be those who would want to know why such a question is being asked of them. Yet it is likely that many would say that, yes, they love Jesus. How many of those who say that they love Jesus would also say that they are obeying His commands?

     There is a false dilemma that occurs when one begins asking if you are a lover of God and Jesus or if you are a commandment keeper, as if you cannot be both. They might refer to God’s word and state that the keeping of the law is no longer our basis for justification, but that justification comes through the grace of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, NKJV). That is certainly true with regards to the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament. However, there is a law of Christ that we are to adhere to. Paul, who penned the Ephesian letter, also says in the Galatian letter, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

     Perhaps we can understand this best by looking at what the Bible actually says about love and commandments. “Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always” (Deuteronomy 11:1). Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:15, 21).

     If we love the Lord Jesus Christ, we will follow and obey His commandments. That includes His commands to love one another, to put God first in our lives, to seek first His kingdom, to be baptized for the remission of our sins, and to assemble with the saints upon the first day of the week. So, do you love Jesus?

Cutting of the Scroll

Jehoiakim_Burns_the_Word_of_God_(Bible_Card)     Near the end of the kingdom of Judah, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Jeremiah and he was told to put all the accusations against Israel in Judah into a scroll. The hope of the Lord was that the people in Judah would hear about all the wrong things that were done, which offended God, and that they would repent before it was too late. The scroll was dictated by Jeremiah and written by the hand of Baruch, who was a scribe. After being read in the temple, the scroll was taken to king Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah (Jeremiah 36:1-4, 16).

     To say the least, Jehoiakim did not appreciate the things that were written on the scroll. He did not like that God was criticizing his practices, nor did he like that God was telling him through Jeremiah that the Babylonians were going to invade and conquer Judah if they did not repent. Jehoiakim made a choice to ignore and disbelieve the prophecies of Jeremiah. In objection to the scroll, the king cut it up and threw it into the fire (Jeremiah 36:23).

     It is interesting to wonder how many times in the many years since this event that others have tried to cut out the parts of God’s word that they did not want to hear, and metaphorically cast God’s word into the fire. Many have a tendency to approach religion as if it were a buffet table. They take what they like, but ignore or cut out those parts of scripture that do not agree with their lifestyle.

     In the case of Jehoiakim, he was not successful in ignoring God. God commanded Jeremiah to write another scroll, so God’s word was not to be defeated or destroyed. Additionally, Jehoiakim’s son lost the path to the throne, and Jehoiakim’s body found no rest after death by not receiving a proper burial (Jeremiah 36:27-30). For a king, this is a grievous insult. Let us think for a moment about what our fate will be if we attempt to do the same as Jehoiakim. We cannot ignore God’s will if we want to lay hold of eternal life. If we want rest after our physical death, we must adhere to the entirety of God’s law for us (Matthew 7:21ff). To cut away the parts of the scroll we don’t personally like is to cut away our own soul.

The Thief on the Cross

cross-671379_960_720     Start discussing the biblical requirement to be baptized with someone and see how long it takes before they mention the thief on the cross. Odds are it will not take too long.  That is because there is a widespread doctrine in the religious world that tries to eliminate the need for baptism by appealing to the example of this particular individual, whom Jesus told would be with Him in paradise on the day they both died (Luke 22:43). Just what does this example tell us about salvation? Does the example of the thief on the cross really mean that one does not need to be baptized in order to be saved? Let us look at this issue by noticing three things about this man being forgiven by Christ.

First, the argument is made that the thief was never baptized, and yet Jesus tells him that they will be together in paradise. Is it the case that he was never baptized? How would you prove that? The thief obviously knew something about Jesus and His ministry, for he confesses, ‘. . . we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom’” (Luke 22:41b-42, NKJV). He knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong, and he had faith in that even though Jesus was hanging on the cross, death would not keep Jesus from receiving His kingdom. How did he know that? Was he a disciple of Christ, perhaps? Had he been baptized by John in the Jordan? It was said of John that, “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). Was the thief on the cross in this crowd that John was baptizing? It cannot be proven from scripture that the thief was baptized, but it equally cannot be proven by scripture that he was not.

Second, it should be noted that Jesus had the power to forgive sins while he was on this earth. If Jesus wanted to forgive the thief on the cross based upon his confession of faith, He had the ability to do so. Just look at the example of the paralytic, whom Jesus healed in Mark 2. Unable to reach Jesus in the house because of the crowd that had gathered, the friends of the paralytic man lowered him through the roof so that he could get to Jesus. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you’” (Mark 2:5). The scribes accused Jesus of blasphemy, since only God could forgive sins. To show that He had the power and authority on earth to forgive sins, Jesus healed the man of his paralysis (Mark 2:6-12). Notice that the text says nothing about whether this man was baptized or not either!

This brings us to the third thing that we want to take notice of regarding both the thief on the cross and any others, whom Jesus forgave while on the earth. While Jesus lived on the earth, the Mosaic Law was in effect. The New Covenant had not yet been offered to anyone. There was a new covenant that was coming, but it did not go into effect until the death of Christ. Jeremiah prophesied about this new covenant between man and God.

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 that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

This new covenant is the last will and testament of Jesus Christ. As with our own wills, no will or testament is enforced while the one who willed it is alive. A will is only in force after the death of the testator. That is exactly what is said about the new covenant in the Holy Scriptures (Hebrews 9:16-17). Just as the covenant, or agreement, between God and man that was offered at Mount Sinai was sealed in blood, so too would the new covenant between man and God be sealed with the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:18-22; Luke 22:20).

The new covenant was first offered to mankind on the day of Pentecost, as is recorded for us in Acts 2. If we will obey God and do what He commands, then we can have our sins remitted and have the hope of eternal life with Him. That is the agreement. Notice what Peter says they are to do when asked about how they can be saved. “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’” (Acts 2:38). Since the thief on the cross lived and died during the old covenant, and since the new covenant was not offered to anyone until the day of Pentecost, the thief on the cross was not subject to the requirements of the new covenant. But guess who is subject to the new covenant. That’s right! We are!

God’s word could not be clearer on the need for baptism for the remission of our sins in order for us to have salvation. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). If He didn’t mean it when He said it, then how would He have said it if He meant it? Jesus said exactly what He meant. He who believes AND is baptized will be saved. For more on God’s Path to Salvation, please click on this link. The fact that the thief on the cross received forgiveness and went to paradise that day does nothing to save our souls. We must be obedient to the One who died for us. We must live according to His will and testament. We are no longer under the Mosaic Law. Don’t take my word for it. See what the scriptures have to say about our belief, obedience, and salvation!

Right In Their Own Sight

chinese-traffic-chaos-small     Is it acceptable for each of us to do that which is right in our own sight? Are we free to make our own rules for what is right and wrong? Toward the latter section of the book of Judges, we find that there are two phrases that that are oft repeated for emphasis. The first of these is a reminder that there was no king in Israel in those days, and the second is that everyone did what was right in their own sight (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In these examples we can find the answer to our questions.

     In the book of Judges we see a repeated pattern of the Israelites falling away from God, being oppressed by a foreign power, crying out for deliverance, and being rescued by a judge or deliverer. The latter section of the book shows us just how depraved they were and how far they had wandered from God. Yes, there was no king in the land, but God was supposed to be their king. There was no king in the land, because they had rejected God, and so each man did what was right in his own eyes. This led to them doing that which was evil, for the most part.

     When we look at our own lives and at our own nation, what do we see? We are subject to the kingdom of God and the law of Christ in the same manner that those Israelites were subject to God. Rejecting God and his Lordship over our lives will lead to disastrous results, just as it did for those who fell away in the period of the Judges.

     The lesson for us is that we need to follow God if we want to receive our eternal reward and avoid punishment. God punished those Israelites with oppression when they wandered from Him. God will punish us if we are not making Him our king, and if we are each doing whatever is right in our own sight regardless of the law of Christ. Our punishment may not come in this lifetime, but God warns us that His punishment for those who do not know him or do not obey His commandments will last for all eternity (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Thus we need to follow the king, and not what we think or feel is right or wrong.