God is Faithful

          Information comes at us from all angles – television, radio, Facebook, word-of-mouth, books…sometimes it is difficult to process what is the most reliable source. One news anchor gives a certain “fact,” while an online article disputes that information and offers an alternative view. How do we know who to trust?
          Regardless of what is going on in society, we can always rely on the trustworthiness of God. James teaches us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). We can trust God to follow through on His promises.
          He was faithful to Israel. “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
          He is faithful to provide for His children. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
          He is faithful to fulfill His promises in eternity. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
          The Psalmist recognized the might and fidelity of Jehovah. “O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds You” (Psalm 89:8).
          Man will lie. News reports may mislead. Facebook articles may distort the truth. Key facts are omitted in word-of-mouth. Don’t believe everything you hear or read in the world. But you can always believe God and His Word.
          It is a great blessing to be able to serve the One who rules over everything, the One who will never change or turn against us, the One who will keep His Word. God is faithful!

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Man’s Spiritual Needs

          What is man’s greatest spiritual need? Obviously, the answer is salvation. Without fulfilling the need for salvation, fulfilling any other need would be pointless. What is God’s power to salvation according to Romans 1:16? The gospel. It is not an experience that we have; it is not the Calvinistic concept of predestination; it is the gospel of Christ.
          Man’s other spiritual needs are fulfilled through the revealed Word as well. The need for spiritual growth (2 Peter 3:18 – “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”), the need for purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “…Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.”), etc. Our spiritual needs can only be fulfilled or fully satisfied by studying and applying the Word to our lives.
          Tom Holland, in a lecture entitled, “The All-Sufficiency and Finality of the Bible,” stated that God’s power has given us: (1) information, (2) motivation, and (3) preservation (“The Holy Scriptures,” The Second Annual Fort Worth Lectures, pp.66-74). God has given us the information that we need to be saved and live properly before Him, and in a sense, that relates directly to the preservation aspect as well, since we need to continue in His Word if we are to continue pleasing Him. But I would like to notice brother Holland’s thoughts concerning the motivation that God gives us through the Word:

“One may, by obeying God, ‘escape from the corruption that is in the world’ (2 Pet. 1:4). The burden of guilt may be lifted from the conscience, therefore, one may be ‘purged (cleansed) from old sins’ (2 Pet. 1:9). The condemnation of sin may be lifted from the soul. The potential spiritual security that comes to those who do God’s will will prompt some people to positively respond to God’s word because the need for security is one of the strongest drives within man.”

          May we always remember the all-sufficiency of God’s grace, “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

The Devil Hates Success

          On August 24, 2017, the Cleveland Indians defeated the Boston Red Sox in what would begin an amazing win streak. Between August 24 and September 14, “The Tribe” outscored their opponents by 105 runs, slugged 41 homers, and pitched seven shutouts. Out of 199 innings, they only trailed their foes nine times. It is one of the most dominant win streaks in baseball history, bested only by the New York Giants of 1916. Eventually, though, the Indians will lose (assuming they haven’t already by the time you read this). All good things must come to an end in this life.
          As Christians, we will experience spiritual peaks and valleys. There will be times of great success, multiple baptisms and restorations, increased giving, more and more people on fire for the Lord. It is our hope and prayer that this zeal, as long as it is properly channeled, burns brightly in every child of God. But the devil hates success.
          Peter was a fervent man who set his sights on serving Christ. He told Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). When the officials placed the Messiah under arrest, it was Peter who, “having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear” (John 18:10). Yet Christ had warned the apostle, “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). It was not long after the arrest that Peter denied his Lord. The devil hates success.
          Never give up on your friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors who are not members of the Lord’s church. Keep praying and planting seeds. Some seeds will fall by the wayside, some on the rock, and some among the thorns. But there will be some that fall on good soil, representing those “who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). The devil hates success, so let’s do our best to make him mad.

Try and Take Over the World

          Pinky and the Brain made their television debut in 1993 on Animaniacs. They were a pair of genetically enhanced lab mice, one of whom is bent on world domination. The running gag has the dim-witted Pinky ask, “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” His counterpart answers, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky, try and take over the world!”
          Shouldn’t our goal be the same while we live on this earth? No, we are not looking to selfishly seize all the power, but should we not try to lead all of our friends and neighbors to the truth? Leading other to Christ, allowing Him to rule our decisions and theirs, so that we are all a part of the family of God…what more nobler goal could there me than to “try and take over the world” with Christ’s love and mercy?
          Christ told the eleven, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Did they do that? Paul says the faith “was preached to every creature under heaven” just a few decades later (Colossians 1:23).
          We have so many tools for evangelism at our disposal today, from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter, but don’t forget good, old-fashioned, face-to-face, “Hey, what are you doing on Sunday? We’d love to have you worship with us, and we’ll go grab some lunch afterwards.”
          Do you know someone who might be interested in a Bible study? Even if you don’t feel prepared to lead such a study, you can set one up with another member of the church and learn by sitting with them as they teach. This is a Scriptural: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
          As you go about your week, think of Pinky and the Brain. “What are we going to do today, Christian?”
          “The same thing we do every day, brother, try and take over the world…for Christ.”

Are you excited?

          As Jesus and His disciples traveled from Judea to Galilee, the Lord stopped at Jacob’s well in Samaria to rest while the disciples continued to the city to purchase food. It is recorded in John 4 that He conversed with the Samaritan woman, explaining to her that God seeks people to worship Him “in spirit and truth,” and revealing to her His Messianic identity. The Lord was so engrossed in this conversation, that He refused the food the disciples brought back to Him. He told them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”
          The woman was so excited about Jesus that she left her waterpot behind, going back to the city and declaring, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
          Twenty-first century Christians need to be as excited about the words of Jesus as this first century Samaritan woman. We need to be telling of His love and grace and mercy and forgiveness to anyone within earshot.
          The Scriptures tell us that “many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman.” She was willing to tell others what she knew, and lead them to the Lord. When the Samaritans came to Him and learned from Him, “many more believed because of His own word.”
          What can we learn from this? Start by putting it into your own words. Who is Jesus? What has He done? What can He do? Then, as your friends’ interest is piqued, lead them to learn from “His own word.” Help them learn about the redemption offered by the Father to all through the blood of His Son, using the Scriptures.
          Everyone needs the gospel. Everyone needs the blood of Christ. Everyone needs someone to be excited enough and to love them enough to teach them the truth.

Missed Opportunities

          A twenty-first century poet wrote, “Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”
          Regret is not a fun feeling. Many regret past actions, and sinful behaviors should cause a type of regret that leads to repentance and reconciliation with God. With God’s grace and mercy covering our sins, we can move beyond regret to serve Him faithfully, learning from our mistakes and helping others to avoid the same.
          There is another type of regret, however, that is more difficult to move beyond: the regret of not doing something. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.” We can allow our missed opportunities to paralyze us, weighing us down with regret, or we can use them as motivation to act the next time God gives us an opportunity.
          The greatest thing you can do for anyone is to teach them about Christ and the salvation He offers. Have you ever missed an opportunity to tell someone about the power of His blood? I have, and I regret it. But I cannot allow that regret to prevent me from grabbing the next chance I have to lead someone to the truth.
          The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). The famous Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei advised, “Stop worrying about missed opportunities and start looking for new ones.” Where will you start looking? Who will you share the gospel with this week?

Fairweather Followers

The Oakland A’s were the best team in baseball in 1972, defeating the Reds four games to three in the World Series. Returning to the airport in Oakland after the deciding game in Cincinnati, the team was greeted by a throng of adoring “fans.” The players, however, said it was the first time some of them had seen the team in person. Third baseman Sal Bando said, “It was a madhouse. You couldn’t walk through the place. The fans were hysterical. We wondered where they came from, because they’d never been at the ballpark.”

How will Christ react to His many adoring “followers” when He returns? Jesus said, “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. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Oakland’s attendance in 1972 was just under one million, 14th among the 24 major league teams. A championship team should not be in the bottom half in attendance, but it seems that the people of Oakland just didn’t expect the A’s to continue winning.

“Fairweather fans” will root with all their might when their team is winning, but switch allegiance as soon as there is trouble on the field. Sadly, the same is true in many congregations. “Fairweather followers” will never miss a worship service while they agree with the elders and preachers, but as soon as they feel someone stepping on their toes, their fidelity falters. Their attendance slips, they miss opportunities for fellowship, and may even start badmouthing the church to their friends.

When things aren’t going well, when temptations hit harder, when we feel all alone—that’s when we need the church the most. Work on developing a faith like those in Hebrews 11; don’t be a “fairweather follower.”

The Joy of Mercy

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered several beatitudes, or “blessed” sayings. The Lord taught His disciples how they could be truly happy by identifying character traits of the joyous. Among those exhortations, Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The wise man in Proverbs 14:21: “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy to the poor, happy is he.” Extending mercy to those around us will result in joy.

It has been said that grace is getting what you do not deserve, while mercy is not getting what you do deserve. How many people can say they deserve salvation? The prophet Isaiah said, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). The apostle Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As one of my Bible teachers often said, “You can’t get ‘all’-er than ‘all.’” In other words, there is no one excluded from the word “all.”

Without God’s mercy, we are without hope. But God provides mercy to those who extend mercy. Conversely, those who are unmerciful toward their brother will face harsher judgment from the Almighty. “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

When Peter asked how many times he should forgive his brother in Matthew 18, suggesting that seven times should surely be sufficient, Jesus answered, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” He then told a parable about an unmerciful man who, despite the great mercy shown to him, was unforgiving of his brother. His master “delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.” Jesus concluded, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

The bottom line is this: if you crave God’s mercy, be merciful to your fellow man!

Obedience Requires Humility

Paul, Silas, and their fellow workers in the Lord encountered a great number of people on their missionary journey. Some of those people received their teachings, while others rejected the message of God. When they arrived in Philippi, the missionaries went to the riverside where a group of spiritually-minded women were praying on the Sabbath.

One of those women was named Lydia. As Paul taught the truth of Jesus Christ, Lydia’s heart was opened and she heeded his words. “And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ So she persuaded us” (Acts 16:15).

What a precious response to the Word of God. Luke does not record any arguing over the doctrine. Lydia did not make excuses for her shortcomings, nor did she “agree to disagree” with what Paul taught. She heard, she believed, and she was baptized.

How do you feel when you find out you have been wrong about something? Perhaps your boss showed you a more efficient way to do your job. Do you resist the change just because you have been doing it your way for years? Or do you recognize that there is a better way, and adjust accordingly?

Spiritually speaking, the new covenant of Jesus is “a better covenant” than the old Law of Moses, offering “a better hope” (Hebrews 7:19,22; 8:6). Christianity is better than any other religion, because it is the only path to salvation. Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ, is “the way, the truth, and the life.” He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The church must follow the Word of God, and only the Word of God. No denominational creeds, no catechisms, nothing more and nothing less than the inspired Word. It is not arrogance, but rather humility, to recognize that we cannot improve upon His revelation. The Father said of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Luke 9:35).

Useful

When Barnabas and Saul embarked on their first missionary journey, John Mark traveled with them as their assistant (Acts 13:5), but he did not stay with the mission long (Acts 13:13). We are not told the precise reason for Mark’s departure, but he violated Paul’s trust when he left.

In fact, Paul’s distrust was so great that he refused to give Mark another chance on his second missionary trip, despite Barnabas’ suggestion. “Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another” (Acts 15:39).

Paul was focused on the work and strengthening the churches that were established during the first trip, and did not want to be distracted by Mark’s shortcomings; Paul did not want to risk a second abandonment. Barnabas, on the other hand, wanted to encourage Mark in his labors for the Lord and provide him the emotional support he needed in his service.

How many people disappear from the Lord’s service today? What should we do when we see someone drifting away from the faith? Paul himself wrote that we should “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

When we mess up, we may disappoint family and friends, but that does not mean we are forever useless. It may take time to rebuild trust, but if we are diligent and faithful, it can be accomplished, just as Mark eventually won back Paul’s trust (2 Timothy 4:11).

It starts small. We should not expect someone to entrust us with a major task if we have not proved ourselves with simpler things. Read Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. What does Jesus say to those who were faithful and fruitful? What does He say to the man who did nothing with that which was entrusted to him?

It is very important that we serve the Lord to the best of our ability and not give up. But if we do stumble, know that we can turn ourselves around and become useful to Him again.