Blessed in Christ

          Have you ever read something in the Scriptures that made you scratch your head? Jesus says in His famed sermon on the mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). How often have you felt “blessed” while mourning? Isn’t this a paradox?
          Throughout the Scriptures, we see what we would consider negative events lead to positive results. Consider the inspired words of Romans 5:3-4 (tribulation –> perseverance –> hope), Hebrews 12:11 (chastening –> peaceable fruit of righteousness), 2 Corinthians 7:10 (godly sorrow –> repentance leading to salvation), and James 1:2-3 (trials/testing of faith –> patience). In each instance, we start with something negative, but the end result is something positive.
          The mourning under consideration in Matthew 5 does not refer to everyday sorrows, as Paul tells us that “the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). J.W. McGarvey writes in his commentary on Matthew and Mark that this is “those who mourn in reference to sin. ‘They shall be comforted’ because now there is an ample provision made for pardon.”
          “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11)
          We no longer have to mourn over our hopelessness, but “rejoice” that “through (Christ) we have now received the reconciliation.” Truly we are blessed!

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Exhort One Another

          “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” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
          How blessed are we to have so many opportunities to gather together and encourage each other? From Sunday morning Bible class and worship to Sunday evening, our mid-week studies, gospel meetings and seminars, we have many occasions in which we can receive sound spiritual nourishment.
          When we come together, God commands us to exhort or encourage each other. One way to do this is by taking notice of the good things our brothers and sisters are doing, and thanking them.
          Have you thanked any of the teachers from Vacation Bible School? Or those who helped prepare the snacks each day? How about those who led the singing, or those who helped with decorations, props, and bulletin boards? Many people were involved, and should be recognized.
          Have you thanked the men and women who are taking care of our teenagers, organizing activities and driving them to youth rallies and camps? Or those who teach the children on Sunday morning and Wednesday night?
          Have you thanked the parents who bring their children to learn more about God? There are many secular activities that can distract them from spiritual matters, and they need to be encouraged for attending as many services as possible.
          I hope that everyone is praying for the elders and deacons, but have you told them that you are praying for them? Have you asked them if there is anything specific you can include in your supplications to the Almighty? James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Let us seek to live righteously and pray fervently for our overseers and servants.
          Look for opportunities to encourage each other, and thank each other. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Hidden Sin

          An All-Star second baseman, seemingly on the path to baseball immortality in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame, was handed an 80-day suspension for using performance enhancing substances. However, it was not a performance enhancer that showed up in his drug tests, but a diuretic commonly used as a masking agent. In other words, the player was trying to hide what he was really doing.
          Are we guilty of masking or hiding things in a spiritual sense? We may attend church services regularly, participate in Bible classes, lead in worship…but are we hiding something from our brethren?
          Paul encouraged the brethren at Philippi to do the right thing, whether he was aware of their behavior or not. He wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We should always strive to be holy, even if no one on this earth sees us.
          We can be sure of one thing: even if we are “successful” in hiding sinful behaviors from others in the church, we cannot hide from God. Paul assures us of this fact. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust we are well known in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:9-11).
          Let us not mask or hide our weaknesses, temptations, and sins from each other, but lean on each other for spiritual support and strength. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

Learning from Matthew

          Actions speak louder than words. The apostle Matthew (also known as Levi) demonstrated his devotion to the Lord through his actions. He worked as a tax collector. The Jews had a very low opinion of tax collectors, but it was a financially lucrative occupation. When Jesus called Matthew, Luke says that “he left all, rose up, and followed Him” (Luke 5:28).
          Matthew recognized the infinite value of the soul. He recorded the Lord’s words, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Knowing this surely made the decision to leave his position at the tax office less difficult.
          The humility of Matthew also shines through in his account of Christ’s gospel. He writes, “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples” (Matthew 9:9-10).
          Compare this with Luke’s account: “After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them” (Luke 5:27-29).
          Did you notice the differences? They are slight, but they are there. Matthew does not say that he left everything, but Luke wants to be sure the reader recognizes his level of commitment. Also, Matthew simply mentions a feast “in the house.” Luke tells us that Matthew “gave Him a great feast in his own house.” Matthew could have given himself credit for these things, but he didn’t want to draw focus away from Jesus.
          Let’s remember to always give God the glory, showing others His love and grace.

On NBC’s Rise and the Christian’s vigilance

          Christians must be aware of the world around them. Inspiration teaches, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Our awareness of the world will help to guard us against falling prey to Satan’s schemes, and prepare us to help others find God’s truth.
          NBC premiered a new program called Rise in March. The show focuses on Lou Massuchelli, an English teacher put in charge of his high school’s drama club. His first act is to announce the production of the controversial musical, Spring Awakening, which addresses several issues of teenage sexuality.
          Rise includes a male homosexual student, a transgender female transitioning to male, and a straight male who is cast in a role that requires him to kiss another male. All of these are presented as completely normal, acceptable lifestyles to most of the other characters. The few that object are portrayed as narrow-minded people. Showrunner Jason Katims released a statement in which he affirmed the producers are “firmly committed to LGBTQ inclusion” and that Rise “portrays positive depictions of LGBTQ characters and stories…with honesty and sensitivity.”
          In a recent episode, a parent asked the teacher, “What do you believe in?”
          Lou responded, “I believe in the kids I teach. I believe in the truth. I believe in helping them to grow up in the sun and not in the shadows,” further reinforcing the character’s view that homosexuality and transgenderism should be accepted by everyone.
          I am reminded of the prophet who cried, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
          Fornication — whether heterosexual or homosexual — is wrong, regardless of age. Transgenderism is wrong. Brother Ben Giselbach published an informative article about transgenderism in 2015 on his website, “Plain Simple Faith” (plainsimplefaith.com/2015/06/transgenderism).
          Christians, be aware that many of your co-workers (adults) and classmates (youngsters) believe in the acceptance of deviant sexual behaviors. Be ready to defend the Biblical truth on these matters (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).

On Stephen Hawking and the reality of God

          The Hebrews writer penned, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
          Stephen Hawking passed from this life into eternity on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. As of 2011, Mr. Hawking did not believe the words of inspiration. In an interview with The Guardian, quoted by USA Today, the physicist said, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
          God blessed Mr. Hawking with intelligence, but the man refused to use that blessing to observe the Almighty’s creation all around Him and seek the designer of it all. In The Grand Design, published in 2010, Mr. Hawking wrote, “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
          Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Hawking never shed his self-proclaimed atheism. As Christians, we must mourn not only the loss of his brilliant mind but also the eternal state of his soul. We cannot rejoice in the eternal condemnation of the unbelieving, but trust in the righteousness of God. We need to share the desire of the Lord, who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to the repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and strive to reach those with whom we have some influence.
          Mr. Hawking said, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.” Friends, all the answers that we need are found in the Holy Scriptures.
          “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

On Billy Graham and the “importance” of baptism

          Facebook was flooded with posts about Billy Graham as the news of his passing spread on Wednesday. Many shared memories of hearing the popular preacher, others recounted some of his achievements in religion. He was commended by some and criticized by others.
          Those who criticized Mr. Graham’s preaching, specifically his failure to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), were themselves rebuked with the statement, “God alone will judge!” In truth, no mortal man can preach anyone into heaven or condemn anyone to hell. It is God and God alone who knows all there is to know about a man (2 Corinthians 5:10). However, the Scriptures also teach that we can identify false teachers “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
          If you continue reading in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus talks about religious people who claimed to do good works, but who would be denied entrance to the kingdom of heaven. Despite all of their good works, Jesus says, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
          Mr. Graham’s teaching was good, up to a point. He stressed the importance of faith. He extolled the value of morality. However, he stopped short. Concerning baptism, he said, “I believe baptism is important, and I have been baptized. But I think we violate the Scriptures when we make baptism the prime requirement for salvation.”
          First, note that Mr. Graham accuses some of making baptism “the prime” requirement. Brethren, baptism must be based upon faith in Christ as the Son of God and coupled with repentance. It is no more or less “prime” than any of God’s commands.
          Second, compare Mr. Graham’s opinion (that baptism is “important”) to the inspired Word. Read Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-6. Do you get a sense of mere importance in those passages, or is it directly related to salvation?
          Many have sadly been deceived by Mr. Graham’s teachings. May we all strive for faith in the Word of God rather than the words of uninspired men as we seek to obey our Father.

Ask for the Old Paths

          In the entertainment industry, nostalgia is big business. The Star Wars franchise began in 1977, was resurrected in the late ‘90s and again just a few years ago to huge profits. Netflix just announced this past week that it was developing a new She-Ra cartoon, originally a popular series in the 1980s. Big-screen adaptations of Transformers, G.I. Joe, and the like attract adults who were fans when they were much younger. The same is true in the music industry, with bands begging for fans to spend money on reunion tours and greatest hits albums.
          Spiritually, there is value in pursuing the pure, original doctrine of God. This was true under the old covenant, and it is still true today in this Christian age. The weeping prophet relayed this message from Jehovah to the people: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
          This principle holds true today. Following the example of first century Christians, we should “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The only way to do that is to know the apostles’ doctrine, to study the Word and walk in it.
          God can make us complete through His Word: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Again, the only way this can happen is to make an effort to know the Scriptures; God will not force it upon us.
          The importance of knowing God’s untarnished Word is also shown when we connect Romans 10:17 and Hebrews 11:6. Without a diligent, seeking faith—which is developed by hearing the Word—it is impossible to please God.
          Whatever new doctrine comes along, as Christians we must stand firm in the old ways of the apostles who were inspired by God. When someone tries to lead you astray, “ask for the old paths.”

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!

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).