Hope of Salvation

When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds who were watching their flocks at night, they proclaimed, “glad tidings of great joy.” Angels made an actual appearance and they were couldn’t contain their joy as they told the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” They explained to the shepherds where they would find the Christ child. He was born in a lowly stable. The shepherds worshiped Jesus when they found him.

Worship, adoration, gratitude—those are the appropriate responses in an encounter with Christ. In fact, this is what naturally overflows from our hearts.

John the Baptist introduced Jesus thirty years later, to a crowd, as, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Each of us has to reckon with Christ. We can worship him as the Son of God, whom he claimed to be, or we can reject him.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man (or woman) hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him.”

The image is one of intimacy, of enjoyment of fellowship, eating together, sharing life.

Jesus wants to be part of your life. And because he is God, one with God, the Son of God, as he himself proclaimed, he must also be Lord of your life, if you invite him in. Only he knows the purpose for which you were designed. Only he can direct us to live life as we were meant to live.

Jesus came to this earth out of his great love for us. He came to offer us a new way of living. He came to give us a new start. He offered forgiveness of sins of the past and deliverance from evil. He showed his great love to us by enduring death on a cross. He took the punishment for our sins in our place. It is a great mystery, how this was accomplished, but millions have accepted Jesus and experienced the joy of salvation when they opened the door of their heart to him.

Jesus offers us hope in this dark world. All we have to do is invite him in to our hearts and lives, make him a part of everything we do. “Practice the presence of Christ” daily, in every situation, as a Benedictine monk, Brother Lawrence, wrote centuries ago (Practicing the Presence of God). He had discovered the secret of the happy Christian life, which is abiding in Christ, resting in his presence, his goodness, his faithfulness to us. “He who freely gave his Son for us will he not also freely give us all things that pertain to life and godliness?” Of course he will. “There is no fear in love, for fear has torment, but perfect love casts out fear.”

The most cherished possession I own is my Bible. In the New Testament I read about the life of Christ, and about the Christian life. Jesus said that the Old Testament speaks of him, too. He explained to his disciples how the Old Testament related to him and foretold his coming, and his purpose of bringing salvation. At first his disciples did not understand because they thought their Messiah would be a great king, with an earthly kingdom. Even with all their religious training in their synagogues and in the temple, they failed to understand fully what would happen. The message of Jesus challenged them because it was one of humility and faith and service. His kingdom was not of this world. It is a heavenly kingdom. When we invite Christ into our hearts, our outlook changes. We begin to see heaven touching earth.

We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

“Jesus, come into my heart. Forgive my sins and make me clean. Help me to live this life as you intended, as you designed for me to live it. Help me to acknowledge you in all my ways and to follow you every day. Thank you for your unspeakably great gift of salvation. Now, fill me with your Holy Spirit, as you promised, so that I will be empowered from on high to live for you. Amen.”

This is the good news. Salvation. In fact it is the best news, ever. It is the power of God, delivering us in every situation from evil. It is the power of righteousness in this world. God sets things right, through his Son, Jesus. He also gives us the hope of eternity with him, so we no longer fear death.

Related Scriptures: Luke 2, John 1:29, John 1, Revelation 3:20, John 3:16, John 10, John 15, John 17:11, Romans 8:32, 1 John 4:18, John 5:39, Luke 24:27, Matthew 5, John 18:36, Revelation 11:15, Matthew 6:33, Romans 14:17, Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4, Luke 24:29, Acts 1:4, Ephesians 1, 2.

False Teachings in the Church

There are false teachings in the churches today. We can only discern them when we seek God and submit ourselves to his ways.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

As believers we war against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places.* We pull down spiritual strongholds. We cast out demons. We heal the sick. We declare the kingdom of God. We shine a light in the darkness. We expose sin.

Today we commemorate the death of Christ. There were false teachings among the believers in Jesus’ day, as well, and the religious leaders were the ones who incited the mob to demand that Jesus be crucified. Jesus, who cast out demons, who healed the sick, who proclaimed the kingdom of God, who never did any evil or harmed anyone. If that is not enough evidence that we are at war against evil forces, then there is nothing that will convince us.

A very strange thing is happening in the world today. We are seeing death on every side as a result of the coronavirus. People are helpless in the face of this tragedy. We are also seeing economic hardship as businesses are shut down to prevent the disease from spreading. Even places of worship are closed.

In the past decade there has been a renewed interest in “spirituality” as a significant aspect of people’s lives. “Meditation” has become increasingly popular. However, there is extreme care taken not to specify the object of this faith. Supposedly it can be applied in any direction with the same result. Well, this is not true. My prayers will only be as effective as the power of the one to whom they are directed. Apart from this, the outcome is left to chance, or to evil and deceptive forces eager to participate in our undiscerning spirituality and meditation. While a lot of good can come from positive thoughts and actions, we are still left to decide whether we will choose to honor and worship a holy God, and follow his ways, or limit ourselves to our own understanding and refuse to acknowledge the designer of our universe and the forgiver of our sins.

The Rev. Bill M. Ferg stated the following in his book Every Believer’s Authority (1995): You and I are the greatest problem that satan has on the earth.

Satan has a problem with the believer. He had a problem with Jesus too. He succeeded in nailing him to the cross. When we confront heresy in the church, the response is often to try to nail us to the cross, in the sense that every effort is made to effectively silence our voice. But truth will not be silenced.

Some errors within the church are more serious and have more dire consequences than others. There is still value in gathering with believers, and we are exhorted not to forsake going to church. But let’s not be gullible and accept false teachings.

As a young teen I was part of a church that erred in its teaching. I turned to my Bible to find the truth. Eventually I found another church with a fuller understanding of the Bible. I experienced a great renewal and blessing in this church.

The errors of churches include distortion of Scripture, over-emphasis of certain teachings, exclusion of other teachings as irrelevant, adding to what the Bible teaches, changing the meaning, or being indifferent.

Even Jesus was frustrated over what he saw happening in the temple. He declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Greed had corrupted the house of God. We also see in the book of Revelation that God rebukes churches and requires that they change.

God is a God of mercy and grace, but he is also a God of wrath against men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. God hates sin. He who gave his own son to die for the forgiveness of the sins of the world will not in turn tolerate sin in the believer. Believers have lost their authority because they have rationalized that they can still harbor sin.

Psalm 103:3 says, “I will set no evil thing before my eyes.” The Bible admonishes us to be holy as God is holy. We are also not to think of ourselves as beyond temptation. If we are trying to help someone who is struggling there is the likelihood that we too could falter and fail. For this reason we walk in humility. Our susceptibility teaches us to have compassion for others. Jesus had compassion too, but he did not have tolerance for sin. In fact, he came to “destroy the works of the evil one.” (1 John 3:8) Sin is the work of the evil one.

God is purifying his church. He is preparing a bride. This is the symbolism used in the Bible for the church joining Christ for eternity. He is looking for a holy church, without spot or wrinkle.

The church does a disservice to believers when it fails to teach about the undeniable significance of being Christ-like in every respect. We are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ, having all dominion along with him. All authority is given to us as believers, along with Christ, when we walk in his will.*

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

*References from Ephesians 6:11-12, 1:20, 2:6, Matthew 28:18, Luke 10:19

River of Life

There are a few things that set Christianity apart from other religions and make it distinctly attractive. One of these is the deep inner joy and peace evident in the lives of those who grasp the essence of the faith. I have been in the presence of Christians whose faces are radiant. Light shines from their eyes. Many have been drawn to Christianity by noting this and wondering about it.

Around the globe there are significant differences in understanding of the Christian faith. Teachers in certain faith groups have been revered on the level of prophets. Traditions have been added over the generations which have no basis in the Bible.

In some Christian circles reading of the Bible is not encouraged for the average person. It is relegated to those in authority in the church who may or may not have theological training.

The benefits of personal Bible study far outweigh the risks of possible misinterpretation. Admittedly, the Bible is a difficult book to understand but the Holy Spirit helps us to grasp its meaning. One of the most fundamental distinctions of Christianity is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for the one who believes.

Jesus instructed his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit whom he promised to send to them after his ascension. “You shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” he told them (Acts 1:8). He also told them that the Holy Spirit would comfort them and teach them and bring to their remembrance all the things he had taught them (John 14:26). John the baptist said of Jesus, “I baptize you with water, but there is one who comes after me who will baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). John said he had been told this by the one who sent him to baptize.

Here we have two examples of foreknowledge, or prophesy. John the Baptist knew he would encounter Jesus who would “baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” We read of this event occurring in the book of Acts. A very helpful online resource in the study of the Bible is BibleGateway and I recommend you go there and read the book of Acts. It is a remarkable account of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers.

Many religions have a Holy Book, but I have not encountered one that has an indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the “river of life” which Jesus promised would flow from our innermost being. I cannot tell how many times I have been led by the Holy Spirit in my daily life and guided and enlightened and comforted in my Bible reading.

In Mark 12:36 we read that David, in the Old Testament, spoke prophetically, “by the Holy Ghost,” concerning Jesus. The Holy Spirit was active before the time of Christ, in prophesy.

The revelation of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of the future through prophesy by the Holy Spirit, and the personal receiving of power by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, for the believer, is what makes Christianity distinctly unique from other religions.

Killed for Gathering Sticks

Numbers 15:17-16:40

It was going to be a test.  A showdown. The children of Israel, we are told, in Numbers 15:32, found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. They brought him to Moses, because they knew this activity was forbidden in God’s law.

Moses and Aaron secured the man, not yet sure what was to be done. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and told him the man should be stoned to death, by the congregation, outside the camp.

I thought of the possible reasons this man was gathering sticks. Maybe he was bored, or restless. Maybe his wife sent him out to gather sticks for a fire. Maybe he wanted some warmth later in the day.

I was looking at the human element. I imagined the stoning. I visualized people picking up stones and the man turning to his friends and family, imploring them to intervene, to have mercy, to plead his case. The stones thudded against his flesh, again, and again, until he slumped over, and died.

This was the reality. We sometimes don’t let ourselves into what it was like to be there. I, personally, would rather not think about the details of that day. However, it is in the Bible, and I need to grapple with this story.

At first I was angry. It seemed so unjust to me, such an excessive and extreme punishment for a little thing like picking up sticks. I considered rejecting a God who was, to my sensitivities, so harsh, and, seemingly unfair. But, for me, this was not an option. Long ago I decided that indeed His thoughts are above my thoughts, and his ways are above my ways. So I asked for an explanation.

I was reading out of my One Year Bible which has daily portions selected from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.

In the past I might have succumbed to a black or white, fundamentalist perspective, believing that I must simply accept what God does and says as good and right and disregard my fears and feelings. However, I now understand that my reaction is significant. It reveals things about me and my relationship with God and his word.

It only took a moment before other thoughts came to me. The first was, this man, undeniably knew that picking up sticks on the Sabbath was forbidden by God. The law had been very clearly presented to the Israelite congregation. Therefore his actions were clearly willful disobedience.

I began to see that if there was no consequence, then either the commandment meant nothing, or God could be defied.

I also saw that this incident was public knowledge and was going to set a precedent.

People were watching. The effectiveness of the law was on trial. How the case was handled would be extremely significant, given that the commandment originated with God.

Essentially, God was on trial, and I’m sure two questions were burning in the hearts of the Israelites, from the beginning, just as they burn in our hearts today. Who is this God? How does he respond to his people, particularly when they rebel?

I noted that if there had not been a command, then a man picking up sticks on the Sabbath would be of no consequence to anyone. But this was the crux of the matter. There was a command. And the command came from God.

One more thing, Moses was the guardian of the law. As the leader of the nation of Israel, he was responsible to enforce the law and mete out consequences for disobedience. It was not an enviable position. In the next chapter we read of a coup attempt.

Levite priests, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, along with two hundred and fifty supporters, “princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown” (Numbers 16:3 King James Version), protested against Moses and Aaron. They claimed that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; (why do you lift yourselves) above the congregation of the Lord?” (v. 3). It was an all-out revolt against authority.

Gathering sticks on the Sabbath set in motion a whole series of events. It revealed the hearts of the leaders of Israel. The accusation was not new to Moses. “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” was hurled at him when he tried to break up a fight between two Israelites (Exodus 2:14).

Moses was no different, as a man. But he was anointed by God and this set him apart. God warns,Touch not the Lord’s anointed, and do his prophets no harm” (1 Chronicles 16:22, Psalm 105:15).

It is common to resist any type of authority or restraint. In fact, we might produce the argument that all Christians are anointed and we are all equal.

Who are you to tell me what to do? We don’t like your virtue signaling. You are no different from the rest of us.

I believe this passage bears out that not every anointing is on the same level. Some carry greater responsibility. Some are subject to others. Some can even be abused.

I just want to clarify that Jesus came to fulfill the law and to exchange the heavy burden of the Old Testament law for a lighter, easy yoke. When his disciples were criticized by religious leaders for “threshing” on the Sabbath, as they plucked and ate grain in the field, Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. He abolished the tradition of stoning, when a woman was caught in adultery and brought to him. He demanded that those without sin cast the first stone.

The law serves the purpose of revealing the nature of man. We tend to resist authority. Ultimately we need a new nature. Jesus came to give this newness of life to us through faith in him. But Jesus never gave us license to disobey or defy God.

The question, Who made you a judge would be better replaced by, Who gave humans a standard of righteousness? We have a tendency to shoot the messenger when we are really rebelling against the message which originates with God.

By this time there should not have been any doubt in the minds of the people concerning the authority of Moses. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. God gave the law to Moses and revealed to him the pattern for the tabernacle and the rituals of worship. Moses’ face shone with the glory of God when he came from his presence. But the Levites, who served in the tabernacle, and the princes of Israel seemed to have forgotten all of this.

Moses told the people to separate themselves “from the tents of these wicked men” (v. 26). The ground opened and swallowed them and their families and closed again. A fire ignited and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who held censors with incense. God spare the rest of the congregation because of the intercession of Moses and Aaron.

The next portion for the day in my One Year Bible reading, is the story of the crucifixion of Christ. I see a clear parallel in the attitude of the religious leaders who could not accept the authority of Christ and demanded his death. Jesus Christ was crucified. However, he rose from the dead, victorious over the demons of hell. Have no doubt, Satan, the deceiver and destroyer, is behind this rebellion.

I read somewhere, recently, (I apologize for forgetting the source) that Jesus was not crucified because he was good, but because he presented something new. I don’t concur. In fact, I strongly resist this message. It was precisely because he was good, and because he upheld a high standard, and because he claimed to be God, that he was crucified. This message, today, is no longer “new” and it is still being resisted just as strongly.

So, yes, God was just in putting to death those who defied his Godhead. And he forever will be.

Things Won’t Come Easy

I’ve read through the laments in the Psalms and asked why the writers were so often at the edge of despair. There is constant reference to opposition from enemies. Real, or imagined, in my life I definitely experience what can only be explained or understood as attacks and assaults from enemy forces. Things don’t come easy.

I say imagined, because I don’t see physical enemies, so I tend to think I am imagining that I have real adversaries who hinder me, and even attack me. In our enlightened era of science and logic it is easy to dismiss anything supernatural, but travel to an underdeveloped country and people will tell you of indisputable experiences with evil spirits. Just because we do not believe a thing, does not mean it does not exist.

I spoke with a missionary who confessed outright that he did not want to confront demons because of the story of the seven sons of Sheba in the book of Acts who were overcome by the very demons they tried to cast out. Confronting demons is serious business. If we believe in Christ, we cannot deny the existence of demons. In the gospels we read that the major part of Jesus’ ministry involved teaching, healing the sick and casting out demons.

It is easy to be spooked and be fearful of the idea of demons. Maybe this is why we tend to ignore the subject. For me the question is not whether there are demons, but how do we deal with demonic manifestations.

I am reminded of reading the story of Smith Wigglesworth who awoke one night and saw a demon sitting at the end of his bed. “Oh, it’s just you,” was his response, and he turned over and went back to sleep. This is the kind of acceptance that comes from a rounded understanding of the activity of demons. Faith in God dispels demons. It takes away their power. Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one, Satan, and his demons. He made an open show of them and he triumphed over them. Satan threw everything he could at Jesus. He even killed him. Jesus triumphed over sin and death by his resurrection. If we place our trust in him, we can do likewise. We do not need to be fearful or intimidated.

However, things will not come easily to us. We are going to face trials. We are going to encounter incredible opposition. I have seen people go through unimaginable pain and loss and suffering. And I have seen them come out on the other side.

One thing I tell myself when I am in the middle of a very challenging situation is not do anything that would make it worse. Don’t say anything I will regret later. Don’t indulge in any behavior that would hinder my judgment. Don’t yield to self-pity and be petulant. I may not have much strength to rise to the occasion, but I don’t need to diminish the little I have. I need to use what is available to me. It has always been sufficient and I’ve lived to see another day.

What is available to us in this fight? First of all we must recognize that it is a fight against evil, and we can withstand it. The Bible instructs us to gird ourselves with our spiritual armor. So much attention has been given to the various pieces of armor that we tend to overlook the significance of the components, namely, faith, righteousness, truth, the word of God and the Holy Spirit, the gospel of peace, and prayer.

When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was warned beforehand. Cain’s sacrifice was not as acceptable as Abel’s and Cain began to sulk. Inevitably trials require that we humble ourselves and become contrite in the realization that we do not fully understand what is happening nor do we possess all that we need within ourselves to overcome the temptation to respond in a harmful way. We are dependent on God’s grace. “Sin is crouching at the door, and it desires to have you,” Cain was told. This is the reality we face. There is a choice to be made. Yield and be overcome, or stand up inside and resist and be the overcomer.

Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness and then angels came and ministered to him. I think this is the cycle we experience. Angels minister to us when we choose the high road. It may feel like we are at the end of our road, but faith can always take us one step further.

 

How I Read My Bible

I asked an evangelist once how she read her Bible. I had the privilege of driving her to the airport and I wanted to know about her Bible study habits. I expected her to tell me she read so many chapters a day, or maybe that she studied the Bible for an hour a day. Her response was, “I read until it speaks to me.”

I have met Christians who have a light in their eyes and sometimes even a glow on their faces. It is as though they have a secret “source.” I’ve heard testimonies of people who could tell  before they became Christians which people were Christians. The Bible actually instructs us to identify and “mark” those who stand out as Christian leaders. I compare this to placing a bookmark in a book where there is an important passage I want to return to. I remember them because I have “marked” them.

This evangelist had that light in her eyes and I have met others like her. I think this light comes from seeing God on the page when they read the Bible. They read it in such a way that it speaks to them and feeds them and gives life to their souls.

In the Bible we read accounts of people who understood God in a unique way. I sometimes feel an intimacy with characters like Queen Esther, Ruth, Sarah, Mary, and other women. I have studied them, and I get a thrill of expectation at the thought of meeting them one day. They are almost as real to me as the evangelist whom I drove to the airport.

One of the characters that I have “bookmarked” in my Bible is Job. I sense there is so much to learn from him. In my recent study of Job certain passages leapt out at me with a compelling message. I often have this experience when I read the Bible. It is as though new sections are highlighted each time I read and they speak to me in a specific way.

Job was highly honored in his community before tragedy struck. He lived an outstanding life. People greatly revered him. We can read about his former honor in Job 29. Here Job is reflecting on a time in his past when the people “waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain.” He starts the chapter this way,

How I long for the months gone by,

for the days when God watched over me,

when his lamp shone on my head

and by his light I walked through the darkness!

Oh, for the days when I was in my prime,

when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house,

when the Almighty was still with me…

The poetry of this book is a true work of art. Job clearly had a very personal intimacy with God and now he feels he has lost this. It is heartbreaking to read.

The core issue of the book is something I have struggled to understand and accept. Why would God remove his protection from one of his favored servants and allow Satan to torment him?

The understanding in Job’s time was that tragedy was a sign of God having removed his presence from a person or a nation. Even Job has this perception. It was believed that God allowed bad things to happen to cause people to reflect on their path and change their course and then God would once again restore them to a place of favor. The only thing is, Job does not agree that he has transgressed and so he is at a loss to understand why God is punishing him. We find out later that he was right. This was not the reason for what happened to him. It wasn’t punishment.

Job’s friends, who are sincerely trying to make sense of what is happening to Job, insist his trials are a consequence of Job’s sin. This is their limited understanding of the workings of God. However, they are about to receive a broader understanding of God and his ways.

I find this is often the case when I read my Bible. It speaks to me and opens my understanding to things I have not previously seen.

Job’s friends were in the wrong and God forgave them. God actually required that Job pray for his friends so that he would pardon them, after his trials ended. It appears that God was not too pleased with them.

There is much wisdom in the words of Job’s friends but not all they say about Job applies to him. The disrespect his friends show to Job makes it apparent that he is no longer favored as in former days when “old men rose to their feet (and) the chief men refrained from speaking” in his presence. Now even “young men mock me (and) throw off restraint in my presence.”

Job is tormented by his loss of family and possessions and the afflictions in his body, but he is also tormented in his mind by the loss of his former status. We can imagine how we would feel in his place.

I have been baffled to think that God allowed Satan to torment someone, essentially to prove a point. I’ve been tempted to think this was some sort of “sport of the gods.” But I’ve been humbled by a deeper reading of the text to see that it is actually a story about God’s confidence in his servant. It also reveals the sinister intention of the enemy of our souls to “take out” God’s faithful servants and the fact that he has access to us in some cases. Although God allowed the match, he set parameters and kept a watchful eye throughout.

Satan claimed Job only served God because God blessed him. I suppose he was trying to argue that God had an unfair advantage and Job would not honor God for his goodness alone if God removed his blessings. Job proves that his commitment to God is not dependent on blessings. Job makes the striking statement, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” Job 13:5 KJV. In his heart and mind Job believes there is no better alternative than to trust and serve God.

There are many kinds of writings in the Bible and they speak to us in different ways. We find comforting passages, convicting passages, wisdom and guidance passages, inspiring stories, disturbing stories, eternal hope passages, laments, praises, histories and genealogies, laws, theology, prophesies, condemnation passages, salvation passages, and more.

The beauty of the Bible is that it communicates to us in so many different ways. If we approach the Bible with an expectation that God will guide us in our reading, he will speak to us.

Knowing the Will of God

Many people have wondered how they can know the will of God.

I’ve wondered about this myself. I’ve thought a lot about it. In considering writing on this topic, I hesitated because I am not an expert in this area. But who is?

I have a small book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. It is an account of the devotion of Brother Lawrence, who became a Lay brother of the Carmelites in 1666. We read, “His conversion, at eighteen, was the result of the mere sight on a midwinter day of a dry and leafless tree standing gaunt against the snow; it stirred deep thoughts within him of the change spring would bring” (Lawrence, 1973 p 9). After that time he sought to  “practice the presence of God” daily in every activity. He lived with joy doing the most mundane tasks, like washing pots and pans in the monastery kitchen. The book was originally published in French in 1958 and contains a collection of fifteen inspirational letters written by Brother Lawrence.

I believe knowing the will of God begins with an orientation such as that of Brother Lawrence. If this is our attitude, to live daily in God’s presence and to delight in serving him, then we will probably never stray far from the will of God.

The basic will of God is a matter of keeping the commandments. It appears that Christ tried to simplify even this by stating that all of the commandments can be summed up into two, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

But in our daily lives we have choices to make and we want to be guided in the right direction. How can we know which path to take?

Like Brother Lawrence showed us, it all seems to hinge on our willingness to have God be the centre of our lives. Many times it is simply a matter of doing the thing that is set before us. We look after the mundane chores of life, like washing dishes and cooking meals. Or going to our job and working every day.

Gidean put out a fleece to determine God’s will. Old Testament leaders sometimes used the Urim and Thummim in questions of yes and no for decision making. We have all probably used something similar, like drawing straws or pulling a ticket out of a hat. The question is then whether we are willing to act in obedience with the “guidance” we have received. Even Gideon required two proofs. In my case a decision in one direction sometimes reveals my heart, or confirms that I do not have peace about that particular choice.

There are times when we step ahead without complete assurance. We see in hindsight that we made the right choice. There are also times when it is as though we receive a sign from heaven–a prophetic word, perhaps, and we cannot be more sure. I’ve often desired prophetic guidance as I struggled to determine the will of God. There have been times when I truly believe I received supernatural direction, but these times tend to be infrequent. On the other hand, I look back some days and wonder if I was not very specifically guided in many areas.

There has been a question in my mind about whether a new believer receives more remarkable guidance than someone who has walked with God for a long time. It has at times appeared to be the case. On the other hand, some seasoned Christians do not “run after” revelations and seem to do quite well just abiding quietly in an assurance that all is for the glory of God. I tend to think that we become more in tune and learn to hear better after years of listening and following in obedience.

We live in a natural realm where we are aware of things we see and hear. There is also a spiritual realm where we discern things that are not subject to our physical senses. Clairvoyants make their money with their claim to be able to access the supernatural. As Christians I think there can be a danger of stepping into “supernatural” manifestations that do not originate with God. God was not pleased when Saul asked a medium to allow him to speak to Samuel who was already dead. The outcome was not good. There clearly is a supernatural realm, but we must be careful to discern whether evil spirits may in fact be disguised as angels of light.

Some years ago I read a book, the title of which I’ve forgotten, that helped me see there was a difference between faith and presumption. Faith has a biblical basis. Regular Bible reading is helpful to align one with God’s will and help us determine if we are acting out of faith or presumption. There is a certainty and a soundness about the revealed will of God.

God is not the god of situational ethics. He does not have one standard for one situation or person and another for another. His righteous will is consistent throughout. If he says a thing is sin, it remains sin. However, he may have a different calling or purpose for each person and a different mode of operation.

God’s wisdom greatly exceeds ours and I, personally, would like to tap into that wisdom. He encourages us to ask for wisdom and says he will not withhold it from us. We are to ask, seek, and knock, with persistence. We are taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I went through an unusual year trying to determine the will of God as I was working on developing a writing career at home. Repeatedly I was given attractive job offers. I would move in a particular direction and then, almost to my embarrassment, I was compelled to refuse the offer. I had no peace about continuing and accepting the appointment. In the back of my mind I remembered that I had received an impression that I thought was from God, telling me I should no longer “work for man.” I am grateful that God was patient with me as I continued to veer off the course.

I have had very specific instructions “from God” at times. A minister under whom I was employed assured me that there is no revelation outside of the scriptures. After the Bible was written, God stopped speaking to people. The message was complete. I disagree. I believe God still speaks prophetically. I have plenty of confirming evidence in my own life and in the lives of others I know.

We need to be responsible and test “prophesies.” Even the Bible instructs us to do so, and to study the scriptures to determine if what we are hearing is consistent with God’s revelation. A wise person once pointed out that if we receive a prophetic word it needs to bear witness with our spirit as truth. We do not need to follow it blindly. Often it is only a confirmation of what we already know.

If you were faced with a question right now, for instance, such as should I marry this person, how would you know the answer? Perhaps the best way to know is to ask yourself 1) Does God forbid it for any reason? 2) Does it seem to be a good thing? 3) Are people I trust in favor of this choice? 4) Are other people involved agreeable to this decision–will she have me? 5) Can I see a positive outcome from making this decision? 6) Can I point to anything God has spoken to my spirit in favor or against this choice?

I was once expected to play the organ in a church when I had very limited experience. I felt extremely inadequate. But there was no one else to do it. Of the people there, I was the most qualified one. I wanted to say no, but I decided to step up to the challenge and I was able to do it, even though I didn’t think I was capable. There are times when it is only our fear and feelings of inadequacy that are preventing us from stepping out in a direction. It is important to discern if this is the case.

I delight in “practicing the presence of God.” There is no higher goal for me, and no more fulfilling lifestyle.

Why Does God Allow Evil in the World?

Why does God allow evil? Because to prevent it would go against his just character. I will explain my reasoning.

In the book Worldviews in Conflict, Ronald H. Nash tackles the question, Why is there evil in the world? I think he merely side-steps the issue with his explanation:

  1. God exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and created the world.
  2. God created a world that now contains evil and had a good reason for doing so.
  3. Therefore, the world contains evil (p. 98).

It is rather like a parent saying to a child, you must obey me because I know better than you, instead of going through the work of giving a deeper explanation. Admittedly, the explanation may need to come later when the child has developed a capacity for reason.

Because humans have this capacity for reason, we are restless when it is not satisfied. This is particularly the case when we consider that a God we believe to be loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful would withhold significant information from us. We long to have a full understanding, but, temporarily, we only see through a glass, darkly.

For some this creates an internal dissonance and may even give rise to a belief that God is malevolent. But, like children, we are not always ready for deeper truth. We may even find ourselves rejecting truth claims that do not agree with our worldview.

I agree with Nash that God has reasons beyond our comprehension. After all, he is God. However, I am not satisfied with stopping there on such an important subject. We also have to consider that we may be the ones hindering our own understanding by holding to our preconceived or trite notions.

In cases like this I am overcome with wonder to have possession of written accounts of men and women who, through the ages, have lived with a consciousness of God as a God who communed with them. God actually revealed his character through his dealings with them. This is the revelation we find in the Bible. I am astounded that the Bible contains conversations God had with people. There is no other source of information about God that compares with what is found in the Bible and the Bible contains a component that needs to be a part of this discussion of the reason for evil in the world.

I’d like to take you to the story of Adam and Eve, God’s first created human beings. If you are not a believer in the creation story, please bear with me for the sake of this discussion.

We read that evil was introduced in the Garden of Eden through the serpent. The serpent had a nature contrary to God. It is reasonable to assume that this particular serpent was indwelled by a spirit that spoke through it. The serpent had a knowledge of God and of his instructions to Adam and Eve. God had told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the garden; only one tree was forbidden—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God warned Adam and Eve that they would surely die if they ate of this tree.

The serpent came with a different message. He began a conversation with Eve by cleverly introducing doubt into her mind, “Did God really say you must not eat from every/any tree in the garden?” Well, no, not exactly. Just the one tree.

Now that Eve’s focus was on the tree in question, the serpent continued with the reassurance that, contrary to what God had said, she would not surely die if she ate of the tree, thereby attempting to allay her fears.

Before this there was no dissonance in the garden. There were no conflicting worldviews.

The serpent apparently had new information for Eve. Since we know the story, we know what he said was untrue. He was introducing an alternate worldview. But, as is usually the case, there was still an element of truth in what he said. The serpent slightly embellished it, “God knows that in the day you eat of the tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods (or like God, in some translations), knowing both good and evil” (Geneses 4). Yes, their eyes would be opened. But this was not the good thing he made it out to be. The knowledge of evil would spell disaster for them and their offspring.

The serpent’s deceptive worldview has been successfully perpetuated through the ages. Summarized, it is the concept that God is not truly good. That what he says cannot be believed. That he is withholding something from you. And that the real reason he does this is because he doesn’t want you to have access to the same power he has. He doesn’t want you to be like a god. He doesn’t want you to have this much control. He wants to limit you.

I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s song, Gotta Serve Somebody… “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”

Who would refuse the possibility of becoming like a god? Remember that Adam and Eve will not have known the meaning of the word evil at this time because they had never experienced it. They didn’t know what they were buying into.

The way to obtain this supreme knowledge of good and evil is simple. Just question the ultimate goodness of God and defy his command.

The Creator placed Adam and Eve in a garden, a protected place, a unique place, a place of beauty and sustenance. However, he did not withhold choice from them. In the middle of the garden was a tree from which they were instructed not to partake. They most likely had not concerned themselves with this one tree, until now, because there were so many other trees they could eat from freely. But this tree, of course, was the central focus of the serpent. It was his entry point. It was the means for him to gain access to humans and wield his influence over them.

After they ate of the tree, there was an immediate change in their outlook. Shame and guilt—the natural consequence of disobedience—became a part of their reality. We see these emotions in every child who willfully disobeys his parents. Suddenly there is a divide, a distance. There may also be sorrow and regret. All of these emotions were foreign to Adam and Eve up to this time.

These emotions wreck havoc in our lives. We don’t know what to do with them. We feel uncomfortable, even tormented. We want to rid ourselves of them. If we cannot find forgiveness and be restored to our former relationship, then we will struggle to justify, or excuse, or numb our feelings.

Thankfully, in the Bible, God explains how we can be free from our sin, as well as the consequence of eternal death. God never intended for Adam and Eve to die. It looked, at first, like the serpent was right because they did not die immediately. But they ultimately died.

God is the life-giver. The serpent destroys life. All of his work is contrary to God’s goodness. There is evil in this world because God allowed people to choose. Even today we battle evil spirits, serpents of various kinds seducing us into unbelief.

That brings me back to Nash’s insufficient explanation for why there is evil in the world. I would revise his explanation as follows:

  1. God exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and created the world.
  2. God created both heavenly beings and humans with the power to make undetermined choices.
  3. God allows heavenly beings to influence humans and impact life on earth.
  4. Heavenly beings influence humans to rebel against God’s perfect will.
  5. Therefore, the world contains evil.

The logical conclusion of allowing “undetermined choice” is that it will result in “alternate choice.” God knew this, and he allowed it. He would not dictatorially override another who willed to disregard his wishes, be it angels, or demons, or humans.

A righteous and loving God is engaged in a battle against evil forces in heaven and on earth. He will prevail. But we will need to wait for the end of the battle before we see justice meted out and his full glory revealed.

We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We read, “Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” There is an interplay between earthly and heavenly powers.

Jesus was constantly confronting demonic forces. Only demonic powers could cause men to nail the righteous Son of God to the cross. Is it any wonder that believers continue to be under vicious attack? Is it any wonder that the church so often falls under deceptive influences?

One of the most clever tricks of the enemy has been to misattribute his actions to others, and to cause people to believe that there really is no enemy—no devil, no demons, no evil spirits. Without this understanding of the spiritual realm we will never be able to grasp why there is evil in the world.

God has allowed choice. God has determined to deal with the consequences of choice. We can be assured that he is opposing evil. We might also appreciate the dilemma he has created for himself. He allows the evil one to sow bad seed. The bad grows alongside the good. To uproot the bad may mean to uproot some good. So he has to wait for the harvest. One day there will be a harvest, a separation, a judgment. Even the devil knows this and trembles. Without redemption, the consequence of sin is still death.

To conclude, I add the following

  1. God exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and created the world.
  2. God created heavenly beings and humans with the power to make undetermined choices.
  3. God allows heavenly beings to influence humans and impact life on earth.
  4. Heavenly beings influence humans to rebel against God’s perfect will.
  5. Therefore, the world contains evil.
  6. God will deal justly with evil in his own time.

Imagine there’s no heaven

I am reading Matthew 10 today and I admit I am surprised. Jesus sends out his disciples to declare the message of the kingdom of heaven and instructs them to heal the sick, cleanse the leprous, cast out demons and even raise the dead. This seems to be common around Jesus and his ministry.

What surprises me is that people will hate them for it. Hate them for preaching about the kingdom of heaven. For living it. Why?

I’m of the naive school that believes that if I am kind to others they will be kind to me. It works, sometimes, but not always. And when it doesn’t, I am always surprised. But I shouldn’t be. Because Jesus warns his disciples of this very thing happening to them. In fact, he says parents will turn against their children, and children against their parents and actually have them put to death. Why? It looks to me like this will happen because they hold strongly to different beliefs.

Many wars have been fought over ideologies. Some of my readers will recall the John Lennon song, Imagine. “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Aha-ah…. Imagine there’s no countries, it’s easy to do. Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace….” Lennon’s dream was that the world would live as one, admittedly a good dream. In the song the enemy appears to be religion, the fact that people hold to different beliefs, ideologies, worldviews.

Religion is pretty diverse. I recently read in a book by Bruce K. Wilborn, entitled Witches’ Craft-A Multidenominational Wicca Bible (2011), that Wiccans consider themselves as part of the oldest religion on earth. I read further that, although they don’t believe in “hell,” in regards to the breaking of one particular law they will condemn the violators to the “Curse of the Goddess” with the result that they are never to be reborn, but to remain, “where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.” It fascinated me that Wiccans may not not confess to believing in hell, yet are quite willing to utilize it on their enemies.

We can imagine whatever we desire about the life hereafter. It will not make it real or false, although it will create a sort of “reality” for the present life and possibly affect our behavior. I am of the Christian belief that there is both a heaven and a hell and that I can’t wish them away, even if I try. In other words, there is future reward and judgment, or punishment, for behavior. Some would call this justice.

On a personal level, I have family who don’t believe in hell because they cannot reconcile a “God of love” being a God of judgment as well. In their mind evil doers will go unpunished. At least, not sent to hell.

I have a lot of questions about hell. Do only our spirits go there, or do our bodies go there too? Do people go there immediately after they die, or is there a kind of “purgatory,” a holding place, where they wait until the judgment on the last day? The Bible doesn’t give us a clear treatise on hell, just bits and pieces of information here and there and some of them don’t jive. One thing seems to be clear in Jesus’ mind. God, his father, ought to be feared as the one who has the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 1:29).

I’m very uncomfortable talking about hell. I don’t like the idea of the motivation for serving God being to avoid being sent to hell. I admit that I, too, am culturally influenced. I may even find, down the road, that some of my current beliefs need to be modified. But one thing seems logical. It seems logical to hate someone who believes in hell. It seems logical to hate someone who declares evil will be punished. It seems logical to hate someone who calls you out on your lifestyle, maybe even on your beliefs, and says you will go to hell if you don’t change.

Christians have been called haters (because they believe in hell)…by haters. But we can’t change the score. Nobody can. What will be will be. We may have faith that it will be one thing and find out one day that it turns out differently.

John Lennon’s song has a basic flaw. He believes the world will “live as one” if we do away with religion. The trouble is that religion is just the label we put on a set of beliefs and the practices flowing out of those beliefs. Religion generally involves a deity or deities, and, depending on your definition, it can even have no “god.”

People will always organize themselves around a set of beliefs. That is where the song is flawed. One man may believe that he can have many wives and another that he ought to have only one wife. Because there will always be greed, there will always be unfairness. And for this reason there will always be rules made around distribution and things like how many wives a man can have or how many husbands a woman can have.

The early Christians sold property and had everything in common, we read in the book of Acts, much like Lennon says, “no possessions…no need for greed or hunger.” But later we read that other churches had to make donations to the believers in Jerusalem. Who bought the land that they sold, I ask? Where was the power re-distributed? After they sold their land they no longer had a place to raise their livestock and grow their crops and so they became impoverished and dependent on others for supply. It was a very short-sighted plan.

Jesus saw that religion was not the issue. There was a heart issue. People lacked love, compassion and generosity. When he told one man to, “Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” he was not setting him up as an example of a precedent. He was merely pointing out how attached we can become to our possessions. He was encouraging generosity and sharing as opposed to hoarding for ourselves.

The reason Marxism, for example, does not work, is that people actually need leaders and unfortunately leaders will often be corrupted by power. Even in Marxism there will be leaders who will tell people what they should and shouldn’t do and who will feel responsible to police this. Who owns the land? Who distributes resources? Who decides how much a person receives? Who decides what they must do in exchange? This quickly turns into a situation resembling slavery if people do not own land.

We will never all “live as one” as long as not every single person has a perfect heart towards God first, and then towards his neighbor. We need to be answerable to someone, and we need someone to settle our disputes. We need a common compass. This is what religions have sought to give us. They have sought to teach us “what is right” as opposed to “who is right,” so that we all adhere to the same guiding principles.

We need commandments such as “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, not his ox, nor his ass.” Without this, we will covet. It is not because some people have more and some have less that we see corruption, as it is a lack of generosity on one side, and jealousy and resentment on the other. We need exhortations like “Godliness, with contentment is great gain.” We need to aspire to something higher and greater and more righteous and more loving than merely acquiring and hoarding in this life.

We need to believe this world can be better. That people can be better. John Lennon was definitely right about that. We need to believe that we have a significant part to play in making this world a better place, by virtue of the fact that we were born on this earth.

In fact, we need heaven. We need the hope of heaven on earth. We need the prayer, “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” John Lennon didn’t know how close he was to saying this.

 

Can a Person be Righteous?

I have long been fascinated by the story of Job. When I was in Bible College I was taught that Job was a righteous man and his friends were wrong when they insisted that he must have done some evil to cause this calamity to fall upon him. Through the years I have met Christians who insisted that Job’s friends were right and Job was indeed presumptuous to claim to be righteous. This caused me to dig deeper into the text, and every time I do so I come out believing more firmly that Job was righteous.

Today as I read the book of Job, something leapt out at me.

The story begins, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job even offered sacrifices for each of his children after they had enjoyed a time of feasting and reveling on their birthdays, just in case they had sinned and “cursed God in their hearts.”

What an interesting thought, cursing God in their hearts. Later, in chapter two, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job said she was speaking as a foolish woman. The text continues, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

What stood out for me today was Satan’s response to God. When Satan appeared before God with the other angels, God asked him if he had considered his servant Job, “There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s reply is, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not…blessed the work of his hands….But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s wife essentially told Job to give up on God. Why would you serve a God who sends such calamity? What is the point? This is exactly what Satan was saying. Job would no longer serve God if God stopped blessing him. People only serve God for what they can get. The big question is, Will Job still trust God if God removes his hedge of protection from him?

Satan argued that Job’s reverence for God was conditional. It was dependent upon God’s goodness to him. Satan was convinced that if God would strike Job, Job would indeed curse God.

Job’s response to his wife, however, was, “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”

Throughout the Bible we see a pattern of God blessing his people when they obeyed him and causing evil or harm to come to them when they disobeyed. The Bible literally says it will be well with us if we obey God. The King James Bible version puts it this way:

Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).

As a result of this scripture and others like it, people have concluded that if something bad happens to us, we are somehow at fault. Presumably we have sinned or not been righteous enough. Job’s friends took the view that the trouble he was experiencing was evidence that he must have some sin he needed to confess.

Jesus challenged the belief that if something bad happens it is because a person has sinned. When he was about to heal a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This association of sin with affliction was deeply rooted in their understanding. Jesus responded that neither was true. Rather, this would bring glory to God (John 9).

If we look in the Bible we find stories of people who were not evil and still experienced great trials. Think of the story of Joseph, as an example (Genesis 37-46). The Bible teaches that God will give us the grace and strength to endure trials (2 Corinthians 12:9), that God can cause good to come from harm (Romans 8:28), and that he will not allow us to be  tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly trials will come.

While the Bible says God will bless us if we are faithful, it does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. After all, it happened to Job.

The Bible also does not say that God will not bless us if we are unfaithful. In fact scriptures like Psalm 73 wrestle with the fact that sometimes the wicked prosper.

We tend to read the story of Job through the grid of our New Testament understanding that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We understand that “…by one man sin entered into the world….” (Romans 5:12), speaking of Adam and Eve in the garden. In light of this it could appear presumptuous for Job to claim that he is righteous.

When Jesus healed the man who was born blind, the leaders of the synagogue questioned the man, wanting to know what had happened to him. His response was “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). I propose that Job knew he was righteous because he experienced the difference between being blind, living in darkness, and seeing. He recognized what his friends were trying to pin on him. It may have been his past, but of one thing he was certain. It did not describe his present.

Christians who cannot accept that Job was righteous are in fact aligning themselves with his friends. At the end of the story we read that God was angry with Job’s friends and required a sacrifice of atonement from them. He accused them of not speaking the truth about him. He also instructed Job to pray for them, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8).

We see here that the very knowledgeable friends of Job were wrong in their conclusions about Job, and that this, in the sight of God, was a serious offense which required sacrifice and intercession.

Although all that Job valued was taken away and he suffered incredibly, he possessed what his friends did not have. Job possessed righteousness. To say he was not righteous would have been to slander God. The truth Job spoke was about God.

I think today the “Christian” thing to do, if we were in Job’s place, would be to offer a show of humility and say something like “we all sin.” Job’s friends would probably have been satisfied if Job had just conceded that much. But Job refused. Job possessed an incredible understanding of God and righteousness.

Job’s relentless refusal to yield continues to challenge me, personally, especially when I think of how easily we confess to sin. Job’s testimony of righteousness was so powerful that God and Satan engaged in a contest to test its veracity. Wow!

Some people would accuse Job of self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what his friends did. But God didn’t see it that way. There was a purity to his confession that could not be any further refined in the furnace of affliction. The trials he suffered only proved that what he had was real.