Monthly Archives: April 2015

Total Christian

Total Christian

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.  (Romans 1:16)

Last week a dear young sister in the Lord relayed to me how she had been accused of being a “total Christian” because of a video she shared on Facebook. I told her it was great that she should be identified that way, however, she felt insulted by the moniker. From her perspective, or by her definition, a “total Christian” is someone who is narrow-minded, intolerant, judgmental, and hateful. Well, that was a new one on me! I know of “Christians” that fit that description, but “total Christian” would not be an attribute I would ascribe to them.

Every true Christian should desire to be identified as a “total Christian.” Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). There should be something distinctive about our life-conduct (our “walk”) that marks us as different. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [“life-conduct”]; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). The word “holy” means to be set apart, sanctified, dedicated or consecrated. It does not mean to be perfect. That would be impossible in our sinful flesh. So when we dedicate, or consecrate, our lives to Christ, there should be a marked distinction between us and the non-believing world. Our lives should be a “light” that others can see and be drawn to God. By the way, this is not something that is accomplished by any sort of contrived effort on our part; it only comes through submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The first followers of Christ to be labeled “Christians” were the believers of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The appellation was a term of derision rather than panegyric. Their life conduct set them apart from “normal” people. They spoke differently. They presented a peaceful attitude when facing adverse circumstances. When abused by others, they responded in love rather than anger. Probably the strangest thing of all was that they considered a martyred Jew to be their God. Very weird! Perhaps today’s “total Christian” would fit right in with this group.

To be identified with Christ should not be the cause for same. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). The “total Christian” should care more about what Christ thinks of him than what the world thinks of him. “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17). So, when someone accuses you of being a “total Christian” and they mean it in a derogatory way, just remember the words of Jesus: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Never be ashamed to be a “total Christian”!

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Too Rich for Heaven

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And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.  (Luke 18:23)

Let’s face it. With the possible exception of the homeless, many of whom are in that condition by choice, poverty – the third-world kind of poverty where people live on one bowl of rice a day, have only one change of clothes, no shoes and live in cardboard houses – in the United States does not exist. I have visited in homes of the “poor” here in America and found giant-screen TVs in their living rooms with play stations for their kids. They might not have the best food – usually as a result poor choices – but they are a long way from starvation. They may be “low income,” but they are not poor in comparison to third-world nations. They own several changes of clothes and shoes, and many of their vehicles sport shiny custom “rims.”

Affluence often erects an insurmountable obstacle to the Gospel here in America. Many people here in the U.S. are self-sufficient enough that they do not perceive their need for God. They get along fine without Him, so why should they give up their lifestyle to follow Christ who asks them to change their way of living?

Our verse above is taken from an account recorded in the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew 19:16-26, Mark 10:17-27, and Luke 18:18-27. Matthew points out that the man was young (Matthew 19:20, 22). Luke notes that he is a “ruler” (Luke 18:18), perhaps indicating that he significantly, or even solely supported the local synagogue. Such support would place him in a position of high leadership in the synagogue and in the local community. Jairus whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead is such an example (Matthew 9:23-26; Mark 5:35-43; Luke 8:49-56). Mark omits his youth and position, but focuses on his, perhaps, feigned homage in kneeling before Christ.

However, all three Gospel writers point out that the man was rich. In that culture, wealth indicated God’s favor, and was a source of false pride by those so blessed. Jesus often berated the religious leaders for overt exhibition of opulence in their giving of alms and offerings at the temple to be “seen of men” (Matthew 6:5; 23:5). No doubt this “rich young ruler” approached Jesus in a similar hypocritical, arrogant and prideful manner “saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18) Jesus saw right through him. By “good,” he meant “good like I am good.” “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God” (v. 19). In Texanese, what Jesus said was, “Boy, you ain’t so good. Only God is good.” Jesus went on to ask him if he “knew” the commandments (v. 20). “And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up” (v. 21, emphasis mine). He lied. No one can keep all of the commandments perfectly! James says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

Jesus then gets to the heart of the matter. So, you really are good! “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (v. 22). The hidden sins kept the rich young ruler away from that which he sought – eternal life: the sin of pride, the sin of hypocrisy, the sin of selfishness, the sin of covetousness.  “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). He valued his stuff more than the riches of heaven.

In America, we suffer from the fatal disease of “affluenza.” “Fatal” because in many cases it resists the very source of eternal life. Affluenza blinds the victim from seeing “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Affluenza deafens the victim from hearing the Savior’s words, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

As Jesus watched the dejected young man walk away He said, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25). Some suggest that a “needle’s eye” was a small opening in the bulwark of a city that would allow a camel to crawl through once the city gates were closed. I don’t think that is what Jesus meant here. If there were such openings in the in the city walls, a camel could enter even with difficulty, but so could attackers. No, I believe Jesus meant the eye of a “sewing” needle. That would indeed require a miracle for a camel to pass.

If your stuff matters more to you than following Jesus, then you are too rich for heaven.

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Thou Fool!

lightstock_80572_xsmall_ernie

But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12:20)

That seems like a rather harsh assessment considering that Jesus Himself said, “but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22). What would cause God to look upon an individual and make such an assessment? What qualifies as a fool in the eyes of God?

To begin with, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). Actually the words “there is” have been inserted in the English for readability, but they are not found in the original Hebrew. Therefore, the strict literal translation would be: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No God.’” This implies more than just denial. It is outright rejection. The Bible teaches that there are no true atheists, i.e., someone who truly believes there is no higher power, i.e. God; “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Romans 1:19). Every person knows that God, or some “higher power” exists. So when the fool says, “No God,” he is not simply in denial, or ignorant; he is in rebellion. And when one considers against Whom he is rebelling, he really is a fool!

Fools display distinct characteristics. A fool prates; that is, he utters empty or foolish talk and talks excessively and pointlessly (Proverbs 10:8, 10). A fool utters slander (Proverbs 10:18). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). “A fool’s wrath is presently known” (Proverbs 12:16). A fool readily displays his silliness (Proverbs 13:16). “A fool despiseth his father’s instruction” (Proverbs 15:5). A fool is hard-headed (Proverbs 17:10); he doesn’t learn (Proverbs 26:11). A fool is contentious and his mouth often gets him into trouble (Proverbs 18:6-7); he continually gets into arguments (Proverbs 20:3), and he is always happy and eager to speak his mind (Proverbs 29:11). A fool does not seek nor listen to advice (Proverbs 23:9). One can also recognize a fool by his self-centeredness or self-focus as seen in one of Jesus’ parables.

Our beginning verse concludes the parable Jesus told starting at verse 16. He recounted a story of a rich land owner who experienced a bumper crop one year, and rather than give thanks to God for the blessing, he took the credit for his success upon himself and planned on what to do with his profits. In the course of this short parable, the protagonist employs personal pronouns (I, me, my, mine) thirteen times in only three verses (vv. 17-19). Like any fool, he boasted of his own success. His plans for the future were “right in his own eyes,” and he had no qualms about taking all the credit for his gains.

God called him a fool. In all of his efforts he discounted God – the One who gave him the very basis for obtaining his wealth – his very life. Now, at the height of his self-perceived success, God comes to claim what belongs to Him – the fool’s life. And what about all of his stuff? “Then whose shall those things be?” What a fool! Jesus said, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Jesus admonishes, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). The fool is self-focused rather than God-focused. The fool lives his life in either overt or covert rebellion against God. He behaves as though God does not exist, and presumptuously assumes credit for all of his achievements. How terrible it would be to hear God say, “Thou fool! Today your soul is required of you.” In the words of the Doxology: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,” and you may not hear those awful words, “thou fool !”

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Then Came Sunday

Empty Tomb

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun … And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. (Mark 16:2, 4)

The story of mankind is brief and straightforward despite the naturalistic stories invented by evolutionists. God created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26). God created man to enjoy fellowship with Him, but man erected a barrier between himself and God by his disobedience to God’s only command: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That disobedience brought the curse of death – separation from God who is life and the giver of life. “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Holy God cannot abide sin. “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?” (Psalm 94:20).

From that time on, innocent blood has been shed to cover or atone for the sins of man “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Starting with that first sacrificial lamb slaughtered by the Lamb of God (Genesis 3:21), the innocent pay the penalty for the sins of the guilty. So the sacrificial system began carried on by Abel (Genesis 4:4), Noah (Genesis 8:20) and the law delivered by Moses. But the practice failed to bridge the chasm rived by sin “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

This hopeless situation required a better and permanent solution. This was mankind’s problem and the responsibility fell upon man for resolution. But Holy God cannot be satisfied with anything less a perfect, sinless sacrifice. Only the blood of a perfect, sinless man would do. Where could such a man be found? For, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one … They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, 12). Such a conundrum was no puzzle for an omniscient God. “[He] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). So, God in human form died in the stead of His human creation, and He took upon Himself the penalty that was due to each one of us individually. This is an awesome thing! In all the world religions of man, man sacrifices himself to his god, but the Bible teaches that God sacrificed Himself for man. Is that not incredible!

So Jesus died on the cross at Passover. He became the sacrificial Lamb of God to atone for the sins of mankind. He took on the crushing blow of the curse of death. In His final words He declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), and He died. Death took its greatest prize, but then came Sunday! The curse of death was broken. “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18).

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

(“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – Isaac Watts, 1707)

His death on the cross covered our sins once and for all. His resurrection bridged the chasm of death separating sinful humanity from Holy God. He has made the way for you and for me. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). After all He has done for you, the least you can do is follow the way He has prepared. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!”

 

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