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Second Coming of Jesus Christ

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  Amen.

What’s the Problem?

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

The biggest challenge that physicians face in their practice of medicine is the diagnosing of a patient’s illness or condition.  Once they determine the source problem it is usually straight forward to prescribe a treatment to correct the condition.  Likewise, it is important to get to and treat the root cause of the problem because treating the symptom will not correct the problem.  Defining and understanding the problem and its root cause is the greater part of the work of finding a solution.

Albert Einstein said something similar.  He said if he had one hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining what question to ask. Then, if he asked the right question, he could easily solve the problem in the last 5 minutes.

We live in a complex world with many intertwined issues.  There are many intelligent people trying to come up with solutions and ways to improve our dire situations.  Many of these problems have plagued mankind for centuries and continue to plague us.  History is constantly repeating itself with wars and economic collapses and we can’t seem to resolve the underlying issues or find the root cause.

I recently read an interesting quote from two authors named Strauss and Howe who have written a number of books about what they call “generational theory.” Their most recent book is called “The Fourth Turning” where the authors examine the generational cycles and patterns of history in an attempt to determine what could follow in our future. The quote below, which I believe is from their latest book, seems to sum up well the challenge of determining the root cause of the problems that we face:

“We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik’s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can’t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that’s impossible unless we fix crime. There is no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted—but that’s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we’re in deep denial … individually focused yet collectively adrift …” Strauss and Howe

Men are continually searching for solutions to society’s problems but they seem to be chasing the wind.  As the quote above indicates, the world’s problems can be confusing and misleading, causing frustration and exasperation.

I would submit to you that the lack of a solution comes from ignoring the revelation from our Creator. Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the One who created us would have the answers for the source of our problems?  The Scriptures reveal to us that man’s root problem is a broken relationship with the Creator God.  This relationship is a spiritual one and, therefore, the root cause of our problems is a spiritual issue.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom has removed any spiritually based philosophy from the acceptable list of credible viewpoints to be used to solve our problems and therefore they have limited themselves to solutions that deal with this physical world only and are based on man’s logic only.  They concentrate on historical information from the past, or improving social or economic practices with increasing controls or regulations, laws, etc. All of these approaches have failed and will continue to fail because they don’t address the root cause – man’s spiritual condition and relationship with God.

Consider this: if somehow we could eliminate all of the greed, all of the envy, all of the jealousy, all of the covetousness, all of the selfishness, all of the arrogance and all of the dishonesty in a society, then it is quite conceivable that the result would be the disappearance of a large part of the problems that our world faces. All of these negative character traits are the fruit of our carnal nature, the fruit of the flesh.  When our relationship with God is properly restored, our carnal nature dies and we are born of the spirit, and then transformed into a new creature with a spiritual nature.  The fruit of the spirit replaces the fruit of the flesh.  The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5

This transformation from carnal to spiritual has occurred throughout the centuries since the time of Jesus Christ in all those millions of Christians who have sincerely and legitimately been converted by receiving and believing the Gospel message.

You’re probably thinking at this point that it’s impossible to change all the people in a society in this way, that is, to have them converted to true Christianity.  The Scriptures state that God has allowed evil people to exist in this world along side of good people until the end of the age, when He will separate the good from the evil, and He will destroy this current world and create a new heaven and earth that functions in righteousness (see the parable of the wheat and the tares).  Therefore, this world will not be completely “fixed” until that time; in fact, according to the prophecies about the end, it will get worse and not better.

Although the collective human race cannot be changed to become spiritual in nature, a significant number of the individuals of this world can be changed.  I would even go as far as to say that in some cases large portions of a society can change, maybe not entirely, but to an extent where most could become spiritual, restored in their relationship with God.  In 1904, there was a spiritual revival in South Wales were over 100,000 people were converted to Christianity with the associated fruit of their repentance and transformation to spirituality.  As a result the jails were emptied and the bars went out of business.  What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

Here’s a quote from a local newspaper during the time of the revival in South Wales [my comments in brackets]:

“Drunkards have been soberised, publicans [a pub or bar] have lost much business, conduct on public streets has elevated, and the police and magistrates have had quieter times…. The bottom of the pits [coal mine pits] have been utilized as centres for prayer and praise meetings, and there has been a general raising of the standard of public life.” South Wales Gazette – 1904

It is also important that we remain clear on the true problem and solution, even if we know that we can’t change the entire world, we can still influence at least a small part of it.  We can influence those who are around us, in our families, in our work places or schools.  We can focus on one individual at a time, and make a difference.  We can pray for God to bring about a larger scale revival.

Of course to the non-Christian world this idea of needing a spiritual rebirth is foolishness.  I am convinced that the problems of this world are rooted in the carnal nature of man that needs to be replaced by a spiritual nature, and this replacement can only take place through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust [strong desire] of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication [sexual immorality], uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5: 16-26

It is critically important that we understand what the Scriptures define as “carnal” or “walking in the flesh” and what they define as “Spiritual” and “walking in the Spirit”.  It is likely that your understanding of these is not aligned with the Biblical definition.  I would strongly advise that you take the time to study the Scriptures to learn it firsthand.

We can be certain of this though, as the Scriptures also guide us, that if a person is displaying the fruit of the flesh they are carnal in nature, even if they may sincerely think that they are spiritual, and if they are displaying the fruit of the Spirit, they are spiritual.  We must be careful to examine the fruit without bias, as we can easily be deceived.

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” Matthew 7:16-17

Here is what I have come to understand concerning the carnal nature and the spiritual nature from the Scriptures:  Both of these are a mindset, or a way of thinking and viewing ourselves and the world around us.  A carnal mindset is focused on this physical world and on the things that are important in this world, whereas a spiritual mindset is focused on the things of God, and on the things that please Him.  The carnal mindset does not require faith and is concerned with more immediate rewards in the here and now, whereas the spiritual mindset requires faith and looks to the future rewards that God has promised.  Another distinguishing factor is our hope, or knowing what we have placed our hope upon or what we have set our mind and heart upon.  The spiritual mindset has its hope set on God’s promise for Heaven and is waiting for His return, where as the carnal mindset has its hope set on a future condition in this world.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8: 5

At this point we need to ask another “why” question to get to an even deeper root cause.  Why do people remain carnally minded?  Or, what is preventing the conversion from carnality to spirituality in people?

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains that there are two types of people who are in need of conversion.  The first type is those who have suppressed the truth that God has shown them and therefore have carnal fruit in their lives, doing wicked and unrighteous things.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.” Romans 1: 18-21

The second type of person is the one who has supposedly embraced God’s truth, but has not applied the truth to their own life, but instead has used the truth to judge others.  This type of person believes that they themselves are “spiritual” and acceptable to God, but the bad fruit that they bear exposes their self deception, and their erroneous assumption that God will overlook their evil actions because of their knowledge of the truth.

“Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2: 3-5

This second type is particularly deceptive because the person can claim to be a Christian and can agree with all of the truths of the Bible, but they choose to continue to live their lives, or “walk”, in the flesh. This is the deception of religious people who practice the religious ceremonies and adhere to certain regulations, but they don’t make the necessary internal changes that convert them from carnally minded to spiritually minded.

Jesus had much to say about this same error to the religious Pharisees of His time, and the Apostle Paul wrote much in his letters to the early churches to counteract the false concepts and teachings that the religious Jews were attempting to promote that would have shifted the focus of the brethren to religious ceremonies and traditions that would have kept them walking in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit.

Of course, each of these types of unconverted people has varying degrees of error.  Some of them are so far into error the Scriptures says that God has turned them over to a “reprobate” mind and no longer pursues them with the truth.  I believe, though, that anyone can turn back to God and receive the truth if they so desire.  Only God knows a person’s heart.

The Scriptures make it clear that all men are in need of this conversion, there are no exceptions.  They also state that the only path to conversion is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent for this purpose.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 3-7

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6

In order for a person’s relationship with God to be restored, there is first a requirement from God that needs to be met.  God is holy, righteous, and just, and He cannot overlook the sin in a person’s life before entering into a relationship.  The only payment for our sins that is acceptable by God is the ransom that was paid by Jesus Christ on our behalf.  The Scriptures make it very clear that there is no other payment that is acceptable.  There is no man that can boast that he has earned a righteous position before God because of his own goodness or righteous actions.  We all must humbly accept the payment that Jesus made on our behalf.

Once we enter into a relationship with God based on the payment made by Jesus Christ, we are then fully acceptable as a child of God and are assured of the promised inheritance.  Our name is recorded in God’s “book of life”.  We can then communicate with God and live our lives in close relationship with our Creator.

We also recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father as King and Lord of all creation.  We, as part of His kingdom, honor Him as King and Lord.

On our part, the only requirement is that we exercise a sincere and true faith towards God and what He has promised through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.   It is this faith that causes us to pass from a carnal creature to a spiritual creature.  This faith requires that we die to this world and the hollow promises it offers and become alive to the promises of eternal life in heaven and a resurrected body that transcends the second death.

What I have just explained is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the source of life for the entire world and is the answer to the problems we face.  Our first responsibility is to make sure that we continue to walk in the spirit and in the truth.  After doing this, we can then look to promote this truth to others.  We must recognize though that we are witnesses of God’s power to change lives.  As we walk in the spirit and display the fruit thereof we become living testimonies of God’s truth.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 13-16

Be aware also that it is God through His Holy Spirit that is working to convince those unconverted people of the truth and to draw them to Himself.  Sometimes He may use us, so we should be open to the possibility of being used to speak the truth to those who are ready to hear.

“Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’” John 4: 43-45

In conclusion, we must never lose sight of the fact that the root cause of all of our problems here on earth is the need to be in right relationship with our Creator God and to be converted from a carnal nature to a spiritual nature.  Although the problems of this world will never be completely resolved until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when He will restore His righteous kingdom, we can still experience the fruit of the spirit in this life.  The Holy Spirit can also use us to influence others around us either by them seeing our transformed lives and actions, or by us speaking the truth to them in love.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:17-21

Again I encourage you to walk in the spirit and to put your carnal nature to death.  This is a daily exercise that we must continue until the end.  Also, remember that the words of Jesus are spirit and life.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

Amen.

This World is Cursed by God

“Cursed is the ground for your sake.” Genesis 3:17

The thought that this world is cursed is anathema to the world system that governs the thinking of most humans on the planet, as it stands in stark contrast to their fundamental belief that this world is evolving towards a progressively better condition with man as the central protagonist.  Considering this world as cursed is the epitome of negative thinking to those with this secular humanistic world view.  To maintain this world view, they must suppress the fact that our short life on earth is vain and ends in death (which is also part of the curse), and they must build up in their minds a false positive hope of some future state of utopia here on earth, otherwise there would be no compelling motivation to continue with their life.

It is not surprising that the non-Christians of the world would reject the idea that the world is cursed, but it is a very serious problem if true Christians do not understand the reality of this truth.  As Christians, we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As “the Christ” or “Savior”, Jesus came to save us from the destruction that will result from the curse, including eternal damnation for those who reject Him; He came to “un-do” what Adam has done in bringing this curse upon us.  Should we not, as Christians, fully understand this curse that Jesus came to remove? Yes!  And not only should we understand the curse, but we should make the reality of this truth a part of the way that we think and act and view this world.

It is unfortunate that Christianity is often presented as a type of “self-help” methodology for our lives here in this world, to help us to be successful or to prosper or to somehow improve or enhance our existence, instead of being presented as a remedy for the curse that mankind is under that will eventually lead to its destruction.

Let us be clear about this.  Jesus came to set us free from bondage, but not in the way that many have mistakenly viewed this freedom.  He came to set us free from the bondage that resulted from the curse, mainly from the bondage of Satan and the bondage that resulted from our hopelessness and fear of death.

It may be surprising or shocking for some to realize that Jesus did not come to set us free from poverty, nor did he come to set us free from suffering, nor to set us free from all pain and discomfort (hear on earth, but we will be free from all of these once we are a part of the future kingdom of God when Jesus returns).

Consider this admonition from Peter the Apostle in the Scriptures:

“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.  For this is commendable, if because of conscience towards God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently?  But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” 1 Peter 2:18

Of course we do have deliverance from some of the consequences of the curse even now, here on earth. When we become Christians and are transformed and are able to walk in holiness, righteousness, and love, we are freed from the harmful consequences of sin that had caused pain in our lives previously.   As Christians we also have access to God’s provisions, such as His healing, both physically and emotionally, His guidance for our lives, leading us to “green pastures” of peace and blessings, as well as protection and deliverance from our enemies.

We must still recognize though, as Christians, that we are in this cursed world and the Lord may allow us to experience difficult times of trials and sufferings. We must submit to these difficulties, trusting that God is still in control of our lives, and He has a purpose for these situations.  Some are for our discipline, some are for us to increase our patience and endurance, and some are for us to bring glory to the Father.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4: 1-2

The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts” Proverbs 17:3

Again I emphasize though, that the main purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was to free us from the curse that came upon this world and all of God’s creation due to Adam and Eve’s sin.  We must recognize that as a direct result of the curse, this entire planet is doomed to be destroyed.  This destruction will occur when the Lord Jesus returns.  Consider this picture of that day as presented by Peter:

“Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3: 1-17

It is interesting to note that God has already destroyed the contents of this world by a flood (all but sea creatures and those in the Ark).   It could be that one of the reasons that He did this was to make a point that He had done it once and will do it again, but this time with fire, where all will be destroyed (melted with fervent heat).  This is the fate of this current world and the creation of this age.

The bottom line is that this earth is not our permanent home.  We are just passing through this earth as aliens and strangers, and one day we will find our new home when Jesus comes and establishes His kingdom with a new heaven and new earth.

I want to make it clear that we are still responsible before God as good stewards of this earth, to take care of it.  Simply because the earth will be destroyed in the future does not give us a pass on our responsibility to take care of what God has given to us.  We honor God by treating His creation with respect.  We also must recognize that future generations must live on this planet and we should not destroy the resources that they will need to survive and live a healthy life.

Paul’s writings in Roman’s chapter 8 (under the inspiration of the Spirit) sum up the truths about the current situation of God’s creation, and our attitude towards these truths.  Here they are with my comments in brackets:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. [this revelation will be at the second coming of Jesus] For the earnest expectation of creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. [creation is aware of the curse upon it and is waiting for the final release of this curse at His coming]  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption[which was brought on by the curse] into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. [Are you groaning for this?]  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”  [this hope is so important!] Romans 8: 18-25

One final thought:  we, as Christians, should not be surprised that this world is dysfunctional and that men’s plans to create some sort of utopia always fail or often make things worse.  They will always fail because they will not work on this cursed world.  Our heavenly Father, who created this world, has put a curse on it for a reason, and that reason cannot and will not be undone.  Mankind has rebelled against God from the initial fall in the garden, and the only way back to paradise is through the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent to undo the curse and take us to the paradise (the future kingdom of heaven) He is preparing for us.  All who accept His redemption and His promise of eternal life in heaven will join Him there.

Amen.

Remember: Faith, Hope, Love – these Three

“But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” 1 Thes. 5:8

The history behind the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church of the Thessalonians is as follows: Paul had preached the Gospel in Thessalonica a few years prior to this letter and spent some time there to establish a group of believers.  He had become concerned about the well being of this congregation since he was not able to revisit them after his initial visit, so he sent Timothy to check on them.  Upon the return of Timothy, Paul wrote this letter to commend them on their steadfastness and progress, as well as to encourage and exhort them in their Christian walk.

We can learn from this letter if we look at Paul’s approach to encouraging the Thessalonians and his view of their spiritual strengths.

At the beginning of the letter, after his salutation, Paul immediately commends them on three core items: faith, hope and love:

“We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess. 1:3

It is interesting that Paul gives a similar commendation at the start of his letter to the Colossians:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Col. 1:3-5

…and also at the start of the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians:

“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because you faith is growing in abundance, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.” 2 Thess. 1:3-4

…followed by this:

“And to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,” 2 Thess. 1:7 (relating their steadfastness in affliction to their hope)

Obviously, when Paul examined a group of Christians for spiritual maturity he did so in the perspective of these three Christian attributes: faith, hope and love.  Therefore, it is also important for us to examine ourselves in a similar matter, understanding the true meaning of faith, hope and love, and how they should be manifested in our lives.

Notice that in 1 Thessalonians Paul uses the phrase “work of faith and labor of love” when he commended them.  The Greek word in the original passage that is translated as “work” is “ergon”  and is defined in Strong’s concordance as follows: from a primary (but obsolete) érgō (to work); toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication, an act:—deed, doing, labour, work.  The original Greek word for “labor” is “kopos” and is defined thus in Strong’s: toil (as reducing the strength), literally or figuratively; by implication, pains:—labor, + trouble, weariness.  There also is an implication of “intense labor with trouble and toil.”

Paul’s interest was in the fruit that they showed in their lives, and Timothy must have reported that they were producing “good works” that confirmed their spiritual maturity.  Timothy must have seen sacrifices being made to help the poor and needy, orphans and widows being cared for, and general activity that supported the fact that they loved one another.

The Holy Spirit has taught us though the Scriptures that faith without works is dead, but that our works confirm our faith:

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.” James 2: 21-23

True Christian faith will result in good works and will produce true love in the believer.  Remember that love fulfills the law and does no harm to a neighbor.  Our spiritual maturity should show forth these spiritual fruits of good works and love for others.

Like Abraham, we all will face situations in our lives that will require us to exercise our faith to “complete” it.  Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and was willing to obey God’s command to put him to death.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your posterity be named.’  He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Heb. 11:17-19

Let’s encourage one another to respond with the same faith that Abraham had when we are faced with similar situations and challenges in our lives, knowing that God is able to do whatever is required.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he had encouraged each one of them to exercise their faith with their actions.  I like how his encouragement was not just words but he had told them to imitate his actions, and he reminded them of his behavior among them:

“For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God.  You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thess. 2:9-12

Paul also commended them for enduring afflictions and persecution from their own countrymen, similar to what Paul had suffered from the Jews.  We too should be prepared in our hearts, should persecution arise, to endure patiently whatever afflictions come our way.

It is very clear that Paul’s expectation for believers was to walk in love and holiness, and to endure in this way until the Lord returns. Paul first sent Timothy to make sure that they were living appropriately, producing the fruit of spiritual maturity. He then reminded them of how he had trained them in this appropriate behavior and also exemplified this behavior in his life.  He then encouraged them to continue in and even increase the quality of their behavior.  I point this out to emphasize the fact that our behavior and spiritual maturity is extremely important.  Our faith and hope should be producing love as reflected in our good works and holy living.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your consecration: that you abstain from immorality;” 1 Thess. 3:12- 4:3

The original Greek word that is translated as “consecration” in the above verse is hagiasmos, and is defined in Strong’s concordance as: properly, purification, i.e. (the state) purity; concretely (by Hebraism) a purifier:—holiness, sanctification.  Again, Paul makes it very clear that it is God’s will for us to walk in holiness.

Paul also knows that the key to our spiritual maturity and our ability to walk in holiness and love is to have our faith focused on the hope we have in Christ Jesus and our future with Him in His Kingdom that He will establish upon His return.  Therefore, after exhorting and encouraging them to walk in holiness, Paul reminds them of the soon coming of the Lord, and our part as believers in this event:

“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep (dead), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4:13-18

Paul knew that this hope that we have will comfort us in our afflictions and help us to endure, continuing in holy living.  This is our source of strength that will get us through difficult times and empower us to walk in love and holiness, as we make this assured hope a reality in our lives.

A living faith in our blessed hope we have in what God has promised to us in Christ Jesus, namely a place in heaven for eternity with Him, will produce in us the ability to walk in holiness and love, with the strength to endure until the end.  It is critical that we continue in this way so that we too can be found blameless in holiness when Jesus returns.

I hope that this message has encouraged you in your walk as a believer.  Recognize that all of the things in this life are trivial compared with the glory that awaits us.  Let’s keep our perspective clear and focused on what is really important: eternal life and our future hope.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thess. 5: 23-24

What We Really Need Is Internal, Not External.

“And He (Jesus) said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  Mark 7: 20-22

It has been said that the moral integrity of a society is directly proportional to its freedoms and overall prosperity.   In other words, the higher the moral integrity in a society, the more freedoms and prosperity it will experience, and conversely, the lower the morals, the less freedom and prosperity it will experience.  I don’t see how anyone can dispute this truth.  Consider how free market capitalism would function in a society where everyone was dishonest.  Obviously, it could not.  It is also obvious that societies that have a high percentage of evils such as theft or murder would be forced to implement laws and regulations to protect their citizens that would have a negative impact on the freedoms of all, and would cost its citizens to implement and enforce.

Dishonesty and theft come in many forms, some hidden to us.  A poor work ethic results in employees stealing from employers by not giving a full day of work for a day’s wage.  Or members of society who are abusing government “entitlements” to steal from the rest of the tax payers.

The United States is facing this dilemma right now.  As the moral fiber of our society is declining we are seeing a push for more laws and regulations.  It seems that a government will take advantage of any opportunity to increase its control over its people, and while it may resolve some problems, it usually creates a whole new set of problems, including the loss of freedoms and prosperity for the masses.

Some would say that these governmental laws and regulations don’t accomplish what they are intended to do.  The law or regulation does not change the evil that resides in the perpetrators, and they simply find a way around them.  Others would say that without the laws and regulations in place there can be no justice.  Perpetrators cannot be punished by the governmental authorities if they have not broken some established law.  Of course, we also know that when the governmental authorities become morally corrupted, then laws are not enforced, bribes are taken, the innocent are falsely accused, and power is abused; when this occurs there is a risk that the society will collapse.

It would appear that immoral societies have a choice of either suffering from the abuses of the evil perpetrators, or to suffer from the abuses of an imperfect government authority that can over regulate, misapply laws, and has the potential for corruption that results in a systemic collapse.  Either way, freedom and prosperity suffer.

It is not my purpose here to get caught up in this debate of how a secular society should be managed.  As a Christian, I understand that this world is cursed and under the strong influence of satanic forces, and therefore the only true freedom and prosperity that our world will experience will occur when the Lord Jesus returns and establishes His kingdom.

My purpose in mentioning the above situation regarding immoral societies is to emphasize the fact that the source of the problem is an internal one that external laws and regulations cannot correct, but can only partially restrain (if at all).  What is true for societies is also true for individuals.  Christians need to be careful not to look for external remedies to this internal problem.

The Scriptures clearly explain that the old covenant that was based on laws and regulations was not able to bring about the needed internal change in individual believers. When comparing the usage of the old covenant laws and commandments to the faith and hope of the new covenant in the book of Hebrews, it says this:

“For on the one hand, there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect (or complete); on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” Heb. 7:18-19

The law was not capable of bringing about the internal changes that were needed.  J. B. Phillips translation of verse 18 supports this also:

“Quite plainly, then, there is a definite cancellation of the previous commandment because of its ineffectiveness and uselessness – the Law was incapable of bringing anyone to real maturity”

The point being made here was that the old covenant, with its laws and regulations, was insufficient. But the new covenant is able to  bring about the needed internal change to “perfect” or “complete” the believer.

This is what is important to understand:  the new covenant does not remove the need for its participants to be holy and righteous (i.e. to have high moral integrity), but rather, it recognizes the need for an internal change to bring about this high moral integrity, and it offers this means through faith and a “better hope” that produces spiritual maturity.  The list of laws and regulations from the old covenant were beneficial in exposing the moral deficiencies of the people, but were not able to correct them.

The new covenant addresses two critical areas of the believer’s life that allows them to mature spiritually:

First, all questions and doubts are removed regarding a believer’s acceptance into the family of God due to past sins or actions that their conscience knows have offended God. Since guilt and doubt can hinder a person’s relationship with God, making it impossible to trust Him and walk in the Spirit, this hindrance is removed by means of the blood of Jesus that paid the penalty on our behalf:

“how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14)

We can now confidently enter into a relationship with God and “draw near” to Him, knowing that we are truly His child and that He loves us.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,..”  (Romans 8:16-17)

The second is related to the first in that we now realize as God’s children that we have the assurance of an eternal inheritance that was established by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This assurance allows us to shift the focus of our hope from the things of this world to this promised hope, and this shift of hope frees us from the bondage of this world system.

“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Hebrews 10:15

The writer of Hebrews wraps up the discussion about the new covenant by confirming the importance of these 2 items and the ultimate goal of an internal change that leads to love and good works:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest (presence of God the Father) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God (Jesus), let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Hebrews 10:19-24

The Scriptures also explain more specifically the results of this internal change that will occur in the believer, stating that the Lord will “put His laws in their mind and write them on their hearts” meaning that believers will do by nature what the law requires, not needing the external written commandments and requirements because they will be present internally.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Heb. 8:10

Paul the apostle also spoke of Gentile Christian believers who were not raised with the commandments and regulations of the law like the Jews had been, but were able to naturally do what was required.

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Romans 2: 14-15

We must realize also that doing by nature what the law requires is the equivalent to walking in love, for love fulfills the law, as Paul makes clear later in Romans:

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10

Walking in love is a fruit of the spirit, and we must therefore be spiritual to walk in love and to fulfill the law.  Here are some key Scriptures from Galatians chapter 5 that explains this:

“But you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by on another! I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Gal. 5:13-18

“For we know that the law is spiritual,….” Romans 7:14

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Gal. 5:22-25

The new covenant emphasizes a direct relationship with God through faith that causes us to be transformed from being carnally minded, or focused on this physical world, to being spiritually minded, or focused on the spiritual world, i.e. heaven or the kingdom of God.  This transformation is the internal change that is required for us to walk in love and fulfill the law.

There are two critical areas that are affected by this transformation from being carnally minded to spiritually minded.  First, we realize that we are a child of the living God who is in control of our lives.  We learn to trust Him in every situation, understanding that He is involved intimately with our lives and knows exactly what we need.  This understanding eliminates our anxiety and stress as we cast our cares upon Him and completely trust Him to meet our needs. We learn to see His purpose in all of our circumstances, even the trials and sufferings.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

The second important area is the focus of our future hope.  We realize that as children of the living God, we have an inheritance in heaven, and also, have inherited eternal life with an immortal new resurrected body.  This is the “better hope” that was mentioned in Hebrews 7, that is based on “better promises.”  Jesus conquered death and removed us from the curse of this world, making a way for us to be accepted by God as His child, with an eternal inheritance.  Walking in the spirit requires that we shift our hope from the things in this world to the promised hope in Christ.  We must set our minds and hearts on this heavenly hope rather than the false hopes that this world has to offer, and we must store up our riches in heaven rather than on earth.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6

“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: 1-4

The result of these changes is the recognition that this world holds little value for us.  All of the things that we placed our confidence upon or built our reputation upon are reduced to worthlessness compared to the new eternal, spiritual things that have immortal value. These changes also free us from the bondage of our strong desires that were focused on earthly things.  This bondage kept us from being able to freely love others and to please God.  When we functioned in this world’s system with our minds set on the things of this world we couldn’t please God because we were focused on pleasing other men and ourselves.  We were focused on and feeding on (finding happiness in) the earthly things that we had set our minds on and hoped for.

The Scriptures tell us that when we have our minds focused on the things of this world and our flesh (carnally minded) that it leads to “death,” meaning that we are trapped in a cycle of sin.  When we set our minds on carnal things (when we treasure them) we feed our strong worldly desires which results in producing the works of the flesh.

Here’s an example to illustrate this.  Let’s say that I allow my heart to be set on having a beautiful home in a good neighborhood.  I treasure this thought and work hard to make it happen.  I have set my mind and heart on this and my emotional attachment to fulfilling this dream is very strong. When I think about obtaining this goal it brings me happiness and pleasure that I feed upon; it motivates me when I wake up and go through my day.  Anything that hinders the fulfillment of this “earthly hope” will cause my flesh to react.  The fruit of this fleshly reaction will be some form of sin.

The book of James explains it this way:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown, brings forth death.” James 1:13-15

With regards to the verse from James you may be thinking that it applies more to sexual desires, murder, stealing, or envy, and although it does apply to them, I believe that it applies to any desire that is focused on an earthly thing that we allow to “conceive” or take root in our heart.

You may also be thinking, “Can’t I have a desire for a nice home for my family?”  Let me make this very clear: it is not wrong to have desires for things on this earth, within the known guidelines of not coveting other people’s things or desiring things that we know are evil.  The problem is when we begin to “set our minds and hearts” on these “good” things and allow them to become a focal point and main hope in our lives.  It’s a problem when we treasure them and begin to feed off of them, or when we base our happiness on them, looking forward with pleasure for when we will obtain them.  It is this type of strong longing for earthly things that causes the bondage.

When we have a desire for an earthly thing, we can pray and ask God to give us this thing, but then we must leave the fulfillment totally in God’s hands.  Some things that we think are good for us, the Lord knows are not good for us.  Or possibly, the Lord will test us by withholding some desire.  We are instructed by the Lord to be content in our circumstances; this means that we must not covet or “set our mind and hearts on” or “treasure” any earthly things beyond what we have been given.  Even the things that we have been given are not to be the focus of our affections because we could lose them all (consider Job’s life).

The point is that we need to guard our hearts and not allow any earthly thing to take the focus of our lives by becoming the hope that drives us, feeds us and brings happiness. When we die with Christ on the cross, all of these hopes and dreams must die also, and we must continue to keep them dead. Don’t be fooled into thinking since an earthly thing is “good” that you can set your mind/heart/hope upon it.

“Keep (or guard) your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Here is my main point (finally): The church, like secular governments and organizations, has a tendency to think that external remedies will work to bring about the needed changes in people, but what is needed is an internal change that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the cross) and the Holy Spirit can accomplish. The church needs to focus on the things that contribute to the spiritual maturity of Christians, encouraging one another to walk in the spirit, walk in love and fulfill the law.  Learning to place our trust completely in the Lord, and learning to shift our hope totally towards the promise of our eternal inheritance are the key to this spiritual maturity.

External remedies are easier because they don’t require faith.  This is how dead religious rituals have developed over the years – they are external attempts to solve an internal problem – that can’t work.  Today we have the same tendencies, from Christians attempting to change the political system in our country, to thinking that getting people to show up every Sunday and be involved in a church organization will make them spiritually mature.

We need to focus on the internal change that can truly cause us to walk in the Spirit and walk in love.  It starts with ourselves, and then we should encourage others to do the same.  Draw close to Jesus and He will draw close to you.  Set your mind and heart fully on the hope that is in Christ Jesus, and do so until He returns or takes you home. Put to death any earthly desire that challenges your hope in heaven.

My desire is the same as Pauls:

“…the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints (to us). To them God willed to make known what are the riches of glory of this mystery among Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 1:26-28

 

“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”  1 Sam. 8:6-7

I’ve been reading through the book of 1st Samuel in the Old Testament.  There are amazing accounts of the events regarding people such as Hannah (Samuel’s mother), Eli the priest and his wicked sons, Saul and his son Jonathan, and many others.  It was hard to find the one topic to drill down into, so I had to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I want to remind you that the Old Testament is very relevant to our lives today because these events were intended to teach us and instruct us.  Although the cultures were different, these people were the same as us and had similar feelings, emotions and situations to deal with.  We have an advantage because we have the knowledge of Jesus and the New Testament.  Through the blood of Jesus, we now have access into the presence of God the father, as well as the Holy Spirit. Remember though, these Old Testament people were just like us and we can learn much from their experiences.

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Romans 15:4

Remember too that it is the same Lord who was dealing with the people of old; He has not changed and we can learn much about His nature from these accounts.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Hebrews 13:7

One thing that stood out to me as I was reading was the request of the Israelites for a king. Maybe it was because of the fact that at the time of writing this, the U.S. is in the middle of the presidential election, with debates and posturing being done by the candidates.  I remembered that during a previous election time, Ron Paul, one of the candidates who apparently had some knowledge of the Bible, mentioned the warning that God gave the people after they requested a king, essentially that the king would burden them with heavy taxation.  Dr. Paul suggested that any government of men would do the same and that this taxation would only get worse and typically results in the destruction of the nation. (Much of Dr. Paul’s libertarian platform was centered on the reduction of the government.  Of course, he didn’t get elected.)  Here’s the warning from 1 Samuel:

“Now therefore heed their voice.  However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.  So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king.  And he said, ‘This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you.  He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.  He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, and your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep; and you will be his servants.  And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.’” 1 Sam. 8:10-18

So, we should not be surprised at the situation of our current nation and government; it is to be expected.  I am not surprised that any attempts to limit the power and extent of the government have failed.

There are some issues here regarding our current government situation that I want to discuss, but first, I want to look at why the people of Israel requested a king.  What motivated them?  Why would they choose to reject the government system that God had established, with His protection and influence, and rather have a king who would have a heavy burden put on them?

Let’s look closer at God’s system of government. For one thing, God was protecting them from their enemies (this is what governments do).  He gave them victory, in many cases, with little effort needed from the men of Israel.  Instead, God would cause the enemy to be confused or fearful and they would retreat.

“Now as Samuel was offing up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel.  But the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel.” 1 Samuel 7:10

So God was giving them protection from their surrounding enemies, without the need for them to establish a large and well equipped army.

In addition to this, after the exodus from Egypt, God has established judges over the people of Israel starting with Moses, up until the time of Samuel.  The judges were representative of God, so they were also prophets, like Samuel.  God, through His judge/prophet, was making sure that justice was being done in the nation of Israel.  He was dealing with corruption and crime.  He was deciding correctly and righteously when there was a difference between people.  The people knew that they would be brought to the judge/prophet and that God would deal with them fairly and righteously.  There was no hiding or getting around the correct judgments that were being executed by men like Samuel that God had established.  This was the Lord’s system of government.

It would appear that the decision to request a king was based on their desire to have the new king become their judge.  When they made the request, they mentioned the change of the process of justice, requesting that a king would now judge them rather than a judge/prophet as appointed by God.

“Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”  1 Sam. 8:5

The elders of Israel also mentioned that the son’s of Samuel, who were now being set up as judges, were not adhering to the righteous ways of Samuel:

“Now it came to pass when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel…..But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him ‘Look, you are old, and your sons don’t walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’” 1 Sam. 8:1-5

Although the condition of the sons of Samuel was a serious issue, it was not a reason to reject God as judge.  They should have been requesting that Samuel either deal with his son’s or have God appoint a new judge/prophet.  I’m sure the Lord would have been more than happy to correct this situation.

They used the problem with Samuel’s son’s as an excuse to request a king as a judge.  So, what was their real motive?  Again, why would they want to forfeit God’s involvement and establish a king as a judge, who is a mere man, and who would take so much from them, as God had warned them?

Here is a hint about what might have been their motive (this happened many years before the request for a king, when Samuel was younger):

“Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the Lord, with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.’” 1 Sam. 7:3

I believe that the underlying motive for the people to request a king was that they did not want to deal with their flesh.  They did not want to remove the idols from their lives.  They did not want to serve the Lord only.  They did not want to deal with the sin in their lives that resulted from their hearts being set on worldly things, and not focused on pleasing the Lord.  It was easier for them to look to a new king, similar to what the surrounding nations were doing.

In other words, they wanted their cake, and eat it too.  They couldn’t have both.  They wanted to be protected from their enemies and have justice in their midst, and also wanted to keep their idols and feed their flesh, having their hearts torn between the Lord and their worldly desires.

This is the main lesson to be learned from this account in 1 Samuel.   There are times when we, as a nation or as individuals, need to humble ourselves before the Lord, when we need to allow Him to show us the idols in our lives so we can tear them down and remove them, when we need to deal with our flesh and our sins and restore Him as the only Lord and Master, and allow Him to judge us righteously, when we need to make sure that we serve Him only.  This would bring about the true healing in the land and in our lives.  This would bring about justice.  This would protect us from our enemies.

Instead of focusing on changing our heart, we look to a man or to men, thinking we can get justice from them, thinking that we can get protection from them.  Even when the Lord warned the people of Israel about how bad the situation would get, they still wanted the king.

“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us.’” 1 Sam. 8:19

The Israelites believed the lie that they didn’t need the Lord’s protection or justice, that they could get what they needed from a king, just like the other nations were doing.  It’s interesting that we have similar thoughts regarding other people in the world (we believe the same lie).  We look at their lives and think that they have it all together and are happy and safe, but the reality is that it’s all a façade.  The truth is that people have all the same issues and problems that we do, if not more, they just are able to cover them up so the outside world doesn’t see them.

The bottom line is that it is very difficult for us to turn inward, looking at ourselves, and deal with the heart issues that are the root of the problem.  Many of us would rather look to a man for help than to humble ourselves and pour out our hearts before God, and make the necessary changes to our heart and lives, putting to death the deep rooted areas of our carnal nature.  Instead of going directly to the Lord, we look to counselors, or doctors, or pastors, or whoever we think can give us an answer or a quick fix to our problems.  Any good Christian pastor, counselor or doctor will direct you to the Lord anyway, so why not just go there in the first place?

As a nation, we look to the government for a solution.  We think that by changing the laws or by electing the right person into office, we can solve the problems we have, but this is never the case.  Real and lasting changes can only take place in people’s hearts; changing the government will not bring about the needed change.

Obviously, we don’t have the same opportunity that the Israelites had with the Lord raising up judges and prophets to be involved directly with the people of our nation, and I am not suggesting that we somehow attempt to bring this about.  Unfortunately, we must live with the systems of government that are in place in this world.

We need to recognize that as Christians we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and we are awaiting the return of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ.  His return, which could be very soon, will establish a new system where He is judge and protector.  I anxiously await His return!

We also need to recognize that our nation has drifted away from the moral and ethical standards of a Christian nation and has therefore come under the judgment of God.  The real need for this nation to be healed is for individuals to humbly turn to God in repentance.  I believe that for the majority of people in our country the opportunity for repentance and change of heart has passed, but God is greater and we should continue to pray for revival.  Regardless, no matter who is elected into the office of the president of the U.S. we will not have a solution to the root problems that have plagued our nation.  Unfortunately, things will only get worse.

I want to emphasize here that for the child of God this worsening of our nation is not a problem.  We are not a part of this earthly kingdom that is collapsing.  We are a part of a heavenly kingdom that will soon be brought here, destroying the old and making a new heaven and new earth in accordance with God’s prophecy.  Jesus will be the king.

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 1 Peter 3:10-13

Even now, we understand that as we turn to the Lord, He will heal us, He will set us free from bondage, He will teach us truth, He will transform our minds.

“Nevertheless, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. 3:16-18

Don’t be tempted to look to man or to man’s systems for the answer to our problems, but keep your face like flint set on the future hope that we have in Christ Jesus.

“Therefore do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Cor. 4:16 to 5:1

In summary, the people of Israel asked for a king because they didn’t want to remove the idols from their lives, and they wanted to continue to entertain their fleshly passions that conflicted with the Lord’s service.  The people of Israel ignored the warning from the Lord regarding the establishment of a king and the associated governing system, and pushed to have a king anyway.  We can learn from this the following:  1) Governments are not the solution for the problems of our societies.  2) Rather than looking to man or man’s ways for solving our problems, we should look to God. 3) Humility and repentance are the real solution for the root cause of our problems.  Until we as individuals humble ourselves, remove our fleshly idols, and allow the Lord to transform us we will not have true peace and justice in our nations.  4) As Christians we have a hope beyond this world of a righteous society ruled by the Lord Jesus in a new heaven and new earth.  For this hope we patiently endure.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  Romans 8: 19-23

Question: Do you groan inwardly as you wait for your adoption as a son of God (assuming the reader is a Christian)?  Or maybe the broader question: Is there room in our modern, western Christianity for this inward groaning?

Sadly, it would seem that there is little room for this attitude in our modern, western, Christian Gospel and lifestyle.  On the contrary, Christianity is presented mostly as a self-help tool to allow Christians to live their lives here on earth to the fullest, reaping the benefits of God’s blessings, healings, prosperity, and answered prayers.  Of course God will bless and heal and prosper His children, but His intention is not to make us feel at home here on earth, but rather, to keep us safe and strong for our journey.

The abundant life that Jesus has promised us is spiritual and not physical.  There is an internal transformation that yields the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  These fruits coexist with the longing and groaning for our future adoption.

The emphasis today by many Christians on physical and emotional healings, material blessings and prosperity, social and political victories, and other similar miracles, leaves no room for a longing and groaning for heaven, or a realization that we are sojourners and temporary residents just passing through.

The Bible has clearly and explicitly revealed that this world has been cursed as a result of the sin of our first parents and is now under the strong influence of the devil, and will remain as such until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Once we turn and follow Jesus, entering into the new covenant based on the redemptive act of Jesus on the cross, and His resurrection that followed, we die to this world and are no longer a part of it, but rather become citizens of the new heaven and earth.  Like our father Abraham, we now shift our hope to this promise of eternal life in a new heaven and earth, and patiently endure our time here on earth as he did, remaining faithful as to obtain the promise.

“By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  Hebrews 11:9-10

It is interesting to note that Abraham was established by God to be the father of all who have faith, not because he saw how great a sinner he was, but because he believed God’s promise, placing his hope entirely in what God had assured him of, and patiently waited for its fulfillment.  Yet in today’s Gospel there is a major emphasis on the need to recognize ourselves as sinners with a great need for forgiveness, focusing our faith on this believe that we are forgiven.  Yes it is true that we are all sinners and in need of forgiveness, but Jesus also came to save us from this cursed world, not just from ourselves.  There needs to be at least equal emphasis, if not more emphasis, on the fact that God did not originally intend for us to be a part of this cursed world that is now in bondage to decay and death, and that our faith needs to be focused on the hope of the promise of eternal life and deliverance from this world and our dying bodies that are a part of this creation.

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.   For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  Hear indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”  2 Corin. 4:17 – 5:5

As I consider the many problems, sins, and major issues in modern, western Christianity such as a high percentage of male Christians addicted to pornography, a high rate of adultery and divorce, a high rate of Christians on anti-depressants, the mega-church movement, the hyper-faith movement, the material prosperity focus movement, the problems in the Christian music industry, the mix of new age thinking with Christianity, the rampant church divisions, worldly programs and thinking in the church, etc. , I have concluded that most of these problems are rooted in a shallow conversion experience, not understanding the need to die to this world totally and to lose their life on this earth.  As a result, modern western Christians are still carnal and materialistic, having no power to overcome the powerful influence of our evil society that is constantly bombarding them via the media of television, movies, videos, music, the internet, as well as their teachers, coworkers, family, and friends.

I urge you therefore to allow the spirit inside of you to groan and long for the adoption of the sons of God and the final return of the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ to establish a new heaven and earth as our permanent home.  Please do not allow anything or anyone to shift your focus from this promised hope to the lies and deception of this world and what it offers us.  All the things of this world are temporary or transient and therefore are futile, but the things of God are eternal.

Consider again the faith of Abraham as described in the book of Romans, chapter 4, and how it pertains to our faith in what God has promised to us through Jesus:

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘reckoned (or accounted) to him as righteousness.’  But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans 4: 20-25

Many years ago I accompanied some friends, a married couple, to a small church.  They were teaching a Sunday school class to very young children and I decided to join them in the class since I was visiting and didn’t know anyone.  They taught the children with this simple story using some picture illustrations that had left an impression on me.  It went something like this:  On a farm, a young chick was caught in a storm outside of the chicken coop and got disoriented, ending up alone down at the farm’s pond and was adopted by a family of ducks with small ducklings.  The chick felt very much out of place, not being able to swim, or eat their food, or communicate.  The ducklings were mean to the chick, teasing, ridiculing, and even attaching it.  The chick was very distressed and knew that something was wrong but couldn’t do much about it.  Finally, the farmer noticed the chick and took it back to the chicken coop where it belonged and the chicken lived there happily with its family.  The teachers then related to the kids that we as Christians don’t belong in this world and are like a chick at the duck pond.  Someday, like the farmer coming to take the chick home where it belonged, Jesus will come for us and take us to our real permanent home.  I’m not sure I got the story exactly right, but the simple truth is clear: we don’t belong here in this world and we await a day when we will be delivered from this cursed world, when Jesus takes us home.

We wait with eager expectation for that day.

“Therefore, gird up your minds, be sober, set your minds fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13