Christ Will Catch You

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:47-50)

Manual labor was how most people survived in Bible days. Fisherman, farmers, shepherds, potters and carpenters are all used as illustrations of God’s Kingdom and how he worked in human lives. Farmers grew things, shepherds guarded things, potters made things and carpenters built things. The analogy Christ gave to his first followers in this parable included nets, fish and fisherman. His very first followers were fisherman and they were in the business of catching things.  

 We see that fisherman used a large net with weights on it or a dragnet to catch fish. Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven, the Sovereignty of God, his rule and reign over the earth and the hearts of men is like a dragnet. It is the preaching of the biblical gospel that catches people, like fisherman use a dragnet to catch fish (Luke 5:10).

The dragnet draws them in from the sea. The sea is symbolic of the world and its people, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” (Isa. 57:20). Like the world it is restless and unstable but God Almighty is an excellent fisherman (Ezek. 32:2-3). Christ is the Creator of life in the seas, oceans, lakes and rivers. He was the one who at Creation, said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.” (Gen. 1:20). So he who made the fish knows where they hide.

They collect every kind of fish: there all kinds of people the gospel dragnet catches. The Bible says God makes, “men as the fish of the sea…” (Hab. 1:14NIV). They come from every ethnic group, nation and tongue. Some are famous people, others unknown people, some rich, some poor. Christ catches all kinds of people. 

Once the dragnet is full they bring it to shore and sit down. One day fishing will be over. There will be no more need for gospel preaching, “And then shall the end come.” (Mt 24:14). The end of this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) will come and give way to the fullness of the kingdom age (Rev. 21: 4). For now the kingdom of God has come in this age but not in fullness (Heb 6:5). The kingdom of God has invaded and defeated the kingdom of Satan (Mt. 12:28) but Satan and death the last enemy are still around doing their dirty work.  So for now we have the righteous and the wicked side by side.

Then the fisherman shall sit down and separate the good fish from the bad. This involves the ministry of the holy angels who are appointed the task of separating the good fish from the bad or the righteous from the wicked, “and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.” (Mk. 13:27).

When the kingdom of God arrives, the wicked and the righteous will be separated like weeds and wheat, sheep and goats and good and bad fish. Those who are disobedient to the gospel call and refuse to turn from their sin will be sent to hell and those whom he saves will be allowed access into heaven. We need to be careful to mention all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and we all are pretty bad fish. The “good fish” Christ catches for salvation in his mercy and grace but they are not good in themselves. But not everyone will be saved. He keeps the living “fish” (those who have been born again) and the dead fish (those who are not born again) are thrown away in condemnation.

This message of the dragnet of the gospel has bad news and good news. We can see in this great dragnet of God’s kingdom His, “goodness and severity.” (Rom. 11:22). One day everyone will be caught and there is no where you can run from God. The Bible asks, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation.” (Heb. 2:3). Those who are saved are drawn out from the drowning waters of God’s judgment (Ps. 18:16). But the wicked will be burned in a furnace of fire (Mt. 13:42, 50). This is a constant theme in scripture where God differentiates between those who serve God and those who do not (Mt. 13:30, 41-42).  

You see Jesus was not our idea of a Savior and as sinners we have a twisted way of thinking completely remote from God ways and thoughts.  In building God’s kingdom, God the Father determined that Jesus was be the cornerstone and foundation of the church. The religious people were clueless. So Christ said to them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’ He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Mt 21:42-24NLT). The cornerstone is a stumbling stone for many people, but the idea of Jesus Christ being a savior scandalizes and outrages people. But Christ will catch you. He will catch you as a Savior or he will catch you as your Judge.

I find it interesting that fisherman back then used a dragnet. According to the dictionary a dragnet is also, “a systematic and coordinated search for a wanted person made by police.”  (Encarta).  God is on a manhunt or soul hunt for those who have broken his law! This is a warning to those who think they can wait around and follow Christ whenever they want or whenever they are ready. It does not work that way (Isa. 55:1,-3, 6-7).  Augustine said, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance but not time to your procrastination.  All will be caught in an inescapable net one day. You will be entangled in this net, if you are not already. God will act in his justice and he will catch up with those running from it,  “Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” (Eccl. 9:12).

The bad news first: Judas was caught in the dragnet of Christ, but for condemnation. It is so very sad. What a trophy Satan has on hell’s wall in capturing Judas. Here Judas was a disciple he performed miracles and preached the gospel. “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (Mt 10:1NIV) and yet he would be the one who would betray Christ (Mt. 10:4).  

That is why Jesus said don’t rejoice in performing miracles but rejoice that “your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).  The Bible says that the devil put that idea of betraying Christ in his heart (John 13: 2) and entered into him (Luke 22:3) and Christ called him a devil (John 6:70) despite the fact he chose him for service. All Judas thought about was a convenient (Mk 14:11) opportunity (Mt. 26:16) to betray Christ to those who would eventually crucify him. Jesus treated Judas as the guest of honor at the last supper and washed his feet knowing what he was going to do. But Judas eventually committed suicide and after his neck broke, his body fell and cracked open and his intestines gushed out (Acts 1:18).  How did such a sad fish get in the net?  

You see, in the dragnet of the Kingdom of God there are good and bad fish. In theology, we call it the visible and invisible church. Simply put, the visible church has saved and unsaved people. It has real believers and hypocrites. There is the church we see and people who seem to be Christians and there is the church God sees and those he knows belong to him. They all coexist for a time and then God sifts them. A heart unchanged by the Spirit of God will not choose to serve God. Sin rules their heart. They can mask their true condition by religiosity, morality, generosity, and civility but they are still sinners.

They are slaves to sin and in their hearts they have a hatred for God and all his laws (Rom 8:7). But it is not so obvious. Yes, they can imitate things, they can play the role of religion but one day they will be exposed as frauds. “Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later.” (1 Tim. 5:24NLT).  The more they are around miracles, even solid preaching of the word of God instead of becoming softer they become harder. The Bible says, “When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.” (Heb. 6:7-8NLT). The Spirit of God asks, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom. 2:4-5). 

Peter was caught in the net of Christ for salvation. When the disciples went fishing at the Word of Christ, their nets broke under the weight of the miraculous catch and the boats began to sink (Luke 5:2, 7).  Peter was terrified. He said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man oh Lord!”  (Luke 5:8). But Peter was hooked he could not shake the dragnet of grace that now rest upon him. Seeing the sin in his life he knew he needed to change his ways as the very presence of Christ came as light that illuminated the darkest parts of his soul in one moment. He was afraid, because he was exposed, for he was tangled in the nets of Christ and was at his mercy.

There was a terrible storm one time and Christ came walking on the water, Peter stepped out of the boat to walk on the water with Christ, but he could not for long stay in that position. As he began to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Mt. 14:30).   I know Peter walked on the water for a time, I have heard this passage preached on, some good ones and others mangled out of context.  But here is the actual point:  Christ is Peter’s only hope and Savior.  We too must see the boisterous winds and powerful surging waves of Divine justice!  We must see our souls sinking down and look to Christ’s sinewy arm to reach in the waters and rescue us from drowning. His work, his will, his human powers of soul and spirit could not save him! He needed to be saved from and outside source and only Christ would and could save him!  What a difference when he first met Heaven’s Fisherman and said, “Lord, leave me!  Now he says, “Lord save me!”  

Before the crucifixion there were three main targets that Satan was after, Christ, Judas and Peter. He had a foothold situation in Judas. He was done. Satan had literally requested to sift Peter. Peter was in the dragnet, but was he to be a good fish? He was going to deny the Lord which is almost just as bad as or worse than betraying Christ. But Jesus told him,But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32NLT).  Peter belonged to Christ by grace and despite all his failings; Christ assured him that he would be converted and able to strengthen his brothers. That day came and Peter’s greatest catch was on the Day of Pentecost when three thousand souls were added by grace to the church (Acts 2:42). Once caught by Christ he taught them that they too would be those would cast their nets for souls. Christ made it clear: they would catch men (Luke 5:10), therefore, the nets of their testimony must rest in his strength.  For the spirit of prophecy and all preaching must be and can only be the testimony of Jesus or it is not biblical and God honoring (Rev 19:10).   He that wins souls is wise (Prov. 11:30) but only Christ is powerful to save (Acts 4:12)!   To fish for them is to simply cast the net of God’s Word and let the Spirit of God do the work in the ocean of the world.  

Oh this dragnet can also be salvation to those people who God is calling in his grace. Christ is the Ultimate Fisherman who catches the drowning souls of men. Each and every day God is drawing those whom he has loved before the foundations of the earth were made “a people yet born, the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD! (Ps 102:18). The Bible teaches that the Father never fails to bring people to Christ who he is drawing. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me…No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…” (John 6:37, 44).  He is saying now, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jer. 31:3). Your salvation cannot rest on anything but Christ alone and his power to save! This awesome Fisherman of Heaven has set out to catch you. In fact, you are as good as caught right now. Christ came and called men to follow him (Mt. 4:19) and they were caught in his dragnet of grace. You can struggle Mr. and Ms. Fish but once the dragnet is over you, you are at subject to the discrimination of the Master. Don’t be caught dead without Jesus. Because one day Christ will catch you!

Can You Hear Me Now?

The Galatians were saved. How were they saved? Paul asks, “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2).  They were saved by the hearing of faith, they sincerely believed what they heard about the message of Jesus Christ.  Hearing was a gift. Faith was a gift.  The Holy Spirit was a gift. This is because the Bible says we were dead in sin and it is by God’s gift of grace we are saved (Eph 2:8-9). Simple enough. They heard the message of the gospel of Christ and believed and were saved.

It is also wise to note that dead people do not hear anything.  There is no awareness of sound in the grave. After a loved one has died talking to them at their grave site may be psychologically beneficial for you but really they can’t hear you. Why bring that up? Because God had to give us the ears to hear what he was saying by raising us from spiritual death to life.  A person must be born again first then they hear, believe and repent.  The Bible teaches, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13). God gave us the hearing of faith after regenerating us and brings us back from the dead spiritually and then we heard the word of truth and then received his Spirit!

But can we hear him now? Are we listening to God now? Yes, there is a difference between hearing and listening, just ask my wife. In fact, James insists that we should be, “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (James 1:19). Notice the idea of being swift to hear and being prepared to listen to God’s Word, with the readiness that cultivated soil has to receive seed. Hearing or listening is a heart issue.  It tells us whether we are living in error or not.  God spoke though Isaiah, “I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.” (Isa. 66:4).  Hearing was connected with the act of obedience, disobedience was seen as not hearing.

Real listening brings prompt obedience. We have so much to repent for. The Christian should praise God everyday for what Christ did on the cross, and justification by faith through grace or we would truly be lost, just for the fact we drag our feet to obey when God tells us what he demands.  We should feel crushed at  how slow we are to obey.  Jesus rebuked his disciples saying, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken…” (Luke 24:45). God wants us to pace ourselves with his Word. In an unagitated manner, in a peaceful heart  be ready to receive the Word. “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” (Ps. 119:32NIV). No delays, let me run in the path of your commands. He who has the liberty to obey, being set free by Christ liberating power should run as fast as they can to obey.  

The Apostle James states that we should, “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21 italics mine).   The word used for filthiness here can refer to a filthy garment and several commentators agree that it actually means “wax in the ear that plugs up the sound.”  Spiritual ear wax, imagine that.  Ears are one of the parts of the body that adults forget to clean, they also have to be careful how they clean them.  But this is not hygiene we are talking about.  The people here are not listening, they have so much sinful wax build up, they have neglected their spiritual walk and are deaf to God.  

I have had to shout and still was not heard with people who have “ear-buds” listening to their MP3’s.  I even see it in some churches where kids instead of listening to the message sit in church “plugged up.” It is like that. Imagine the Pastor attempting to preach with everyone in his congregation with ear buds inserted.  They are playing games, listening to music or watching a video. They cannot and will not hear him. They can smile, throw in an amen and hide their yawn, but they are basically deaf. As preachers we cannot really tell who has heard our message every time we preach. Even Isaiah asks, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Is 53:1). We cannot visibly see the evidence of the hearing of faith, it only be seen in the fruit of people character. I am sure there is many a preacher who would like to tap his microphone and ask, “Can you hear me now?”

Any time we are unable to hear the voice of God in the scriptures,  that is when the flesh takes over and masquerades as religion and spirituality.  Sadly, we do not realize that we are stunted. What is worse is that we begin to listen to “voices” other than the Holy Spirit through Scripture.  It is not an intellectual issue, or being locked up in a room and being tortured and brainwashed by heretics. It is frightening how easily this can happen. We do not even notice our deafness and suddenly when we need to hear him most-we cannot! God open our ears! Teach us to pull out the weeds from the garden of our hearts. Teach us to change our spiritual oil and maintain a clean heart. As Christians we must make a lifetime commitment to throw off the whole network of evil and malice, the remnants of sin in our lives so that we can hear the Word. 

The Spirit brought us into union with Christ so we might hear his voice. He who breathed on the disciples will not shun from whispering to us through the scriptures. But when we develop or are taught human ideas about what pleases God, or it can cause confusion, and deafness or we become sluggish, slow, lazy and begin to do stupid things because we are “dull of hearing” (Heb 5:11). That is legalism.  The most dullard thing to do is depend on our strength rather than the Lord’s mighty power. When we are plugged up our love for God and others, our joy and our peace is completely based on what we do rather than on who Christ is and what he has done. For without the Word the Christian is  frustrated and discontent. How many times in the beginning of the New Testament did Christ say, “ye have heard, but I SAY?’   We have heard so many man centered things. It is nauseating. Oh that we would shut our ears to all men and be locked in with the scripture. The sad condition of many who have professed Christ is that they are walking in defeat and self worship because all they hear is opinion and bad teaching. They are agitated, anxious and angry.  They need to rest in Christ who says, Come unto me all ye who a weary and heavy laden.” Can you hear me now?

Many people  just do not listen to God anymore. They have shut their ears to the scriptures. “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.” (Zech 7:11). They listen to MAN and his teachings and their worship is empty (Mk 7:7).  We need our hearing checked.  How can you test your hearing? We need be careful about the content of what we hear that it lines up with the scripture. “For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat.” (Job 34:3). If it is not scriptural reject it and move on. There is no perfection on this side of heaven but there are things which are most surely believed among us as Christians and we should adhere to those things and those things alone. Jesus said, “Take heed what ye hear…” (Mk. 4:24).  

Then the way in which we listen should be adjusted.  How am I listening? I should be asking, “Did I hear you right?  Let go back to the above illustration of ear wax and I won’t dwell on that too much because it would be way to wierd, but let me note ear wax or cerumen can be beneficial against bacteria, fungus and insects.  God obviously wants us to protect our hearing,  “to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:14).   We should not listen to anything that we have not tested to see if it matches up with the scripture and the confessions of the church. He says to  “test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21ESV).  If sin is in our hearts we cannot hear correctly. We should take an inventory before we hear the word like we are taking inventory before the Lord’s supper. We should examine, test the mettle of our hearts and motives, and be in an open prepared state to hear the Word of the Lord in the scriptures. Once again Jesus teaches us to, “Take heed how ye hear…” (Luke 8:18). How we need to tune in to what he is saying and adjust the frequency of our hearts.

If you long to hear and obey Jesus said you will have clarity and peace. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17). If you are but willing and the Spirit of God has ignited in your heart and fire to hear Christ Words he will teach you and receive you to himself. You will be where he is and walk with him and speak to him as a man speaks to his friend.

He will say, “Can you hear me now?” Good!

THE SECRET STASH OF OIL

lamplight2“And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matt. 25:7-13NKJV).

This parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The Kingdom of God is like these ten virgins. The virgins would seem to be symbolic of people who say they are Christians. They all appear to be believers. But they are not. In the Age to come, only the righteous and holy people will live together. Jesus said that in his day and ours it is like coexistence between weeds and wheat, good and bad, and of course, the wise and foolish (Matt. 13; Mark 4).

The Lord’s verdict is that five were sensible enough to have that secret stash of oil and five were foolish for not bringing it. The parable goes on to show the bridegroom delayed in his coming. The hour became late and there was no specific time given for the bridegrooms coming so they nodded off and went to sleep. There is some spiritual blackout approaching before Christ’s coming and if there are no batteries for your spiritual flash light you will be in the dark forever.

Oil is an accepted symbol of the Holy Spirit and the oil mentioned here in this passage has to do with the work of the Spirit of grace in our hearts. The Holy Spirit wants to teach us about Christ, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me.” (John 15:26RV).  He gives us illumination and understanding about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit also wants to help us in our devotion and dedication to Christ, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13). In another version it says, “It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him.” (GW). The grace of God is the secret stash of the oil grace that will burn with knowing and loving Christ that gives us the illumination and dedication to Christ we need.

There are two instances in the gospel that shed light on this passage. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus brings his disciples up to pray, the disciples slept: “But Peter and they that were with Him were heavy with sleep and when they were awake they saw his glory…” (Luke 9:32). When Christ unveiled his glory instead of praying they experienced blackout. Like oil in the lamp that fuels its flame so that it lights up the room, Christ wants to illuminate our hearts by his Holy Spirit teaching us about him. The light of Christ enlightened our hearts when we first became Christians (Heb 10:32). This is called illumination or the time “God’s light shone on us” (GNB).

But in the time of illumination or the time Christ would have given them understanding they experienced blackout!

Again, in the garden of Gethsemane, while Christ was agonizing in prayer, they could have demonstrated their dedication to him. Instead he found his disciples, “…sleeping for sorrow, and said unto them, “Why sleep ye? Rise and pray lest ye enter into temptation.’” (Lu. 22:45-46). What is interesting is that the name Gethsemane means “oil press” and can relate to the beaten green oil used for the golden candlestick of the Old Testament tabernacle. Jesus prayed and profusely sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44) and he wrestled with drinking the cup of God’s wrath against sinners on our behalf. He would say, “Not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). The oil of devotion was pressed out of the Son of God who learned, “obedience by the things which he suffered (Heb 5:8). It was the same for the disciples, when the oil of devotion should have been pressed out or created in their hearts they slept. In the time of devotion and obedience they blacked out.

The disciples were blacked out in sin. They had to be saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9). Sleep on take your rest Jesus told them (Mk 14:41). Jesus would have to sleep for them three days in the tomb (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Jesus turned them back to himself (Luke 22: 31-32). That is the oil of God’s grace. Sleeping means they were out of the picture. They could not manufacture oil or save themselves. Like Adam (Gen 2:21-22) and Abraham (Gen 15:12). God was doing a work of grace they had no part in (Eph 2:8-9). Only Christ could give them the oil they needed. We know that Christ’s everlasting love has softened our hearts in his Sovereign grace, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’ (see Eph. 5:14).

They all were startled awake as they heard the cry, “Behold the bridegroom approaches go out to meet him!”  Now, the only time that remained at this point was to ignite their lamps. There are people very proud of their lamps. They have the “sinner’s or salvation prayer” lamp or the water baptism lamp, church attendance lamp, the ministry lamp but no oil of grace in their spiritual inventory. I want to tell you that they loved their lamps of self-righteousness more than the oil of knowing and loving Jesus Christ! That is clear from this parable. There is no difference between the ten virgins until that fateful moment when we see five ladies holding radiant torches and the others staring at their smoldering lamps.

These types of weddings commonly took hours and this presented the possibility for their lamps to burn out so the sensible girls brought extra oil. The thing that is most surprising is that since most of the weddings of that culture took place at night, it would seem just plain common sense to bring oil with them, thus their folly and stupidity is seen. Something so important, a fact of such common knowledge is overlooked.  Jesus taught, “You also must be ready all the time for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Mt. 24:44).  

The five simple ladies were excited at first, but their enthusiasm sprung a leak.  As far as they were concerned, the party is over before it has begun.

They look at the other ladies igniting their torches, chattering with excitement, their hearts glowing with an amber flame like their faces. The silly ladies cry, “Give us some of your oil, we have run out!”  The response of the wise virgins was, “We only have enough for our lamps. You are going to have to buy oil of them that sell!”

We must remember that the oil was something that the sensible virgins could not give to the foolish virgins.  We cannot give the oil to others; they must buy it for themselves. This means a denomination or organization cannot dispense oil.  You cannot rely on a refueling with oil from your pastor or church.  Children who have Christian parents cannot siphon their parents oil tanks for a ride into heaven, nor can a wife borrow oil from her husband or a husband from his wife. They were asking the wrong people at the wrong time for oil. It is Christ and only Christ that can pour the extra oil of his spirit into our hearts. No one can give you what he can.

What a lesson for us- we should be found greeting Him at the door upon His arrival, not shopping for oil in the middle of the night.  Love and devotion cannot be bought. Anyone who waits this long does not love and know Jesus they only like his parties. The sensible virgins watched the foolish go out to buy oil at midnight and of course, there are no shops open. They slept through business hours. Our Father’s business of salvation will close its doors one day. There is coming an hour where no matter how genuine the repentance God will not honor anyone’s requests due to their procrastination. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6). You and I are on God’s schedule, not He on ours.

The bridegroom comes while they were away and the door of “opportunity” is permanently shut with a sickening clap. It was customary for the owner of the house where a wedding was taking place, after all the invited guests were checked in, to close the door, not allowing a soul to enter no matter how persistent they were in their pleas. This prevented the curious and unwelcome guests from access to the reception. The door we speak of is the entrance to God’s kingdom (Lu. 13:28). It will be like the constant ringing of a phone, and no answer. It will be like a running to a gate at the airport, to find you have missed your flight and all flights to that place have been cancelled indefinitely. It will be knocking on a door that refuses to open. The Bridegroom will eventually separate those who know him from those who do not. Christianity cannot be casually browsed through, you cannot come late! What a warning for those who have lamps but no oil. Like Augustine said, “God promises forgiveness for repentance but what promise does God give for our procrastination?” There is coming a time when God cannot be reached and therefore be ready at all times.

The foolish virgins can hear the laughter and music of the wedding reception and their hearts see a closed door. They are missing the wedding. They panic and bang and bang on the locked door until a response is given.

If we add the commentary of Luke chapter thirteen, they begin to panic and cry, “Lord, Lord, open to us!”

There is a muffled voice behind the door, “Sorry, you’re not on my guest list…I do not know you!” 

They say, “But we’ve known you all our lives!’

He interrupts, “Your kind of knowing can hardly be called knowing. You don’t know the first thing about me.” (see Luke 13:25-27Message).

No excuses, apologies, or explanations are accepted. Why? This is the heart of the matter: they are strangers to him. He does not have a close relationship to them. They do not burn with the secret stash of oil that shows they know and love Christ.  Jesus affirmed this declaring, “I know mine own and mine know me” (John 10:14). Salvation is God knowing us. God is omniscient he knows everything but this is a different knowledge. It is saving knowledge. Paul said, “But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God…” (Galatians 4:9). It is a privilege for a person to have God reveal Himself to them. It is an honor for us to love him who loved us so much. We would do well to put salvation in those terms.

As for the foolish virgins of today, they have been duped by the worst kind of lie, self-deception, and they do not know the bridegroom. They only look like virgins and have a lamp, but they have no oil. There are many who profess to belong to Christ and even claim to know and love Him, but they only have a façade of religiosity, just an empty lamp with no light, with no evidence of “the power of God unto salvation…” (Romans 1:16). This is a terrifying prospect for silly neglectful church goers. They do not care until it is too late. Their “break glass in case of emergency” relationship with God will not help them. The Lord’s delay serves as an opportunity for these hypocrites to sin. They do not see it as the Lord’s longsuffering (2 Pet. 3:8-10) and giving them opportunity to repent (Rev. 2:21) but they think the Lord is neglectful and careless about his promises. Jesus warned, that day would be, “like a trap. That day will surprise everyone on earth.” (Luke 21:35CEV).  They will be caught and trapped by their own hardness of heart.

As for the elect wise virgins, they went with him into the marriage! This passage is an encouragement because God is our Savior. Heaven is where Jesus is. That is why the wise virgins want to go to heaven. It is not heaven unless Jesus is there. We are saved and supported by the secret supply of his grace in the most difficult of times. His mercy and kindness is extended to all who will prepare to meet with Him. They are promised that their “bottle of oil shall not fail” (1 Kings 17:14). They are vessels of His mercy and He who is the author and finisher of their faith oversees their salvation.

Thomas Brooks the great puritan writer wrote about this and said, “Oh, God forbid that my heart should be affected or taken with anything in comparison with Christ. The more I know Him, the more I love Him; the more I know Him, the more I desire Him; the more I know Him, the more my heart is knit unto Him. His beauty is captivating. His love is ravishing, His goodness is attracting, His manifestations are enticing, His person is enamoring, His lovely looks please me! His pleasant voice delights me, His precious Spirit comforts me, His holy word rules me! All these things make Christ to be a heaven unto me!

Good Friday According to the Confessions of the Church

XIR16014THE 1563 HEIDELBERG CATECHISM ASKS AND ANSWERS:  What dost thou understand by the words, “He suffered”?  That he, all the time that he lived on earth, but especially at the end of his life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice,  he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favour of God, righteousness and eternal life.

THE 1619 BELGIC CONFESSION STATES: We believe that God– who is perfectly merciful and also very just– sent his Son to assume the nature in which the disobedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death. So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with our sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.

THE 1646 WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH: This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which, that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and perfectly fulfilled it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified and died; was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of his Father, making intercession; and shall return to judge men and angels, at the end of the world. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto him. 

THE 1560 SCOTS CONFESSION: [So we confess, and most undoubtedly believe] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us, that he suffered contradiction of sinners, that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions, that he, the clean innocent Lamb of God, was condemned in the presence of an earthly judge, that we should be absolved before the judgment seat of our God; that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross, which was accursed by the sentence of God, but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father, which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow that he remained the only, well beloved, and blessed Son of his Father even in the midst of his anguish and torment which he suffered in body and soul to make full atonement for the sins of the people. From this we confess and avow that there remains no other sacrifice for sin; if any affirm so, we do not hesitate to say that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death and the everlasting atonement thereby purchased for us.

THE 1742 PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION OF FAITH SAYS: This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which that he might discharge he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

Unity Through Truth

rated-rWhat is a creed? It is a testimony of the faith in God and the scriptures that defines “those things which are most surely believed among us.” as Christians. (Luke 1:1). It is simply says, “We believe” or, “I believe.” The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God and are the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). It is the only criterion of doctrine that has any power to insist people to believe and obey what it teaches. All other standards that a person subscribes to are of value or authority only as they teach what the Scriptures teach.

 

R.C. Sproul said that “creeds are distinguished from the Scripture in that Scripture is norma normans (“the rule that rules”) while the creeds are norma normata (“a rule that is ruled”).[i]  The wonderfully practical thing about creeds is that they summarize and give clarity to what we believe as Christians and they are important for the harmony of God’s people because they help us to unite around important issues. It is hard to have unity with others when you do not know what they believe. Creeds were intended to bring unity not division despite the fact that creedally challenged people today seem to think that they are divisive.  But men who made creeds and confessions studied the scriptures and considered it their duty to intellectually and logically construct a system of faith out of the materials presented in scriptures. When you can be specific and clear on what you and the church believe, unity becomes more cherished and unity must be based on truth, not the lowest common denominator. 

 

How can you fellowship with someone when you do not know what they believe? How can you ignore the teachings of the scripture for the sake of unity? Today the great sickness in the thought process of people is pluralism-the belief that all religious paths lead to acceptance with God. This is anti-Christ thinking and will only lead to religious slavery and eventually societal breakdown. Unity today is at best the setting aside of your beliefs for the “greater good” of soceity. But the Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ and Christianity are the true religion and this cannot be compromised.

 

Many ministers egotistically teach that we have no creed but Christ. But the Bible asks, “What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor 14:34). The men of God who hammered out and forged the creeds of the church should not be ignored or set aside by those who question their teaching just because it is seen in a creed. This erroneous attitude of non-creedalists is nothing new. It goes back to the time where the church in Corinth was having terrible disunity, “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:12). I that group who do you think was the most problematic? Was it Paul’s group? Was it Peter’s denomination? I think not. It was that elitist congregation those who claimed that they exclusively belonged to Christ above their brethren that were the most dangerous.

 

I read somewhere that the real question is not about accepting the word of God over the creeds of men or placing the Creeds above the holy Scriptures but the issue is the tried and tested faith of the collective body of God’s people, versus the private opinion of the person or groups who object to creeds to make up or reinvent the church and their own beliefs. Creeds are an expression of beliefs that line up with scripture (orthodoxy) and are detailed in their phraseology to avoid beliefs that deviate from scripture (heresy).

 

The Article Seven of the Belgic Confession states this adamantly concerning scriptures and any other human writing, “For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects. Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.

 

Creeds demonstrated how the church developed and became more sophisticated in their interpreting Scripture. It also serves to help discern pure doctrine and defend it from the distortion of heretics and the assault of unbelievers, and creates a unity of faith through teaching.  They also give us a syllabus in training our children and other Christians. They should manifest a convincing competent knowledge of the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith and live a life that glorifies and serves God.

 

Many people will say that they do not agree with the Greek and Roman forms of the church and that is why they do not accept Creeds. That is why we must test the Creeds in light of the scripture. I think the Second Helvetic Confession says it beautifully, “Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures. Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.”

 

[i]Norma Normata A Rule that is Ruled Right Now Counts Forever By R.C. Sproul © 2008 Tabletalk Magazine

DID GOD KILL ADAM?

expulsion1Hamartiology is a theological term that refers to  the study of sin.  Yes, I said the word sin and the word theology. This article will be heavy theology to some by wade through the waters if you can. I am just a student attempting to learn more about our Lord. 

Sin means to miss the mark of God’s standard and perfection. I know it is an unfamiliar word in some circles but it is the most dangerous influence in the universe. The truth about sin is an acquired taste and it is definitely unpalatable to this generation and in times past. Sin is breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4). The Bible calls it the plague of the heart (1 Kings 8:38). People do not, cannot and will not become conformed to the will of God because they are deformed in their nature because of sin. Sin is not just a habit or an illness it is the punishment that  has brought spiritual death. We need to study about the radical depravity of humans because unless we know about the  nature, origin and consequences of sin we can never genuinely worship God for his mighty power to save and free us from its penalty, power and presence. 

The book of Genesis records that God created our planet in six 24 hour periods or days (Gen. 1-2). God created human beings in his image and breathed life into them (Gen. 1:26; 2:27).  Adam was a man who had a body which served as an earthly exterior and he was given “the breath of  lives” and given a spirit and soul or heavenly insides. God made a garden paradise for them to live in (Gen 2:8).

Grace or Work in The Garden

Certain theologians insist that adhering to the belief that God and Adam had a covenant of works-based on the obedience of Adam to God’s command as a test of whether you really have pure doctrine.  But John Murray says,

“Towards the end of the 16th century the administration dispensed to Adam in Eden, focused in the prohibition to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, had come to be interpreted as a covenant, frequently called the Covenant of Works, sometimes a covenant of life, or the Legal Covenant. It is, however, significant that the early covenant theologians did not construe this Adamic administration as a covenant, far less as a covenant of works. Reformed creeds of the 16th century such as the French Confession (1559), the Scottish Confession (1560), the Belgic Confession (1561), the Thirty-Nine Articles (1562), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Second Helvetic (1566) do not exhibit any such construction of the Edenic institution. After the pattern of the theological thought prevailing at the time of their preparation, the term ‘covenant,’ insofar as it pertained to God’s relations with men, was interpreted as designating the relation constituted by redemptive provisions and as belonging, therefore, to the sphere of saving grace.”  (John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray: 4, Studies in Theology, “Covenant Theology,” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), pp. 217-18).

But there is too much evidence of  grace and mercy in the Garden of Eden  as God condescended to the first couple.  Adam was not left to himself without help and and just because his decisions or his will were unfettered from evil desires does not mean he did not need God’s life and communion. He was made to fellowship with God.  Because Adam fell was he more dependant on God for mercy?  I do not think so. Adam needed God’s presence and life just in his glorious state of perfection as well.  God was the Creator and He was still the created. Eventually, we see the root of his sinful pride was that he did not want to depend on God alone. But Adam, holy and innocent as he was stood out as a specimen of the Sovereign grace of God. His wife was a gift by grace. His home, work and title were all gifts of grace.  He owed his very existence to God’s grace!   The biggest problem with the Covenant of Works is that it misconstrues God’s dealings with Adam. Does God legally deal with Adam on the basis of his works and obedience and then make another covenant of grace later that deals with us in mercy apart from our actions?   What did Adam fall from anyway? It was an awful apostasy and breakdown from the life, love and communion he had with God.  He fell from grace!

Wanted: Adam Dead or Alive

Adam was  promised life for obedience and threatened death for disobedience.  He has to obey God or he could not enjoy fellowship with God. As many preachers point out that he was free to eat from every tree except that one. The emphasis was on God’s grace and Adam’s status. Adam was a representative or federal head of all human beings (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 47).  There is a biblical implication that God made a covenant with Adam but it was because of grace and steadfast love (Hosea 6:6-7). Then our first parents disobeyed God (Gen 3).  When he disobeyed things changed. When Adam sinned he died spiritually (Ezek. 18:20; Eph. 2:5) and He became a slave to sin (Romans 6:16; 2 Peter 2:19) and the sin he sinned and the death he died was transmitted to all of humanity (Rom. 5:12). Simply put, total depravity means human beings are dead in sin and sold out to its power. Death and total depravity are synonymous.

The idea of God giving Adam the death penalty for his crime had somehow slipped our minds.  But it is clear as day. God’s justice and mercy are woven through the tapestry of scripture. God sentenced Adam to slavery to sin and spiritual death. Was God unrighteous to enforce this penalty as Creator and Lawgiver? His perfection, holiness and justice are limitless! He hates sin. All sin is against God (Psalm 51: 4).  This must never be forgotten. Adam countered God’s goodness, kindness and glory with violating his law! Adam was made for God’s glory and to serve him and Adam betrayed the God of heaven with what R.C. Sproul refers to as “cosmic treason.” Adam deliberately rebelled against God and defected to serve Satan and his lies. That is why God inflicted capital punishment upon him and sentenced him to death, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die!” (Gen 2:17).  God takes vengeance upon Adam and repays him to the face for his deed with spiritual and eventually physical death and also slavery to the sin Adam loved so much (Deut 7:10; Rom 12:19).

Arthur Pink comments that man, “is like a murderer in the condemned cell awaiting execution…he is dead vitally, without a single spark of spiritual life. Thus he is totally dead to God and holiness, cast out of His favor, without any power to recover it.”  That is total depravity in a nutshell. Adam was put to death by God.  He was executed for his crime. The day he ate he died inside and he sat on death row until he died physically. The payback of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Human beings are so entrenched in sin they cannot produce anything that is equal to God’s standard for heaven.  The heart and will are dead. This does not mean he cannot feel guilt or is unable to discern right and wrong. This does not mean they cannot make day to day decisions or feel affection for others. What this means is that men are incapable of loving God in and of themselves and in their mind hate the truth of God are defiant against it. In everything humans do is tainted with sin. This truth should humble us.

A Love-Hate Relationship

God was angry at Adam for what he did.  American Christianity will avoid talking about God’s wrath or deny God has anger at all.  They think  it portrays God having some fault or blemish in his character. But he detests, loathes and has an aversion to evil and hates sin. God does not separate that anger toward those who live in sin either. People will say that God’s wrath was an Old Covenant issue, not in the New Covenant. Ridiculous! Right now God’s wrath is revealed from heaven (Rom. 1:18).  There is a day of wrath coming (Mt 3:7; Luke 3:7; Rom 2:5). For people who do not believe in Christ God’s wrath is upon them (John 3:36), they are ominously called “the children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

God does love righteousness and hate iniquity (Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1: 9). Let us be clear: God’s hatred for sin and the God’s passion for justice  are divinely foreign and transcend human emotions and affections. He does not love as we love, he does not hate as we hate-He is perfect love and perfect holiness! Many people point out that God is love (1 John 4:8) but He is not all loving and all forgiving. He also is holy and just. There are scriptures that teach God hates the unrepentant reprobate (Hosea 9:15; Ps. 5:5; 11:5; Lev. 20:23; Prov. 6:16-19; Mal. 1:3; Rom. 9:13)!  Does this shock you? How could this be? I know it is a lot to think about. We have always been taught that God does not hate anyone.   The Bible teaches this in contradiction to much preaching today. This is the most difficult truth for anyone to swallow because the majority of people especially church goers under spin doctor preaching or pop theology want unconditional acceptance from God no matter what they do. God giving people over to their desires such as Romans 1:18-32 is another truth that sours in their spiritual stomachs.

They also think in humanistic terms because what they do is not as bad as others. Notice the comparison they use, “not as bad as others.”  We hate (tolerantly, politely and sometimes angrily) those who commit awful crimes. The molester, child abuser or murderer are an object of hostility, abhorrence and revulsion. Whereas we know we should not take the law in our hands but when justice is served upon awful criminals, molesters, murderers-we loathe them and want to see justice served.  Those who we appoint to represent us and to deal with crime, are called God’s servants,  “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom 13: 4). But God’s wrath is free from anything tainted by sin and what are the sinful actions of we human beings contrasted with the thrice Holy God of the universe? Where angels since eternity involuntarily past spill out and never grow weary of crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!” (Rev. 4:8).  What sin ticks God off? All sin  whether in thought, word or deed (James 2:10). Even taking a piece of fruit in the Garden angered him, because He commanded Adam not to do it.

Christ is the Only Hope For Sinners

In Genesis chapter three Adam and Eve were unable to clothe themselves, hide themselves, excuse themselves and unable to save themselves. The flimsy leaves of their self righteousness could not clear them of their deeds (Isaih 64:6). I believe that God acted in mercy toward the elect first parents by slaying the animal and clothing them with animal skins. Sin had to be punished and at the same time he wanted to save his creation! But how could he justify the ungodly without violating his own laws (Prov 17:15)? Only Jesus, the eternal Son of God was the only One who could save them.  His sacrifice was the only act that could save us. For Adam and Eve, Abel and others those who saw the shadow of the cross across their path were saved retroactively (Heb. 10:1).

Christ removes spiritual death and the last enemy to be destroyed has already been dealt a death blow (1 Cor 15:26).  The God-man was the perfect once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 10:10). King Jesus, the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8) left his throne above to come and die in the place of sinful men, to satisfy a God who was offended at the despicable acts of man. This was a type of what the predicted “seed of the woman” would do (Gen 3:15). He would be sacrificed to appease the anger of  God. That is the meaning of the word propitiation and atonement. Only in Christ can we be saved from God’s wrath (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10). 

Jesus Christ came into this world for lawbreakers and sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and they can only be saved by the power of the Spirit of God drawing them to foot of Calvary’s cross (John 6:44).  Jesus died saying, “Father forgive them!” (Luke 23:34) in making covenant in his blood (Heb 13:20). he not only made the covenant but he  was the Covenant (Isaiah 42:6)  and he sealed these people as he died for them to give them eternal life (Eph4:30).  Jesus could look at  the people given to him by the Father and say, “because I live ye shall live also.” (John 14:19).  The last Adam was a life giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45) who came and resurrected the lost souls of his elect people by his own resurrection.  He is the first of the harvest of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:23). Jesus will resurrect human beings from their graves notonly physically (John 5:28) but he gives new birth to those whom he breathes on and speaks life to (John 3:5; 20:22; Eph 2:1, 5). He will give life, eternal life to believers, those ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48).  He sees people in their dead condition and he says, “Come forth!” (Luke 11:43). 

Notice what Jesus says, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (John 16:27). “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph 5:25).  Jesus loves us, he comes as God’s answer not ours. He died in love for his church, “having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1). He stooped down to wash their sins away and to remove the reason for God’s wrath against them!  He loves the justified sinner (John 14:21). The blood of Jesus Christ washed their sins away (Rev. 1:5). He lavishly, abundantly poured out the riches of his grace and forgiveness “in love” upon his own, those he has saved (Eph 1:4-7). We are rooted and grounded in that love (Eph3:17) and Christ is the sole hope of salvation.

Must God Kill Us?

Some of you bristle still at the fact that God executed Adam for his crimes and sentenced him to return to the dust. But there is a death we all must die that is not physical. It is through the conviction of the Holy Spirit that the Word of God must kill us (John 16:8; Heb 4:12).  God says to Israel, “I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.” (Hosea 6:5NIV). Real biblical preaching  puts to death the pride of humans and exalts God! That is where surrender to God comes in the form of repentance. Why?  Repentance is the death to self that we all must die so that we come alive in Christ clothed in his righteousness not the tattered rags of our self righteousness. We must take up our cross and follow Christ.  Adam’s flimsy leaves, and taking cover behind the tree of his sins could not cover his sin.  Like him we cannot hide. All the church of today offers with its self improvement, motivational psycho-gospel  leaves us red faced and ashamed in the presence of the God whose piercing gaze cannot be bribed with the good works of man.  Humans must take on the robe of Christ and hide behind or in the rugged wood of the cross of Christ! 

Let me finish with the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“This downcasting and slaying is good for us. We take a deal of killing, and it is by being killed that we live. Many a man will never live till his proud self is slain. O proud Pharisee, if you are to live among those whom God accepts, you will have to come to the slaughterhouse and be cut in pieces as well as killed. “This is dreadful work,” saith one, “this dividing of joints and marrow, this spiritual dismemberment and destruction.” Assuredly it is painful, and yet it were a grievous loss to be denied it.  Alas, how many are so good and excellent, and strong and wise, and clever, and all that, that they cannot agree to be saved by grace through faith. If they could be reduced to less than nothing it would be the finest thing that ever happened to them. Remember what Solomon said might be done with the fool, and yet it would not answer–he was to be brayed in a mortar among wheat with a pestle,-pretty hard dealing that, and yet his folly would not depart from him. Not by that process alone, but through some such method, the Holy Spirit brings men away from their folly. Under his killing operations this may be their comfort that, if Jesus Christ rose literally from the dead (not from sickness, but from death), and lives again, even so will his people. “

Reformation Now!

martin20lutherHappy Reformation Day! is not the usual greeting you expect on October 31st. But it is this day in history over 490 years ago that began a spark that turned into a blaze when Dr. Martin Luther challenged the existing form of Christianity with the Holy Scriptures. Sadly, the real meaning of this day in history has been ignored or forgotten by the evangelical church with its harvest festivals to substitute for the secular celebration of Halloween. In a day when the study of church history is either revised or ignored we are tempted to relegate the chronicles of the Christian church and things like the Protestant Reformation to the place of insignificance. 

 

In the days of the Holy Roman Empire, the church was living in a Babylonian Captivity or under a religious slavery for over a thousand years! The people of God could not even read the Bible or pray in their native tongue in those days. The scriptures, written in Latin, were chained to an altar for a thousand years and prayers prayed directly to God by ordinary people were forbidden. People were told that absolute unquestioning obedience was the only way to be saved from hell. People could not partake of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. People lived in fear of a vengeful God and forgot the mercies and love of God.

 

But God heard the cries of his people groaning under this tyranny and began to light the torch of the Protestant Reformation. Through men like John Wycliffe, John Huss and William Tyndale who set the foundation for this movement, Martin Luther arose.

 

Through a simple, innocuous act on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a proposal on the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany to debate the erroneous doctrine and practice of indulgences or paying for the forgiveness of God as a tax to release people from a mythological place called purgatory a place where sinners went after they died to pay for their sins and be purified by a “temporary” punishment that could last from hundreds to thousands to millions of years!

 

People were taught that gazing at relics would shorten their time in purgatory like purchasing an indulgence or a payment for pardon for sin. A relic was some body part or clothes of a dead saint. A saint was a person who seen as having a superior holiness and virtue above other people in the eyes of the Roman Church. People were taught that the viewing of these relics promised to reduce their time in purgatory just like paying for an indulgence. This entire tradition that existed for hundreds of years, was based on the false doctrine of a metaphysical “treasure chest of the church,” which supposedly contained the merits of Christ and the extra spiritual credit of the super-saints. They were like leftovers of good works that these super saints did not need for their own salvation. The Roman church taught that this surplus could be used vicariously or used on the behalf of others. The Pope was entrusted with this surplus and could draw on it as if it were a bank account for the use of others.

 

The Pope at that time, Leo X, used this tradition for to raise funds for St. Peters Basilica and to fill the empty bank accounts of Rome. He appointed a Dominican monk name Johann Tetzel a fast talking religious salesman, who went through the cities and villages of Germany to promote the sale of indulgences. This monk produced live infomercials that manipulated people to buy indulgences to get forgiveness of personal sin and amnesty for a loved one or a relative who had died and whose soul was in suffering in the flames of purgatory. It was a fast growing Christian marketing technique that some people bought hook, line and sinker. Others were disgusted by it. It was confusing and was a major turn off to Germans and a blatant double-cross of true Christian faith and teaching! Pope Leo X approved as long as money kept rolling in.

 

Thus Dr. Luther was strategic in his choice to nail his 95 theses to the Castle Church doors. Since the Castle Church faced the city of Wittenberg’s Main Street, the church door operated as a public bulletin board and was the best place for posting important notices. It was All Saints Eve and indulgences and relics were particularly sanctioned. This one document exposed the rats hiding in the Church of Rome’s basement! Martin Luther’s life had been completely changed by the discovery that the scripture taught that being made right with God by grace alone, through faith alone and by Christ alone. He began to scrutinize other practices of the Roman church in light of scripture at that time and the more he investigated the practices of the church he saw this religious business as a symptom of an ever-growing deformation of the Church. We could say more but time does not permit. But let me ask you a few questions.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO INTRODUCE A NEW REFORMATION INTO THE CHURCH? Do you even think American Christianity needs to reform? This church needs an overhaul and restructuring! By this I do not mean peripheral issues of church government, styles of worship or denominational distinctiveness. But we should break down the idols of the new church growth movement and focus in on growing the people we pastor. What we need are men and women who are attentive to the illumination of the Holy Spirit upon Holy Scripture. God is calling us to respond to the words of Christ who said, “I will build my church!” (Mt. 16:18). Christ will build his church and he word of Christ should dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16). You must let God’s Word shape the church you have been called to pastor. God created the world by his Word (John 1:1) and he can build his church with it! You must read, preach and pray the scripture and let it by itself interpret itself and it will change lives. It should hurt you to see the preaching of the gospel substituted with motivational humanistic messages. Media and religious entertainment have replaced the spiritual gifts. The church is spiritually sick. People are wounded, hurt, and guilty and slaves to destructive, overwhelming sins. The church today focuses on behavior modification, psychology, marriage seminars, step programs, principles and keys for success instead of having the heart changed through an encounter with the one who turns the heart of stone into a soft heart! Where are those shepherds willing to pour in the stinging wine of truth and correction where there is disease? Where are the men and women who comfort not with false hope but with the application of the balm of mercy and forgiveness to heal them after their repentance?

 

THE CHURCH MUST BE VERY DIFFERENT IN ORDER TO REACH THE WORLD. Consider what God sees in the world and says that, “I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease.” (Zech 1:15MKJV). The people in your community are not terrified at their coming day in court for eternal sentencing in hell. They are rushing headlong into it! He is grieved with what is happening in the world. Today is much like the days of Noah, human wickedness is becoming more and more unrestrained and the earth has become a cesspool of sin. We live in the last days! Seven years have passed since 9-11 and even then after the short lived flood of souls into our buildings, it showed us that the church is not ready to bring the masses of hurting souls to Christ! Mobsters and madman control entire countries. Terrorists unafraid of killing others and themselves are brainwashed in thinking their eternity is secure if they will annihilate themselves for their religion. The global economic collapse around us is a wakeup call to the corruption that is rampant in the government and corporate America and smacks of a certain inclination to having the man of sin ushered into power. Christianity has become an object of scorn by those who do not know the Lord and we have lost our credibility. Oh that the church would return to the Lord their God with fasting and weeping in his presence! You must lead and be an example in that repentance.

 

LET GOD OPEN YOUR EYES TO THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE. Like King Josiah who rediscovered the scriptures you may be shocked at what you see (2 Chr. 34:14-21)! How things change when the word of God is really understood! In certain periods of history the church’s beauty has gone to its head and made her vain and apathetic. But the people of God who think they are rich can be miserable, poor, blind and naked (Rev 3:17-18). Many churches and preachers are backslidden. The religious and societal pluralism and multiculturalism of our day has made the people of God in danger of unknowingly exchanging their God for other gods and ensnaring them in the trap of Satan. All the compromise with the world has left the church of America powerless and we sit outside begging for the blessings of God like Lazarus did for the crumbs of the rich man (Luke 16:21). Christianity has become an object of scorn by those who do not know the Lord. Hypocrisy is the worst enemy of the church, not atheism or liberalism. The children’s bread has been given over to the dogs, the pigs trample the pearls of biblical spiritual truth and we have forgotten the blueprints that scripture gives us for a simple pure love for Jesus Christ. Instead of being beside themselves for Christ, consumed by a love that breaks their heart for the lost people in the world (2 Cor. 5:11) people in church are selfish and cold. The people of God are living dangerously close to the world in these last days! No matter your beliefs about prophecy we are not to take this lying down. Can you handle the truth about yourself and the church? It is a special grace to love the truth! That is why,

 

YOU MUST BE WILLING TO REPENT OF PRAYERLESSNESS AND NEGLECT OF SCRIPTURE. This is the pastor’s greatest sin and a gravest error! A preacher must be a man of prayer. Do people see you as someone they would call for prayer? There are not many preachers that we would call for prayer but we know some mothers among us we would call first. Satan would rather you do anything other than pray. He will begin to see if can distract you by urgent issues and will even viciously oppose you and try to stop you by guilt, fear, loneliness, accusation and anxiety. The scripture is our food and sustenance and if we do not feast upon it we cannot feed others. We cannot give a drink of living water to anyone if we have not tasted of the powers of the age to come on a regular basis. You have not had a call on your life since you were born to throw it all away because you are unwilling to spend time with God in solitude and secret prayer. You will become cold, dull and lifeless and Satan will lull you into a stupor and a conceit where you won’t even know you are dead. Nothing can satisfy us like being in the presence of the God who loves you. We were set aside that we might be with him (Mk. 3:14). Without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), but it is not what we have done that Christ looks for but if we knew him (Mt. 7: 21-23). Our greatest asset in the kingdom is that we know him (Jer. 9: 23-24). A person who knows the Lord is a vessel meet for the Master’s use. No matter how animated and skilled in speaking you are it does not matter. That is not the anointing only man fueled talent. On the other hand, your messages are not dull and ineffective because of your personality, but because they are not delivered with a burning heart ignited by the Spirit of God. Where have all the men of God gone? The Bible says, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” (John 1:6). To be a man or woman of God you must come from his presence in prayer to be sent out to the world. When we pray with all our hearts we will find him (Jer. 29:13) that is how,

 

WE LET GOD REMOVE ALL OF OUR MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HIM. God says, “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” (Jer. 4:22NIV). We cannot be valiant for the truth if we do not know the Lord ourselves (Jer. 9:3). This can only happen as we pursue to know the Lord intimately, personally and let him remove all our mistaken beliefs about him by the study of scripture and learning about our relationship to Christ (Hosea 6:3)! What we understand about God will impact our personal lives and the relationships around us. Job said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6). Men and women of God how we need to know the Lord! Dr. Luther had many issues but despite all his faults and sins he was the vessel God chose to use in his day! An unknown monk, the product of the religion of his day who shuts out all other counsel and turned to the Holy Scriptures for guidance about his guilt ridden soul, his misconceptions about God and found out that a merciful loving Christ was a man forsaken by God and crucified to make us right with God. We must do the same and that revelation will shake us to the core (Psalm 1:1-3). God tells us,

 

YOU ARE A SERVANT OF CHRIST AND MUST PREACH THE ENTIRE SCRIPTURE IN ORDER TO PLEASE GOD. You cannot pick and choose what you think will help people, or what you think will meet their needs. A man pleaser cannot be a servant of Christ (John 12: 43; Gal 1:10). You are first and foremost a messenger that gives what God says, not what you say. God can replace the preacher who refuses to preach his Word with someone who can do it much better. There is a homeless man drunk sleeping on a park bench somewhere that God can save and fill with his Spirit that can preach better than you. God speaks through his Word and Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, is very interested in what is being taught in your church (Rev 2:14-15). We have been wrung out of truth by the tightening grip of men who refuse to preach the Word of God, the Bible (Rom 1:18), and let it loose to do its work despite the consequences. They are disappointing clouds that have no rain and that cannot quench spiritual thirst! These rebels are wandering planets who cannot be trusted for direction because they do not proclaim hearty, wholesome biblical truth. They have a look of godliness that denies the power of the Word and the power of the spiritual gifts (2 Tim 3:5)! No wonder the Bible says, “And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them.” (Jer. 5:13).  They seek to meet the felt needs of people but sell those souls religious products and principles rather than giving them Christ-God’s unspeakable gift! God says their need is the preached Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit at work among them! It is only the spoken Word and the Holy Spirit that can slay the spirit of antichrist that has run amuck in the United States with the sword of his mouth and the brightness of his coming among the people of God. How we need men like the prophet Elijah in the scripture who had a voice like a thunderclap and a heart like a raging inferno!

 

YOU MUST DETERMINE TO BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS. What if men and women of God, pastors, and churches, decided this Sunday that enough is enough? The Bible is not just a sermon book but a book that is living a powerful to reveal the God who saves, heals and fills people with the Spirit of God (Heb. 4:12)! What if right now you developed a courage that is completely fueled by heaven? A courage that despite all your fears of what your people in your church or community will do or say or act that you will determine to preach what God gives you through your intense prayer and study of scripture every time you stand behind the pulpit. This decision you are about to consider has danger. It may cost you. Courage is not the absence of fear but right action in spite of fear. It is at times these that God has a man or woman to speak the heart of God to the Church and bring them back to him. You must determine to be that person. The religious spin doctors, powerful leaders in the community, even some positioned in your church are far more agile and powerful than you and they will oppose you. God will be with you, do not be discouraged and depressed or fearful (Josh 1:9). The Spirit of God will give you a mouth, or ability to speak and wisdom that your enemies will not be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21:15).

 

YOU MUST RECOGNIZE THE CLEAR TRUTH THAT THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST IS WHAT SETS THE CHURCH APART FROM THE WORLD! The place of religious amusement and pretending end with this truth: Christ among us and in us and as us. The church is the body of “Christ members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.”  (Eph 4:30). Should we not begin to ask, “Saw ye him whom my soul loves…My beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” (Song 3:3; 5:6). Without the scripture being the center of our lives and preaching how can we say he is among us? Jesus among his people is the real acid test of the Christian faith. For he says, “there am I in the midst of them!” (Mt. 18:20). Is it unreasonable theology to believe that Christ walks among his churches (Rev. 2:1)? There is a unique, biblical experience other than omnipresence (Acts 17:28) that Christ actually manifests himself in the life of obedient Christian individuals and church gatherings (John 14:21-23). Where is the preaching that talks about Christ as the scripture portrays him? Where are those who preach about Jesus Christ and who he is? Where is the message that Jesus saves and Jesus heals and Jesus fills with the Holy Ghost! The beauty of Jesus among his people is our main message! The old chorus we used to sing was, “Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the noontime, Jesus when the sun goes down!” That was the secret of the apostles-it was a full diet of Jesus! We are poverty stricken without Christ’s abiding presence. It is time to seek the Lord! It is time to stop the wheels of religious machinery from turning and fill the altar of our churches with weeping! We must pray that God cleanses our hearts from sin, prayerlessness and disregard of his Word! The hammer of Martin Luther that tapped so long ago the Wittenberg Church is now drowned out by a louder knock of Him who seeks entrance to this lukewarm, tepid, church in America! How long will we leave him outside covered with the dew of the night as we live sterile lives, focused on self and success rather than on those who need the message of the scripture! We need a Reformation Day of our own.

 

God Bless you as you go to prayer and the Word to seek him!

 

A Heart Offering

my heart I offer you Lord“Cor Meum Tibi Offero Domine, Prompte Et Sincere.” is a lovely Latin phrase that is translated as, “My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely.”  It was a motto of one of the greatest reformation leaders ever known, John Calvin and it shows that the most noble and sincere gift given to God Almighty is that offering of the heart-our affections and thoughts. A person is willing to give their heart to God because in the day of God’s grace and power has come when Christ takes the granite heart of stone of out them and gives them a soft pliable heart. Out of sheer gratefulness the person who is forgiven much loves much. Our first love is Christ and to him our hearts belong!

In this day and age the heart and spirit are neglected and abandoned by the business of life and even church ministry. The tasks which we once loved now bleed dry our passion all because we have mistreated our own hearts by ignoring the need for fresh hearts warmed with gratitude and affection as we give a minchah or a thank offering to God.  God still speaks in the dreary caves of disappointment and disillusionment to those who in the past used to serve the Lord with such contagious enthusiasm! He calls to us with a still small voice that asks for all our heart, energy and every faculty of our being, promising greater power and desire to do his will as we offer our hearts to him, promptly and sincerely.

How sad, that we give our hearts to anyone and everything in the name of the Lord! Yet to the Lord the one who strengthens our hearts we give so little of the very hub of all we are and often we are surprised that we are drained doing his work.  If you would be generous with God he would be generous with you. Going to God in private even when no one sees or hears is the place where the weary heart finds it easier to exchange itself for a fresh vigor and life only found in the presence if him whose heart once shattered in his labors. How gracious and generous he was to give his heart to us and you and I must be big hearted enough to give this fountain of life and affection to him for our own welfare.

Calvary was Christ’s “sweat and blood” laboring over the souls of men, yet he rose in great power in and strength because he feared. What does this mean? He feared God enough not to give his heart in Calvary’s offering in his own strength! He committed what he did through the eternal spirit of God and offered himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14). We must commit what we have poured our sweat and blood over to God everyday by doing it through the Spirits power and purity of heart not fleshly energy. Not one act should be done, preaching, praying, worship, and any good work without GOD’s power and presence. This can only be done by offering our hearts to him, promptly and sincerely. 

You cannot claim to have given your heart to him making a loud bragging noise because it is given in a silent frequency that only the ears of God and the very holiest of angels can hear. The reward of men’s praise is only a corruptible crown that soon fades away. The heart can never be given as a surplus because the giving of the abundance of the heart is always all we have and speak. This act of giving may leave us poor in spirit, but only for a short time until the tearless joys of the kingdom of heaven fill its place.

Sometimes the heart must consciously be given over to Jesus more than just once. yes, you can only be saved once, but we must go from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18 ) by forsaking the flesh and those secret hidden sins that shrink back from exposure in our hearts. We act so surprised when we think we have given all of it to him, yet there lurks some part of us that has been held back! Like Ananias and Sapphira we hold back part of the price of our love and the feet of them that carry away such hearts into worldly things wait outside the door of desolation and weariness.  It is also true that when God wants our heart we postpone or delay in our giving. It repeats often in the Gospel of Mark that “the servant of the Lord” Jesus Christ did heal and rescue people in his love “straightway” or “immediately.” What do we wait for? We should give him what he seeks for as soon as the request is made. Let us pour out our hearts to him without lingering and procrastination.

Sadly, the most common pitfall in every age in which people have lived, is replacing heart love with ministry, works or religious ritual.  Yet, there is nothing we can do or say that will meet up with GOD’s standard of perfection and nothing we can do that will satisfy him except the generous offering of our heart.  Have you given your heart to Jesus? Have you offered it to him, promptly and sincerely?