Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Concerning the Time of the Judgment


Here is the good and challenging message by Ed Fudge from this week's, gracEmail. He rightly desires for postings to do be done in their, this is what I want to do for those who may not be subsribed to his messages (although I would encourage folks to subscribe to his messages).

Blessings, Don

P.S. -- I am including questions from a couple of friends with regard to the topic at the bottom, plus my response, fyi and fwiw.

Left Behind? Yes

While reading from Matthew in the Greek New Testament recently with a friend, we both were struck by something Jesus says--not once but repeatedly--about the final judgment yet to come. He tells a parable about a wheat farmer, in whose fields an enemy secretly sows a weed that closely resembles the growing wheat plant in appearance. To prevent waste due to confusion, the farmer tells his workers to let the two grow together until maturity. Then they will "gather the weeds first" to be burned, and harvest the wheat that is left. So it will be at the end, Jesus explains. The angels will "gather out of his kingdom" those who cause sin and who do evil (Matt. 13:28-30, 40-42). Then, in another parable with a different scene, Jesus repeats the image. Just as a Galilean net fisherman drags in all sorts of fish, then separates bad from good, so the angels will come and "separate the evil from the righteous" (Matt. 13:47- 50).

What caught our attention in reading these parables is that in both stories the angels gather the bad product first, out from the good product. Gather the weeds first, out of the fields of wheat. Separate the evil from the righteous. Gather the wicked out of the kingdom. In each instance mentioned in Matthew 13, the evil ones are taken away and the righteous are left behind. This detail would likely go unnoticed, if a pastor named Tim LaHaye and a writer named Jerry Jenkins had not produced a series of fictional novels which they titled Left Behind, and in which that is definitely the undesirable option. The whole plot driving the series owes more to imagination than to Scripture in my opinion (though some people who surpass me in knowledge and piety alike insist otherwise). But that is not my concern today, which is rather simply to observe how fixed our minds can become by repeated exposure to a particular notion or image until we are incapable of thinking anything else, even if it happens to appear in Scripture itself.

Jesus' purpose in tellling these two parables is the point we really need to grasp--whatever our expectation about the final events in earthly history. Like the seine-net in the parable, the kingdom of God is now a mixed bag that includes "evil men," "false believers," and "feigned confessors," as J. Jeremias aptly puts it (The Parables of Jesus, 226). That is something the Essenes could not tolerate -- so they moved away from it all and established a "pure community" at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Such ambiguity was also unacceptable to the Pharisees. Although they lived among the "sinners," they made it ostentatiously clear that they were separate from the hoi polloi -- the rest of humankind. Their piety was external and always visible if nothing else. Jesus urged his disciples not to be enticed by rumors that the kingdom of God was already dawning out there in the wilderness (Essenes), or that the path to its entrance led through the Pharisees.

If we read Matthew 13 again in its entirety, we will hear three prevailing themes. This is the time for sowing and for growing, not for judging or sorting out the people. (That will keep us busy.) Judgment time is coming, but God will handle that without our help or advice. (That should keep us humble.) Listen to Jesus with our hearts, knowing that parables will convey his message if we do that, and that they will certainly block it if we do not. Amen.


I think sometimes people today are twisting 'Judge not' to mean something different than God means. Your thoughts, Don? (Lyn Farris) -- I would agree with your assessment, Lyn. I read this article by Ed and thought it was interesting given that I just read 1 Corinthians 5 last night in my quiet time. It seems like we humans are often quick to judge, slow to exercise discretion. I love "the Woodcutter's Wisdom," as it reminds me to be wise in this area. For those who would live more according to "law" than "grace" as seen in the new covenant, it seems there is a greater sense or need to judge, rather than show grace, mercy. (Somethings never Jesus, Paul dealt with the same concerns, people). We need to focus on having the heart of Jesus in relationship to people...which I believe is critical if we are going to live like Him, for Him and be pleasing to God. There is a certainly a need for Christians to make discerning judgments or "decisions" in relationship to a number of aspects of the Christian walk, such as selecting elders, deacons, etc. I see this as far different from what Jesus warns us about in relationship to making critical or condemning judgments in Matthew 7. The church at Corinth was challenged to make a collective judgment concerning a sinful situation in the church, and this is also quite different from individual, condemning judgment.

It sounds like he is using parables so that people won't understand. What do you think, Don? I think this passage may trouble a lot a people when we read Jesus' reply to his disciples in vss. 11-16. (Eric Robinson) -- It is challenging. It is easy simply to apply the parable to people in general, as that is what we tend to do, but I think this clouds the context a bit. I believe the passage has to do with the context of His primary audience, that being the Jews...and this seems to be the case, especially in light of His Isaiah quote (vv.14-15). Those who were going to seek Him and understand Him were going to find Him...but, those who did not long to understand Him, "feed on His words," were not going to understand Him. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others would understand (not to mention certain Samaritans, Gentiles)...and many others such as Annas, Caiaphas, and other prominent Jews were going to be hardened by His messages and not come to know Him, but instead condemn Him.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Running the Race


Now is the time of year when Track & Field athletes begin to limber up and get prepared for the coming season. A similar thing happens on the national and world stage every year that culminates in the World Championships. In fact, I am currently watching the U.S. Indoor Track & Field Championships which are taking place in Albuquerque, NM this weekend. Sadly, most folks do not pay much attention to Track & Field in our time…except in an Olympic year...and, it just so happens that this also is the year for the 30th modern Olympic Games set for London this summer. The modern Olympics have their origin from the original version of the games in ancient Greece, beginning in the 8th century B.C. The apostle Paul would never have thought that some of the matters he would discuss with the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) would be given new expression some 1900 years later with the advent of the modern Olympics. It is exciting to watch athletes compete in order to try to win the valuable gold medal…the ultimate prize for any Olympian. (I say just being there is gold medal worthy in and of itself!)

To be certain, an athlete of Olympic caliber who runs is going to set his or her sights on the highest possible goal. A lot of ordinary people work out, and others work even harder at running, training…5Ks, half-marathons, and marathons. We who are believers in Christ have the same responsibility, but from a spiritual perspective. Paul wants us to understand the importance of running the race of life. I just had the opportunity to share a birthday with my dad, and it was a blessed time. I look at my dad’s life and I can see what Paul is talking about with regard to a life of spiritual growth and prosperity, as he has run well. Like the rest of us, Dad certainly has had some rough spots in his life, but he has been blessed and is a blessing in so many ways…he was even “preaching” to me this last week! :-)

Paul is completing a section on the Christian’s freedom when he sets all believers’ sights on the ultimate goal. He uses the athletic imagery as he does in other places. Some form of the original Olympic Games were still actually operating in Athens, Greece during Paul’s time. The Corinthians would have been familiar with the Olympics, as well, as they had their own Isthmian Games every three years. So, Paul is using a metaphor that is close to the Corinthians’ own experience. Any athlete must be disciplined if he or she is going to win a prize. Being disciplined means giving up the ordinary in order to achieve the best. Paul certainly knew what it was to be disciplined, having been a Pharisee of Pharisees…now he disciplined his life for Jesus Christ. In a race, only one person wins, but…Paul says that in the Christian race, all who run win! For the winners of the original Isthmian Games, there would be garlands made of leaves, and their worth was entirely symbolic. For the Christian, the prize is infinitely more precious and real – eternal life! Anyone who has put on Christ is qualified to run…but run, walk, or jog we must in order to receive the prize.

Running the race does not necessarily come easily. We must discipline our lives to live according to God’s will and Jesus’ example. To borrow an image from the track event, the steeplechase, there are many obstacles in this world that seek to throw us off course. Even though we are bombarded by it, we must not allow ourselves to become entangled in the world’s course, but stay on course with the Lord. The Hebrews writer says it well, “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In our efforts to discipline ourselves, we must seek to exercise self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit. Paul says that he buffeted his body daily…he disciplined himself, in body, mind and spirit. We should seek to take care of body, mind and spirit…exercising our bodies, as well as making time for God. It can be challenging in the busy world in which we live, but it is a challenge that we need to accept. Paul says that he does not want believers to be disqualified…and it is possible for this to happen if we do not discipline our lives in the above matters.

The Marathon, while not always exciting to watch, is surely the most severe Olympic test of human endurance. A few Olympics ago, there was a unique situation that took place. The ultimate winner of the race came running back into the Olympic Stadium, welcomed by cheers from the appreciative fans. Soon other runners arrived as well, and eventually, the race was over. Over, that is, except for one runner. A single, lone runner was still out on the course. Other track events continued in the stadium, and an hour passed, then two. Finally, several hours later, the final runner…an athlete from Tanzania…entered the stadium. His pace was slow. His steps were wobbly. His knee was bloody and bandaged from a fall earlier in the race. He looked absolutely terrible, but as he entered the stadium, the fans realized who he was and what he was doing, and they began to cheer. As he made his way around the track and finally, painfully, across the finish line, the cheers swelled as the fans saluted the man’s determination. After the race, the runner was asked why, even though he had lost the race by several hours, he had continued running. His answer was simple: “My country did not send me 7000 miles away to start the race. They sent me 7000 miles to finish it.”

It is truly by the grace of God that any of us are in the human race, let alone the Christian race…we should run appreciative of this fact alone. But, we must run the race in such a way that we finish it...we must exercise perseverance. John shares what Jesus tells the believers in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death and I will give you a crown of life.” God’s blessings to each and every one of you as you run...continue to seek to do good, and to do God’s will in your life.

Blessings, Don

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Humbling Contrast concerning the Human Condition


I have to confess that these thoughts were going to start out as a message appropriate for Valentine's Day. As I have considered that it's time to get back to sharing concerning John 13 and what is taking place there, the passage concerning "love" (vv.34-35) is what jumped out at least in my initial thought process. In considering the entirety of the passage, the "love" theme is the highlight of an otherwise challenging, difficult section of Scripture concerning the betrayal of Jesus. Not exactly "Valentine's material"...and as one of my silly children astutely pointed out, "yeah dad, nothing says Happy Valentine's Day like a message concerning the betrayal of Jesus." Oh well, what are you going to do sometimes? :-) Nonetheless, it may be challenging, but it is an important message to share.

Michael McCartney shares about John Bevere’s book, “The Bait of Satan.” In it he says, “Our response to an offense determines our future." I believe that he is correct. Paul understood this principle clearly, as he was betrayed a number of times. And this is why he warns churches against "the spirit of causing offense" and those who practice it. Bevere states, “Many are unable to function properly in their calling because of the wounds and hurts that offenses have caused in their lives. They are handicapped and hindered from fulfilling their full potential. Most often it is a fellow believer who has hurt them. This causes the offense to feel like betrayal.” In Psalm 55:12-14, David laments, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng.” They are those whom we sit with and sing alongside, or perhaps it is the one who is delivering the sermon. We spend holidays, attend social functions, and share offices with them. Or, perhaps it is closer…someone we grew up with, have confided in, or even sleep next to at night. The closer the relationship, the more severe the offense! He concludes with the thought, “Pride keeps you from dealing with the truth. It distorts your vision.” Perhaps, in some small way, this helps us to understand what is taking place in this section of John’s gospel, concerning Judas, the disciples and Jesus. It is certainly not something we are comfortable to discuss, but if we have lived long enough, we have experienced it at one time or another...hopefully to our growth and understanding.

Following Jesus’ display of service in washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-18), now the one who is to betray Him comes to the forefront. After three years of ministry, it is now the appointed hour. It is important to note that Judas really has not been a true believer…but he has been a very good actor. He never really believed in Jesus, but has had every one of his fellow disciples fooled; he was even the treasurer of the group. Jesus has two great concerns – the fulfillment of the Word of God (vv. 18-30), and to magnify the glory of God (vv.31-35). Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 concerning a betrayal that David experienced…likely that of trusted advisor Ahithophel who joined the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom. I believe that Jesus is concerned that Judas’ treachery not weaken the faith of His other disciples. Even though Judas may be showing his true colors, Jesus expects His disciples to be loyal to Him. It is truly an amazing thing that the other disciples are completely ignorant concerning the fact that Judas is an unbeliever and a traitor. Up to the very hour of his betrayal, Judas has been protected by the Savior whom he is betraying. If Jesus had revealed his intentions before this time, the other disciples would have turned on Judas and it would have created some other significant problems…as it is, they are still arguing about who is the greatest (Luke 22:24ff.)

From the very beginning, Jesus knows what Judas is going to do (John 6:64), but he does not compel him to do it. Judas has been exposed to the same privileges as the other disciples, but they have not benefitted him. As one anonymous person has shared "The same sun that melts ice hardens clay." Judas had continued to be a thief, dipping into the treasury, despite Jesus’ warnings about covetousness and unbelief. The situation is such that when Jesus dips the morsel of bread and gives it to Judas, the disciples interpret it as an act of love and honor. This highlights the fact that the disciples have no clue concerning what is taking place. They figure that he has been sent on some special mission of mercy by the Lord in order to help the poor. Judas then goes out of their presence. “And it was night,” carries a significant message when we consider how important are the concepts of “light” and “darkness” in John’s writings.

After Judas is gone Jesus proceeds to instruct the disciples and prepare them for His crucifixion and ultimately, His return from heaven to take them (and us) home with Him (John 14:1ff). It is now that He also institutes the Lord’s Supper. This is the last supper…something that Judas could not participate in, because it is about fellowship -- for them as well as for us. The theme changes to the glory God. It is remarkable how Jesus could take such an awful situation and turn it into one of the most positive messages we see in the New Testament – it is the focal point for His life and for the gospel. Jesus has glorified the Father in the way that He has lived His life…preaching and teaching, ministering and blessing. Now the Father is going to glorify the Son through death, burial and the Resurrection. He leaves them with the challenge and responsibility to continue to grow in their love for one another. This is central to everything He has taught and lived…and displayed in the washing of their feet, including Judas’. They are to love another, even as He has loved them – sacrificially. This section begins and ends with love…His love for His own (John 13:1), and the disciples’ love for one another – this is powerful! (I do want to talk about this some more later).

Mark Brunner offers some good food for thought, and I want to close with it -- If life is going well and I am in all things successful, does that me that God is pleased with me? That’s a good question! If I am successful in the things that I do, does that necessarily mean that it is always God that is behind that success? When things go well it is nice to believe that, isn’t it? I must be doing something right if failure is a stranger and success is my daily companion. Why else would it be that life is moving along and things are just working out? When things are going well it is tempting to place all success right on God’s doorstep. But, if you stop to think about it, there are quite a few unbelievers that seem to be basking in the warmth of money, fame and popularity these days. That being the case, how can we be certain that our successes are from God? And what about my failures?

Let’s think about it…among Jesus’s apostles, the one absolutely stunning success was Judas, and the one thoroughly groveling failure was Peter. Judas was a success in the ways that most impress us -- he was successful both financially and politically. He cleverly arranged to control the money of the apostolic band; he skillfully manipulated the political forces of the day to accomplish his goal. And Peter was a failure in ways that we most dread: he was impotent in a crisis and socially inept. At the arrest of Jesus he collapsed, a hapless, blustering coward; in the most critical situations of his life with Jesus, the confession on the road to Caesarea Philippi and the vision on the Mount of transfiguration, he said the most embarrassingly inappropriate things. He was not the companion we would want with us in time of danger, and he was not the kind of person we would feel comfortable with at a social occasion. Time, of course, has reversed our judgments on these two men. Judas is now a byword for betrayal, and Peter is one of the most honored names in the church and in the world. Judas is a villain...Peter is a saint. Yet the world continues to chase after the successes of Judas, financial wealth and political power, and to defend itself against the failures of Peter.

All of this is very interesting. According to Brunner, if we are living for Jesus and not ourselves, then our priorities have apportioned themselves into the right place. But, I have to wonder how many of us American Christians living in 2012 are more interested in making a buck than in washing someone’s feet. They may protest otherwise, but the proof is in how they...and

Blessings, Don

Friday, February 10, 2012

Makes Me Thankful for 70 Degrees and Sunny


Here is a picture of one of Saturn's moon, Enceladus, from the spacecraft Cassini. It is interesting to note the mountain ranges and half-mile deep canyon. The dark side looks gray, but in reality, it is a bright (cold) snowy white color as revealed by the sun in the crescent. The video reveals ice geysers on the south pole -- The surface temperature averages about -200 degree C. Thankful that winter is nearly over here on the home world. :-)

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pressing On


As with the church in Corinth, Colossae also has a problem with false teachers. Some who are stirring things up there hold to particular traditions, beliefs that have caused many to stumble. They have an “A list” of rules and regulations. They also proclaim their “great accomplishments,” but Paul says, “We preach Christ Jesus as Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:5) As we have seen before, Paul can “lay down the message” when necessary. He is an equal opportunity deliverer of challenging messages. The Colossians need to hear his admonition to stay away from the false teachers and their teachings (Colossians 1:28-2:3).

One of the ways that we learn, grow and are able to discern between that which is true and that which is not is through intensive study of the Word of God. We need to commit ourselves to good study habits, so that we will grow and have a proper balance for our lives. We must not forget that in the Word of God is found the power of God. The Bible is “living and active” it are the words of life (Hebrews 4:12). The Holy Spirit brings these words to life in our hearts for the sustaining of our spirits and souls. (Ephesians 6:17)

There are four evidences of spiritual maturity revealed here that help us on our spiritual journey. The first evidence is – encouragement. This literally means “with heart.” We Christians face a lot of frustration from the world system, not to mention the circumstances of life. We are able to draw strength from each other during our times of stress and crisis. This is why we come together in fellowship. By encouraging others...particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ...we “give them a new heart.” Genuine encouragement brings out the best in others…we need to seek ways to do this. The second evidence of maturity is – endearment. This literally means “to be knit together in love.” The more time that we are able to spend together, the more time that we are able to serve and build relationships…the more we endear ourselves to one another. We must not forget that every one of us is a part of the spiritual unity of the church. There is not one part that is more significant or less important than any other. Do we have different roles? Yes. Each of them are valuable. Each of us needs to do our part to build the whole...the body of Christ. The third evidence of spiritual maturity is – enrichment. Too many Christians live like spiritual beggars when they should be living like kings. There are no greater riches than spiritual riches. When we commit ourselves to the Lord and His ways, he makes us rich in the ways that really matter. The final “e” is – enlightenment. When we commit our hearts and minds to study and fellowship, the Lord illuminates us spiritually...He provides guidance, direction for our lives. We become a city on a hill that shines forth for Christ, and we have blessed assurance in our hearts that we are children of God. When we make these principles the priority in our lives, we are effectively going to “press on.” Finally, we must join all of these matters together in prayer. Paul strives in prayer for the Colossians like a warrior. It is not just a habit…it is his passion.

To produce one tablespoon of honey, say for one of my wife’s delicious rolls, a typical honey bee makes 4200 trips to flowers. It makes about 10 trips per day to the fields…each trip lasting 20 minutes on average and 400 flowers. To produce a pound of honey, a bee must visit 56,000 clover heads. Since each head has 60 flower tubes, a total of 3,360,000 visits are necessary. Meanwhile, this working bee has flown the equivalent of three times around the world or 36,000 miles. On top of all of this, the bee will fly as far as 8 miles if it cannot find a nectar flow that is nearer. And we think we have a long drive to work. Talk about the ability to press on!

Paul challenges the Colossians to be passionate about work be a blessing. How are we doing? When we examine ourselves, are we more involved in building-up the body or tearing it down? Are we endearing ourselves to those around us? Are we becoming spiritually enriched through serious Bible study, prayer and fellowship, or have we become spiritually poor and needy? If we are striving in our Christian walk...pressing on toward the goal...we cannot allow sin or self to cloud our love for one another or our passion for life. So, let us edify, magnify and glorify the Lord, and press on!

Blessings, Don

Friday, February 3, 2012

Baptism Thoughts


As I continue in my own study of this important subject...questions arise. This is a subject where it is easy to propagate answers, but I think we are better off not to be dogmatic (and, oh boy, I used to be), but be students, learners. There are indeed so many things that happen when we come to the point of baptism -- many that we do not have the maturity to understand at that point, (including "forgiveness of sins" and "receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit" -- both part of the "formula" described in Acts 2:38-39...and this, not to mention "repentance" and "confession"). At times, some have treated baptism as some sort of end of the road after a disciple has been "taught" everything that he should know. For these, baptism has been a law to fulfill the requirements of certain passages...which is not much different than what we see regarding Old Testament theology and practice. There must be more to it than this. We need to consider Apollos. As much as he already knew about "the Scriptures" and about God, he was surely in for a spiritual rebirth and for a totally new experience when he received Christian baptism (cf. Acts 18).

I believe baptism is, more so, the beginning of our journey. It is a truly spiritual event in every way. La Gard Smith calls it "the believers wedding ceremony" -- a fitting description, I believe. How much can we know at baptism? (How much does a baby know at birth?) We barely understand the elementary things, but certainly not the deep things of God; these are revealed over time by the Holy Spirit. And how do we qualify or quantify His work? We is discerned and appropriated by faith. This is a significant part of what comprises the heart of the new covenant. We do grow in our understanding of critical principles as we walk with the Lord. Consider the disciples as they became the apostles sent out with the mission of Jesus (Acts 1-2). The Spirit came and illuminated their minds and their eyes were opened to the experiences they had had with Jesus. He does the same for us as our Helper (John 14-16), if we are open and willing to study as we walk with Christ over the course of our lives.

Blessings, Don