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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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MENDACIOUS OR MIGHTY IN TRUTH?

There was a popular preacher who often called out the names of a few people in his audience during the service and described their physical problems. The evangelist claimed that God was speaking to him and giving him information about the individuals he spoke to. According to him, he had never met or spoken to prior to calling out their names. However, it was later discovered that employees of the evangelist would talk to people in the crowd before the service and gather facts about the people attending. They would give this information to the preacher’s wife. She, in turn, would talk to her husband through a tiny receiver in his ear. By this means their ministry became a financial success. (Information from James Randi, The Faith Healers)

We have all run into liars from time to time. Usually, they are harbingers of serious disappointment. It is especially disappointing when we discover we have been lied to by someone we counted on as a friend. We all want to believe that there are certain individuals in society in whom we can put our trust, such as family; friends; our heroes; teachers; doctors; government authorities; and men and women who are spiritual leaders.

Let us consider, specifically, spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership has traditionally been a highly respected role in American history and culture. The Christian preacher or pastor’s responsibility is to make known the truth of God. However, there are people who claim this position who are liars. This should not be totally surprising since even Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light”. (2 Corinthians 11:14 ESV)

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FAITH IN AN EVIL WORLD

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4 ESV)

Maintaining a true Christian faith is not easy in this world. Life offers so many paths of compromise that it is easy to lose your way. John Murray wrote the following on this subject:

If the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship and works of darkness, then our faith is mockery and deception. Repentance results in constant contrition. The broken spirit and contrite heart are abiding marks in the believing soul. Not one that we progressively get, but abiding. They are there from the beginning and they’re ongoing. A new attitude. Not just about Jesus and who He is, but about our sin, who we are, what we deserve, and the hating of the things we used to love. Without it, there is no salvation. (John Murray, Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary)

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IGNORING SCRIPTURE

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17 ESV)

As a former educator, I have met many adults who do not like to read. There are many college graduates who never read another book after they graduate. I have also met people who have proclaimed their faith in Christ and attend church regularly, however, they say they cannot focus long enough to read the Bible. They are absolutely dependent upon the good will of others to teach them the truth of the Scriptures.

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LOOKING BACK

I had lived with no idea how thoroughly sin had penetrated every area of my life. Even the idea that I needed some kind of forgiveness was ridiculous to me. God, however, is merciful.

I was His enemy, yet God brought me to Him. Paul said:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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THE GOSPEL SEED

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29 ESV)

How do we make Jesus known to the world? The parable above guides us in this regard. In order to make Him known, we must sow the words of Jesus Christ. The words of Jesus are the promise of salvation.

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JESUS CAME FOR US

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2:14 ESV)

Every culture has people who are unpopular for one reason or another. How would you feel if you answered the door bell to find an agent of the IRS who has come to audit your taxes? However, Levi was a very different type of tax collector than we have experienced.

Levi was considered to be a traitor and collaborator by the Jews because he worked for the occupying Romans who ruled Israel during this time. Tax collectors in Israel were hated men because they not only worked for the enemy, they were thieves. The Romans sold tax collecting franchises to anyone who could afford them. Once you owned the right to collect taxes, you would collect so much to give to the Romans and then you were allowed to add whatever amount you wanted to the tax for your fee.

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TAKE YOUR SINS TO CHRIST

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. (Mark 1:40-42 ESV)

Jesus_healing_lepersLeprosy is a terrible disease in which the early symptoms are almost imperceptible and occur slowly. It may begin with a single small red dot on the skin which eventually multiplies into painless skin lesions over the entire body. One form destroys the nerve endings so that parts of the body lose the feelings of touch and pain. Pieces of the body begin to rot and drop off. This includes the ears, nose, fingers, toes, and other parts of the flesh. Leprosy also increases vulnerability to all kinds of infectious diseases.

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CONSIDERING SIN

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)

Consider sin. It twists and disfigures the soul. The image man once reflected of God is now shattered by sin. It disfigures man and destroys the image of God as though it were despised. Every sin flies in the face of God’s wisdom. All sin is a declaration of war against God.

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TRUST AND LIFE’S JOURNEY TO THE END

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

The verse above makes it clear that only God is worthy of our utmost trust in all things. Do not put your ultimate hope in fallible man; strength diminishes with age and wisdom is the gift of God. Trust not in wealth because it may vanish in a moment, nor personal advantage because there are always others who have more. Only God deserves all our confidence.

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ARE YOU SMARTER THAN THE BIBLE?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

sword_imageThere are always people who think they are smarter than the Word of God. They believe they have evolved intellectually far beyond the men and women who lived in centuries past. They disregard the Bible as an ancient book written by a primitive people. Some, who claim to be Christians, believe the Gospel needs to be modernized to give it more relevance to contemporary life.

While many ignore the Bible, others try to bring it “up to date” by inserting false teachings; delivered by deceitful men who bring destruction upon themselves and those who follow them. (2 Peter 2:1 ESV) They relativize and suppress truth in order to avoid living under the rule of God. (Romans 1:18-20)

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WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV)

salvation jesusA Christian is someone who has been born again in Christ to eternal life and salvation. His sins have been pardoned and he is in a state of grace. He now desires to obey God in order to please Him and glorify Him. He has the Holy Spirit to strengthen his desire and ability to live out his obligation to Jesus Christ. The Christian seeks to live life sincerely before God and to walk worthy of Christ.

Authenticity is the path of Christian sanctification. A Christian is not perfect. A Christian’s good works are the result of God’s saving grace. Good works do not save anyone; they are the consequence of having been saved. Even faith is the gift of God. Christians still err, but they are grieved when they do. The Christian’s grief leads to repentance. Sincere repentance leads to God’s forgiveness. God is faithful and just to forgive sins and to cleanse the Christian from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV) Continue reading

THE VOICE OF CHRISTMAS

christmas angelOn this Christmas morning, I pray that your thoughts are overwhelmed with the love of Jesus Christ. I am sharing with you this morning the following hymn by Charles Wesley in which the Gospel and evangelical theology are put to lyrics and music. Wesley took advantage of poetic license when he wrote about the angels singing. Actually, Luke 2:13 says: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,” (Luke 2:13 ESV) However, the fact that the angels were “saying” and not “singing” does not diminish the beauty or truth found in this Christmas favorite. By the way, George Whitefield helped Wesley rewrite his original lyrics into the final version we have today.

Hark the herald angels sing [say]
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing [say]
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christian+Christmas(“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” by Charles Wesley, music by Felix Mendelssohn)

HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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DOUBTING CHRISTMAS?

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5 ESV)

Modern culture has created a society in which skepticism and cynicism thrive. We especially see a lot of this during the Christmas season. Atheist ads tell us there is no God – “so just be good for goodness’ christmassake.” Others remind us each year that Jesus was not born on the 25th of December and that it was a pagan holiday. They don’t understand that when the early Church saw the work of Satan in the customs of the people, they aggressively set out to change and sanctify it to the glory of Jesus Christ. How many people do you know today who celebrate the holiday of Saturnalia or the festival of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun? See my point? They were not compromising with the world; they were taking the world for Christ.

In our present time, people still want to celebrate Christmas, but many do not seriously make Christmas a time to advance the cause of Christ. Too often, the impulse behind our modern Christmas is unashamed materialism. Santa, decorations and the spirit of self-indulgence have replaced the Spirit of Christ in this Christian celebration. The world continues to seduce the children of God to return to paganism. Will Christmas succumb to the darkness and become only a cultural holiday? Continue reading

TURNING AWAY FROM TRUTH

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

Wolf in Sheep's ClothingMany in our churches are often deceived by some new teaching that promises shortcuts to the victorious Christian life. These teachings seem to always focus on success, prosperity, and health as being the primary ideals of this victorious life. Most of these teachings simply rehash the “word-of-faith” movement mixed with the heresy of the month. They offer rituals for increasing faith and prayer formulas which are guaranteed to get results – if you have enough faith. We are deceived by our own sinful passions and the lust for “effortless success”.

How quickly we accept a little heresy mixed with the strong drink of true Christian doctrine to make religion more suitable to our current frame of mind and desires. Immature Christians are easy prey for the deceitful doctrines of false teachers and thus make themselves useless for proper service to God. In this way, they pervert the grace of our God (Jude 1:4 ESV) and the way of truth is blasphemed. (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV) Be ready for ravenous wolves whether they come in the form of cunning people or devious books. “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11 ESV)

GOD FOR SALE?

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. (Acts 8:9 ESV))

In the region of Samaria, there once lived a man called Simon the Sorcerer. He astonished the people of this province with his magic. As a matter of fact, the people called him the “great power of God. Simon loved power and the ability to manipulate others.

Simon trying to buy the gift of GodOne day a man by the name of Philip arrives. He was a Christian from Jerusalem. Philip preached the good news about the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ. Seeing the many amazing miracles which were done, many proclaimed their faith in Jesus and were baptized. Simon also claimed to believe and was baptized as well.

Hearing of the work being done by Philip, the church in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria. Peter and John laid hands on the new converts and the Holy Spirit fell upon them in power (A second Pentecost?) Simon was amazed.

Simon was envious and wanted to control the Holy Spirit to use as he desired. Simon coveted this ability of the Apostles and offered them money to share this ability with him. He desired spiritual authority for his own ends. Peter responded:

“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” (Acts 8:20-23 ESV)

It is evident that Simon was not a true convert. His heart was not right before God. Neither are the hearts of many in our churches today. The warning is clear. If you believe you are a Christian simply because you have said the right words and gone through the motions, your heart may still not be right with God. Too often, belief in God consists of the attitude that He is like Santa Claus. This is not the God of the Bible. Many people see God as the key to material prosperity. This is not the God of the Bible. Some attempt to remake God in their own image. This is not the God of the Bible. Others believe they can manipulate God for their own ends. This is not the God of the Bible. How often have you seen the bumper sticker, “GOD IS MY COPILOT”? This too, is not the God of the Bible. God alone is in absolute control and does not need our advice or permission. He rules absolutely.

Like so many in our churches today, Simon wanted a very large cup of God’s blessings and power with only a very small teaspoon of God. Which do you want?

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