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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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His Coming Forth is from of Old, from Ancient Days!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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 1:1-5 ESV)

On this first Sunday of the Advent season, let us examine the first chapter of John to help us understand that it was God the Son Who entered our time and space (His creation) on that Christmas morning so long ago.

John declares that Jesus existed in the beginning, eternally before being born of Mary. Micah prophesied this: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2 ESV) Isaiah also said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)

Zechariah foretold, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.” (Zechariah 2:10-11 ESV)

Jesus affirmed that He existed in Abraham’s day. (John 8:56-58) In His prayer before He was arrested He prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:4-5 ESV)

John points out that, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3 ESV) Paul confirms this: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

Jesus is God the Son. (John 1:1-2, John 8:58) Jesus is life, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17 ESV) Jesus is our hope, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” (John 5:21 ESV) Jesus is our light in a world of darkness. Paul writes: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19 ESV)

In our culture, it is very clear that most people have turned their backs on the life and light that Jesus offers. Indeed, many today try to erase His name from History.

During this first week of Advent, think on the glory of the eternal Jesus; God who became man in order that we might have hope, life, and light. He was no mere man who began His existence when born of Mary. He is the One, who is spoken of as, “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2 ESV)

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What Are You Building Your Life On?

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well-built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49 ESV)

Above is one of the more sobering quotes from Jesus. I believe Jesus is saying here that there are people who think they are Christians but are not. They are counterfeit or perhaps “cultural” Christians.

They may say “Lord! Lord!” and even teach Sunday School and preach sermons, however, they are not real Christians. Jesus will someday say to them “I never knew you.” We see in the verses above that obedience is greater than just words. Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying here. It might sound like I am saying good works are more important than grace and faith, but to say that would be to contradict the Scriptures by taking these verses out of context.

There is only one way to be saved from sin; it is through personal faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. “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 ESV) These two verses make it absolutely clear that there is nothing we can do to earn, somehow deserve, or add to our salvation. Jesus has done everything.

Christians are not perfect and still sin, but they make every effort to conduct themselves like Christians. If you are really a Christian, there will be evidence of your continuing growth in sanctification. A true Christian does not consistently behave like an unbeliever. This does not mean that doing good makes a person a Christian, but living righteously is a good sign of whether someone really is a Christian. The Bible teaches: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) We are saved by faith alone, but it is a faith that is accompanied by changes in the way we live and worship.

Imagine two men looking for locations to build their homes. They both narrow their search down to two choices. One place is on rocky ground that is higher up, but it will take a lot of time and work to prepare a foundation there. However, lower down is a second site where the ground is sandy and soft. Building a home in this location would require less time, work, and money.

The two men make their choices. One chooses the solid rocky ground and the other chooses the soft sand. It is then that we find there are storms in the locations where these men built their homes. Indeed, we also have storms in our lives that hit us suddenly, unexpectedly, and sometimes overwhelmingly.

However, the point of the story is Jesus’ description of people who come to Him and hear His words and then obey them. They are like the man who built his foundation and home on rock. When the storm struck that house, it could not be shaken because it had been well-built. This is a description of those who live in obedience to Christ. When Jesus is your rock and the storms of life come, you will not be overwhelmed. Another point is that the time to obey the words of Jesus is before the storms of life actually come. If you build your life on anything else but faith in Jesus Christ, it will eventually collapse.

Let us look at our lives for any signs that we may be counterfeit Christians. Lord, help us to believe and obey. Help us to become Christians who are solidly standing on the rock of Jesus Christ. Let us say with the psalmist; “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2 ESV)

The Adoptionism Heresy

Heresy in the Church:

Adoptionism appeared in the second century. Those who believed it denied the preexistence of Christ. They also denied His deity. Adoptionists believed that Jesus was tested by God and upon His baptism was granted supernatural powers by God and adopted as God’s Son. Because of His perfect character, Jesus was resurrected and adopted into the Godhead.

The Bible actually teaches:

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10 ESV)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)

“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30 ESV)

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” (John 8:58 ESV)

An Exhortation to the Rich

George Whitefield, in this excerpt, speaks to the socially prominent and wealthy:

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22 ESV)

Permit me only to add a word or two to the rich, and to persons that are freed from the business of this life.

But here I must pause a while, for I am sensible that it is but an ungrateful, and as some may imagine, an assuming thing, for such a novice in religion to take upon him to instruct men in high stations, and who perhaps would disdain to set me with the dogs of their flock.

But however, since St. Paul, who knew what best became a young preacher, commanded Timothy, young as he was, to exhort and charge the rich with all authority; I hope none here that are so, will be offended, if with humility I beg leave to remind them, though they once knew this, that if persons in the most busy employs are indispensably obliged to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling,” much more ought they to do so, who are free from the toils and encumbrance of a lower way of life, and consequently have greater opportunities to leisure to prepare themselves for a future state.

But is this really the case? Or do we not find, by fatal experience, that too many of those whom God has exalted above their brethren, who are “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day,” by a sad abuse of God’s great bounty towards them, think that their stations set them above religion, and so let the poor, who live by the sweat of their brows, attend more constantly on the means of grace than do they?

But woe unto such rich men! For they have received their consolation. Happy had it been if they had never been born: for if the careless irreligious tradesman cannot be saved, where will luxurious and wicked gentlemen appear?

Let me therefore, by way of conclusion, exhort all persons, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, to make the renewal of their fallen nature, the one business of their lives; and to let no worldly profit, no worldly pleasure, divert them from the thoughts of it. Let this cry, “Behold the bridegroom cometh,” be ever sounding in our ears; and let us live as creatures that are every moment liable to be hurried away by death to judgment: let us remember, that this life is a state of infinite importance, a point between two eternities, and that after these few days are ended, there will remain no more sacrifice for sin; let us be often asking ourselves, how we shall wish we had lived when we leave the world? And then we shall always live in such a state, as we shall never fear to die in. Whether we live, we shall live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we shall die unto the Lord; so that living or dying we may be the Lord’s. (“Worldly Business no Plea for the Neglect of Religion”)

“Getting Ready to get Ready”

Do you have problems getting started when you know you have important things to do? People have a variety of excuses for procrastination. One excuse I have heard is, “Well, I’m getting ready to get ready to …” The problem seems to be that people are “getting ready to get ready” forever. People in the church have much the same problem.

Putting things off is one of the devil’s best tools for defeating Christians. However, if you knew you had a terrible form of cancer would you delay pursuing treatment? If your home caught fire, would you delay getting your family to safety? Of course not – yet, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14 ESV) On the other hand, your soul is eternal. Should we not constantly be about the preparation of our souls for the kingdom of Heaven?

Many people never try to share Christ with someone or get involved in a church ministry because they don’t believe they know enough about Christianity to be helpful. They leave these things to the elders and ministers of the church. Perhaps they do sincerely wish to learn more –which is good – but how much is enough to enable them to take part in the ministry of the church? Except for teaching and preaching, very little is required for involvement. Even a recent convert can tell the story of why and how he came to repentance. Still, we find many Christians “getting ready to get ready” to be involved.

Other people put off being too active in order not to be perceived as hypocrites. They know there are still problems with sin in their lives and they are pursuing holiness to feel that they are good enough to be a part of the ministry of the church.

A person who desires to pursue holiness is pursuing a good thing which is characteristic of the Christian life. This lifelong pursuit is exactly that – “lifelong”! If we wait until we are perfect, we will never do anything for Christ. Remember the words of Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

How many people do you know who are forever “getting ready to get ready” to visit a church for the first time? They know that something is missing in their lives, yet they fear the opinions of friends and family more than they fear God. The Lord has said, “Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV)

Stop getting “ready to get ready” and obey the Lord. There is no reason to put off obedience to the Word of God. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Filled with the Fullness of God

Christians are commanded to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and all other necessities shall be given unto them. Men are fearful, however, that if they should follow this command, all would be taken from them. George Whitefield writes:

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22 ESV)

[T]he eternal Son of God came down and shed his precious blood; for this end were we made, and sent into the world, and by this alone can we become the sons of God. Were we indeed to judge by the common practice of the world, we might think we were sent into it for no other purpose, than to care and toil for the uncertain riches of this life: but if we consult the lively oracles, they will inform us, that we were born for nobler ends, even to be born again from above, to be restored to the divine likeness by Jesus Christ, our second Adam, and thereby be made meet to inherit the kingdom of heaven; and consequently, there is an obligation laid upon all, even the most busy people, to secure this end; it being an undeniable truth, that all creatures ought to answer the end for which they were created.

Some indeed are for confining religion to the clergy, and think it only belongs to those who serve at the altar; but what a fatal mistake is this, seeing all persons are indifferently called by God to the same state of inward holiness. As we are all corrupt in our nature, so must we all be renewed and sanctified. And though it must be granted, that the clergy lie under double obligations to be examples to believers, in faith, zeal, charity, and whatever else is commendable and of good report, as being more immediately dedicated to the service of God; yet as we have been all baptized with one baptism into the death of Christ, we are all under the necessity of performing our baptismal covenant, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God: for the holy scriptures point out to us but one way of admission into the kingdom of Christ, through the narrow gate of a sound conversion: And he that does not enter into the sheepfold, whether clergy or lay-men, by this door, will find, to his everlasting confusion, there is no climbing up another way.

Besides, what a gross ignorance of the nature of true religion, as well as of our own happiness, does such a distinction discover? For what does our Savior, by willing us to be religious, require of us? But to subdue our corrupt passions, to root out ill habits, to engraft the heavenly graces of God’s most holy Spirit in their room; and, in one word, to fill us with all the fullness of God. (“Worldly Business no Plea for the Neglect of Religion”)

The Joyous Christian

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Paul mentions love first in the verse above. Next he mentions joy. I believe joy, as in the case of the first attribute and those that follow it, are characteristics that only a true Christian knows how to experience. I want to discuss “joy” with you today.

There certainly are many people who call themselves Christians who do not seem to be very joyful. They may seem depressed. They are grumpy and hard to get along with. Circumstances have robbed them of their joy. They have a very low and unhealthy view of God, themselves and this world.

Paul tells us, however, that joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy should be one of the primary characteristics of a Christian. But, does a Christian always have to be joyous? Because of sin, joy often seems to evaporate from our lives. We are often subjected to worrying about our jobs or lack thereof. We worry about money and bills. We worry about the members of our family and close friends. We worry about health problems and our marriages and what will happen to our children.

Paul brought good news to the Galatians. He taught about the God of love. He told them about a God who loves you by His merciful grace and welcomes you with open arms. If you believe in Him, acknowledge Him as God, and believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, Paul taught that you can have a personal relationship with God. Paul taught that you should not to be anxious about anything. Despite all earthly circumstances, you are a child of God.

Many religious people equate joy with happiness. These should not be confused because they are two different things. Happiness is the feeling created by what happens to us. Happiness is not something you can feel all the time because circumstances change. You may be happy when you leave home to go to work, but you may not feel happy when you return home after work. True joy has to do with our covenant relationship with God. This joy is like a thermometer of that relationship. Joy does not depend on circumstances. It does not depend on good works or possessions.

The apostle John writes, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 ESV) Jesus is speaking about the relationship of love between God and the Christian. We who once did not belong to the Father now belong to Him. There are still lots of things still wrong with us, but we have joy because of our relationship with God. Jesus Christ understood that there is no true joy without God.

Christians know that no matter the circumstances, nothing can separate us from the love of God. This is why we have eternal joy. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12 ESV)

Let us remember that there is even joy in suffering because suffering produces character and steadfastness. When you believe in the Lord Jesus, then no one can take away your joy no matter what happens. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (ESV)

The Holy Spirit renews us every day. How great is that? Forget what you have or don’t have here on this earth. Don’t look at the things you can see. Look at what the Holy Spirit is giving you and find your joy in the eternal pleasures of knowing God and being one of His family. If God does nothing else for you in your lifetime, other than save you from your sins in order that you may spend eternity in His household, is that not reason enough to praise Him and to be full of Joy?

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