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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Waiting For the Other Shoe ( to drop )

'What a strange title for a Christmas message!', you may say!

I know myself, that even though I often preach against it, I find myself, much of the time, living as if I'm 'waiting for the other shoe to drop'! I was thinking about it this morning, as I traveled to my place of 'work'; 'why do we use that phrase?', and 'why do we live that way so much?' ( I know that many of you might not be guilty of this, but I sure am! ). I must realize that for us, who have become in Christ, the other shoe will never drop. We, as Christians, should realize, especially in this season in which we remember especially, and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, that it is because of this miraculous birth, and the final revelation of our True Light that we need not fear for the other shoe to drop. As much, then, as I preach this Gospel truth, as much as I try to live as if I believed it; I find myself acting as if I'm not sure.

Paul said, in Romans 8:15; 'For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” He repeats this phrase in II Timothy 1:7; 'For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.'

We preach it, we teach it; why do we find it so hard to live it, sometimes?

I mentioned, in a previous article, that many Christians fail daily to live according to Jesus' words in Matthew 6:33: I am not condemning anyone! Most certainly not; God forbid, because I am guilty of the same!

On a more personal note; I know that I have often lived in an almost morbid fear of God's retribution for when I 'messed up', and did something I knew that I shouldn't. It was and is right that I should feel remorse over my sin; but it is not right that we who have been forgiven by Christ should expect further retribution from God on that account We can always expect human retribution when we 'flub up'; but like I tell my children, when they complain of their sibling 'tattling' on them: 'If you don't do anything wrong, they wouldn't have anything to 'tattle' on, would they?'

A friend asked me the other day, how we can find happiness in Christian living. I told her that we have a choice, that it is not necessarily what we are given that makes us happy; rather, it is what we do with, how we receive, what we are given. When God tests our faith, as He did in the Garden, with Job, with Joseph, David, and so many other Old Testament saints, not to mention the prophets; it has always been how they treated that 'testing' that determined whether it was a blessing or curse, good or evil, to them ( I speak in human terms )!

I have often quoted, and will continue to do so, Paul's comforting words in Romans 8:28;

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

The apostle James said, 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.'

God has promised that everything that happens to us, happens, not only for our good, but is good! We don't always like the manner, shape, or form in which God sends these things our way, but we can trust Him that it's all good!

When we focus on things that we have done wrong, for which we know that God would be most just to punish us; I think that we tend to forget almost, the reason that the Christ was born in the flesh, to take away any fear of the other shoe dropping: 'Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe...........'! As I said before, also in a previous article; we need to focus, not on what we can, or think we must, do, rather we must focus on what Christ has done: I think that if we truly followed Christ's command to 'seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness'; then we would find it much easier to put our minds on the job ahead, and serve God ( and each other ) with all our heart, mind, and strength, with our whole being!

As I was going over this phrase in my mind this morning; I thought that we could view it metaphorically, as speaking of the footfall of a person coming to find you out, and most likely to punish you for a misdeed, but as I was further ruminating just now, I thought; 'the reason that we don't have to fear those footfalls, is because He walks with us, in our footsteps, or rather, we walk in His', if indeed we do walk with Him, and each other, in Love!

As we celebrate, in this season especially, but all year round; let us keep in mind that it is because of this miraculous and heavenly divine Gift that we no longer have to fear the other shoe dropping. In this haman existence then, let us live for and to Him always, and stop living as if we're 'wating for the other shoe to drop'!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

This most-beloved ( among many ) of songs that are sung during this time of the year is a very hopeful song; and not only hopeful: it speaks very boldly, assuming a present reality! Although many people do love to sing this song, especially during this season, in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior; I think that many fail, if not to realize what they are saying, to see the full implications of what Isaac Watts' words say! ( I think that Watts himself didn't realize fully, what he wrote! )

He writes, in the second verse; 'Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!'

I think that most of my readers will agree with me that He does reign; but in the spiritual plane, in our 'hearts', so to speak. Most people who sing these words, do not see Jesus' reign as over this physical earth, especially not as a present reality.

In the third verse; Watts really 'brings it home', in a manner of speaking, when He says that Jesus came to make His blessings ' irrigate' the 'ground' that was cursed after the Fall of our first father, Adam. The words here in this third verse though, have less a weak hopefulness in them, than a sovereign certainty. He is not saying that Jesus came, hoping to make His blessings flow, and then left it up to weak-willed humans to accept these blessings, and to 'let' them flow through them! He wrote, in a very Scriptural tone, which words we most often sing without thinking, that Jesus, not only came, but stayed, to MAKE His blessings flow, wherever the curse is found, and through our joyful lives, where the curse of sin has been removed!

Watts re-enforces his words in verse 2; stating, in the last verse, that 'He rules the world'!

I suppose that it's very easy ( and tempting ) to look at all the 'bad things happening to good people' all around the world, and say that, well; 'maybe in a spiritual sense, He is ruling now; but He will not really rule over this world until He returns physically to rule and reign on the earth from His throne in a physical Jerusalem'. As I've explained in previous articles, though; I believe that Scripture shows us a much different scenario: Jesus said, in Luke 17:20 & 21, that God's kingdom would not be something that we could see; but rather that it was a kingdom of the hearts, minds, and lives of men. As I've stated previously; the writer to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, told those first-century believes that they had ( already ) come to the heavenly ( or New? ) Jerusalem, and saying at the beginning of verse 23, that they had come to, or joined with, the company of the elect, Christ's Body on earth; thus equating the heavenly Jerusalem with the Church!

As I've said before; when Jesus said, in Isaiah 45 ( He repeats these words in Romans 14:11 ),

23 I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.

He was saying, not only that all those who came to him would willingly 'bow the knee' and worship Him, but that even those ( in the first-century ) who refused to acknowledge Him for who He was, would be forced, unwillingly, 'like it or not', to acknowledge Him as their Creator: even so, I believe, Watts was saying in the final few lines of this beloved carol, that He would make the nations prove, or reveal, His righteousness, whether they meant to or not!


As we celebrate the coming of the True Light of the world in this most joyous of holyday seasons, and sing the words of this beloved carol; let us remember what Isaac Watts was actually saying when he penned these words. These words should give us hope and strength, not only for the future, but also, and maybe even moreso, for the present!

For His Kingdom, and in the JOY of His Holy Spirit,

Charles Shank






Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Reason for the Season

In this, most joyous of holyday seasons; we all look forward to the time when we, to whatever extent, will gather together as a family to celebrate the birth of our Lord, and the revealing of the true Light! As we gather, then; I wish to remind us all, that we should celebrate this coming, this revelation, not only in this season, and time of the year; but year-round, in everything that we do and say!

When I checked my e-mail this morning; I found that I had received an email from a friend, entitled 'Family'. I'm sure that most or many, at least, of my readers have received this e-mail at some point in their e-mail experience: here it is below:


I ran into a stranger as he passed by,

'Oh excuse me please' was my reply.


He said, 'Please excuse me too;

I wasn't watching for you.'



We were very polite, this stranger and I.

We went on our way and we said goodbye.



But at home a different story is told,

How we treat our loved ones, young and old.



Later that day, cooking the evening meal,

My son stood beside me very still.



When I turned, I nearly knocked him down.

'Move out of the way,' I said with a frown.


He walked away, his little heart broken.

I didn't realize how harshly I'd spoken.

While I lay awake in bed,

God's still small voice came to me and said,


'While dealing with a stranger,
common courtesy you use,
but the family you love, you seem to abuse.

Go and look on the kitchen floor,

You'll find some flowers there by the door.


Those are the flowers he brought for you.

He picked them himself: pink, yellow and blue.


He stood very quietly not to spoil the surprise,

you never saw the tears that filled his little eyes.'


By this time, I felt very small,

And now my tears began to fall.


I quietly went and knelt by his bed ;

'Wake up, little one, wake up,' I said.


'Are these the flowers you picked for me?'

He smiled, 'I found 'em, out by the tree.


I picked 'em because they're pretty like you.

I knew you'd like 'em, especially the blue.'


I said, 'Son, I'm very sorry for the way I acted today;

I shouldn't have yelled at you that way.'

He said, 'Oh, Mom, that's okay.

I love you anyway.'


I said, 'Son, I love you too,

and I do like the flowers, especially the blue.'


FAMILY

Are you aware that if we died tomorrow, the company

that we are working for could easily replace us in

a matter of days.

But the family we left behind will feel the loss

for the rest of their lives.


And come to think of it, we pour ourselves more

into work than into our own family,
an unwise investment indeed,
don't you think?

So what is behind the story?


Do you know what the word FAMILY means?

FAMILY = (F)ATHER (A)ND (M)OTHER (I) (L)OVE (Y)OU
Pass this on to family and Friends



You will receive a miracle tomorrow.
God will bless you
Sorry for the length of this post, but this is how the email came to me; and it got me to thinking; 'Why DO we find it so easy to be polite and congenial to strangers, yet when it comes to dealing with our own family ( and this really 'hit home' for me! ), we quickly, and usually, without thinking, respond in kind?'! Getting to the 'heart' of this post, and relating to the above e-mail: why do we come together and celebrate Christ's birth ( as a family ) only at this time of year? Why DON'T we celebrate His nativity every time we gather together, to whatever extent? I think that part of our problem ( and we all suffer from this, to some extent ) is our busyness. We have so much to do, so little time to do it in, and often too little money to do it with! We are too concerned sometimes, I think, with working extra hard and long, so that we have the money that we need, to do the things that we 'need' to, and maybe make up a little time to do all the things we need to!

Sad to say; all this busyness often makes for rather difficult, if not strained, family relations!

Jesus said, in a passage that we often quote to each other, 'Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.' I dare say that we all understand what Jesus was saying there; but do we really act like we believe it? I think that we often fail to realize the full import of what Jesus said. What does it really mean to seek His Kingdom first, or above all? In the immediate context of His words; Jesus was telling us not to worry about what we need to eat, or about what we need to wear, for He is the one who provides all these things for us; but I think that it's even more than that! Everything in this earthly existence that we have need of; He has provided, and does provide, so why are we so 'caught up' in this busyness, in which we worry unnecessarily for the temporal things of this life?

What DOES it mean to seek first His Kingdom? I think that most of my readers will agree with me, that according to what Jesus said in Luke 17:21, God's kingdom is within us, that He rules in and over the hearts of men. What does Jesus command us to do then, in this Kingdom? He told the lawyer, and tells His disciples, in Matthew 22:34-40, that the most important things in God's Law are to love God first of all, but also to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In John 13; Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment, which really wasn't so new, after all; 'Love one another; as I have loved you.....'. I think that from these passages, that to seek God's Kingdom first means, most importantly, humanly speaking anyway, to love our neighbor, not only as ourselves ( for we often don't love ourselves much ), but as Christ loved us! When Christ encountered the rich young ruler, in Mark 10:17-22; although this young man boasted that he had been faithful to God's Law, He, knowing his heart, told the young man that he lacked one thing; he was not willing to love the brethren: he had missed that one importance principle of God's Law, to love his neighbor as himself!

Having said all this; I am not accusing all those out there who do not have all the time in the world to do everything that they would like, or even ought to do, of not seeking first God's Kingdom; but I think that we all need to begin to take more seriously Jesus' command to seek His Kingdom first, and above all else, and focus more on what He has put right in front of our face, rather than seeking elsewhere for things to do that 'need' to be done; whether or not we think that we are serving Him better in doing so.

As we celebrate His birth this year, in this season; let us purpose, then, in our hearts, to love each other more as we ought, and celebrate that Love all year round, by forsaking our busyness and focusing more on what He has given us.............EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!

In the love of Christ in which we share,
Charles Shank
I

Saturday, December 06, 2008

'He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let him Hear' ( Luke 8:4-15 )

This parable, spoken by Jesus to a diverse multitude of people, has been found a subject of difficulty, in particular, to those of the Arminian, or man-centered persuasion, and those who hold to a Calvinistic, or God-centered doctrine.

'Right off the bat'; some may read this statement and immediately see my bias, and assume that this is a Calvinist work, i.e., that I myself am a Calvinist: I do admit, that since my conversion, and even somewhat before, maybe, I have been brought up with the Calvinist doctrine, and have been persuaded most of my Christian life of the veracity of the so-called 'TULIP doctrine'. The Total depravity of man, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints, are points with which I can agree almost whole-heartedly; but in several instances, I would probably have to disagree with Calvin's intent in his phraseology. For this reason, among others, would rather say that I believe in 'Sovereign Grace', i.e., that it's all of God, and none of us. I believe that man, from the beginning, is given the responsibility to choose the good over the evil, but that, when left to himself, will always choose selfishly,in other words, wrongly. As I have often quoted though, from Ezekiel 36:25-27; when God graciously provides man with a new heart, and puts a new spirit within him, His own Holy Spirit, in fact: He causes us to walk according to His statutes!

I think that most of the first group of believers, and possibly even some of the second, would look at the 'parable of the sower', and say that this is indicative of the free will of man as opposed to the sovereign ( but gentlemanly ) will of God. They might say something like, 'God sows His seed of the Gospel everywhere, and to all men; but He leaves it up to them, whether or not to accept this Seed'. A Calvinist, on the other hand, might agree that God propagates His Gospel to all men everywhere; but that only those that brought forth fruit, i.e., those of whom it was spoken, 'but others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold', were chosen by God, and elect before the foundation of the world'.

First off; we'll look at Jesus' explanation of the seeds that 'fell by the wayside'. He explained to His disciples that this referred to those that 'hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved'. Prior to this explanation; Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6, telling His disciples why He spoke in parables.

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 “ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”

God seems here, to be telling Isaiah to intentionally deceive His people! Who then is this 'devil' that would come, in verse 11 of Luke chapter 8, and take away the word of God? Assuming that this 'devil' is the same 'Satan' that we know from the Old Covenant Scriptures; we can easily see that Isaiah was acting the part of a 'Satan' to his people. In Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33; it it recorded that Jesus once called Peter Satan! Whether Jesus meant to rebuke Peter by comparing him with the fallen spiritual being known as Satan, or whether He was saying that Peter was being adversarial; this was a pretty harsh statement!

We know, from the Hebrew Scriptures, that God has, in time past, used the selfish actions of evil men, or even spirits, to accomplish His will; so, do you think that He employs the same means still?

James, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that a man 'is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed'. In context; James is speaking of the various temptations that we often go through, especially as Christians, saying that we cannot and must not attribute them to God, but rather to ourselves! Too often; I think that even we, as Christians, and for the most part, those of the Arminian persuasion, have attributed these temptations to a fallen spiritual being named Satan. When Jesus said, in Luke 8:11 above, that 'then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts'; He was speaking, and still speaks, not of this supposed fallen spiritual being named Satan: but rather, of ourselves, who are ' drawn away by our own desires and enticed'.

The next group of people that Jesus talks about in verse 13, 'the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.', I think, are pretty much the same as those first mentioned, but described in a slightly different manner. I think that Jesus perfectly describes what I call a 'Sunday Christian' in describing this group. Many people will show much emotion when they are first 'saved' ( I hate to make this distinction: but more often than not, these are Arminians ); but when they leave 'church' on Sunday afternoon or evening, they revert to their old ways, run with the same crowd, and soon find more and 'better' excuses to stay away from 'church'!

For the 'ones that fell among thorns' in verse 14; Jesus uses much the same imagery as in the previous verse. These hear the Word, and maybe even receive it for a time; but when they re-enter the mission-field, or the world at large, they are consumed by worries about their families, their jobs, and with other matters which Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25-34 that we should not be worried about.

Jesus now describes those who 'fell on the good ground' as those who, having received the Word, are willing and able to apply it to their lives outside of the 'church' setting, who obey Jesus command in Matthew 6:33 to 'seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you'.

I don't mean to imply that God does not bless those who are self-centered, or worry unduly about family, friends, or their jobs ( not necessarily in that order ), because all of us, even the most spiritual of Christians, worries or stresses unduly about certain things, most of which we have no control over. As to being outside of the 'church' setting; I simply meant outside ( maybe away from would be a better word ) the gathering of the local body of believers in a specialized building, sanctified for that purpose. We, as Christians, of course, are never outside the 'Church'; and so, should always strive to act within the 'Church' setting, and never as if we are outside it!

I must admit that I, at times, am ' less than the least of all the saints', for I don't seek His Kingdom as I should, or always act as a member of His Church, or even that I belong to Him, and am part of His 'new creation' ( see also Isaiah 65:17-25, Galatians 6:15 ); but I must always and forever remind myself that it is what Christ has done, and not what I do!

I pray this little study edifies those that read it and, as always; that you will be a 'Berean' and 'search the Scripture daily to see if these things are so'!

In God's service, for His glory,
In His Kingdom, and by His grace,
Charles Shank

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Discerning the Body

What does Paul mean in I Corinthians 11 when he says, in verse 29, 'For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[e] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s[f] body.'?


When most people have translated, and still translate, this verse; traditionally it has been thought to contain an almost mystical instruction. When most people read this verse, they read Paul's instruction as saying something like 'we need to understand or realize the seriousness of what Christ has done for us, in the extent that He went to, in order to save our souls', even to the extent of almost mournfully contemplating this, and whether or not we are worthy to partake of the 'Lord's Supper'! In a sense I agree with reasoning like this: it is a very serious matter, what Christ did for us, and we should not treat this matter with any measure of frivolity or levity; but neither should we be mournfully serious, doubting our worthiness to partake of 'the Lord's Body' if we have recently had an impure thought or have a standing 'tiff' with a brother ( or sister ) in Christ. Some will even say that, based on Matthew 5:22-24, and possibly other like passages, we should not partake of the 'Lord's Supper' if we have aught against our brother. I can agree in principle with this reasoning, and I'll reveal my thinking on this a little later; but I do not think that we should abstain from 'the Supper' just because a brother ( or sister ) has a problem with something that we've said or done. One problem that I've always had, though, with this sort of doctrine, is; if our brother ( or sister ) won't forgive our transgression, or accept our forgiveness, then does this 'disagreement' mean that this person has the 'power' over us to keep us from the 'Table'? I agree,as I said, in principle, with this doctrine because Paul said , earlier, in verse 20, 'Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper'. I think that the traditional 'stance' here, would be that Paul was reprimanding the Corinthians for gathering, not to partake of, or commune with Lord's Body, but to take their meals, in an almost bragging manner, before those who were 'less fortunate'. When, in the next several verses, we read, '21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.'; I think we have a clue as to what Paul was referring to in verse 29. By accusing them in this manner; Paul was telling them, in other words, that the Lord's Supper', or 'Communion', as it is most often referred to, in catholicity, was NOT the eating of bread ( or meat ), nor the drinking of wine, or other beverages! Paul had said earlier, in the context of Christian love, in Romans 14: 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 6: 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.' While Jesus indeed said, in John 6: 48 'I am the bread of life'.; it is evident, though maybe not to everyone that first heard these words, that Jesus was speaking metaphorically of our becoming one with Him, in partaking of, or communing with His Body, in a spiritual way. I think that when Paul wrote those words of warning to the Corinthian church; I believe that he was reminding them that they were all one, in Christ, and that they were not acting in the spirit of love when they flaunted their wealth of food before those who had not so much to eat: that their gathering to eat together, to commune together, was not merely a 'supper', but a supper in communion with one another. They were not being reprimanded for eating, in other words; but for not eating in love. Remember Paul's discourse, in what is known as 'The Love Chapter'? He wrote, 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.' I think that Paul employed this same principle in chapter 11. If the 'Lords Supper' was not being observed with love, or in Christian charity, then the Corinthian church was not meeting to observe the 'Lord's Supper'; but in order to serve their own selfish lusts!

The point that I'm making here, and what Paul was saying, I believe, was that we often tend to focus so much on the 'elements' of the Lord's Supper, that we almost seem to forget what it's all about! Remember; Paul said, in Romans 14: 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. ( Compare what Paul says in verses 22 & 23 with what he says in I Corinthians 11:28 & 29 ).
He says, in Colossians 1:24, that we are the Body of Christ, in I Corinthians 6:15, that we are 'members' of His Body, in I Corinthians 12:27, he reminds us that we are His body and also 'members' of each other ( see Ephesians 2:19, 4:25 ), and again, in Ephesians 5:30, that we are members of His Body.

I believe that fellow Christians, weak and strong, are the Body that Paul warned the Corinthian church, and warns us, to 'discern'!

Paul uses the Greek diakrino in verse 29 above to show that we should distinguish between, even to the extent of preferring those other members of Christs Body, the Church, over those who are not, and even to ourselves.

In Christ's service,
and in His Kingdom,
Charles Shank