God made Himself known through Jesus Christ

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Spine of a Bible“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).

IT IS A STUNNING FACT THAT GOD HAS MADE HIMSELF KNOWN TO THE HUMAN RACE THROUGH HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. Having been created in His image, we have a desperate, undeniable need to know the God who is our origin. We may not recognize this need for what it is, but it is there nonetheless. Without the knowledge of our Creator, we die. But sin cuts us off from Him and sets up the direst of predicaments: we must have the knowledge of God or perish, but this is the very knowledge which is impossible for us, in sin and on our own, to acquire.

Yet we were not left in our helpless state; God deigned to move toward us and make Himself known, even in our sinful condition. He has disclosed that which we could never have discovered on our own. “No one could ever have found God; he gave himself away” (Meister Eckhart).

When God disclosed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, that was the completion of a process begun long before. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son . . . [who is] the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:1-3). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Jesus Christ is God “explained” in human terms. He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). When Philip asked to be shown the Father, Jesus replied, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). As Augustine of Hippo wrote long ago, “Christ as God is the fatherland where we are going. Christ as man is the way by which we go.”

What if we neglect this declaration of Himself that God has made? Then we die. Ultimately, there is no alternative. Jesus could not have said it more clearly: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

“Christ is the aperture through which the immensity and magnificence of God can be seen” (J. B. Phillips).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

The post The Declaration of God (April 2) appeared first on WordPoints.

The Real History of the Crusades

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again.

By Thomas F. Madden/ MAY 6, 2005
Reprint from Christianity Today

Tyre_1187

Image: Jean Colombe / Wikimedia Commons
Siege of Tyre (1187)

With the possible exception of Umberto Eco, medieval scholars are not used to getting much media attention. We tend to be a quiet lot (except during the annual bacchanalia we call the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of all places), poring over musty chronicles and writing dull yet meticulous studies that few will read. Imagine, then, my surprise when within days of the September 11 attacks, the Middle Ages suddenly became relevant.

As a Crusade historian, I found the tranquil solitude of the ivory tower shattered by journalists, editors, and talk-show hosts on tight deadlines eager to get the real scoop. What were the Crusades?, they asked. When were they? Just how insensitive was President George W. Bush for using the word crusade in his remarks? With a few of my callers I had the distinct impression that they already knew the answers to their questions, or at least thought they did. What they really wanted was an expert to say it all back to them. For example, I was frequently asked to comment on the fact that the Islamic world has a just grievance against the West. Doesn’t the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades’ brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren’t the Crusades really to blame?

Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so. In his various video performances, he never fails to describe the American war against terrorism as a new Crusade against Islam. Ex-president Bill Clinton has also fingered the Crusades as the root cause of the present conflict. In a speech at Georgetown University, he recounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and informed his audience that the episode was still bitterly remembered in the Middle East. (Why Islamist terrorists should be upset about the killing of Jews was not explained.) Clinton took a beating on the nation’s editorial pages for wanting so much to blame the United States that he was willing to reach back to the Middle Ages. Yet no one disputed the ex-president’s fundamental premise.

Well, almost no one. Many historians had been trying to set the record straight on the Crusades long before Clinton discovered them. They are not revisionists, like the American historians who manufactured the Enola Gay exhibit, but mainstream scholars offering the fruit of several decades of very careful, very serious scholarship. For them, this is a “teaching moment,” an opportunity to explain the Crusades while people are actually listening. It won’t last long, so here goes.

The threat of Islam

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.

With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

Understand the crusaders

That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.

Pope Urban II called upon the knights of Christendom to push back the conquests of Islam at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The response was tremendous. Many thousands of warriors took the vow of the cross and prepared for war. Why did they do it? The answer to that question has been badly misunderstood. In the wake of the Enlightenment, it was usually asserted that Crusaders were merely lacklands and ne’er-do-wells who took advantage of an opportunity to rob and pillage in a faraway land. The Crusaders’ expressed sentiments of piety, self-sacrifice, and love for God were obviously not to be taken seriously. They were only a front for darker designs.

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt. They were keenly aware of their sinfulness and eager to undertake the hardships of the Crusade as a penitential act of charity and love. Europe is littered with thousands of medieval charters attesting to these sentiments, charters in which these men still speak to us today if we will listen. Of course, they were not opposed to capturing booty if it could be had. But the truth is that the Crusades were notoriously bad for plunder. A few people got rich, but the vast majority returned with nothing.

What really happened?

Urban II gave the Crusaders two goals, both of which would remain central to the eastern Crusades for centuries. The first was to rescue the Christians of the East. As his successor, Pope Innocent III, later wrote:

How does a man love according to divine precept his neighbor as himself when, knowing that his Christian brothers in faith and in name are held by the perfidious Muslims in strict confinement and weighed down by the yoke of heaviest servitude, he does not devote himself to the task of freeing them? … Is it by chance that you do not know that many thousands of Christians are bound in slavery and imprisoned by the Muslims, tortured with innumerable torments?

“Crusading,” Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith has rightly argued, was understood as an “an act of love”—in this case, the love of one’s neighbor. The Crusade was seen as an errand of mercy to right a terrible wrong. As Pope Innocent III wrote to the Knights Templar, “You carry out in deeds the words of the Gospel, ‘Greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends.'”

The second goal was the liberation of Jerusalem and the other places made holy by the life of Christ. The word crusade is modern. Medieval Crusaders saw themselves as pilgrims, performing acts of righteousness on their way to the Holy Sepulcher. The Crusade indulgence they received was canonically related to the pilgrimage indulgence. This goal was frequently described in feudal terms. When calling the Fifth Crusade in 1215, Innocent III wrote:

Consider most dear sons, consider carefully that if any temporal king was thrown out of his domain and perhaps captured, would he not, when he was restored to his pristine liberty and the time had come for dispensing justice look on his vassals as unfaithful and traitors … unless they had committed not only their property but also their persons to the task of freeing him? … And similarly will not Jesus Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords, whose servant you cannot deny being, who joined your soul to your body, who redeemed you with the Precious Blood … condemn you for the vice of ingratitude and the crime of infidelity if you neglect to help Him?

The re-conquest of Jerusalem, therefore, was not colonialism but an act of restoration and an open declaration of one’s love of God. Medieval men knew, of course, that God had the power to restore Jerusalem Himself—indeed, he had the power to restore the whole world to his rule. Yet as St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached, His refusal to do so was a blessing to His people:

Again I say, consider the Almighty’s goodness and pay heed to His plans of mercy. He puts Himself under obligation to you, or rather feigns to do so, that He can help you to satisfy your obligations toward Himself. … I call blessed the generation that can seize an opportunity of such rich indulgence as this.

It is often assumed that the central goal of the Crusades was forced conversion of the Muslim world. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the perspective of medieval Christians, Muslims were the enemies of Christ and his Church. It was the Crusaders’ task to defeat and defend against them. That was all. Muslims who lived in Crusader-won territories were generally allowed to retain their property and livelihood, and always their religion. Indeed, throughout the history of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Muslim inhabitants far outnumbered the Catholics. It was not until the 13th century that the Franciscans began conversion efforts among Muslims. But these were mostly unsuccessful and finally abandoned. In any case, such efforts were by peaceful persuasion, not the threat of violence.

All apologies

The Crusades were wars, so it would be a mistake to characterize them as nothing but piety and good intentions. Like all warfare, the violence was brutal (although not as brutal as modern wars). There were mishaps, blunders, and crimes. These are usually well-remembered today. During the early days of the First Crusade in 1095, a ragtag band of Crusaders led by Count Emicho of Leiningen made its way down the Rhine, robbing and murdering all the Jews they could find. Without success, the local bishops attempted to stop the carnage. In the eyes of these warriors, the Jews, like the Muslims, were the enemies of Christ. Plundering and killing them, then, was no vice. Indeed, they believed it was a righteous deed, since the Jews’ money could be used to fund the Crusade to Jerusalem. But they were wrong, and the Church strongly condemned the anti-Jewish attacks.

Fifty years later, when the Second Crusade was gearing up, St. Bernard frequently preached that the Jews were not to be persecuted:

Ask anyone who knows the Sacred Scriptures what he finds foretold of the Jews in the Psalm. “Not for their destruction do I pray,” it says. The Jews are for us the living words of Scripture, for they remind us always of what our Lord suffered … Under Christian princes they endure a hard captivity, but “they only wait for the time of their deliverance.”

Nevertheless, a fellow Cistercian monk named Radulf stirred up people against the Rhineland Jews, despite numerous letters from Bernard demanding that he stop. At last Bernard was forced to travel to Germany himself, where he caught up with Radulf, sent him back to his convent, and ended the massacres.

It is often said that the roots of the Holocaust can be seen in these medieval pogroms. That may be. But if so, those roots are far deeper and more widespread than the Crusades. Jews perished during the Crusades, but the purpose of the Crusades was not to kill Jews. Quite the contrary: Popes, bishops, and preachers made it clear that the Jews of Europe were to be left unmolested. In a modern war, we call tragic deaths like these “collateral damage.” Even with smart technologies, the United States has killed far more innocents in our wars than the Crusaders ever could. But no one would seriously argue that the purpose of American wars is to kill women and children.

The failure of the Crusades

By any reckoning, the First Crusade was a long shot. There was no leader, no chain of command, no supply lines, no detailed strategy. It was simply thousands of warriors marching deep into enemy territory, committed to a common cause. Many of them died, either in battle or through disease or starvation. It was a rough campaign, one that seemed always on the brink of disaster. Yet it was miraculously successful. By 1098, the Crusaders had restored Nicaea and Antioch to Christian rule. In July 1099, they conquered Jerusalem and began to build a Christian state in Palestine. The joy in Europe was unbridled. It seemed that the tide of history, which had lifted the Muslims to such heights, was now turning.

But it was not. When we think about the Middle Ages, it is easy to view Europe in light of what it became rather than what it was. The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom. The Crusades are interesting largely because they were an attempt to counter that trend. But in five centuries of crusading, it was only the First Crusade that significantly rolled back the military progress of Islam. It was downhill from there.

When the Crusader County of Edessa fell to the Turks and Kurds in 1144, there was an enormous groundswell of support for a new Crusade in Europe. It was led by two kings, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, and preached by St. Bernard himself. It failed miserably. Most of the Crusaders were killed along the way. Those who made it to Jerusalem only made things worse by attacking Muslim Damascus, which formerly had been a strong ally of the Christians. In the wake of such a disaster, Christians across Europe were forced to accept not only the continued growth of Muslim power but the certainty that God was punishing the West for its sins. Lay piety movements sprouted up throughout Europe, all rooted in the desire to purify Christian society so that it might be worthy of victory in the East.

Crusading in the late twelfth century, therefore, became a total war effort. Every person, no matter how weak or poor, was called to help. Warriors were asked to sacrifice their wealth and, if need be, their lives for the defense of the Christian East. On the home front, all Christians were called to support the Crusades through prayer, fasting, and alms. Yet still the Muslims grew in strength. Saladin, the great unifier, had forged the Muslim Near East into a single entity, all the while preaching jihad against the Christians. In 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, his forces wiped out the combined armies of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem and captured the precious relic of the True Cross. Defenseless, the Christian cities began surrendering one by one, culminating in the surrender of Jerusalem on October 2. Only a tiny handful of ports held out.

The response was the Third Crusade. It was led by Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa of the German Empire, King Philip II Augustus of France, and King Richard I Lionheart of England. By any measure it was a grand affair, although not quite as grand as the Christians had hoped. The aged Frederick drowned while crossing a river on horseback, so his army returned home before reaching the Holy Land. Philip and Richard came by boat, but their incessant bickering only added to an already divisive situation on the ground in Palestine. After recapturing Acre, the king of France went home, where he busied himself carving up Richard’s French holdings. The Crusade, therefore, fell into Richard’s lap. A skilled warrior, gifted leader, and superb tactician, Richard led the Christian forces to victory after victory, eventually reconquering the entire coast. But Jerusalem was not on the coast, and after two abortive attempts to secure supply lines to the Holy City, Richard at last gave up. Promising to return one day, he struck a truce with Saladin that ensured peace in the region and free access to Jerusalem for unarmed pilgrims. But it was a bitter pill to swallow. The desire to restore Jerusalem to Christian rule and regain the True Cross remained intense throughout Europe.

The Crusades of the 13th century were larger, better funded, and better organized. But they too failed. The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) ran aground when it was seduced into a web of Byzantine politics, which the Westerners never fully understood. They had made a detour to Constantinople to support an imperial claimant who promised great rewards and support for the Holy Land. Yet once he was on the throne of the Caesars, their benefactor found that he could not pay what he had promised. Thus betrayed by their Greek friends, in 1204 the Crusaders attacked, captured, and brutally sacked Constantinople, the greatest Christian city in the world. Pope Innocent III, who had previously excommunicated the entire Crusade, strongly denounced the Crusaders. But there was little else he could do. The tragic events of 1204 closed an iron door between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, a door that even today Pope John Paul II has been unable to reopen. It is a terrible irony that the Crusades, which were a direct result of the Catholic desire to rescue the Orthodox people, drove the two further—and perhaps irrevocably—apart.

The remainder of the 13th century’s Crusades did little better. The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) managed briefly to capture Damietta in Egypt, but the Muslims eventually defeated the army and reoccupied the city. St. Louis IX of France led two Crusades in his life. The first also captured Damietta, but Louis was quickly outwitted by the Egyptians and forced to abandon the city. Although Louis was in the Holy Land for several years, spending freely on defensive works, he never achieved his fondest wish: to free Jerusalem. He was a much older man in 1270 when he led another Crusade to Tunis, where he died of a disease that ravaged the camp. After St. Louis’s death, the ruthless Muslim leaders, Baybars and Kalavun, waged a brutal jihad against the Christians in Palestine. By 1291, the Muslim forces had succeeded in killing or ejecting the last of the Crusaders, thus erasing the Crusader kingdom from the map. Despite numerous attempts and many more plans, Christian forces were never again able to gain a foothold in the region until the 19th century.

Europe’s fight for its life

One might think that three centuries of Christian defeats would have soured Europeans on the idea of Crusade. Not at all. In one sense, they had little alternative. Muslim kingdoms were becoming more, not less, powerful in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The Ottoman Turks conquered not only their fellow Muslims, thus further unifying Islam, but also continued to press westward, capturing Constantinople and plunging deep into Europe itself. By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world. One of the great best-sellers of the time, Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools, gave voice to this sentiment in a chapter titled “Of the Decline of the Faith”:

Our faith was strong in th’ Orient,
It ruled in all of Asia,
In Moorish lands and Africa.
But now for us these lands are gone
‘Twould even grieve the hardest stone …
Four sisters of our Church you find,
They’re of the patriarchic kind:
Constantinople, Alexandria,
Jerusalem, Antiochia.
But they’ve been forfeited and sacked
And soon the head will be attacked.

Of course, that is not what happened. But it very nearly did. In 1480, Sultan Mehmed II captured Otranto as a beachhead for his invasion of Italy. Rome was evacuated. Yet the sultan died shortly thereafter, and his plan died with him. In 1529, Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna. If not for a run of freak rainstorms that delayed his progress and forced him to leave behind much of his artillery, it is virtually certain that the Turks would have taken the city. Germany, then, would have been at their mercy.

Yet, even while these close shaves were taking place, something else was brewing in Europe—something unprecedented in human history. The Renaissance, born from a strange mixture of Roman values, medieval piety, and a unique respect for commerce and entrepreneurialism, had led to other movements like humanism, the Scientific Revolution, and the Age of Exploration. Even while fighting for its life, Europe was preparing to expand on a global scale. The Protestant Reformation, which rejected the papacy and the doctrine of indulgence, made Crusades unthinkable for many Europeans, thus leaving the fighting to the Catholics. In 1571, a Holy League, which was itself a Crusade, defeated the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto. Yet military victories like that remained rare. The Muslim threat was neutralized economically. As Europe grew in wealth and power, the once awesome and sophisticated Turks began to seem backward and pathetic—no longer worth a Crusade. The “Sick Man of Europe” limped along until the 20th century, when he finally expired, leaving behind the present mess of the modern Middle East.

From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished. Without the Crusades, it might well have followed Zoroastrianism, another of Islam’s rivals, into extinction.

Thomas F. Madden is associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. He is the author of numerous works, including The New Concise History of the Crusades, and co-author, with Donald Queller, of The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. This article originally appeared in the April 2002 issue of Crisis and is reprinted here with permission.

A New Beginning

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
By Jarrod Jacobs
 

This week Lord willing, we will see the start of a new year. Seeing as we are starting a new year, as well as a new week and a new month, I thought we would do well to study some beginnings, and be encouraged to make the best of new beginnings.

A New Year

Just before the last plague was unleashed upon Egypt, God spoke to the people through Moses and Aaron, telling them, “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). As the chapter unfolds, we read of the instructions for the sacrificing of the Passover lamb, as well as what was expected of them when the Egyptians sent them away. On this occasion, God let it be known that these people had a new beginning. They were going to count their years in a new way (ex: Exodus 17:1, 40:17; 1 Kings 6:1; etc.). They were going to “start over!” They were no longer going to live as slaves to Egypt, but as a free nation, subject only to God, their Master and Judge! This is but one example of “a new beginning” found in the Scriptures.

Other Beginnings

Exodus 12 is but one of many “beginnings” recorded in the Bible. In addition to Genesis 1:1 and other Old Testament “beginnings”, we can read in the New Testament that the Lord’s church had a beginning (Acts 2). When Peter spoke about the conversion of Cornelius to those at Jerusalem, he said, “the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Peter saw the events of Acts 2 as the “beginning,” of the church’s existence on earth!In connection with the Lord’s church, we see that the New Testament emphasizes the importance of “the first day of the week” for the Christian. Each week has a first day, a “beginning,” wherein Christ expects Christians to gather to worship Him (John 4:24; Acts 2:42, 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; etc.). Can you think of a better way to begin one’s week than in worship to God?

Besides what we have listed, it is apparent to all that January 1, 2015 ushers in a new year for us. As of Thursday, we start a new year, and a new month. This year lies before us untouched, unstained with tears, and without mistakes – yet. 2015 does not yet hold happy or sad memories for us. It does, however, hold enormous potential for us. The question is, “What will we do with this year?” What will we do with this “new beginning”?

On a personal level, doesn’t man also experience “a new beginning” when he gets married? The number of years a couple is married is counted from the day of their wedding to the present day. Therefore one’s wedding day constitutes the beginning of a new year, a new month, as well as a new life!

In connection with one’s marriage is the birth of children. When children are born, this is another “beginning.” A child’s birth marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the family, with each subsequent year of a child’s life being celebrated by the family.

The Greatest Beginning In One’s Life

While we could list many more “beginnings,” I believe the greatest beginning in the life of every Christian is the day that he/she became a Christian! The day one’s faith in Christ took action, and one repented of sins, confessed Christ as the Son of God and was baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 8:35-38. 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21), is the beginning of many wonderful things.When one becomes a Christian, it is “a new beginning” for one’s relationship in Christ! Though at one point, sin separated us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), once in Christ, we are reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:18; Ephesians 2:16). Though we at one time were considered “aliens” and “without hope” (Ephesians 2:12), once we were baptized into Christ, we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27)! In thinking about this “new beginning,” the New Testament reveals that though we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), when we became a Christian, we became alive spiritually, and forgiven of all our sins (Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:13).

Can you thank God for your “new beginning;” this new day and new year in a new life you have since obeying the gospel? If not, today is the day for a new beginning” (Mark 16:16)!

Calling on the Lord for Salvation

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

By Frank Walton

The Holy Spirit through the apostle Peter states the thesis of the first gospel sermon in Acts 2. It is a quote from Joel’s prophecy of the availability of salvation in the Messianic era.

So what is involved in calling upon the Lord? Is it merely saying, as many claim, “the sinner’s prayer” for salvation? Does it merely require “faith only” (mental trust in Jesus) for salvation without any overt act of obedient faith?

The Bible is its own best commentator, so we look to the context to detail what it means to “call on the Lord” for salvation.

First, why does man need to call upon the Lord? He is stuck in the hole of sin from which he cannot extract himself by his own meritorious bootstraps (Rom. 3:8). He is trapped in the debtor’s prison of sin and is bankrupt to buy his way out. He is enslaved to the cruel taskmaster of sin’s addiction, and he needs a Redeemer to liberate him (John 8:34-36).

1. Trust in the Lord Jesus. Peter in Acts 2 shows that Jesus is the Lord and that the Jews rejected and killed their Messiah. The theme of Acts 2:21 is fleshed out in showing who Jesus is, what He did, and how he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies pointing to the coming Messiah. His miracles give public confirmation that He came from God (Acts 2:22; cf. John 3:2). His atoning death, burial, and resurrection are the center- pieces of God’s saving plan (Acts 4:10-12). This all fulfilled God’s prophecies pointing to the coming Christ, who is the Son of David.

This shows us that in true gospel preaching, the person and work of Jesus must be the focus of faith and commitment. The gospel has not been preached if His saving person is not known (1 Cor. 15:1-4). To evangelize these Jews, note that Peter did not initially preach on the nature of the church. This came later after they were converted to Christ and submitted to His authority (Acts 2:42-47).

So, one does not become a member of the Lord’s church in order to be saved; rather, one is a member of Christ’s one true church because he has been saved (Acts 2:47). The church is the effect, not the means, of salvation. Christ is the only Savior; the church is the saved. An “institutional” or “historic” view of the church sees it as a holding vat for the blood of Christ, which is an entity apart from saved people. This develops into a misplaced “loyalty to the church” that eclipses “loyalty to Christ” (cf. Acts 11:23).

2. Penitently Turn to the Lord Jesus. When the Jews believed that Jesus fulfilled these OT prophecies, and they realized they had killed their Messiah, they were horrified. “Cut to the heart” indicated they were sincerely convicted of their wrong-doing (Acts 2:37).

Peter, in telling them how to “call upon the Lord,” tells them they must “repent” (Acts 2:38). To turn to the Lord in submissive trust, one must turn away from sin in repentance. Repentance is renouncing all the vain things we trusted in before. It is renouncing the love and practice of sin in order to turn to the Lord as our first love.

3. Confess Jesus as Lord. Not all of Peter’s preaching on Pentecost is recorded in Acts 2. He must have preached a long sermon! “With many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!'” (Acts 2:40). Since the New Testament is harmonious on the steps of salvation in calling on the Lord, Romans 10:9-17 informs us that “calling on the Lord” for salvation involves an essential step of a loyal confession of Jesus’s deity: “if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord… you shall be saved… with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (cf. Mat. 16:16, 18; 1 Tim. 6:12).

Some are embarrassed to confess the Lordship of Jesus before a sympathetic assembly on Sunday or Wednesday in publicly responding to the invitation. Although you may be baptized at any hour day or night (Acts 8:38; 16:33), you must ask yourself, “Would I be embarrassed to confess Christ as my Lord to my friends or co-workers the next day who ask what is happening in my life?” We must be willing to have courage to speak up for Christ to others before we are ready to commit our lives to Him (Mat. 10:32-33).

4. Be Baptized into the Lord. In the process of calling on the Lord, Peter preached “be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Baptism (immersion in water) is an act of faith where we appeal to the Lord to cleanse us by his blood (1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-4; Rev. 1:5). Saul was told: “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). This clearly shows that calling on the Lord is not merely saying the man-made “sinner’s prayer.” It involves obedient faith expressed by immersion into Christ to contact the Lord’s saving blood (Rev. 1:5).

Calling on the Lord is a trusting, obedient response of a failed sinner who appeals to the Savior to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The ground and merit of salvation is in what the Lord has done for us. Our comprehensive confidence in appealing to and depending on the Lord for deliverance is essential to meet the terms of grace (Heb. 5:9), however we must never get over the fact that we are lost sinners deserving of hell without the Lord’s grace (Rom. 3:23; 1 Tim. 1:15; Gal. 2:20). “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (Rom. 10:12).

This penitent humility will keep us gratefully Christ-centered, not man-centered, in our efforts to glorify Him. Zeal for the Lord, so sorely lacking in many, will spiritually flow from a loving heart that truly appreciates the blessings of salvation from sin (Titus 2:11-14).

Have Thine Own Way, Lord

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

By Donnie Oliver

Have thine own way, Lord!  Have thine own way!”   Sound familiar?  This is the opening line of a hymn written in 1902 by Adelaide Pollard.  It appears in Hymns for Worship on page 146.

When we sing this great hymn, do we think about the meaning associated with it?  One of the purposes of singing is to teach and admonish one another.  Notice the passage which so says:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).  When we sing hymns we are teaching one another through what is being sung. 

The overall theme of Have Thine Own Way Lord is that of surrender and submission.  Not a surrender and submission to the desires of our flesh but to the will and purpose of God.  

God expects that we submit to his will and obey him.  The Hebrew writer penned:  “Though he [Christ] were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).  There is no questioning the fact that God requires obedience and faithfulness on the part of those who come to him (Revelation 2:10, 22:14). 

The service which one renders to God must be done wholly.  That is,  with all of our being.  Not just when we feel like doing it but at all times.  Even of old it was commanded:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Notice the complete surrender in Paul’s admonition to the Saints at Rome:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world:  but by ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1,2).  It is not always easy to surrender our whole being to the will of God, but it is nonetheless necessary.  That is, if we are going to be pleasing to Him.

The one who will serve God must put God at the center of his very existence.  Jesus said:  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).  Not second, or third, but first.  That means above all other things and people.

How then are we to know what God’s will is for our lives?  Reader, God has revealed his will to man by the Bible.  It alone furnishes man what is necessary in serving God.  Notice this:  “Through thy precepts I get understanding:  therefore I hate every false way.  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:104-105).  It is by the Bible that our path is illuminated so that we may see what God expects of us. 

Paul penned to those at Ephesus:  “Wherefore be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).  In light of the fact that God has blessed us with his will, there is no reason for man to be void of an understanding of what God desires.

What is the significance of it all?  After reading this you may wonder what any of this has to do with you.  Dear reader it has everything to do with you.  You have a soul and that soul will spend eternity either in the joys of Heaven or the pains of Hell.  Your destiny will be decided by whether or not you submit to the will of God.  Not only in initial obedience to the gospel through hearing (Romans 10:17), believing (John 8:24), repenting (Luke 13:3), confessing faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32-33), and being baptized in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), but in remaining faithful to God until on this Earth you no longer live (Revelation 2:10).

There is coming a great Judgment Day.  Jesus said:  “Marvel not at this:  for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).  The all of that passage includes me and it includes you.  When that day comes, and it will (2 Peter 3:10), what will be your reward? 

“Have thine own way, Lord!  Have thine own way!”  What a great God we serve!  Indeed he is the potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8).  May we allow God to mold us and make us all that he desires us to be.  This will only be accomplished as we surrender to him and follow his words.

Have you submitted to the will of God?  If you have good for you.  If you have not, why not do so today?  We would love to study with you  and do all that we can to further your understanding of the Bible and assist you in obeying the gospel of Christ.  Remember serving God now has eternal consequences and so does disobedience!

Some Thoughts on God’s Goodness

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

By Gary Henry

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” (Nahum 1:7).

The simple affirmation that God is good is a marvelous thing. Perhaps the marvel of it is lost on us today, but two thousand years ago the notion that the Creator is benevolently inclined toward His creatures was a radical concept. What is more, the news that the goodness of the true God has been manifested in the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, blew through the fear and superstition of the pagan mind like a cleansing hurricane. The human heart has simply never entertained a more nourishing, strengthening thought than the idea that God is good — perfectly, lovingly, and victoriously good!

Make no mistake, the goodness by which God makes possible our reconciliation, and by which He will one day judge the world, doesn’t mean that all will be saved and none lost (Romans 11:22). To commit sin is always, in one way or another, to refuse the benevolence of God’s will in the here and now — and if we’re lost in eternity, it will be the consequence of having refused God’s love for so long that time ran out and our lives finally ended in rebellion (John 3:16-19). Some will simply not accept God’s reconciliation on His terms, and we’re told that these “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). God will not force His goodness upon any whose final choice is to refuse it.

But we need not reject the truth about God’s goodness. We can accept it. Peter wrote that we can entrust ourselves “to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). This truth is far more than a lucky charm to be worn while we live any way we wish. It happens to be the most “disturbing” concept that can seize our thinking. Whoever truly comes to terms with the unfailing goodness of God will never again deal with sin or with uncertainty in the same way. A deep, grateful confidence that God is good will win the war against both wickedness and worry.

Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!
                                        (John Greenleaf Whittier)

 

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

John 3:16 – The Greatest Sentence Ever Written

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

By Frank Walton

 Surely, you have seen signs with John 3:16 at sporting events. “John 3:16 is one of the most widely quoted verses from the Christian Bible, and has been called the most famous Bible verse” (Wikipedia). Why?

The beautiful heart of the gospel is compressed in the greatest sentence ever written!

  • “For God” – the Greatest Being
  • “So Loved” – the Greatest Measure
  • “The World” – the Greatest Need
  • “That He Gave” – the Greatest Grace
  • “His Only Begotten Son” – the Greatest Sacrifice
  • “That Whoever Believes on Him” – the Greatest Commitment
  • “Should Not Perish” – the Greatest Deliverance
  • “But Have Everlasting life” – the Greatest Hope

John 3:16 captures the heart of God’s merciful concern for man’s lost plight, the gracious solution to this dilemma, and man’s ultimate destiny of being either eternally dying or being saved.

The words of John 3:16 were first spoken by Jesus to the Jewish ruler Nicodemus in the context of his needing to be “born again” (John 3:3, 5). It echoes down through time that God is the God of the second chance!

“For God” – The Greatest Being

The eternal, infinite nature of God transcends time and the human mind. As far back as our minds can travel, He had already existed forever – “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1).  Who is He? “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The self-existent One inhabits eternity; His mere existence is self-fulfilling. He is infinite and perfect in all His attributes: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, holy, righteous, majestic, loving, and His ways are past finding out.

The vast expanse of a marvelously designed universe declares the almighty signature of the eternal God (Psalm 19:1-3). God, the uncreated Creator, is unique and incomparable (Isaiah 40:12-28). The biological software in each of our trillions of cells called DNA tells us a Great Mind designed us for a purpose (Romans 1:18-23). He has revealed Himself in Nature and in Scripture for us to know Him. We are not alone in the universe.

“So Loved” – The Greatest Measure

 Of all the absolute attributes of God, they are but glorious rays shining from His eternal essence –“for God is love” (1 John 4:8). He perfectly defines “love” (Greek word: agape), which is sacrificial goodwill. It is a rational act of will springing from the inherent goodness of Deity, not from the worthiness of the object so loved. “For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds” (Psalm 108:4).

 Love, then, is as boundless as the sea. It governs and explains the ultimate aim of God’s benevolent actions toward us. God’s love is a warm blanket for the shivering soul that someone truly cares. How comforting that “God loves us everyone as if we are the only one” (Augustine).

 “The World” – The Greatest Need

Man was the crowning act of creation. Made in God’s spiritual likeness, his forever living spirit could have fellowship with the Creator. Man was made by God’s will for His glory, manifesting His greatness (Revelation 4:11; Isaiah 43:7). God set eternity in man’s heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Only God can satisfy man’s deeper yearnings. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). For man to work right, God must be the beginning point of life’s calculations.

Yet, the world is teeming with a ruined race of lost sinners who have turned their backs on God. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; cf. 3:10-18). Sin is what is wrong with the world; it a spiritual cancer that comes from man deviating from God’s will (1 John 3:4, James 4:17).

Look at all the problems in the local news caused by sin’s selfishness: murder, rape, greed, theft, fraud, man’s inhumanity to man, etc. Satan enslaves man with gnawing lusts, fleeting pleasure and a futile, sorrowful existence. According to the Bible, lost sinners are on a death march to eternal death (separation from God) in hell: “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23; cf. Revelation 20:11-16).

The wonder of the gospel is that God loved ungodly rebels. Being lost means man has lost his well-being and purpose of existing; he’s in the wrong place. Being separated from the holy God by sin, righteous condemnation demands the guilty be punished. Man’s desperate plight is a source of great concern to God: “I was crushed by their adulterous hearts which have departed from Me…” (Ezekiel 6:9; cf. Romans 10:21).

Yet God still loves all without distinction or exception. He loves not masses but individual men and women and seeks to rescue them.

“That He Gave” – The Greatest Grace

“Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” He won’t passively watch His spiritual offspring rush toward destruction. Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan of action to win back erring humanity, if we should go awry (Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:20). God values our souls as worth salvaging from the ravages of sin. Grace is love to the undeserving.

Significantly, the Father so loved that He acted in history to reverse the tragic ruin of mankind and send God the Son, Jesus Christ, into the world and who lived the greatest life and taught the greatest lessons the world has ever heard. “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).

“His Only Begotten Son” – The Greatest Sacrifice

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (1 John. 4:9). No sacrifice was too great to appeal to mankind of the Father’s unfathomable love. To solve man’s greatest problem, God gave the priceless gift of His Son, the dearest and best He had, to win back erring man. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Such costly love meant Jesus left the privileged glory of heaven’s exaltation. In self-abasing humility, He entered this world as a tiny infant, wrapped in strips of rags and laid in a feeding trough (Luke 2:7).

He grew up out of obscurity to become the focal point of human redemption. As “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6), He alone has heaven’s key to God, answers life’s greatest questions, and shows us the way to the best life. By His agonizing death we see His personal love for each individual, both great and small (Romans 5:8). When my life was endangered by damnation, He took my place, died at the right time, and paid the awful debt of sin I owed. He “gave His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We can look to the awesome cross as the irrevocable demonstration of God’s unfailing love. Only Jesus’ sacrifice could reconcile us to God.

“That Whoever Believes on Him” – The Greatest Commitment

All must decide, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” (Matthew 27:22). Hear His ultimatum: “For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). We’re either for Him or against Him; there’s no middle ground, neutrality, compromise or suspended judgments in that He alone is our Savior (Matthew 12:30). We must accept the resurrected and reigning Christ for all that He is and trust Him as absolute Lord of our lives.

He purchased me with His blood when I was the Devil’s slave. Since I’m His property, I can’t do as I please but as He directs in every facet of life by His authoritative rule (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:8-23).

Sadly, John 3:16 is used to teach salvation by “faith only.” But notice this verse doesn’t specifically mention repentance, without which Jesus said I would perish (Luke 13:3). Justification never comes at the point of “faith only” (James 2:24). At the point of faith in Jesus, I’m not a child of God but only have “the right to become a child of God” (John 1:12).

Significantly, the word “believes” (Greek word: pisteuo) is a verb in the present tense conveying a trusting response or comprehensive confidence in Christ each step of the way. “Believes” means “lives by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). This verb reveals continuous, ongoing action or a linear process that is presently taking place. Other examples of the present tense: he lives, he breathes, he thinks, he walks, (cf. Romans 4:12). So, we could substitute “walks by faith” or “lives by faith” for “believes” in John 3:16 and we’ll have the concept conveyed by the present tense. It is a penitent, obedient trust each step of the way.

Biblically, we can’t separate true faith and obedience (Romans 1:5). The word “believes” stands for the total response of man to the conditions of grace. Baptism is a constituent element of saving faith (Colossians 2:12), which is an act of faith to be washed in Christ’s blood (Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5).“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Are you responding to Christ by “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26)? The opposite of truly believing is not obeying the Son (John 3:36). “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

God loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. We faithfully live a life of total dependence on Jesus as our Lord and Savior (Revelation 2:10), and we follow His Word by faith in every aspect of our lives (John 8:31-32, 2 Corinthians 5:7).

“Should Not Perish” – The Greatest Deliverance

The word “perish” does not mean annihilation, but means losing all that makes life worthwhile. It’s the final destiny of many of eternal ruin and utter failure, forever separated from God who is life and joy (Matthew 25:46). Without Christ, the awful sentence of judgment hangs over our heads. For us to appreciate the deliverance of God, we must know the full extent of the wrath of God.

This unfortunate fate is called the second death, which is likened to being thrown into a lake burning with unquenchable fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10, 14; Mark 9:48). Hell’s torment is prepared for the Devil and his angels. It’s not a place prepared for man, because heaven is prepared for him. But hell is the just sentence of God’s judicial wrath. It’s eternal punishment because there’s nothing man can do in all eternity to atone for his sins. In hell, there’s unending wailing and gnashing of teeth, with no rest, no comfort and no end. How tragic because it doesn’t have to be! God wants all to know the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

“But have Everlasting Life” – The Greatest Hope

Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. It’s the bargain of eternity.

This present fellowship with the God of life (John 3:36; 5:24) is a guarantee of a future promise, because we seek and hope for eternal life with God in heaven (Romans 2:7; Titus 1:2). More than endless existence, we’ll share in the very life of the Eternal One forever by a new quality and dimension of spiritual life.

This life can be a fully rich one (John 10:10), but the one to come will be infinitely better. Let’s think more of heaven and less of earth, for heaven is our home. No amount of suffering, pain or disappointment can tarnish its surpassing glory (Romans 8:18). John 3:16 says our lives can be made new in the Son of God.

God’s gracious love in Christ is freely given to save us. But hurry! This offer may expire soon, because our life may end or Jesus may return when we least expect it. So, we must choose between Christ or chaos. I hope you will make John 3:16, the greatest sentence ever written, the storyline of your life in Jesus Christ.  Please act on it today!

 

Why did God become flesh in Jesus?

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

By Frank Walton

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The person and work of Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s grace, that He is the God of the second chance. The church Christ established is the kingdom of new beginnings (John 3:5).

Also, the life and teaching of the Lord Jesus is the revelation of absolute truth. The gospel of Christ can either save us if we obey it in penitent faith, or it will condemn us if we reject God’s saving grace (John 3:36). What transforming difference has He made in our lives?

1. Offering the Best Life. “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus came to give the greatest quality of spiritual life known to man.

2. Seeking the Lost in Sin. “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus came to rescue us from being lost in sin, not to save us in our sins.

3. Dying for Our Sins. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). To save us, He had to sacrifice Himself to atone for our sins. The four gospels spend about one third of their record on the events leading up to His death, which is much more material that is devoted to His birth.

4. Proclaiming the Terms of Peace with God. “He [Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17). The Lord came to teach both Jews and Gentiles that they could right with God; we all can be right with God in His one body, the Lord’s non-denominational church (Acts 2:38, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

5. Destroying the Works of the Devil. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). We should not flirt with the evil that Jesus came to destroy. Some try to worship God on Sunday but live like the devil the rest of the week. This is not a true Christian!

Do we really appreciate why Jesus came? “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). What difference will this make in our lives? Jesus can change our lives for the better, to be His faithful disciples who walk with Him each day.

Frank Walton
Saraland Church of Christ
wfwalton@gmail.com

God has left you a fortune!

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

By Frank Walton

“How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold.” (Proverbs 3:13-14).

gold-barsHere’s an amazing story. Some gold bars worth $1.1 million were recently found in eastern India. Was it off the coast in an old shipwreck? Or, was it some buried treasure? No, a cleaning lady found some gold bars in an Indian airliner lavatory, after a flight from Bangkok!

The owner hasn’t claimed them, so its finders keepers! (Illegal gold smuggling is rampant into India). If we found such treasure worth over $1.1 million, do you think we’d feel very fortunate? Sure!

However, the Bible says it is far better to find wisdom than gold. Do I feel like I’ve struck it rich by opening Scripture and mining the precious ore of divine truth?

Do you know where to find God’s fortune? A child of God is richer and better off than a millionaire with lots of gold, when we have found and then applied true wisdom from God’s Word. “She [wisdom] is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her… Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:15, 17). Wisdom is knowing how to live right and well. God is the expert in life. Solomon discovered that acquiring money without acquiring godly character is “vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

True riches of divine wisdom endure forever! God’s wisdom makes us a better person, with a spiritual perspective, who will enjoy life here and be ready to meet God in the next life.

Remember, money often talks and it can say “good-bye.” Solomon wrote, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Proverbs 23:5-6). Money can be lost by all kinds of unforeseen circumstances; it’s not permanent. Physical money cannot satisfy the spiritual soul of man.

Putting money before God causes all kinds of problems. “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it” (Proverbs 15:16).

Money, then, is God’s means for us to use to live and even help others (Ephesians 4:28). Money is a good servant but horrible master. It is okay to get money, as long as it does not get you. God can even bless us with prosperity (2 Corinthians 9:8-11), if we can handle it with spiritual wisdom.

We’re richer if we’re right with God than if we have millions of dollars. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). 

Thanksgiving

Monday, November 25th, 2013

By Charles Hicks

Colossians 3:15 – “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

In just a few days families will be gathering, tables will be laden with food and everyone will be having a good time enjoying a most festive occasion. “Happy Thanksgiving” will be heard many times and with those words will come mention of things that people are thankful for. “Thanksgiving Day” is a day that all of us should enjoy but lest we forget, to the child of God, “Thanksgiving” is not just a special day in November of each year. Being thankful and expressing thanks for the many blessings we enjoy should be a part of our lives on a daily basis.

On the physical side we should be thankful that we have the privilege of living in the greatest nation on earth, thankful that we have wonderful, God fearing spouses, thankful for children who love and are faithful to God,  thankful for loving families and even though we may have aches and pains, thankful for a reasonable amount of health. Then there are those spiritual blessings that cause our hearts to rejoice. It is here that I think about the love of God (John 3:16; 1 John 3:1-2), the love of Christ (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 5:8-9), the church (Matthew 16:13-19; Acts 2), forgiveness of sins and redemption (Colossians 1:12-14), hope as anchor of soul (Hebrews 6:18-19), assurance (Romans 8:28, 31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 2 Timothy 1:12, 1 John 5:11, 13). All of these are great gifts from God that should be treasured but there is one more gift that is so often lost, forgotten or just relegated to some special place in our home. That gift is the Bible, God’s Word which is the heart of this Bible Thought.

The words of this book are divine in origin (Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13; 2 Timothy 3:16). Within its pages are found all the instructions needed to make our journey through this life a safe one (Jeremiah 10:23; John 6:68; 2 Peter 1:3-11; Psalms 119:105; James 1:21). There is something we must understand about this precious gift. In order for it to be a light unto our path, in order for it to make it possible for us to make the crossing into eternity a successful one, we must spend time with it, feeding our spiritual selves upon its commands, precepts and promises (2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 2:1-4; Hebrews 4:12-14). Care must be taken to never mishandle or pervert it in any way (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9). If we do not hold fast to the words divine, then, in essence, all the spiritual blessings we say we are thankful for will be nothing more than idle words that cross our lips (Matthew 15:8). All of us would do well to spend much time with this great gift. How else will we ever be able to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Peter 3:18) and make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10)?

I love the chorus of the song, “The Precious Book Divine”: “holy Book divine, precious treasure mine! Lamp unto my feet and a light unto my way to guide me safely home”. May we ever hold this precious book divine in our hearts as well as in our hands.

Charles Hicks
candshicks34@comcast.net