Good Overcomes Evil

Evil in the world has been a problem for nearly as long as people have been in the world.  And for those who believe in an all-powerful and loving God, it is no small problem either.  If God is omnipotent, then why does evil seem to triumph so often?  And if He truly loves us, why does He permit it in the world at all?  From the cross, Jesus echoed the disappointment of generations confused by God’s apparent inability or unwillingness to deal with the evil that afflicted their lives:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46 New International Version)  Leaving the question of why evil exists for another blog, allow me to assure you, God is both able and willing to deal with evil in the world; and in fact He has and does deal with it every single day.

Romans 12:21 says “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (New International Version)  This one verse tells us three important things regarding evil:

  • Evil is real.
  • Evil struggles with good.
  • Good overcomes evil.

Some faiths teach that evil and good are eternal and equivalent forces at odds with each other in the universe.  Sometimes evil prevails; at other times good triumphs; but both will forever be a part of our lives; get used to it.  Others believe evil to be strictly a matter of fleshly, material things.   We can transcend (rise above) that which is physical and evil by pursuing that which is spiritual and good.  You’ll know what’s good when you get to the place where physical and spiritual completely separate – when you’re dead.  The Christian faith teaches that evil is real and present in the world and it affects all people in all places in all ages; but it is not eternal and ultimately God will put an end to it everywhere.  By definition evil is anything that does hurt, harm or injury.  It can rightly be said that cancer is an evil disease, Hurricane Irma was an evil storm and certainly the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and Sutherland Springs, Texas were evil acts.  The apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian Christians said the very days we live in are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  Evil is real; it exists in the world; and it hurts, harms and injures people – all people – in all sorts of ways.  As long as we live in this world we will struggle with evil, but God is good and good overcomes and will ultimately eliminate evil!

God overcomes evil with His goodness and mercy:  How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. (Psalm 31:19 NLT)  The term lavish means in excess, without measure.  Evil happens to all people; indeed good people often suffer more evil in their lives than bad people (Psalm 34:19).  But the promise of God is that however plentiful the evil touching the lives of His people may be, His goodness will be more abundant!  This certainly is the meaning of Psalm 23:6:  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (New King James Version).  During fourteen years of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph suffered many things, but God lavished on him favor, wisdom, success and authority.  Ultimately elevated to second in power throughout the kingdom of Egypt, Joseph testified that what others meant for evil, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20). The apostle Paul suffered many things – beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, stoning and more.  But he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:5:  Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (Good News Translation)

God overcomes evil through His Son:  The sinner is a child of the Evil One; for the Evil One has been a sinner from the first. And the Son of God was seen on earth so that he might put an end to the works of the Evil One. (1 John 3:8 Bible in Basic English)  Those who perpetrate evil against others whether it’s murder, theft, sexual harassment, assault, false witness or anything else are children of the Evil One (the devil).  Jesus is God’s Son and He came to destroy the evil activities of evil people and their spiritual father, the devil.  He does this by changing their hearts and calling them to follow Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 10:27).  Paul, who penned Romans 12:21, is the prime example of Jesus overcoming evil in a person’s heart.  On his way to Damascus with warrants to arrest Christians, Saul of Tarsus met the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth and his life changed forever.  The great enemy of Christians became himself the greatest Christian in history.  Years after the fact Paul wrote how Jesus changed his life, and how He can change anyone:  This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16 New Living Translation).  In every heart where Jesus resides, goodness lives and evil dies.

History proves that wherever the message of Jesus Christ spreads, people and whole societies are transformed from evil to good.  Just one and lesser known example is Mary Slessor from Scotland and nineteenth century missionary to Calabar in Africa.  The peoples in Calabar were renowned for their savagery.  Slavers and cannibals, they devoured their captives and brutalized unmarried women.  They murdered twins believing them to be the spawn of demons and turned their mothers out to be eaten by wild beasts.  Witchcraft, drunkenness and tribal warfare dominated the culture for centuries.  But all that changed as Mary shared with them the love and gospel of God’s Son.  As the chiefs of the various tribes were converted, the wars ceased; cannibalism, slavery, infanticide and abuse of women also ended.[i]  The story of Mary Slessor of Calabar is only one of thousands how God has and continues to triumph over evil through His people spreading the news of His Son – Jesus Christ.

God will overcome evil by making everything new!  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.   I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5 New Living Translation)

The cliché is starting with a clean slate.  John was given a glimpse of God’s clean slate at the end of the glorious vision we call Revelation.  Notice, there will be no more death, sorrow, crying or pain.  In God’s new universe there is no room for evil; but there is plenty of room for Him to dwell with His people.  God is good, and He is going to put an end to evil everywhere.  Paraphrasing what He said to John – “You can count on it!”

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail!”  You know those words.  They are from H.W. Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” better known as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” He first wrote it on Christmas Day in 1863.  It was the height of the Civil War.  Brothers were fighting, thousands were dying and none knew at that time which side would prevail.  But for Longfellow the day was even bleaker.  Just two years earlier his dear wife of eighteen years was critically burned in a fire and died.  Henry had been severely burned himself while trying to save her.  And in November his oldest son Charles was seriously wounded in the war and was struggling to survive.  No wonder then the melancholy that clouded his mind, the despair that filled his soul when out in the city streets the bells, those Christmas bells began to toll.  Their tune was as always joyful; their message hopeful – “peace on earth, good will to men.”  Suddenly something warm and wonderful began to happen deep inside Henry Longfellow.  As he listened to the bells and considered their meaning he realized the child in the manger so celebrated by the bells was greater than life or death, and that because of Him his wife still lived, and his son would live and the nation would also live.  So his famous poem made carol, while recognizing the evil that touched his life, ends with this triumphant refrain:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”[ii]

Evil in the world; the evil that touches all our lives, tempts us to despair.  But remember Jesus’ words – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 New Living Translation)

 

[i] D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, pp.167-169 [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994].

[ii] Wikipedia.org/”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

 

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100 was likely written in the post-exilic period of Israel’s history.  Because Israel’s sins exceeded those of the Canaanite peoples God had driven out before them, He determined the nation would be overthrown and the people carried away captive to Babylon.  However, because the LORD is good and His mercy endures forever, He also decreed that after 70 years in Babylon a remnant would return to Jerusalem.  And Psalm 100, a psalm of thanksgiving, may well have been sung by that remnant of Israel back in the land on the day they dedicated the new temple and themselves to the LORD.

 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  (Psalm 100: 1-5 New International Version)

Israel’s return to the land was an occasion to shout for joy (v.1).  Memories of home and country had tortured them while they labored in faraway Babylon:  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1 NIV).  Now they were in the land again – as God had promised and right on time.  Ezra the Scribe in his book recounts how, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1 NIV).  Cyrus’s proclamation freed the Jews to return to their homeland for the specific purpose of building a temple to the LORD, the God of heaven . . . at Jerusalem in Judah (Ezra 1:2 NIV).  They first built the altar on which they made sacrifices to the LORD.  Then they laid the foundation for the new temple which they celebrated with great fanfare but tinged with sorrow:  Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

 But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.  (Ezra 3:11b-13 New Living Translation)

Like that day in Israel’s history, our lives are a mix of joy and sorrow.  At times the sorrows and joys of life occur so close together as to be almost indistinguishable one from the other – like a noise (Psalm 101:1 KJV).  But even in the noise of our lives there is reason to shout to the LORDConsider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance . .  . Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:2-4, 12 NIV)

God’s wants everyone to worship Him (v.1).  The joy of the LORD is intended for all the earth.  God does not respect or prefer or desire one person or group of people above others (1 Peter 1:17).  In a Charlie Brown animated feature it shows Charlie Brown receive an invitation to a Halloween party in the mail.  He is elated and promptly shares the news with others.  A little girl hearing the news says, “There are always two lists for invitations; one “do invite” and the other “don’t invite”.  If you got an invitation, Charlie Brown, somebody made a mistake.”  But God makes no mistakes in His invitation.  Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Dress yourself in PRAISE and come on in to His presence (v.2).  How should we dress for church?  In PRAISE!  God gives to all who love and worship Him a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3).  Nehemiah encouraged the congregation of returnees to Jerusalem by reminding them the joy of the LORD is your strength (Nehemiah 8:7 KJV).  Paul wrote to the Philippians, a congregation that faced much opposition and persecution – “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV)

Science is proving happiness (the substance of praise) is good for your health.  In an article for Greater Good Magazine dated July 28, 2015, journalist Kira M. Newman writes:  “. . . scientific studies have been finding that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger, and our lives longer.”  She goes on to list six ways happiness has been linked to good health:

  • “Happiness protects your heart” by lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
  • “Happiness strengthens your immune system.”  Persons with positive emotions show higher levels of antibodies which are vital to defense against ailments.
  • “Happiness combats stress.”  Science has known for years that stress is detrimental to good health.  One research study found “the happiest participants had 23 percent lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than the least happy.”
  • “Happy people have fewer aches and pains.”  Studies demonstrate happiness actually reduces pain levels in people.
  • “Happiness combats disease and disability.”  An Australian study reported “participants who reported being happy and satisfied with life most or all of the time were about 1.5 times less likely to have long-term health conditions.”
  • “Happiness lengthens our lives.”  Multiple studies suggest this.

Psalm 16:11 says, “In thy presence is fullness of joy.”

Remember, we are his (v.3).  Belonging to God means we have:

  • PROTECTION –  A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all (Psalm 34:19 NIV)
  • PROVISIONThe lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10 NIV)
  • PROMISE – God has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4 KJV)
  • PURPOSEFor we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Now we boldly go where men could not go before (v.4).  In biblical times, the way to God was barred by temple walls (the courts) and by a huge veil (the gate).  These served as no trespassing signs to ancient worshipers.  The temple itself divided people from God and subdivided them from each other.  Only the high priest could enter into the presence of God in the holy of holies and that just once a year.  The people outside were allowed within a certain distance depending on their nationality and their gender, but they were never allowed into His presence.

Jesus removed all the things that divide:

  • He opened the veil that separated men from God (Matthew 27:51).
  • He demolished the walls that divided people from each other (Ephesians 2:14-15).
  • Now we can go straight to God for help:  So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need. (Heb 4:16 TLB)

Also remember, what God honors with His presence we ought not to dishonor with our absence. (Hebrews 10:25)

We come with THANKSGIVING (v.4).  Gratitude never expressed is worse than ingratitude.  The will of God is that we give Him thanks:  Always be joyful.  Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)

Thankfulness blesses me!  Even when you don’t feel particularly grateful, living as though you are can make a big difference in your overall well-being.  Professor Robert A. Emmons (University of California) says that “even pretending to be thankful raises levels of the chemicals associated with pleasure and contentment:  serotonin and dopamine.  Live as if you feel gratitude, he said, and soon the real thing will come.”[1]

Three reasons we should be THANKFUL (v.5). 

  • GOD IS GOOD!  He is the measure of all things good.  To say that good and evil do not exist is to say that God Himself does not exist for GOD IS GOOD!  He deals with us according to His goodness.  Israel was in captivity because they deserved to be.  In fact they deserved a lot worse, but God preserved them and brought them back home (Ezra 9:13).
  • HIS MERCY (LOVE) IS EVERLASTING!  Peter asked how often we should forgive someone.  Jesus said seventy times seven or unending!  God’s mercy and forgiveness toward us is EVERLASTING!  If we confess our sins – He will forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9).
  • HIS TRUTH IS THE SAME FOR ALL GENERATIONS!  Someone said:  “The only thing you can be certain of is that there is nothing you can be certain of.”  NOT SO!  “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” (Luke 21:33 KJV)

This was a new generation of Israel coming home to Jerusalem, but HE WAS THE SAME GOD!  And He was fulfilling a promise He’d made to their forefathers, i.e. after 70 years He would bring them home (Jeremiah 29:10).

God keeps His promises!  We have much to thank Him for!

[1] Reader’s Digest November, 2009, p.164.

Real Super Heroes

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12 KJV). 

Tales of super heroes (Marvel and DC Comics character types) are the rage at movie box offices.  For years the likes of Thor, Hulk, Superman, Batman, X-Men and soon – The Justice League – have drawn millions into theaters and made billions for their producers worldwide.  These super human heroes appeal to contemporary minds and hearts just like the medieval knights in Europe and western cowboys in America have in the past.  Every generation is drawn to persons of extraordinary capabilities and achievements that can only be described as SUPER!  But, while the Man of Steel, the Dark Knight, Sir Galahad and even Matt Dillon are only fiction, super heroes have lived and walk among us even today.  

If super heroes are defined by their exceptional abilities and extraordinary accomplishments against incredible odds, then of course none is more SUPER than Jesus Christ!  He had power to control nature.  He spoke just a few words and calmed a raging storm (Mark 4:39).  He had power to create matter.  From just a little bread and fish, He produced enough food to feed thousands of people – twice (Matthew 16:9-10).  He had power to call the dead back to life (John 11:43-44).  He had power over demons, which are very real (Mark 1:34).  He even went toe to toe with the prince of demons, Satan, and won (Matthew 4:10-11).  As to His accomplishments, John wrote:  “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)  Jesus really did return from the grave (Revelation 1:18).  But perhaps the most amazing thing Jesus did was give to others the power to become sons of God (John 1:12).

This power changes lives, and the change begins the very moment you believe on his name (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17).  The Greek term exousia (power) literally means super human power.  Jesus is the ORIGINAL SUPER HERO who defeated evil villains, thwarted plans of world domination, overcame cosmic powers, and saved countless lives from disaster.  And His power that accomplished such deeds of daring do in the first century continues in the twenty-first through the sons/children of God, i.e. as many as received him (thoughtfully accept what He says about Himself) and them that believe on his name (entrust their lives to His ability to care for them).  These are the REAL SUPER HEROES in the world.  The Word of God says about them:

  • They radiate a supernatural light that cannot be overcome (Matthew 5:14-16; John 1:5).
  • They possess a supernatural strength greater than all the power of the enemy (Philippians 4:13; 1 John 4:4).
  • They have a supernaturally enlarged mind that understands things others do not (1 Corinthians 2:16).
  • They have a supernatural Teacher who instructs them, trains them, commissions and energizes them, and remains with them for life (John 16:12-13).
  • They have supernatural abilities to carry out their missions (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
  • They have supernatural protection against enemy weapons and schemes (Isaiah 54:17).
  • They have supernatural weapons of great power they use to defeat their enemies (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:13-17).
  • They have supernatural means to change outcomes (Ephesians 6:18).
  • They have a supernatural Captain in charge of operations; He has never lost a fight (1 Corinthians 15:25-27).

One commonality of the comic super heroes is just how really COMMON they are.  They have their weaknesses – they’re not perfect.  The Hulk’s incredible strength is slave to his uncontrollable anger.  Batman is cowered by memories from his dark past.  And Ironman’s shining gallantry is tarnished by his sordid hedonism.  These fictional characters are very like real people.  Though possessed with great powers and abilities and guided by good moral values – they shrink under attacks from their greatest enemy – SIN.

The apostle Paul stands tall as one of history’s greatest super heroes, but he professed his own inability to triumph over banal desires dominated by the law of sin which he described as waging war against the law of my mind. Paul’s tremendous desire to do and be good was continually undone by his penchant for evil.  His utter frustration boiled up in his outcry, “Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:21-24 New Living Translation) Recognizing his own need for rescue, this hero heralds the Super Hero who answered his call – “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).  By His great POWER Jesus SAVED Paul from the deadly grip of sin.  And He does the same for all who call upon Him (Acts 2:21).

The real super heroes in the world are those who have received superhuman power from Jesus Christ to set them free from sin’s dominion (Galatians 4:7); to fight for the truth (Jude 3); to defeat the Devil (James 4:7); to overcome evil in the world with good (Romans 12:21); to love even their enemies (Matthew 5:44); to live godly in an ungodly society (2 Peter 2:9); and to share with others what they received from Christ (Matthew 10:8).  Though super, they still are not perfect.  But they have been changed from children of darkness to children of light (Ephesians 5:8); changed from unrighteousness to righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:14); changed from similitude with an evil world to the likeness of their holy Creator (Colossians 3:9-11).  And when they make mistakes, they own up to them and, like Paul, cry out to the One who can and will come speedily to their rescue.  If this describes you, then welcome to the League of Super Heroes!  Welcome to The Children of God!  Let the adventure begin!

The Future – Come and See!

New things are just wonderful!  A new bride; a new home; a new friend; a new beginning; a new adventure; a new look; a new job; a new day; a new life!  All these and more are headed our way; or better said, we are headed toward them.  God said through His prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create.” (Isaiah 65:17-18 New International Version)  The apostle John heard the Lord say, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 1:5 NIV)  Not some things, but EVERYTHING is going to be made brand, spanking NEW!  And things are going to be so new and so wonderful that we might not recognize them at all if God didn’t make it known to us.

Most people have imagined a new home for themselves.  George Washington Vanderbilt II imagined and built his new and very palatial home in Asheville, North Carolina.  Six years in the making and at 178,926 square feet, Biltmore House is the largest privately owned house in the United States and a very popular tourist attraction. Jesus told His disciples in John 14:1-3 that He was going to prepare a place for them and all who love Him – a new home.  It is called the New Jerusalem and it surpasses anything George Vanderbilt or you or I could ever imagine.  The apostle John was given a glimpse of it:

It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. 12 The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. 15 The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass. 19 The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones . . . 21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass. (Excerpts from Revelation 21:11-21 New Living Translation)

Clearly there is a lot of room in what will be the new home for all who trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.  Imminent Bible teacher, Dr. David Jeremiah, calculates the size of New Jerusalem as 1,960,000 square miles, nearly four times the size of Alaska, with “room for people redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation throughout all history.” (The Jeremiah Study Bible, p.1867).

If John’s explanation of new things ahead is hard to grasp, just consider it simply the best possible description he could give of things so utterly indescribable.  The Hope Diamond, one of the world’s most famous gems, weighs 45.52 carats, is deep blue in color but emits a reddish glow when exposed to light.  A single crystal, it is described in three very different ways.  All the varied gemstones comprising the New Jerusalem will sparkle as one, shinning God’s glory throughout the new heavens and new earth which God said He is going to create.

And what about those new heavens and new earth?  God revealed to Peter something of how He is going to do it:  The Earth we live in and the heavens that surround it will be renovated by fire:   But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up . . . Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10, 13 New King James Version).

Global warming alarmists warn that the earth is going to be made uninhabitable by gradually rising temperatures.  Well, they are partly right.  The temperature is going to rise but suddenly – as a thief in the night.  And it won’t stop at making the earth uninhabitable – the elements will melt with fervent heat.  But after God has finished His renovation by fire, He is going to unveil new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  The fact is everything God is doing in the present world is preparing a new people (the redeemed in Christ) who will live with Him in the New Jerusalem in the New World that He is going to create.

I know, it sounds too fantastic.  In fact it seems so completely unbelievable that more and more Christians have stopped believing it.  Many teach these and other prophetic scriptures as allegory – symbolic lingo for things we otherwise recognize and can understand in the “real world.”  Too many have just signed off trying to make sense of it and content themselves with the study of non-prophetic scriptures.  A “whatever will be” attitude makes fine lyric for a children’s song, but it is no way for God’s children to be thinking or living in respect to their future.  Indeed, the Lord declares a blessing upon all those who will read this prophecy and live their lives in light of what it says:  God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 New Living Translation)

Contrary to Doris Day’s wonderful performance of “Que, Sera, Sera” – the future is ours to see – and we should!

Encouraging Words

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, news in this world has been decidedly more negative than positive. But lately the steady stream of life quakes (events that shake our world universal and/or personal) could discourage even the most positive of positive thinkers and dampen the hopes of the most hopeful. A World War II type lunatic dictator lobs ballistic missiles toward peaceful countries and dares anyone to stop him. Two of the most powerful storms on record smack US head on and a third devastates Puerto Rico. Islam is rising and the Church in America declining. Hugh Hefner’s passing is lamented; disrespect for the flag is congratulated; the rule of law is fragmented; and any who think there’s something wrong with that – especially evangelical Christians – are dated and maybe even dangerous.
Unlike “Home on the Range” discouraging words are heard every day in the news and in the world we live in. It certainly was that way for Christians in the ancient Greek city of Thessalonica. Acts 17 tells of Paul’s spreading the gospel (good news) and planting a church there against fierce opposition. Persecution quickly became so intense that the apostle had to flee before giving the fledgling congregation much needed instruction. So he penned two separate letters to them ( 1 & 2 Thessalonians) to teach and encourage them. Central to what Paul encouraged them about is the Lord’s coming for His Church – the Rapture:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 NIV)

Here is the most vivid description in Scripture of the Rapture – that moment when Jesus fulfills His promise from John 14:1-3 to return from Heaven receive His disciples (the Church) unto himself and take them back to Heaven to be with Him forever. Jesus made that promise specifically to encourage the apostles against His imminent departure and the suffering that lay ahead for them (John 14:1; 15:20). And Paul tells the church of the Thessalonians to likewise encourage each other with these words (v.18).
Although we do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ promised return (Mark 13:32) and even its timing might be debatable (pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib); the fact is Jesus promised to come again – and Jesus always keeps His promises! The blessed hope of every believer (living and dead) is the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). The Christians at Thessalonica had it bad – they had it really bad! Two millennia later, world conditions are bad and getting worse; but our hope is not in the world. Our hope is in the Lord and His promise to come and get us. It may sound stock, even worn out – but it’s what Jesus promised to do. And believers in every generation should encourage each other with these words!

Here’s to Work, and Those Who Do It!

“If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 New International Version) is probably the most quoted verse on the subject of work.  But the Bible has so much more to say about it.

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing” (Genesis 2:2 NIV).  The French call it “fait accompli” which means an accomplished deed.  Accomplishment is something everyone craves, from the youngest to the oldest from the meekest to the boldest.  If you ever wanted anything so much that the thought of it motivated you to take action, to work until you got it; then you understand the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment.  When God finished His creative work, He was very satisfied and said so:  “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 King James Version).

Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4-5 New King James Version)  Well, maybe people didn’t work after dark in Jesus’ day, but they certainly do now and have for a long time.  Jesus’ point was not to procrastinate in doing the works that God has put you in the world to do:  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)  Whether you ever realized it or not, you are here on assignment – as Jesus was.  The New Testament teaching on this is abundantly clear, i.e. every believer in Christ has a work or works that God intends to do through them:  “God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” (1 Corinthians 12:6 New Living Translation)  If you haven’t already, ask God to make plain what your assignment is and get to it.  Time is wasting!

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)  Being confident that you can do your job and do it well is very important to both employers and employees.  But when it comes to doing the work of salvation in your life and mine, our confidence is not in us, but totally in the Lord.  He is the One who started His work of grace in my life, and He is the One who will finish it successfully.  Salvation is not my life’s work for the Lord; it is His work in my life:  “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:3 NIV)  When Mary and I were in Europe a while back, we discovered that on Sundays everything (well almost everything) shuts down.  The shops are closed; even truckers on the road stop where they are and rest on Sundays.  “Wow!” we thought.  “We haven’t done this in America in a very long time!”  Now sadly, most that stop their work on Sundays in Europe aren’t doing it to attend church and worship God.  But at least they still recognize the importance of resting from their work.  God needed no rest – He’s God after all.  But by resting He set an example for us which is very good that we follow.  Jesus trained His disciples to take time to rest, even from the busy-ness of the Lord’s work (Mark 6:31).

This Labor Day we celebrate again the significance of both labor and the laborers.  Few things in life give a greater sense of satisfaction with life than a job well done.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, your job, whatever the job, is an assignment from God.  Do it with your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10); do it for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Be confident in knowing that the work the Lord started in you, He will finish in you.  And take time to rest.  After all, it is a holiday.

New Birth – Seeing God’s Kingdom and Entering In – Part 2

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
(John 3:8-17 New International Version)

The way we see the world and how God sees it are two very different things.  We see things three dimensionally (3D) as defined by length, width and height.  All dimensions are equally real but are not always equally seen.  The world is what it is but how we see it depends on our vision or perspective.  God’s perspective of the world is material, spiritual and eternal.  All the dimensions are real but not all are visible to you and me.

The material dimension of God’s kingdom is the only one visible to natural eyes.  Everything in heaven and earth (the material universe) was created by God: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).  It all belongs to Him, i.e. it is within His dominion, His kingdom (Psalm 24:1).  God governs the material universe via natural, physical laws which He set in place (Psalm 104:19; Isaiah 55:10).  Nicodemus was confounded by Jesus’ statement that he must be born again because he was seeing or thinking only in a material or physical sense (vv.3-6).

The spiritual dimension of God’s kingdom is just as real as the material but can only be seen through spiritual eyes“For the natural man is not able to take in the things of the Spirit of God: for they seem foolish to him, and he is not able to have knowledge of them, because such knowledge comes only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14 Bible in Basic English).  God created humans as body (material) and soul (spiritual) (Genesis 2:7).  He also warned the first couple that breaking His rule would bring death to them (Genesis 2:17).  Sovereign God gave human kind the freedom to choose life with Him or death apart from Him.  And you know the rest of that story (Genesis 3:1-24).  Question:  Why didn’t Adam and Eve die when they sinned?  Answer:  They did – spiritually:  “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).  Their bodies also began to die:  It is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27).  Sovereign God delayed death to give the first man and woman a second chance and to give all of us (their descendants) the opportunity to choose life with Him forever – The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 New International Version).  However, our present lifeless condition spiritually prevents our seeing/understanding the spiritual dimension of God’s kingdom in a world that is materially minded.  If this all seems foolish to you, then you know how Nicodemus felt.  And even more incredible is the eternal/heavenly dimension of God’s kingdom which Jesus speaks of next.

The eternal dimension of God’s kingdom is the one you definitely don’t want to miss.  Jesus gently reprimanded Nicodemus for his lack of understanding new birth (vv.7-10).  The Old Testament scriptures, which the learned teacher knew well, pointed to it:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

(Psalm 51:10-12 New International Version)

Salvation, i.e. being born again, is when God creates in us a pure heart and restores or renews a steadfast spirit – a loyal and obedient spirit to Him – within me.  And all this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit who comes to live within us as He did in Adam before He sinned.  It is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit that makes our soul (spiritual man) come alive.  That’s what it means to be born again and that is the dimension of God’s kingdom, His rule in our lives that is eternal (without end):  But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him (Psalm 103:17, 19 NIV).

Just a few more things you should know.  First, we cannot determine our own opportunity for new birth; the Holy Spirit alone determines that (John 1:12-13).  So, when the wind blows on you (v.8), when opportunity knocks (Revelation 3:20) – you need to open the door to God.  Second, God’s kingdom – in the eternal sense – is a heavenly thing (v.12) waiting to be accomplished on earth, and Jesus instructed that we should pray for it and seek it above all other things (Matthew 6:10, 33).  Finally, entry into God’s kingdom and possession of eternal life is available to any and all who believes in him, i.e. Jesus, the Son of Man, and the Son of God (vv.14-16).

The message of Jesus to all is this:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17 NIV)

Can you see it now?

New Birth – Seeing God’s Kingdom and Entering In

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
(John 3:1-7 New International Version)

There is a world you must be born to see.  It isn’t known at just what point in development the unborn is able to see, but at 9 to 12 weeks the eyelids close and remain closed for several months. (Wikipedia.org, Fetus)  We do know that at 30 weeks they can hear and at 38 weeks they can identify their mother’s voice from other voices. (Scienceline.org/2007/08/20/ask-moser-ultrasound)  But whatever else they are able to perceive about the world outside the womb, it is certain that they cannot see it.  They must be born to see it.

Jesus told Nicodemus, a man of great learning, a teacher and leader of his people, that there is a world (the kingdom of God) “no one can see . . . unless he is born again” (v.3).  The nature of human kind is both flesh and spirit:  “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (v.6).  No more than the eyes of the unborn can see beyond the world of the womb, the eyes of flesh cannot perceive the things which are spiritual:  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NIV).

Max Lucado tells the story of Bob Edens who was blind for 51 years.  “He couldn’t see a thing.  His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. And then, he could see. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob Edens had sight. He found it overwhelming. “I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow,” he exclaimed. “I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon–and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is.” (From God Came Near, Multnomah Press)  Only the Spirit of God can give us spiritual eyes with which to see “what God has prepared for those who love him” and only then will we understand what so mystified Nicodemus (v.9).

Jesus preached about God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:17).  He taught His disciples to pray that God’s kingdom come and to seek it before anything else (Matthew 6:10, 33).   Jesus wanted Nicodemus to see and enter into “the kingdom of God” (vv.3, 5).  But what does the kingdom of God mean?

 In the days of kings and kingdoms people spoke often about the king’s dominion.  Over time they shortened the phrase into the one word “king-dom”.  So, “the kingdom of God” means His dominion – everywhere that His word is obeyed and His will unchallenged.  Well then, if God is Sovereign and His kingdom everywhere (as Christianity teaches), why can’t everyone see it and aren’t we all already in it?  Just like the unborn child lives in its own world but encompassed by a greater, larger world beyond the womb’s dimension, the kingdom of God is also multi-dimensional.  And, just like the babe in the womb cannot see the greater world/kingdom of which it is a part or enter it apart from being born into it, we can never see or enter into the other dimensions of God’s kingdom apart from a new and spiritual birth – “You must be born again” (v.7).

What the multiple dimensions of God’s kingdom are; how God is but isn’t yet Sovereign everywhere and in everything; and just how we can be born again into His kingdom, are subjects for my next blog.

God bless you.

Does God Hate Some People?

In last Sunday’s message taken from Malachi 1:1-5, I asked the question – “Does God really love some people and hate others?”  The answer is an emphatic “No!”  But the history of God’s dealings with Jacob and his descendants, the nation Israel, and Esau and his descendants, the ancient Edomites, is a compelling illustration of how God loves us, and how we, by our response to His love determine our life and our future.

God said to Israel through His prophet, Malachi:  “I have loved you” (v.2).   Skeptical Israel asked, “How have you loved us?”  God replied in a way understood by the people of that day, but a conundrum to those familiar with 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”  Fifth century Israel recognized the reference to their forefather Jacob and his brother Esau, sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham.  Even before birth, the twins wrestled in Rebekah’s womb; and their descendants struggled ever thereafter.  The Bible excerpts a history of rage between the two nations:  Numbers chapter twenty records the Edomites’ refusal to help Israel, newly delivered from Egyptian slavery; and the book of Obadiah prophesied doom to Edom for their ill treatment of their brothers in the days just prior to Babylonian captivity.  Also, Obadiah’s prophecy revealed that while “the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance” . . .  “the house of Esau will be stubble” . . . “There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.” (Obadiah 17-18).

God’s point in Malachi 1:2-3 is that He had loved them (the nation Israel) by dealing with both them and Esau (the nation Edom) exactly as He had prophesied in His Word. Since making them a nation, God had dealt with Israel according to what Moses called a covenant of love.   His covenant of love governed how God conducted Himself toward Israel and toward any who would keep it:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 7:9 NIV)

Throughout the Old Testament (Old Covenant) period, this defined how God dealt with His chosen people.  It guaranteed God’s blessings to those who love Him. It also promised destruction for those who hate Him:

But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. (Deuteronomy 7:10 NIV)

Deuteronomy 7:11 also made clear the choice was individual whether they loved God and enjoyed the blessings or hated Him and incurred destruction.

God is love (1 John 4:8) and He always deals with the whole world according to love (John 3:16).  When Jesus Christ came, He established a New Covenant which defines how God deals now with anyone and everyone who chooses to accept it:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17 NKJV)

God didn’t hate Esau or the Edomites or anyone else.  “Esau have I hated” is euphemism for them that hate God (Psalm 9:17).  From before time began, “God is love” and has dealt with us, all of us, according to His great love ultimately expressed in His giving Jesus Christ to the world.  But whether you enjoy the blessings promised to those who love Him or suffer the destruction appointed to those who hate Him is a choice only you can make.

 

 

 

The Choice is Ours to Make a Difference

Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13:  For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Yesterday, July 27, 2017, the United States Senate failed in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka – Obamacare.  After months (years) of promises to do so; after myriads of amendments proffered; and after all debate concluded – it was time to vote.  In that vote every senator exercised the authority given them by their state’s constituents both to choose and to act in their behalf.  American history records and the future will prove just how significant a choice, a vote can be in affecting many, many lives.

The story of Esther in the Old Testament is one of the greatest examples of what one person’s choice can mean in the greater scheme of things.  The fate of the Jewish people and the future of western civilization as it unfolded were given into the hands of this young and inexperienced queen of Persia.  In the fifth century B.C. the people descended from Abraham through Isaac, i.e. the Jews lived scattered throughout the vast Persian Empire which extended from India to Egypt and was ruled by the monarch Xerxes.  The king’s right-hand man, Haman, hated the Jews and devised a plan to exterminate them.  Upon discovering the plan Esther’s cousin and adoptive father, Mordecai, appealed to her to intercede with the king on her people’s behalf.  But according to the law of that time, anyone approaching the king uninvited would be put to death.  Naturally, Esther hesitated to do as Mordecai asked and so informed him.  Mordecai’s response was both compelling to Esther and important for our consideration:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 New International Version)

Mordecai’s words revealed that God’s plan was to give relief and deliverance for the Jews and perhaps He had given Esther royal position to do exactly that.  Esther had to consider that her place in history was according to a greater plan that concerned all history.  God himself had providentially put her in a place to make a difference; but Esther had to decide herself what she would do.  Her choice to risk her own life by approaching the king uninvited and the deliverance it brought is celebrated annually by Jews all over the world in the festival of Purim.

Like Esther, let us consider Mordecai’s advice that we are living in the time where and when God meant us to be.  Also ponder the apostle Paul’s point that God is today working in you and me, enabling us both to choose and to act according to His good purpose.  Consider carefully the choices you make today and every day because they really will make a difference in your life and in other lives as well.