Our family feasted yesterday for our Thanksgiving meal. My wife, Tonya, is an excellent cook and she prepared her annual buffet: turkey, mashed potatoes, cream corn, dressing, macaroni and cheese, slaw, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie, cheese cake, etc. She also worked in a new meatballs-white rice dish that was a nice change of pace. Not only did we feast for lunch yesterday, we also feasted on leftovers for supper last night and again for lunch today. Oh, and did I mention that we feasted Wednesday night at the home of Tonya’s mom, Jessie? There we had turkey, ham, and all other sorts of holiday fare. As you might imagine, I’ll probably be using a different hole on my belt this Sunday, and it won’t be a hole for a skinnier preacher.

But do I need to repent of the sin of gluttony? Absolutely not! You see, there is a big difference between enjoying a time of feasting and being a glutton. Consider these fifteen Biblical examples of appropriate feasting:

  • Lot prepared a feast for the two angels who came to him in Sodom. (Genesis 19:1-3)
  • Abraham and Sarah celebrated with a feast the day Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:8)
  • Isaac and Abimelech feasted the day they entered into a covenant with each other. (Genesis 26:26-30)
  • Laban held a feast the day Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel. (Genesis 29:20-22)
  • Pharaoh held a feast in honor of his birthday. (Genesis 40:20)
  • Samson held a seven-day feast to celebrate his engagement to a Philistine woman. (Judges 14:10)
  • David held a feast for Abner and Abner’s men. (2 Samuel 3:20)
  • Solomon held a feast for all his servants after he had a dream in which God appeared to him. (1 Kings 3:15)
  • Solomon held a seven-day feast to celebrate the completion of the building of the temple. (2 Chronicles 7:1-10)
  • Job’s ten children feasted. (Job 1:4-5)
  • Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast a king held for his son. (Matthew 22:1-14)
  • The father in the story of the prodigal son held a feast (“kill the fatted calf”) to celebrate the return of his wayward son. (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Jesus performed His first miracle (the changing of the water into wine) at a weeklong wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11)
  • The fellowship meal the early Christians held each Sunday in conjunction with their observance of The Lord’s Supper was known as “the love feast.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Jude 1:12)
  • The Marriage Supper of the Lamb that Christians will one day enjoy with Christ will be a time of feasting. (Revelation 19:9)

All this is to say nothing, of course, of the seven so-called “feasts” that were required by the Mosaic law. Those were: The Feast of Passover (Exodus 12:1-14), The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20), The Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14), The Feast of Pentecost (Harvest/Weeks) (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), The Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6), The Feast of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths/Ingathering) (Nehemiah 8:13-18). Since the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread was held right on the heels of the one-night Feast of Passover, those two Feasts became so intertwined as to be celebrated as one eight-day-long event in Israel. Over the course of those eight days the Passover lamb was killed and eaten and all leaven (yeast) was removed from every home in Israel.

While it’s true that not all of these seven annual Feasts involved an actual meal, some did and this evidences the fact that God understands times of celebration, joy, and (yes) EATING. Someone might say, “But that was just for the Old Testament era. We Christians today don’t live under that law.” No, we don’t, but that’s why I took the time to list those fifteen non-law examples, five of them from the New Testament, wherein feasting is not only allowed but even prescribed during appropriate times.

Okay, so what then do we do about the Bible’s condemnation of gluttony? Well, let’s talk about that. The word “glutton” is found only twice in the Old Testament, and in both instances the Hebrew word translated as “glutton” is zalal. That’s a word that literally means “to shake” as in to physically shake during an earthquake or the blowing of the wind. Figuratively speaking, zalal refers to being loose (shaky) morally.

One use of zalal comes in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, a passage that was a part of the Mosaic law. In that passage, the parents of a stubborn, rebellious son, who would not obey them even after they had chastened him, were commanded to forcefully bring the son to Israel’s elders, The parents were to say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard” (N.K.J.V.). Consequently, the son would be stoned to death by the men of the city.

Even a casual reading of the passage will show that the son’s sin wasn’t feasting. Instead, the sin involved stubbornness, rebelliousness, and disobedience. All of this describes nothing less than a fixed lifestyle of ungodliness. Any sinful overeating that might have been associated with that lifestyle was merely an outer symptom of a far more serious inner attitude. Clearly, the son’s problems involved his heart much more than his stomach, and the phrase “he is a glutton and a drunkard” serves as something of a general catch-all to describe an unholy, worthless person who has nothing for God and nothing for people.

The Old Testament’s second use of zalal is found in Proverbs 23:21, which says: “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags” (N.K.J.V.). Here again we find that the person’s problem is much more than simply having two pieces of pie instead of one. This time drowsiness (and by implication laziness) is added to the depiction of the drunkard/glutton, and the overall worthlessness of the person ultimately brings him to poverty.

Turning to the New Testament, the Hebrew word for word “glutton” is phagos, which comes from phago, which means “to eat.” This word phagos is used in both Matthew 11:16-19 and Luke 7:31-35, two versions of the same story from Christ’s earthly life. In that story, Jesus says the Jewish religious leaders called him “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (N.I.V.). You’ll note that it’s the same pattern from the Old Testament except this time the drunkard/glutton is also spoken of as enjoying the company of disreputable friends.

What I’m showing you in all of this is that the Bible’s use of the word “glutton” is always linked up with an assortment of other bad behavior. The person being an overeater — and surely Jesus wasn’t that any more than He was a drunkard — isn’t the issue. The issue is the person’s stubbornness, rebelliousness, disobedience, laziness, and penchant for the company of others like him. Therefore, according to the Bible’s definition of “glutton,” the submitted, committed, discerning Christian can’t be one. Oh, sure, the Christian might overeat on occasion, but times of feasting such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, weddings, church fellowship meals, etc. can’t even be counted among such times.

Of course, this doesn’t give the Christian a free pass to become a fatso. Remember, Christian, your body really is a temple because God the Holy Spirit dwells inside you. Also, even Paul admits that there is some profit in bodily exercise (1 Timothy 4:8) and warns against those “whose god is their belly” (Philippians 3:17-19). My point is simply that you shouldn’t allow anyone, including you, to create a false guilt in you anytime the Lord blesses you with the opportunity to do some God-approved feasting. Just ask Him to let you know whenever you are crossing the line into sin by eating too much, and then listen for His still, small voice as He does so.

Posted in Christmas, Christmas Traditions, Dieting, Gluttony, Personal Holiness, Prosperity, Thanksgiving, The Old Testament Law | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knowing Jesus & Being Thankful Should Go Hand in Hand

Tony Evans tells the story of two little sisters who were misbehaving badly on Thanksgiving Day. The situation finally reached a point where their father said, “Girls, go to your room. You are not going to be allowed to sit at the table for Thanksgiving dinner.” The girls complied, and spent the new few minutes sitting dejected in their room.

Then, quite unexpectedly, they heard their mother call them to the table for the Thanksgiving meal. They didn’t understand how mommy could overrule daddy, but their lack of understanding didn’t stop them from cautiously making their way from their bedroom to the dining room. When they got there they immediately noticed that someone was missing from the scene. Daddy wasn’t there.

Now the girls were really confused and asked their mother, “Where’s daddy?” She answered, “Daddy went to his room. He did that because he loves you so much that he wanted you to be able to have Thanksgiving dinner. Since he couldn’t change his standard about the punishment that you deserved, he decided that he himself would pay the penalty that you owed. So, while you enjoy this meal, remember that your daddy has paid your penalty so that you could have it.”

The application of the story isn’t hard to spot, is it? It certainly shouldn’t be if you are a Christian. As Tony Evans puts it, “Bothers and sisters, when you forget to say thanks for everything else, don’t forget to say thanks for Jesus.”

The apostle Paul gets into this same subject area when he writes in Colossians 2:6-7:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Later on in that same book (letter/epistle), as if he can’t stay away from the subject, Paul hits on this idea again in Colossians 3:15-17 when he writes:

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 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. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)

Can you see how in Paul’s mind thankfulness and Jesus became seamlessly woven together? In one way of looking at things, Paul couldn’t imagine not being thankful in light of what Jesus had done for him. But in another way of looking at things, he also understood that everything he did, even him giving thanks, was done through Jesus and in the name of Jesus. In other words, Paul would tell us Christians that Jesus is not only the motivation for our thanksgiving but also the means through which we give it.

This Thanksgiving, in the midst of all our talk about being thankful for family, friends, health, money, food, clothing, and other material blessings, let us be sure to say, “Thank You” to Jesus. Christian, your family and friends didn’t die on the cross in payment for your sins. No, Jesus did that. Going back to the Tony Evans illustration, He took your punishment so that you might enjoy the meal.

And, of course, as Paul reminds us in those passages from Colossians, Jesus paying that ultimate price for us demands that we devote our lives to Him in appreciation. As Paul says of Him, we should walk in Him, be rooted in Him, be built up in Him, be established in our faith in Him, abound in our faith in Him with thanksgiving, let His word dwell richly within us, sing in our hearts to Him, do everything that we do in His name, and give thanks to God the Father through Him. Obviously, if all that sounds like complete and total commitment, you are reading it correctly. This then is how the Christian should live each Thanksgiving Day, and this then is how the Christian should live all the other days of the year.

Posted in Children, Christ's Death, Commitment, Discipleship, Family, Fatherhood, God's Love, Grace, Salvation, Thankfulness, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Offenses Must Come

“Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” (Matthew 18:7, N.K.J.V.)

The Greek word translated as “offenses” in this verse is skandalon, and it’s a word that refers to stumbling blocks. Anything that tempts/causes a Christian to sin can be labeled as this type of stumbling block. Therefore, the teaching is that as long as we Christians live in this fallen world, we will inevitably have to overcome stumbling blocks that are designed to trip us up spiritually and get us to sin. Since the English word “scandal” derives from skandalon, we are right to say that these stumbling blocks (these temptations, these inducements to sin) can be bad enough and public enough to result in the Christian being scandalized by their outcome.

Jesus says of anyone who places these spiritual stumbling blocks in the paths of those who believe in Him, “…woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” While that is certainly an ominous warning sent out to anyone who hinders a Christian’s walk with the Lord, it’s not the part of Christ’s quote that I want to hone in on for this post. Instead, I want to draw your attention to those words, “For offenses (stumbling blocks) must come.” My question is, “Why must they come?”

First, spiritual stumbling blocks must come because of Satan and his fellow fallen angels. Spiritual warfare is real, Christian, and there isn’t a fallen angel out there anywhere that wouldn’t love to see you get tripped up and scandalized by some sin. As Ephesians 6:12 says to Christians: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (N.I.V.). Likewise, 1 Peter 5:8-9 describes Satan as ravenous, roaring lion who must be resisted. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, the apostle Paul even expresses his open concern that Satan had already corrupted the minds of the Christians of Corinth.

Second, spiritual stumbling blocks must come because of all the people who do Satan’s bidding. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, we learn that Satan (i.e. “the god of this age”) has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Jesus took this idea even further when He said to a group of lost religious leaders, “You are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does” (John 8:44, N.L.T.). You’d better realize, Christian, that some of those things involve those children of the devil placing spiritual stumbling blocks in your path.

Third, spiritual stumbling blocks must come because of our own sinful nature. Putting it simply, the Christian’s own inborn Adamic nature of sin, which the Bible refers to as “the flesh,” makes him or her a prime candidate to trip over a stumbling block that has been placed in the path either by Satan, some other fallen angel, or a lost unbeliever. Even though the Christian has God the Holy Spirit dwelling inside his or her body, the indwelling Spirit doesn’t obliterate the Adamic nature (the flesh). Instead, an inner civil war is created between the two. Galatians 5:17 says of this war: “For the desire of the flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, in order to keep you from doing whatever you want” (N.A.S.V.).

In closing, Christian, let me leave you with a couple of takeaway applications. Application #1 is: Don’t ever join the ranks of the enemy in placing some stumbling block in the path of a fellow believer. Remember, your job is to help your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ run well spiritually, not place obstacles and landmines in their running lanes.

And then Application #2 is: Start recognizing the stumbling blocks you’ve been tripping over for years and start avoiding them. Imagine a runner who lap after lap comes upon a certain chuckhole in the track and steps into it and stumbles every single time. It wouldn’t make any sense for a runner to do that, would it? Well, before you judge our hypothetical runner too harshly, you might want to examine your own life and see if there is a certain chuckhole that has caused you to spiritually stumble time and time again. The truth is that most of us have one and we don’t always do a good job of avoiding it.

Posted in Adversity, Depravity, Faithfulness, God's Work, Ministry, Problems, Service, Sin, Spiritual Warfare, Temptation, The Devil, Trials | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God is Watching. But That Doesn’t Have to Be a Bad Thing.

One day some kids were assembled for lunch in the cafeteria of a Christian school. On one table, at the end of the food line, sat a big bucket filled with apples. Taped to the bucket was a staff-written note that read: “Take only one. God is watching.” Just past that table, however, there was another table. This one held a plate of cookies. Beside that plate, on a card that had been placed there by a prankster student, was a note that read: “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”

Does God really see everything that everybody does all the time all over the world? Yes, He does. That’s one of the advantages of being a Spirit who isn’t confined to a body that has to always be in one place at a time. If we think about it, though, God seeing everything all the time doesn’t have to be a bad thing. To the contrary, it can actually be a good thing.

In 2 Chronicles 16:1-14, we find the story of Asa, the king of Israel’s southern kingdom. Baasha, the king of Israel’s northern kingdom, set himself against Asa by beginning construction on a fortress that would stand at Ramah on the boundary line between the two kingdoms. Once Asa realized what Baasha was doing, Asa should have cried out to God and asked Him to intervene in the situation. Rather than seek God’s help, though, Asa sent gold and silver to Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria, in an attempt to create an alliance against Baasha. The bribe worked, and Ben-Hadad sent Syrian forces that struck against several of the cities of Baasha’s kingdom and stopped the building project at Ramah.

In the aftermath of the Syrian victories against his rival Baasha, Asa was riding high until a man of God named Hanani came to see him. Hanani was a seer/prophet, and he delivered a devastating rebuke to Asa for trusting in the Syrians rather than in God for help. As part of that rebuke, Hanani said:

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.” (2 Chronicles 16:9, N.K.J.V.)

And how did Asa respond to that rebuke? He threw Hanani into prison. Welcome to the ministry! What Asa couldn’t imprison, though, was the word that God had delivered through Hanani. That meant that the remaining years of Asa’s reign would be plagued by trouble. In particular, three years later he was struck with a severe disease in his feet (2 Chronicles 16:12). Sadly, as evidence that he still hadn’t learned his lesson about trusting in God rather than in outside sources, he called in his physicians rather than praying to God. Two years later he was dead (2 Chronicles 16:13). One theory is that he died from gangrene complications in his feet.

But let’s not focus on the negative part of Hanani’s word to Asa. Instead, let’s focus on the positive part. That’s the part that says God’s eyes are constantly scouring the earth in search of people whose hearts are loyal to Him, and whenever He finds such a heart, He shows Himself strong on that person’s behalf. Do you know who that is good news for? You guessed it, the person whose heart is loyal to God.

So, tell me, does this description fit you? If it does, then you have a legitimate right to expect God to show Himself strong on your behalf. We’re not talking about mere wishful thinking here. No, we’re talking about a Bible promise! I don’t know how this promise will manifest itself in your life, but I do know that you’ll definitely be helped by it. After all, God showing Himself STRONG on your behalf has to make some blessed differences. Remember, though, that those differences only come to those who trust in the Lord rather than in other sources.

Posted in Adversity, Encouragement, Faithfulness, God's Omnipresence, God's Omniscience, God's Work, Needs, Perseverance, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chimpanzee Christians

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, N.K.J.V.)

Not everyone who carries the name “Christian” carries the name legitimately. While reports of how many professing “Christians” there are in the world consistently put the number at over 2 billion, that astoundingly high number cuts directly against two important facts. Fact #1 is: If there were truly 2 billion Christians in the world, the world wouldn’t be nearly as spiritually, morally, and ethically bankrupt as it is now. And fact #2 is: Jesus said the gate that leads to life (eternal life, spiritual life) is narrow, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14).

Take my country, America, for example. Since abortion became legal here in 1973, we have aborted over 60 million babies in the wombs. Of course, those are just the deaths that have been reported. With abortion typically being a cash transaction, who could even begin to say how many babies have been killed “off the books”? This all happens in a country, mind you, that is supposedly a “Christian” nation, where virtually all of our Presidents and well over 90% of our Congressman since the birth of our nation have claimed to be Christians. Furthermore, the Supreme Court of our land, which was the Court that made abortion legal, has consistently been stocked since its inception with judges whose religious affiliation was listed as “Christian.” Obviously, something doesn’t add up in all this.

With so many people talking about love these days, let me share with you a simplistic thought about what real love looks like. In Romans 13:8-10, the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of God, points out that the saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” by its very definition incorporates the commandment “You shall not murder.” That makes perfect sense to me. Does it to you? I mean, if we are going to talk about all the unloved in America, shouldn’t we start with the more than 60 million babies who never got the chance to draw their first breath before their hearts were purposely stopped? I guess their problem was that they weren’t consider to be anybody’s “neighbors,” right? Seriously, if all the professing “Christians” in America can’t even get in line with God’s thinking on abortion, how can we possibly hope to get in line with His thinking on anything else?

You see, the real problem, the source problem from which our other problems flow, is this: The number of authentically born-again Christians in America is profoundly lower than the number of professing Christians. Sure, we’ve got purportedly “Christian” people running around all over the place, but that’s not the same thing as having saved people running around all over the place. It’s not. It’s just not.

As for the demographics on these fake Christians — and in most cases these people are honestly deluded themselves as to their actual standing with God — we’re talking about people who are White, Black, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and any other ethnicity that could be put on the list. They are registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. They are rich, poor, and middle class. They are old, young, and middle-aged. They are conservative and liberal. Actually, the only thing they have in common is the fact that they are all religiously lost.

Harry Ironside, who was one of the greatest preachers that America ever produced, spoke of such people in his book, Changed By Beholding. Ingeniously, he illustrated the situation by comparing a chimpanzee to a human. His illustration is so perfect that I wouldn’t even begin to try to add anything to it. So, I’ll just offer it as the close to this post. Ironside wrote:

“A great many people make the mistake of trying to live the life before they receive the life. The hardest thing I know is to try to live the Christian life when you do not have it to live. There must be a Christian life first before you can exemplify and manifest it.

To try to live a Christian life when you have never been born again is just as hopeless as for a chimpanzee to try and live a human life. I have seen some chimpanzees that could copy things people do in a remarkable way. At a zoo in Philadelphia, they once said to me, ‘Come along and see a couple of your ancestors.’ I went along; there were two trained chimpanzees who had learned to mimic human beings to a remarkable degree. They wore clothes, sat at a table, ate, and drank, and in a clumsy way handled a knife and fork. When they got all through, they settled back and put cigarettes in their mouths, and a keeper lit them, and they looked to me exactly like a lot of our own people do when smoking cigarettes…

But although those chimps could do all those things, they did not know anything about real human life. They did not know anything of the principles controlling men and women. They were simply imitators. Many people imitate Christians and try to behave like them. They do not know anything of the power of the Christian life. They have never been born again. ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God’ (John 3:3).”

Posted in Abortion, Discernment, Government, Leadership, Politics, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

When Corruption Puts on Incorruption

Tom Wallace, the well known Independent Baptist pastor/evangelist, is now 90 years old. Five years ago, when he was a mere 85, he published Morning Devotions. For the September 25th devotion, he wrote a little piece entitled “This Stuff Has Got To Stop.” Let me share it with you:

Have you noticed stairs are getting steeper? Groceries are heavier. And, everything is farther away. I am dumbfounded to discover how long our street has become!

People are less considerate now. They speak in whispers all the time! I also think they are much younger than I was at the same age.

On the other hand, people my own age are so much older than I am. I ran into an old friend the other day and she has aged so much that she didn’t even recognize me. I glanced at my own reflection in the mirror this morning. Well, REALLY NOW — even mirrors are not made the way they used to be!

Another thing, everyone drives so fast these days! You’re risking life and limb if you happen to pull onto the freeway in front of them. All I can say is, their brakes must wear out awfully fast.

Clothing manufacturers are less civilized these days. Why else would they suddenly start labeling a size 10 or 12 as 18 or 20? Do they think no one notices these things no longer fit around the waist, hips, and thighs?

The people who make bathroom scales are pulling the same prank, but in reverse. Do they think I actually “believe” the number I see on that dial? HA! I would never let myself weigh that much! I’d like to call up someone in authority to report what’s going on — but the telephone company is in on the conspiracy too: they’ve printed the phone books in such small type that no one could ever find a number in there!

We are under attack! Unless something drastic happens, pretty soon everyone will have to suffer these awful indignities.

I’m 54 years old myself now and can already attest to the accuracy of Tom Wallace’s observations. That’s why I, as a Christian, am looking forward to that future moment when this decaying body of mine will be metamorphosized into a glorious new one fit for eternity. This split second in time has popularly come to be called “The Rapture.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 says of this event:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (N.K.J.V.)

These verses tell me that if I have physically died before the Rapture takes place, my body’s metamorphism will coincide with a resurrection. On the other hand, if I am still alive on this earth at that point, this metamorphism won’t require a resurrection. Either way, though, the metamorphism is going to take place.

How can we be so sure? It’s because, as the apostle Paul so eloquently points out in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, a body of flesh, blood, and corruption simply cannot inherit the kingdom of God. He writes:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (N.K.J.V.)

The apostle John also wrote about The Rapture. In 1 John 3:2, he described it this way:

Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (N.K.J.V.)

Think about that, Christian. It hasn’t yet been revealed what we shall be. No, our true unveiling won’t occur until that moment when Jesus is revealed and we become like Him. And what does “like Him” mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that we will become divine like Him. What it must mean, then, is that we will receive glorified bodies on par with the one He received when He arose from the dead. Every Christian should be looking forward to this moment, but until it happens we are left to become all too familiar with the accuracy of Tom Wallace’s all-too-real devotion.

Posted in Aging, Christ's Return, Elderly, Eternity, Heaven, Human Life, Personal, Prophecy, Resurrection, Reward | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Praising God for Past Deliverances Build Our Faith for Future Ones?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #12, last one)

As God brought the walled-up waters of the Red Sea back together to drown the Egyptian army, He also slammed the door shut on the Israelites ever returning to Egypt. Their departure from their enslavement was now complete, and a new day had dawned for their nation. So, if the Israelites were ever going to sing God’s praises, now was the time to do it.

Fortunately, as we might expect from a group of people who had just witnessed a jaw-dropping miracle that saved them, the Israelites were in a praising mood. Exodus 15:1-19 gives us the record of how Moses served as the worship leader for the praise service, and Exodus 15:20-21 gives us the record of how his sister Miriam led the women in an echo time of praise. Exodus 15:1 says of this praise service: “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord…”

Moses wrote the words for the song (surely with some divine inspiration) very shortly after the Red Sea event. As for the echo time of praise led by Miriam and conducted by all the Israelite women, it involved Miriam singing alone and playing the timbrel while the rest of the women played timbrels and danced. Since the opening words of the Miriam song are virtually identical to the opening words of the Moses song — “Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!” — it is reasonable to assume that Miriam repeated the entirety of the Moses song even though scripture only mentions her singing the song’s opening section.

Despite the fact that God had struck Egypt with ten awesome plagues as part of Israel’s exodus, Moses’ song of praise fixates on the parting of the Red Sea and doesn’t even mention any of the plagues. He sings lines such as (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  • “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.” (v.4)
  • “The depths have covered them; They sank to the bottom like a stone.” (v.5)
  • “And with the blast of Your nostrils The waters were gathered together; The floods stood upright like a heap; The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.” (v.8)
  • “You blew with Your wind. The sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.” (v.10)

It seems that the miracle at the Red Sea stirred something deep inside the Israelites, something none of the plagues had stirred. The Israelites had heard about the deaths of Egypt’s firstborns as part of the tenth plague, but those deaths hadn’t inspired them nearly as much as them watching those waters of the Red Sea roll over Egypt’s soldiers, chariots, and horses. Perhaps it was the intensely visual aspect of that particular miracle, or perhaps it was just simply the “end game” finality of it, but something about that miracle evoked a time of national praise from the people.

It should be noted, however, that Moses’ song of praise didn’t just look back to God drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea. It also looked ahead to what God was going to do to the races whom Israel would defeat in conquering the promised land of Canaan. Moses sung:

“The people will hear and be afraid; Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed; The mighty men of Moab, Trembling will take hold of them; All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. Fear and dread will fall on them; By the greatness of Your arm They will be as still as a stone, Till Your people pass over, O Lord, Till the people pass over Whom You have purchased. You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O Lord, which You have made For your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:14-18, N.K.J.V.)

Moses looking to the future in this way teaches us an incredibly important lesson about praise. That lesson is: Singing God’s praises for what He has done for us in the past gives us confidence in what He is going to do for us in the future. You see, in Moses’ way of looking at things, it was inconceivable that the God who had just drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea wouldn’t be able to also defeat the armies of Philistia, Edom, Moab, and any of the other races the Israelites might encounter as part of claiming Canaan. That’s why he scarcely takes the time to mention these future wars — it is as if their outcomes are foregone conclusions — before he starts talking about God planting the Israelites in the land. Again, this is the effect true praise has. It builds within us faith in God’s future accomplishments by using the foundation of His past accomplishments.

It is with this in mind that I want to ask you to do something. As we come to the close of this series, please make a concerted effort to think back upon all the times that God has delivered you in the past. Whatever the deliverance was, if it marked you enough to still be quick to come to your mind, pause to consider it yet again. Then, once you have that memory in place, take the time to thank God for that deliverance. You say, “But Russell, He’s delivered me so many times, thanking Him that way would take hours.” Great! I assure you those hours will be ones well spent. And what you’ll find when you come out of all your praising is that your faith in the future will be reenergized. As a matter of fact, you will be able to look to the future with not only optimism but also EXPECTANCY. Like Moses and those Israelites, you’ll be able to see your Canaan in the waters of your Red Sea, but the lens you’ll have to look through is the lens of praise.

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Can God Make a Way Where There Seems to Be No Way?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #11)

In the previous post, I explained that God’s route for Israel’s exodus from Egypt was not the commonsensical route that anybody would have expected them to take. Rather than have the Israelites head northeast along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, He had them head southeast toward Mount Sinai. Why did God do this?

His reasons were three-fold. First, He didn’t want the just-released Israelites to have to quickly go from slaves to soldiers when they would inevitably encounter the Philistines who lived along the Mediterranean coast. Second, Mount Sinai was where He had spoken to Moses at the burning bush and promised him, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12, N.K.J.V.). Third, even though the Israelites didn’t know it yet, God planned for them to remain encamped at Mount Sinai for well over a year as they received His law and built the Tabernacle, that movable site of worship that would serve them so well in the centuries before Solomon would build the Jerusalem Temple.

On their way toward Mount Sinai, God told Moses to have the Israelites camp at a specific site along the shoreline of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-2). Camping at that site would make the Israelites totally vulnerable to attack because it would pin them up against the waters of the sea where they would have no path of escape. Was God crazy for leading His chosen people to such a bottleneck? To the contrary, it was all part of His plan. He told Moses, “For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:3-4, N.K.J.V.).

Once the location of Israel’s encampment got back to Pharaoh, he became emboldened to act. Some time had now passed since the night of the tenth plague, things had settled down in Egypt, and he and his fellow Egyptians had come to regret letting the Israelites leave. So, he climbed into his personal chariot and led 600 other chariots, as well as untold numbers of horsemen, in a hot campaign to reclaim the Israelites (Exodus 14:5-9). When they came upon the Israelites, who were still encamped at the Red Sea, the specter of Pharaoh and his mighty army struck great fear into the Israelites (Exodus 14:10).

As would be their consistent pattern in years to come, the Israelites immediately turned upon Moses and blamed him for what they felt was going to be their certain doom. They said to him, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in this wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12). Moses, to his eternal credit, remained calm and didn’t respond in anger to the rebuke. He simply said, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” (Exodus 14:13-14). That’s faith. That’s leadership.

The rest of the story played out to the tune of the following sequence:

  • God promised Moses that the waters of the sea would be divided and the Israelites would cross through the midst of the sea on dry ground. (Exodus 14:16)
  • The Angel of God (Jesus in pre-incarnate form), who was inside the pillar of cloud, moved from standing ahead of the Israelites to standing behind them. (Exodus 14:19)
  • The presence of the Angel/cloud served to keep the Israelites and the Egyptians separated for the rest of that day and all of that night. The Israelites, however, didn’t even know when the night began because their side of the Angel/cloud remained in light the entire time while the Egyptians’ side sank into darkness. (Exodus 14:20)
  • Moses stretched out his rod over the sea, as God had previously told him to do (Exodus 14:16), and the Lord caused a strong easterly wind to start blowing. The strong wind blew all night long, and the end result was that the waters of the Red Sea were walled up on both sides thus creating a path of dry land right through the middle. (Exodus 14:21)
  • The Israelites marched into the path and walked it completely through the Red Sea until they reached the opposite shore. (Exodus 14:22)
  • The Angel/cloud allowed the Egyptians, chariots and horsemen alike, to head into the dry path themselves. Once all the Egyptians were inside the Sea, the Angel of the Lord slowed down the Egyptian chariots by causing them to have difficulty with their wheels. (Exodus 14:24-25)
  • When Egypt’s soldiers saw the trouble the chariots were having, they panicked and said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” But it was too late as God told Moses, who was standing on the opposite shore, to stretch out his hand (rod) over the sea again and bring the waters back together so that the sea could reclaim its full depth. (Exodus 14:25-28)
  • The Egyptian army — men, chariots, and horses — was drowned by the crushing waters as those waters fell upon them like awesome waterfalls. As the Israelites stood on the opposite shore, they watched as some of the drowned corpses of the Egyptians started washing up on that shore. (Exodus 14:30-31)

One of the questions that commentators and Bible scholars debate is whether or not Pharaoh himself was part of the drowning in the Red Sea. If you’ve ever seen the famous Cecil B. DeMille movie “The Ten Commandments,” you know that the Pharaoh of that movie survives by remaining on the shore while his troops move into the Red Sea. Some students of the Bible have disputed that part of the movie, but others say that DeMille probably got that part right.

In Exodus 14:28, the Bible says: “Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained” (N.K.J.V.). Notice that the wording there doesn’t specifically name Pharaoh. Furthermore, it also leaves open the possibility that some of Egypt’s army didn’t actually enter into the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites.

Also, the debate about the actual identity of the Pharaoh comes into play here. For example, if the Pharaoh was Amenhotep II, historical records indicate that he did not die by being drowned in the Red Sea. Unfortunately, however, even solid, reputable, conservative scholars aren’t all in agreement on which Pharaoh was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. That’s actually a big part of the whole debate.

Those who believe that Pharaoh did drown in the Red Sea point to Psalm 136:15, which says that God “…overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea” (N.K.J.V.). That verse is basically just a repeating of Exodus 14:27, which says “…So the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.” At first blush Psalm 136:15 might seem to make a slam-dunk case that Pharaoh did drown, but the interpretation isn’t so simple. I say that because the Hebrew word translated as “overthrew” in both Psalm 136:15 and Exodus 14:27 is naar, and that word literally means “shook off.” You see, saying that God “shook off” Pharaoh and his army might equate to Him killing Pharaoh by way of drowning him, but it doesn’t absolutely have to equate to that.

Another passage that gets kicked around in an attempt to answer the question is Exodus 15:19. That verse says in the classic King James version: “For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them…” Many point to the use of that singular word “horse” and say, “That proves that Pharaoh went into the sea and drown there.” Here again, though, the interpretation isn’t so simple. This time the problem is that all the modern translations, including the New King James, use the plural word “horses” rather than the singular word “horse.” The plural, of course, opens the door for a completely different conclusion.

But that’s enough of all that. Regardless of whether or not Pharaoh himself drowned in the Red Sea, the question before us right now is: “Can God make a way where there seems to be no way?” And the answer to that is an emphatic, “YES!!!” Any God who can create a dry path for the Israelites to use to walk through the heart of the Red Sea can certainly create a path of deliverance for you, too. Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself trapped in a situation that seems to hold no way of escape. Just look to God and say, “Lord, right now I feel like the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them. You helped them, so I’m asking you right now to help me.” Pray that prayer in faith, and then don’t be surprised when you start feeling God’s wind upon your face and seeing His path.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Courage, Depression, Disappointment, Doubt, Encouragement, God's Omnipotence, God's Omniscience, God's Provision, God's Sovereignty, Needs, Perseverance, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Restoration, Series: "Questions From Israel's Exodus", Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does God Lead Us Along Routes That Don’t Make Sense?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #10)

God had to use unprecedented plagues, ten of them, to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. At last, however, Pharaoh did relent. The Israelites’ departure from Egypt was sudden and swift, a monumental undertaking that required over two million people to be put on the move literally overnight.

As Pharaoh grieved for his dead firstborn son in the middle of the night, he had Moses and Aaron brought to him. He told them, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also” (Exodus 12:31-32, N.K.J.V.). His request for Moses and Aaron to bless him evidenced just how broken he now was. His fellow Egyptians, for their part, felt the same way. They begged the Israelites to leave in haste for fear that Israel’s God would kill every last Egyptian before He was finished (Exodus 12:33).

The Israelites left but not before they asked the Egyptians to give them clothing, articles of silver, and articles of gold (Exodus 12:35). We might think the Egyptians would have resented such a request, but by that point they were willing to give the Israelites anything to get them to leave (Exodus 12:36). As a matter of fact, this plundering had been a part of God’s plan all along. Even before Moses had returned to Egypt, God had told him not only to have the Israelites make the request but also that the Egyptians would comply with it (Exodus 3:21-22). Just prior to the tenth plague, God had even reaffirmed His word regarding the plundering (Exodus 11:1-2). Going back even further, centuries earlier He had told Abraham that his descendants would be afflicted in a foreign land for 400 years and afterward come out with great possessions (Genesis 15:12-14).

And so the Israelites marched out of Egypt. There were approximately 600,000 adult men, which commentators reckon as over two million people when wives and children are added to the total (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 1:44-46)). A “mixed multitude” left with the Israelites as well (Exodus 12:38). These were people from other races, perhaps even some Egyptians, who chose to align themselves with Israel rather Egypt.

And how did God lead the Israelites as they made their way each day and night? The Bible says He went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Wherever the pillar went, they followed. When it stopped, they stopped. The strange thing, though, about that whole process is that God did not lead the Israelites along the most logical route, the route any ancient g.p.s. system would have told them to take to get from Egypt to Canaan. That logical route would have taken them northeastward out of Egypt and up along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Okay, so why didn’t God lead them via that route? He didn’t because from His perspective there was a serious problem with the route. You see, since the Philistines controlled the territory beyond Egypt’s northern boundary and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Israelites would have eventually encountered them had they attempted to enter Canaan that way. As the story tells us, God didn’t want those Israelites, who had been slaves their entire lives and knew nothing about warfare, to encounter the Philistines, get scared, and decide to go back to Egypt (Exodus 13:17).

So, rather than lead them along that route, God led them by way of the wilderness that surrounded the Red Sea. That meant that they traveled a long distance south, in the opposite direction of Canaan, before they ever started traveling north again. As we will learn in the next post, God had another reason for having the Israelites travel this route. For now, though, let’s just employ this part of the story to learn the lesson that God doesn’t always lead us in ways that make sense.

Actually, what I should say is that He doesn’t always lead us in ways that make sense to us. From His perspective, of course, He always has His reasons for what He does. We might not know why He is having us take some path, but He knows why He is doing it. We might not see the logic of His will, but He does. I’m sure the Israelites didn’t understood why He was leading them along a route that took them further away from Canaan, but that didn’t mean that it was a wrong route. Truth be told, God was doing them a favor. He knew their weaknesses better than they did, and He led them along a route that kept those weaknesses from being exposed.

Please think back upon this story, Christian, the next time God leads you along a route that makes no sense to you. You are free to ask Him why He is doing what He is doing, but I can tell you from personal experience that He might not give you an answer that suits you. During such times the best you can do is boil everything down to the simple obedience of following the pillar. No, you won’t see a literal pillar in the sky like the Israelites did, but because you are a Christian, you have one major blessing they didn’t have. You have God the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you, and He is that still, small voice that tells you, “This is the way, walk in it” even when that way honestly doesn’t make much sense to you.

Posted in Adversity, Choices, Commitment, Courage, Decisions, Doubt, Dying To Self, Faith, God's Will, Leadership, Obedience, Series: "Questions From Israel's Exodus", Service, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Will God Make You Do His Will?

(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #9)

God reigns as sovereign over all His creation. However, He does not exercise His sovereignty in a way that forces people to do what He wants them to do. Instead, He wants people to voluntarily do as He wishes. Unfortunately, this emphasis on volunteers as opposed to draftees or robots keeps the door flung wide open for rebellion on the part of individuals. The examples of such rebellion started with Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden and have continued to pile up over the eons of history.

One famous rebel was the Pharaoh of the Exodus story. When Moses and Aaron first approached him and requested that he allow the Israelites to journey three days into the desert in order to have a time of offering sacrifices to God, he balked (Exodus 5:1-5). More than balk, he got downright ugly and severely punished the entire Israelite nation by adding the gathering of straw to their brick-making work (Exodus 5:6-19). What he didn’t know was that his boxing match with God was just beginning, and he was infinitely overmatched.

For round 2 God sent Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh, and this time He instructed them to do a miracle in His name. He said to Moses, “When Pharaoh asks you to perform a miracle to authenticate yourselves, you tell Aaron to throw down his rod in front of Pharaoh. When He does, it will become a serpent (Exodus 7:8-9).”

Everything went as scheduled and Aaron’s rod did become a serpent (Exodus 7:10), but the miracle didn’t have the desired effect upon Pharaoh. Rather than be impressed, he called in Egypt’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians and to a man they all threw down their rods and somehow matched the miracle (Exodus 7:11-12). Since the Bible offers no indication that these men did this through some kind of deception or chicanery, evidently they did it through the occultic power of Satan. Even when Aaron’s serpent swallowed up all the other serpents Pharaoh didn’t waver in his defiance against God (Exodus 7:12). To the contrary, his heart grew even more hardened (Exodus 7:13).

It was at this point in the story that God began working through Moses and Aaron to inflict Egypt with a series of plagues, ten in all. We might classify each plague as another round between Pharaoh and God. Here is the list of those plagues:

  • Plague #1: God turned all the waters of Egypt into blood, and this caused all the fish to die. Interestingly, Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians were able to match this miracle to some degree. (Exodus 7:14-25)
  • Plague #2: God drove frogs up from the Nile river and the frogs covered the entire land of Egypt. Again Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians were able to match this miracle to some degree. Also, in the midst of this plague, Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go and have their time of sacrificing if Moses would pray to God and get Him to take away the frogs. Moses did so, but once the frogs were dead and disposed of Pharaoh reneged on the deal. (Exodus 8:1-15)
  • Plague #3: God caused the dust of the land to become lice that afflicted not only the Egyptians but also their livestock. Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians attempted to duplicate this miracle but were unable to do so. (Exodus 8:16-19)
  • Plague #4: God sent thick swarms of flies to inundate the entire land of Egypt except for the region of Goshen where the Israelites lived. In the midst of this plague, Pharaoh offered to let the Israelites have their time of sacrificing if they would agree to remain in Egypt to do it. Moses refused the offer, and so Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go three days into the desert to do the sacrificing if Moses would get God to take away the flies. Again, though, once Moses had done so, Pharaoh reneged on the deal. (Exodus 8:20-32)
  • Plague #5: God struck Egypt’s livestock with a severe pestilence that caused each animal to die. The only animals that weren’t struck with the pestilence were the Israelites’ animals. (Exodus 9:1-7)
  • Plague #6: God caused boils to break out on the bodies of Egypt’s people and non-livestock animals. Even Pharaoh’s wise men/sorcerers/magicians became utterly afflicted with the boils. (Exodus 9:8-12)
  • Plague #7: God rained intense hail (mingled with fire) upon Egypt. The hail fell upon everyone and everything and damaged Egypt’s trees and crops. The only place the hail didn’t fall was in Goshen, the region where the Israelites lived. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in the midst of the storm and begged them to ask God to make it stop. He said, “If you will do this I will let the Israelites go.” As was the pattern, though, Pharaoh reneged on the deal once Moses had prayed and God had made the hail stop. (Exodus 9:13-35)
  • Plague #8: God brought incredible swarms of locusts down upon Egypt. The locusts filled the houses of the Egyptians, got in the peoples’ eyes, and ate all the remaining crops and vegetation of the land. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and begged them to get God to take away the locusts. God did take away the locusts, but Pharaoh still didn’t release the Israelites. (Exodus 10:1-20)
  • Plague #9: God settled an eerie darkness upon Egypt. The darkness lasted for three days, and the Bible says it was so thick that it could actually be felt. The only light in the entire land could be found in the dwellings of the Israelites. Pharaoh’s offer to Moses this time was: “Your people and their families can go and serve the Lord, but you must leave behind your flocks and herds.” Moses’ answer was, “No, we must also take our flocks and herds in order to be able to offer up the sacrifices and have livestock when we get to the place where God is taking us.” Pharaoh’s response to that was to become furious and tell Moses that if he ever saw him again he would kill him. To that Moses said, “You have spoken well. I will never see your face again.” (Exodus 10:21-29)
  • Plague #10: During one fateful night God struck dead all the firstborns in Egypt. The deaths even extended to the firstborns of the remaining livestock. The only firstborns who didn’t die were those of the Israelites and even they had to be safely protected behind homes upon which the shed blood of slain lambs was smeared over the doorframes. Pharaoh’s firstborn son died that night, and in the aftermath Pharaoh agreed to completely release the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. (Exodus 11:1-10; 12:1-30)

The takeaway for us from these ten plagues is that even though God won’t force you to do His will, He will certainly make your life miserable enough to make you agreeable to doing it. While the circumstances in Pharaoh’s life never did cause him to see the light and get saved, they did get him to finally relent and do what God wanted him to do. I guess that’s about as much obedience as God ever gets from a lost person, but He should, of course, get a whole lot more from us Christians. And what happens when He doesn’t get it? Well, that’s when He has to send some bad things our way to get us to relent. It took no less than ten utter catastrophes to get Pharaoh to finally yield. I wonder, how many will it take for us?

Posted in Disobedience, God's Chastening, God's Wrath, God's Judgment, God's Will, Obedience, Rebellion, Submission | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment