While The Earth Remains

 

Since 1970 April 22nd has been officially recognized as “Earth Day”.  The impetus for this ongoing event was a catastrophic oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA in 1969.  Each year on this date environmentalists gather in nearly 200 nations around the world to draw attention to their concerns.  Two factors tend to characterize these events.  The first is the implication that the world would be a better place without humans on it.  The second is the notable absence of any reference to God.  Instead, proponents refer to “Mother Earth” in terms that deify the planet.  The stated goal of these events is to save the earth.  While no honest person would argue against being responsible in the use of the resources on our planet, the greater danger is in removing the God who created this planet from any consideration in this matter.

The scriptures are explicit in their discussion of the purpose of the earth.  The origin and purpose of the earth are described in Gen. 1.  God systematically created the earth and filled it with everything necessary for mankind to live upon it.  In Gen. 1:26-30 the scriptures tell us that God created mankind and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  He also told them to subdue the earth and to rule over the animals.  At that time God gave both man and animals every green plant for food (vs. 29-30).  Later, after the flood, He again told mankind to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen. 8:15-17), and then He gave all the animals to man for food (Gen. 9:1-4).

Before He did so, however, God said something about the earth.  In Gen. 8:22 He said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”  The covenant of the rainbow (Gen. 9:8-17) reassured Noah that God would never again destroy the earth with water, as He had just done.  This statement reassured him, and us, that the earth will continue to provide for all mankind’s needs so long as God allows it to remain.  In other words, mankind cannot exhaust the resources that God has placed on the earth.  There will always be enough resources to sustain life until God decides to destroy the earth.

Environmentalists are trying to save the earth, as though it will last forever and there is nothing beyond life on this planet.  The scriptures, however, are clear that the earth is not intended to last forever.  In 2 Pet. 3:10-13 Peter said that the elements will be destroyed with intense heat when the day of the Lord arrives.  This will not be the result of a man-made nuclear holocaust or some environmental doomsday.  Instead, it will be the result of the word of God (2 Pet. 3:7).  The destruction of the earth and universe will be the prelude to the final judgment of all mankind.

While we should all be responsible in our care of the environment in which we live, our greater concern should be to prepare ourselves for eternal life.  When the day of the Lord comes, and with it the destruction of the physical realm, the Son of God will come with His mighty angels in flaming fire to deal out retribution to all who do not know God and who have not obeyed the gospel (2 Th. 1:7-8).  At that time the saved will be ushered into the new heavens and new earth to which Peter referred in 2 Pet. 3:13.  This is the place to which our Lord has gone, and in which He is preparing dwelling places for the redeemed (Jn. 14:1-3).

In the meantime, let us make the most of the abundant resources of our earthly home without being wasteful or irresponsible.  Let us also be grateful to God for this beautiful place in which we live, knowing that while it remains the earth will sustain all who live here, just as God planned from before the beginning of time.

All, Some, or None?

 

There is a song that at one time was frequently sung in our worship assemblies, but has recently fallen into disuse.  The song is entitled, “None of Self and All of Thee”.  This song is one in which all stanzas should be sung because of the story it tells.  It is the story of one who stands defiantly before the Lord, seeking his own way.  He proudly proclaims, “All of self and none of Thee”.  As the song progresses, however, his demeanor softens to “Some of self and some of Thee” and, “Less of self and more of Thee”.  In the final stanza the change is completed, and he humbly says, “None of self and all of Thee”.

One can only speculate why this song is no longer popular.  It could be that many modern worshipers prefer the catchy tunes, made up of simple, repetitive phrases, that are so common today.  However, it could also be that this song rings too true to real life for comfort.  It is easier, after all, to sing upbeat praises about the love and grace of God than to admonish ourselves about the struggle to be faithful disciples.  It is more pleasant to sing “happy” songs than to sing songs that remind us of the practicalities of putting God first in our lives.

There is a place in our worship for songs that convey every facet of our relationship to God, but we must not neglect those that call us to diligent service.  When the Lord was asked what the greatest commandment was, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37).  This was not one of the Ten Commandments, but is a foundational principle that Moses taught the people of Israel as he led them toward the promised land (Deut. 6:5).

Nearly everyone will profess that they love God, but too often this profession means little more than an affection for Him.  When Moses commanded Israel to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, he defined it with a series of commands regarding their personal and daily devotion to Him (Deut. 6:6-9).  They were to make God’s word the central feature of everything they did each day.  Although the Lord did not go into the kind of detail that Moses did, He had the same principle in mind.  Loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind means putting Him first in everything we do.

In practical terms, this is about how we use our time each day.  As we allocate our time, do we fill it with God’s things, or do we fill it with our things?  Personal Bible study and meditation on God’s word, prayer, worship, fellowship with other Christians, and sharing the good news are all things that demonstrate that we are putting God first in our lives.  Doing these things does not detract from our physical responsibilities, but enhances our performance of these things.  When we commit to a “none of self and all of thee” perspective, the Lord will bless our efforts in ways that the less committed will never enjoy.

Our Lord said that loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind is the greatest commandment.  For this reason, we must make this our primary goal in life.  To do so we must commit to the “none of self and all of thee” principle.  Doing so requires the faith to trust in the Lord’s promise that He will take care of those who seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33).  How blessed our lives would be, and how much better the world would be, if each of us made this commitment!  Then our lives, as well as our lips, would truthfully and joyously declare, “Higher than the highest heavens, deeper than the deepest sea, Lord, Thy love at last has conquered, None of self and all of Thee”.

He Has Done All Things Well

 

When I was a boy my mother would sometimes take me to visit an elderly lady for whom she had worked many years before.  This lady was very religious and had a favorite statement about the Lord that she often inserted into her conversations.  She would say, “Always trust in the Lord, who doeth all things well.”  As a young boy I lacked sufficient knowledge of the scriptures to know the source of this statement.  Only many years later did I discover that the heart of her statement was completely biblical.

In Mk. 7:31-37 Mark records an incident in which the people in the region of Decapolis brought to the Lord a man who was deaf and spoke with difficulty.  The Lord put His fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue.  He then commanded his ears to be opened.  The man’s hearing and ability to speak were immediately restored and the crowd reacted in amazement.  In v. 37 the scripture says, “They were utterly astonished, saying, ‘He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.'”

We should not be amazed that the Lord did all things well.  In fact, we should be grateful that He did, and still does, all things well, because we depend upon Him to do so.  In Lk. 19:10 the Lord said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  In 1 Tim. 2:5-6 Paul said, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”  In Heb. 7:25 the scripture says, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”  Where would we be if the Lord did not do these things well?  We thank God that He does indeed do all things well.

This being true, it places a level of responsibility on those who are the beneficiaries of His well-done work that we may sometimes overlook.  In the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30), the master gave each slave responsibility equal to that slave’s ability.  Two of them did their work well.  One turned five talents into ten, and the other turned two talents into four.  They were praised by their master and rewarded by being welcomed into the joy of their master.

The one-talent slave, however, did not even try to do his job, much less to do it well.  When he returned his master’s money he was condemned for being a wicked, lazy slave.  Too late he discovered that even a small amount of effort on his part would have satisfied his master.  Because he did not do his job well, he was cast into the outer darkness.

We who are Christians are slaves, like the men in the parable.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is our master.  He has given us responsibilities to fulfill in His service based upon our abilities.  Like the master in the parable, He expects us to do all things well.  He expects this of us, because He was also a slave to His Father’s will.  He humbled Himself to do the Father’s will, and He did all things well.  Therefore, we must do the same.

However, doing all things well has nothing to do with human standards of success or failure.  In the Lord’s service, as in the parable of the talents, doing well simply means to expend the energy necessary to demonstrate respect for what our master has entrusted to us.  When we make our master’s will the primary concern in our lives, we are doing well.  When we devote ourselves to serve in His kingdom, we are doing well.  We will not all have the same results, but if we each do our best, we will have done well, and we will be welcomed into the joy of our master at the end of time.

An Empty Tomb

 

The reality of death is inescapable.  From the moment we are born we begin to die, and death comes all too quickly no matter how long one lives.  Every one of us has lost, or will lose, someone dear to us, and every one of us will one day suffer death.  In cemeteries all over the world the living pay tribute to and remember those who have passed on.  Death is the great equalizer because the rich and famous, the powerful and prominent, lie alongside the poor and unknown, the weak and insignificant.

On the outside graves can be very different.  Some are very simple, others are ornate and ostentatious.  Some lie in poorly maintained grounds that seem as forgotten as the dead interred there.  Others lie in carefully tended, garden-like surroundings.  Yet, from one end of the spectrum to the other, all graves are the same on the inside.  They all contain the mortal remains of someone who once lived on the earth.  All except one, that is.

That grave is the one we read about in the gospels.  It is the tomb into which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus placed the body of Jesus after He died on the cross.  In Jn. 19:38-42 the scripture says they wrapped the Lord’s body in strips of cloth according to the burial custom of the Jews.  They then placed the body in a tomb in which no one had ever been laid.  These were the same actions that would have been done for anyone who died in this era.

Mt. 27:62-66 tells us that the leaders of the Jews persuaded the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to place a guard at the tomb, and to seal it with his seal.  This was to ensure that no one could steal the body and claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  On the first day of the week, however, Jesus came forth from the tomb, just as He had promised He would.  In Mt. 28:1-7 the scripture says an earthquake occurred, an angel of God rolled away the stone covering the tomb entrance, and the Roman guards became like dead men.  Jesus left the tomb, and when Peter and John looked inside a little while later, they saw the grave cloths lying where the body had been (Jn. 20:1-10).

Jesus was alive, never to die again (Rom. 6:9), and this was the message the apostles proclaimed on the first Pentecost after His resurrection.  As they apostles preached that day they declared that God had raised Jesus from the dead and asserted that they were all eyewitnesses of this truth (Acts 2:32).  This proclamation could have been thwarted that very day by producing the dead body of Jesus.  Yet, the leaders of the Jews did not do so, because they knew the truth.  His body was not in the tomb!

Someone once said that the Christian faith stands or falls with the resurrection.  As Paul told the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).  He then said, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).  Our faith in the Lord stands because Christ was raised from the dead, never to die again.  Because He lives, we believe that we, too, will live again after death.

We have hope for eternal life in the place being prepared in the Father’s house (Jn. 14:1-3).  We have this hope because of the greatest event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We have hope to live for Him in preparation for eternity because He rose the third day after His crucifixion.  We commemorate His death, but we do not mourn Him.  Instead, we rejoice, because we have an empty tomb!

Shoulders or Sink Holes?

 

A common desire among most parents is for their children to have a better life than they did.  This is especially true of those who grew up in poor or modest circumstances but is not limited to them.  Part of the strength of western civilization is the expectation of progress.  We believe that through hard work and diligence society will be elevated from one generation to the next.  The imagery of this upward climb is often characterized as standing on the shoulders of those who went before us.

However, not everyone works hard or diligently.  Some drift through life with little ambition and with little or no success for the next generation to build upon.  This attitude provides nothing for the next generation to stand upon, and worse yet, may undermine their efforts.  The imagery that comes to mind in such a case is a sinkhole.  With no foundation to build upon, the likelihood of progress or success is diminished.

These alternatives are significant in our physical existence, but are even more important in our spiritual pursuits.  God’s plan from the beginning has been that each generation be a stepping stone for the next.  His plan is succinctly stated in Deut. 6:4-9.  Here Moses said, “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord is One!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

This is shoulder building/shoulder standing in God’s matchless wisdom.  Each generation must love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, and might.  Loving God in this manner means learning His will and obeying all His commands.  When one generation does this, it builds the foundation upon which the next generation can stand and build.  This is the first part of the plan.

The second part of the plan is to diligently teach God’s will to the next generation.  Doing this instills the proper respect for Almighty God in that generation and equips them to build upon what their ancestors have accomplished.  When done as God intends, each generation moves closer and closer to God and farther away from anything that would deter this progress.

Each of us must choose to obey these commands or to ignore them.  However, the consequences of our choices are not just personal.  The consequences can stretch far into the future and affect descendants yet unborn.  One who forsakes faith in the Lord puts his soul in jeopardy, but in so doing robs his children and grandchildren of the opportunity to build their own faith.  Instead of giving them shoulders to stand upon so they can grow closer to God, he leaves them in a sinkhole that could lead them to the abyss at judgment.

Therefore, we must seriously consider God’s plan as we go about our lives.  Paul exhorts us to not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap (Gal. 6:9).  He also exhorts us to fight the good fight, finish the course, and to keep the faith so we will receive the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8).  We must do so for our own spiritual good, but we must do so, also, for the good of the generations that follow us.  If we truly love our offspring, we must build shoulders they can stand on, so they will have the best opportunity for eternal life.