Independence Day


On July 4, 1776 our forefathers published a document that they called a Declaration of Independence.  It represented the collective dreams and aspirations of a loosely confederated group of English colonies stretched along the eastern seaboard of North America.  The signatories of this document could not have envisioned how great this new nation would one day become.  In fact, at the time it was signed there was considerable doubt if this new nation would indeed become independent of Great Britain.

Independence is an idea that is almost revered in our country.  As a child grows up he is taught to be independent, that is, to learn how to subsist on his own and to care for himself in every aspect of life.  Those who refuse to do so are typically looked down upon with scorn for their refusal.  Those who are physically or mentally unable to be independent are looked upon with genuine pity.  Generally speaking, we want to be independent, especially with regard to the decisions we make about our lives.

This spirit of independence pervades virtually every area of our thinking, including our spiritual pursuits.  We sometimes hear professed believers refer to themselves as “free men and women in Christ.”  Typically, this  declaration is made as a justification for proposed changes to the faith and practice of the church.  Such men and women use this statement to declare their independence from spiritual leaders who do not share their views on some matter of faith.  Interestingly, the phrase “free men and women in Christ” appears nowhere in scripture.  This omission is significant.

The closest reference to such an idea is found in Gal. 5:1, where Paul said, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free”.  If this is where the idea of “free men and women in Christ” originates, it is interesting to see that in the context Paul was not talking about the kind of freedom that many assert today.  He was instead speaking of freedom from the slavery of the Mosaic Law.  The Christians of Galatia were not subject to that law, and no one could make them subject to it without severing them from Christ (Gal. 5:4).

When we consider the biblical concept of freedom in Christ, we discover that it is freedom from slavery to sin.  Paul spoke of this in Rom. 6:16-18.  He said that we are slaves of the one we obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.  He also said that when the Romans had become obedient from the heart to the gospel, they then became freed from slavery to sin.  They did not, however, become free and independent of any moral or spiritual constraints.

In v. 22 Paul said, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”  Here is the fundamental truth of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ.  All Christians are slaves God.  They are also slaves of Christ (Eph. 6:6) and slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:18).  They are, therefore, bound to the dictates of their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.  The bottom line is that we are not “free men and women in Christ” as some use this phrase today.  Instead, our freedom is a very specific thing.

Those who are Christians have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13).  We have been set free from the power of the evil one.  Our independence day is the day we obeyed the gospel.  This is the day we were set free from the consequences of our sins.  This is the independence that we should celebrate and honor each day, even as we daily bow the knee as slaves to the Lord of lords and King of kings.

The Ripple Effect



When a round object is dropped into a pool of water, a fascinating effect occurs.  As the water which is displaced by the object returns to its former place it pushes mini waves across the surface of the water.  These waves spread out from the point of impact in ever-growing circles to the farthest reaches of that body of water.  We call these waves ripples, and we call the cumulative process the ripple effect.

One of the realities of a physical ripple effect is that we cannot always tell what the full effect of those ripples will be.  In a large body of water the ripples may disappear from sight before they reach the opposite shoreline.  The tsunamis of 2004 are the most horrible example of this fact.  The earthquake which spawned these tsunamis occurred near the island of Sumatra, but the tsunamis traveled nearly 3,000 miles to the west, bringing death and destruction with them all the way.

This same truth is evident in spiritual matters.  The ripple effect caused by certain spiritual decisions generally spreads far beyond the ability of anyone to foresee.  This was the case when Jeroboam the son of Nebat erected idols in Dan and in Bethel to keep the northern tribes from worshiping God at the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kgs. 12:25-33).  The ripple effect of this action was that the nation of Israel became more and more wicked in each generation.  Finally, after nearly 200 years of this rebellion, God brought His wrath upon Israel in the form of the Assyrians, who carried the ten tribes into captivity.

Although Jeroboam did not live to see the destruction of his nation, the guilt for what happened to Israel is laid squarely upon him.  In more than a dozen instances in the history of Israel, the wicked kings of that nation were said to have continued in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat (2 Kgs. 3:3, et al).  The ripple effect of Jeroboam’s sin was that it condemned future generations of his people because he led them away from God.

This is a lesson that should make us stop and think about the actions we take each day.  We may think that what we are contemplating is just a small thing.  We may think it will only affect ourselves, but we would be wrong to think so.  It may seem a small thing to choose to be absent from the assembly when we could otherwise be present, but can we foresee the ripples that action will create?  It may seem a personal thing to indulge in some questionable activity, but can we foresee what the end result of that action will be?  The truth is that we cannot foresee these things.  We cannot tell what effects our sinful actions may cause.

The same can be said for the good we may do.  When the Lord commissioned His apostles to take the gospel to the whole world, He said it would start in Jerusalem, spread through Judea and Samaria, and finally reach the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).  The ripple effect of the gospel being dropped into Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection is still being felt today as Christians preach the good news all over the world.

Therefore, we should give careful consideration to every decision we make.  We should take the time to consider what the ripple effect will be, and what the spiritual outcome may be for ourselves and for others who look to us for an example.  Let us not be like Jeroboam the son of Nebat, whose ripple effect caused the destruction of a nation.  Instead, let us always make wise and godly decisions in our lives so the ripples our actions create will be ripples of good that will lead others to eternal life.

Fathers Like Job



Many years ago, I came across a short poem that every father should take to heart.  It is entitled, “A Little Fellow Follows Me.”  The words of the poem are:

A careful man I want to be, a little fellow follows me.

I do not dare to go astray, for fear he’ll go the selfsame way.

I cannot once escape his eyes, whate’er he sees me do, he tries.

Like me he says he’s going to be, the little fellow who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine, believes in every word of mine.

The base in me he must not see, the little fellow who follows me.

I must remember as I go, through summer’s sun and winter’s snow,

I am building for the years that be, for that little chap who follows me.

The unknown author of these words understood and appreciated the nature of how we teach our children, especially in the case of fathers and sons.  His words should strike deep within our hearts so we will consider the things we do each day.  While we may not give a second thought to many of the things we do, our children and grandchildren are watching and taking note of it all.  We may tell them not to do as we do, but deep down inside we know that our words are useless in this regard.  Our children idolize us as fathers, and even if they do not like certain aspects of our character, they will very likely copy them as they grow to maturity.  This thought should sober us all.

As fathers we have an awesome responsibility, even if our only interest were in worldly matters.  It takes wisdom and tenacity to raise children to be good citizens and hard-working contributors to the good of society.  If it were easy, there would be no slackers in the world.  But the responsibility, and the challenge, is even greater when we take a spiritual perspective on life.  When we think spiritually, we are not just preparing our children for life.  We are, in fact, preparing them for eternity.

What we need today are more fathers like the patriarch Job.  Of all the earthly fathers mentioned in scripture, he is perhaps the greatest, and the reasons are pretty clear.  In Job 1:1 the scripture says that Job was “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil”.  In v. 8 God Himself testified to this truth.  So as a father, Job gave his children the best possible example of what it means to be a godly man.

Secondly, Job was conscientious about his children’s conduct, and led them in proper devotion to God.  In Job 1:5 the scripture says that after Job’s children had completed their days of feasting, he would offer burnt offerings for them before God, in case one of them had sinned against God in some way.  The scripture says, “Thus Job did continually.”  So not only did Job’s children see the godly conduct of their father, they also saw, and were led by him, in continual expressions of worship to God.

Third, when Job was mercilessly attacked by Satan, and suffered many afflictions by his hand, the scripture says that in all of this, “Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22).  Job’s first children did not live to see this example, but his later children were surely aware of it.  In these ways Job presented the best possible human example of what a father should be.

Let all of us who are fathers do our best each day to be like the patriarch Job.  Let us strive to be blameless and upright before God, so our children will see the best possible example in our lives.  Let us also continually lead our children in devotion to God so they will see what it means to properly love and honor Him.

How Long, O Lord?



In the book of Revelation when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, John saw the souls of the martyrs underneath the altar in the throne room of God.  In Rev. 6:10 the scripture says, “And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'”  This plea for God to execute His judgment on the wicked may surprise some of us.  It may even offend some.  God, however, did not condemn this plea.  Instead, He comforted these martyrs and told them that they must rest a while longer until the number of martyrs would be completed (v. 11).  The implication is that God will at some point do as these martyrs requested.

The sentiment of the martyrs in Rev. 6 was primarily the result of the persecution Christians were then suffering at the hands of the Roman Empire.  For many generations, especially here in the United States, the idea of persecution and a resultant plea for God to execute judgment on the wicked were only theoretical exercises.  We have lived in relative peace and security as believers because our system of government recognized the value of the Christian religion and generally avoided any intrusion into the exercise of our faith.  That time appears to be over.  Not only are Christians under assault from the generally recognized forces of evil, but we are now also beginning to see overt persecution from our government.  As these things accelerate, we worry about what will ultimately befall us.

Some Christians remain aloof and seemingly unconcerned about the current state of affairs in our country.  There is no adequate explanation for such blindness.  As surprising as this is, however, there are other professed believers who seem to be aiding and abetting the enemy in this struggle.  They do so by accepting the notion that certain kinds of behavior no longer fall under condemnation as sin.  They do so also by supporting and endorsing candidates for public office whose stated agendas are contrary to biblical truth.  They seem oblivious to the fact that they are by their actions letting the wolf into the sheepfold.

On the other hand, faithful Christians recognize the dangers that we face today from ungodly influences.  Like the martyrs in Rev. 6, they cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Faithful Christians wonder how long God will allow the world to further debase itself.  When they view the situation in the world today, they can see that we must be as close as any previous generation has been to the conditions that prompted the great flood of Noah’s day.  In Gen. 6:5 the scripture says that at that time every intent of the thoughts of mankind were only evil continually.  This certainly seems to be the case today.

The sentiment of Rev. 6 is understandable.  Christians are salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:13-16).  Their desire, like that of their Father in heaven, is that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).  They want only to live in peace and to influence as many as possible for good.  The actions of the wicked in every segment of society make these goals more difficult to attain, and so we wonder how long the Lord will wait to make things right.

Even so, Christians have a hope that no others possess.  We are promised that the suffering of life will not compare to the glory of heaven (Rom. 8:18).  We are promised that when we enter heaven God will wipe away all tears (Rev. 21:4).  We are also promised that the wicked will not go unpunished (2 Th. 1:7-8).  Therefore, like the martyrs in Rev. 6, we must remain faithful and wait a while longer for God to make things right.  And we know that He will.

Will He Delay Long Over Them?



In Lk. 18:1-8 the Lord told a parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (v. 1).  The crux of the parable is that a widow persisted in bringing her petition before the judge in her city.  This judge, the Lord said, “did not fear God and did not respect man” (v. 2).  Initially the judge was unwilling to act on behalf of the widow, but she continued to come before him anyway.  Finally the judge gave in to her and settled her case in her favor.

In vs. 6-8 Luke recorded the point of this parable.  He wrote, “And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring abut justice for them quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'”

The lesson for disciples to understand from this parable is that God does not have to be nagged in order to act on behalf of His people.  He will, in fact, bring about justice for His people, and He will not delay His response to their prayers.  Our God is not like the unrighteous judge.  He is already inclined in our favor because we have been purchased by the blood of His one and only Son.  His desire is to respond favorably to our petitions, so long as those requests are in accordance with His revealed will.

This truth should be of great comfort to Christians.  As we struggle with the many challenges of life, we are not left without recourse by our God.  He stands ready to act on our behalf, if we will only bring our needs before Him in prayer.  Unlike the gods of the pagans, or the unrighteous judge in the parable, our God does not have to be goaded into answering our prayers.  All we have to do is to ask in faith, nothing doubting.  This is what James said in Jas. 1:5-8.  In context James was speaking about asking for wisdom from God, but the principle still stands.  If we expect God to answer our prayers, we must ask in faith.

This is a principle that the Lord alluded to in the parable in Lk. 18.  In v. 8 as the Lord declared that God would bring justice quickly for His people, He asked, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  His question points us squarely to the matter of faith.  As we make our requests to the Lord in prayer, we must believe that He will answer our prayers and grant them.  For the Lord to wonder if He would find faith on the earth at His return suggests that we need to give this more attention than perhaps we have previously done.

There is another aspect of this parable that is interesting, and which bears upon the question of prayer.  In v. 7 the Lord said that God would bring justice for His elect “who cry to Him day and night”.  This phrase suggests that the prayers of the elect will be offered continually until an answer is received from the Lord.  While we do not have to nag God in order to get a response from Him, it is clear that He expects us to repeatedly offer our petitions to Him.  This repetitive asking demonstrates our dependence upon Him, and also indicates our faith in Him.  Too often we pray about something once or twice and give up on it.  Then we wonder why our request was denied.

If we truly have faith in God, we will pray continually until our petitions are answered.  We will pray in confidence that God will answer in the way that is best for us, and in confidence that He will not delay long over our requests.