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.

Being Church or Doing Church?

 

According to the scriptures, the church came into existence on the first day of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:1-41).  The church grew and spread across the globe as first the apostles and then ordinary Christians proclaimed the good news wherever they went.  Over the course of several centuries the church began to change as more and more human ideas took root within it.  In time it was so far removed from its first century antecedent that sincere men sought to reform it.  Their efforts, though noble and well-intended, did not result in a return to the first century model.

The protestant denominations which arose from these efforts, while closer to the first century model, were still marked by more human ideas than the original church.  In the early 1800s in America a renewed effort began whose stated goal was to restore first century Christianity.  The focus was on doing Bible things in Bible ways, and calling Bible things by Bible names.  Their motto was, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”  This mantra sought to complete the work the reformers of the 1500s had begun by going back to the biblical model alone as a guide for what the church should believe and practice.

Now in the second decade of the new millennium, it appears that this noble effort, like the reformation before it, has begun to drift on the tide of human opinion and desires.  There are perhaps many manifestations of this drift, but a significant element in it is the way we “do” church.  A drive through any major city reveals countless multi-million-dollar church facilities.  Large, beautiful buildings replete with every creature comfort are the norm.  Amenities, including family-life centers, day-care facilities, and K-12 schools are commonplace.  Recovery programs and other social services, conducted by credentialed or licensed staff, are more and more frequently offered.  Worship assemblies are multi-media events, even if not accompanied by a worship band or praise team.  In short, many churches are doing everything they can to appeal to every conceivable human interest.  The question, however, is if this is what the Lord meant the church to be.

When we examine the New Testament, we find none of the things that seem so necessary today.  First century churches did not own property or buildings.  They met in rented rooms or in homes.  Their worship was simple and focused on commemorating the Lord’s death each Lord’s day by the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  The sang, prayed, read scripture, and exhorted each other to walk in the light.  Each Christian understood that he or she bore responsibility for the overall welfare of the church, as passages such as Eph. 4:11-16 instruct.  They saw their primary task as proclaiming the gospel to the lost, and encouraging each other to remain faithful.  They often did this daily and from house to house (Acts 2:46-47).

Too many churches today are consumed with keeping up with the amenities offered by their religious neighbors.  They fret over the money needed to equip themselves to do church like everyone around them, and consequently run the risk of not being the church the Lord meant them to be.  Members and leaders alike fall into a check-list mentality that seems to equate facilities, amenities, and programs with being the Lord’s church.

Is it wrong to have a comfortable building in which to meet, or to show concern for the issues so many face today?  No, but when so much of our attention is focused on these things, and the money it takes to maintain them, we have lost sight of our true mission.  We have become so busy doing church that we have ceased being the church.  Perhaps it is time, once again, for a call to restore simple New Testament Christianity.

That They May All Be One

 

On the night of His betrayal, the Lord observed the Passover with His twelve apostles.  Each of the four gospels refers to the events of that evening, but John gives us the most complete account of what transpired between the Lord and these chosen men.  No other gospel account contains this information.  In John 13-16 we have a detailed record of the Lord washing the apostles’ feet, dismissing Judas to complete his treachery, and His final instructions and exhortations to the eleven remaining men.  Then, in chapter 17 John recorded the words of the Lord’s prayer which concluded their time together in the upper room.

Near the end of this prayer the Lord said, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21).  This plea for the unity of all believers has long been a rallying point in churches that identify with the Christian faith.  However, like so many things the Lord said, this plea has been used in ways the Lord never intended.

For example, many who call for the unity of all believers, do so based on emphasizing the areas of agreement among the various churches, while de-emphasizing areas of disagreement.  The net effect is that areas of disagreement are rendered unimportant.  In this way churches with differing doctrinal beliefs can still claim unity with their religious neighbors.  From a human perspective this seems to make perfect sense.  Unfortunately, it entirely misses the point of what the Lord said.

In the context of Jn. 17 the Lord’s plea for unity was based upon the unity that exists between Himself and His Father in heaven.  His plea was that His disciples would be one with Himself and the Father, just as He and the Father are with each other.  This is a particular kind of unity that is far different from what many call unity today.  While we may not be able to fully comprehend the unity of the Father and the Son, we can be certain of what it is not.  It is not based upon them emphasizing their areas of agreement, while de-emphasizing their areas of disagreement.  This is because there are no areas of disagreement between the Father and the Son.

In Jn. 12:48 the Lord said that His word will judge at the last day.  However, He went on to say, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what to say and what to speak.  I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (Jn. 12:49-50).  This means that everything the Lord spoke is exactly what the Father told Him to speak.  They are one, because they both speak the same thing.

This fact cannot be overemphasized.  The unity of the Father and the Son is based upon compliance with the Father’s will.  Even as a full-fledged member of the godhead, Jesus did not go His own way.  He bowed to the Father’s wises in everything He did.  If we today wish to experience this unity, we also must comply with the Father’s will.  In Eph. 4:3 Paul exhorted the Christians in Ephesus “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.  The unity of which he spoke is the unity that comes to us when we obey the gospel and the Father adds us to His kingdom.  We preserve this unity by being of the same mind and judgment on matters of faith, as Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:10.  We can only be of the same mind and judgment, however, if we bow to the Father’s will in everything we do.  If we humbly submit to the Father’s will, then we will all be one, just as the Lord prayed.

What Does the Lord Require?

 

As Moses prepared Israel to enter the promised land, he wrote a book called Deuteronomy in which he reviewed their history up to that time.  He also recounted the law that God had delivered to him on Sinai.  Amid the details of this law Moses included a summary statement of what Israel must do to please God.  In Deut. 10:12-13 he said, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?”

As we consider this statement we see that God required four things of His people.  First, He required that they fear Him.  In this case, fear means to revere and to respect.  This is an attitude of submission to higher authority.  If Israel feared God, they would subjugate their will to His will.  Even the Son of God practiced this kind of submission.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “yet, not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  If we fear God today, we will do no less than the Son of God did in this regard.

Second, God required Israel to walk in all His ways and to love Him.  This denotes a way of life that is governed by God’s will.  Walking in God’s ways and loving Him are essentially the same thing.  In the scriptures, to love God means to obey Him.  In Jn. 14:15 the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  Thus, if we love God we will obey Him.  We cannot love God and walk our own way.

Third, God required Israel to serve Him with all their heart and soul.  This is how God separates true disciples from fake ones.  Our Lord made this distinction in many of His confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees.  These men were considered the best keepers of the Law of Moses, but the Lord said their hearts were far from God (Mt. 15:8-9).  They were insincere in their worship and often set aside God’s law in favor of their man-made traditions.  God requires sincere worship, and true disciples will not fail to serve Him with all their heart and soul.

Fourth, God required that Israel keep His commandments and statutes.  In a word, this is obedience, and it is the foundation of being acceptable to God.  In fact, each of the preceding requirements is also based upon obedience.  The bottom line is that God requires all who come to Him to obey Him.  There is no wiggle room in this requirement.  We either obey God, or we don’t.  It is each person’s choice, of course, but God will not suspend His commandments if we choose to ignore them.

The final element of Moses’ statement is crucial.  At the end of Deut. 10:13 Moses said that the things God commanded Israel were for their good.  Later in Deuteronomy Moses spoke in detail of all the good things that would come to Israel if they obeyed God’s law.  He also warned them of the evil that would befall them if they disobeyed.  Knowing that God’s laws were for their good should have motivated them to faithfully keep it.  It should also motivate us to keep God’s will today, for Paul said that godliness holds promise for the present life and for the life to come as well (1 Tim. 4:8).

What the Lord requires of us is not complicated.  It is a simple matter of each of us deciding to put His will first in our lives.  If we do so, good things will come to us in life, and at the end of time we will receive a home in heaven for eternity.  With such a reward in view, it just makes sense to do all the Lord requires.

Courage

 

One of the sad realities of the modern world is that the meaning of certain words has become distorted and thus diluted.  Courage is one of these words.  In the twisted thinking of the politically correct world, a man who decided that he is actually a woman has been touted for having the courage to publicly proclaim that he is now a she.  At the same time, those whose actions demonstrate the true meaning of courage are mocked by the cultural elite.  It is no wonder that so many in our world are so confused.

Courage is defined as, “the attitude or response of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it; fearless or brave, valor, pluck.”  This definition reminds us of words attributed to the late actor John Wayne.  He said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”  We see this attribute every time a fireman goes into a burning building or a police officer responds to a 911 call.  We see it in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, who run to the sound of the guns.

Most of the time these are the images that come to mind when we think of courage, but there are many other examples of this attribute that do not necessarily entail putting oneself in harm’s way.  An unwed mother who chooses to give up her baby for adoption rather than aborting it, shows courage in doing so.  A single parent who works hard to provide for his or her children while also training them to be responsible citizens is another example of courage.  So also, is the Christian who stands up for his or her commitment to the Lord.

In our country it has not generally been dangerous to be a Christian, but even so, being a disciple of Christ can be difficult or painful.  The pressure from unbelievers and skeptics to conform to their ungodly ways is great.  The open mocking of Christian faith that is becoming more common in the media and in society at large is real.  These are most often the circumstances in which our courage may be tested.  The scriptures certainly anticipated these circumstances and thus call us to have courage as we walk with the Lord.

One of the most powerful examples of our call to courage appears in the Old Testament.  When Moses was about to die, he commissioned Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land.  In Deut. 31:6-7 Moses exhorted Joshua to be strong and courageous as he led them.  After Moses’ death, God spoke to Joshua and repeated this exhortation in Josh. 1:6-9.  In God’s exhortation, however, we see a crucial element in the courage to which Joshua was called.  God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, and to obey the law that Moses had delivered to Israel.  This, ultimately, is the key to having spiritual courage.

If we give God’s word first place in our lives, we will have the courage He calls us to have.  This was the case with Paul.  When he was in custody in Jerusalem under accusation from the Jews, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must also witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11).  Paul could have courage because he was doing the Lord’s will.  As a result, he was able to accomplish all that the Lord commissioned him to do.

None of us may face the same dangers that Paul did, but we can still have spiritual courage if we do the Lord’s will as he did.  We demonstrate our courage by living up to the high calling of Christ.  Our faithful walk with the Lord defends His integrity before unbelievers.  Our faithful obedience to His word shines the light of God’s truth into the darkness of sin, and accomplishes His will.  It takes courage to do so, but we can do it, just as Joshua did, and just as Paul did.

If You Love Me

 

Love is one of the most powerful motivations in human life.  It is something that every person needs and desires.  It is a subject that has dominated literature and music for hundreds of years, and movies since the inception of this medium.  Love can move men and women to do things that they might not otherwise do.  As a result, people sometimes try to use love as leverage to get others to do what they want.  Sadly, this influence has not always been used for good purposes.

It is this fact that illustrates how skewed society’s view of love is.  Much of what the world calls love is little more than feelings or desires.  Thus, people glibly speak of “falling into” or “falling out of” love according to how they feel at that moment.  When viewed in this manner, love is fickle and fragile.  It is merely a vehicle for the fulfillment of one’s personal wants.

When we open the pages of scripture we discover that love is nothing like this.  The predominant word for love in the New Testament is agape, which is the highest and noblest concept of love.  It is an act of the will in which one does what is best and right for others in every circumstance of life.  This is the love that God showed for mankind when He sent His one and only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Paul described it best in Rom. 5:8, where he said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

Mankind did nothing to cause God to take this action.  He took it because we needed it, and because He chose to do so, despite our indifference to His will.  This is what true love is, and this is the love to which each of us should aspire.  If we made this kind of love our goal, we would never ask anything of another that was not in his or her best interests before God.

In addition to this, the kind of love to which God has called us requires something else of us.  On the night of His betrayal, the Lord spoke to His apostles about many important subjects.  During this discourse the Lord revealed another essential aspect of biblical love.  In Jn. 14:15 He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

The scriptures do not reveal how the apostles reacted to this declaration.  This omission suggests that they were not surprised by what the Lord said.  Apparently, they recognized and acknowledged the connection between love and obedience.  Whether they made the connection or not, however, the fact remains that the Lord required this of them, and consequently, requires it of us as well.

In simple terms, God expects us to show our love for Him by doing what He has commanded in His word.  When we understand this important truth, it should change our attitude about the Christian walk.  Many people want to emphasize love, while diminishing obedience. The words of our Lord show that one cannot be separated from the other.  If we love God, we must obey Him.  We cannot do otherwise, because to do so means we do not love Him.

If we love the Lord, we will only do that which is right and best for all in every situation, and we will not fail to obey all that the Lord has commanded in His word.  If we love the Lord in this way, we will please Him, and we will be among the redeemed who are ushered into heaven at the end of time.