A Near-Life Experience

The phrase “near-death experience” is a well known part of our language. Despite its frequent use, it is never viewed as trite. This is because we nearly universally recognize that this kind of incident is not to be taken lightly. A man who suffers a heart attack and flat-lines in the ambulance or on the operating table is well aware of how close he came to death. He typically takes his health far more seriously thereafter. A person who narrowly avoids a life-threatening accident is rarely dismissive of what happened. The reason is that we all understand that there is no coming back from death. One does not recover from death. Even unbelievers recognize this truth.

Most of us understand the significance of a “near-death experience.” It is an object lesson in mortality. Reminding ourselves of our mortality and the fragile nature of human life is an important exercise. It helps us keep our priorities straight as we move inexorably toward eternity. Preachers are particularly fond of drawing our attention to this reality as they try to move us to obey God’s will, and rightfully so. As James wrote, our life is “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14).

The scriptures do not explicitly speak of “near-death experiences” as we refer to them. They do, however, refer to what might be called the polar opposite of a “near-death experience”. This is what may be called a “near-life experience”, and the records of such incidents are sad and troubling.

In Mk. 12:28-34 the text tells of a scribe who asked the Lord what the foremost commandment in the Law was. When the Lord responded to him, the scribe answered the Lord with such obvious knowledge and wisdom that the Lord exclaimed, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12:34). The text does not tell us if this scribe became a disciple of the Lord. If he did not become a disciple, this encounter with Jesus was a “near-life experience” for him. He was “not far from the kingdom of God”, but he was not in it. Until he entered the kingdom in obedience to the Lord, he would never have eternal life. Until he became a disciple of Jesus, he remained dead in his sins.

Another “near-life experience” recorded in Mark’s gospel is the story of the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:17-22). This young man came to the Lord, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Lord’s answer distressed him, because he loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved Jesus. He went away grieving and did not become a disciple. He could have had eternal life, and came very near it, but he went away as he had come, dead in his sins.

The classic “near-life experience” in scripture is the story of Lot’s wife (Gen. 19:1-26). God sent His angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom before He destroyed it with brimstone and fire. As the angels brought the family out of the city, they instructed them to flee to safety in the mountains. They also specifically warned them not to look back (v. 17). At this point Lot and his family were nearly saved. Their lives would not be spared, however, until they did all that the angels commanded them to do. The proof is in v. 26, where the scripture says, “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt”.

Lot’s wife had a “near-life experience” and like the rich young ruler, she failed to take advantage of it. Abraham’s bargaining with God for the city, and God’s gracious provision to bring Lot’s family out of the city went for naught. Lot’s wife had life in her grasp and by her disobedience she let it slip away from her.

The lesson for us to consider is a simple one. The opportunity for eternal life is before us in the message of the gospel as it is declared in the scriptures and proclaimed by God’s people. It is offered to us freely if we are willing to see it and to obey what God requires for us to receive it. There is usually some joy in a “near-death” story, but there is no joy in a “near-life” event. Don’t ignore the eternal life for which the Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood. Say, “Yes” to eternal life by obeying the gospel today, for tomorrow is promised to no one.

Will Your Anchor hold?

 

We all have certain things that anchor our lives.  They are the familiar things, the people or places that keep our feet on the ground.  They are the things that help us feel comfortable or reassured when we face challenges or trials.

As a youngster growing up in Southern California I had several things that were anchors for me.  One anchor was the San Gabriel mountains that ring the Los Angeles basin.  These mountains helped me keep my geographical bearings.  I could look at the mountains and know which direction to travel in order to reach some location.  In my young boy’s mind these mountains were literally the rock that anchored my physical world.  I could depend on them being there and I took comfort from their towering presence.

I also had anchors of a different sort.  Growing up in the Los Angeles area in the 50s and 60s meant being a Dodgers and Lakers fan.  Not only were the teams in their heyday at that time, they also had two of the most iconic voices broadcasting their games.  When I listened to Dodgers games I was captivated by the voice of Vin Scully, who broadcast their games for 67 years.  When I listened to Lakers games, it was the staccato style of Chick Hearn who gave me a “word’s eye view” of each contest.  Their voices, and later their images on television, was a sports anchor in my life.

The mountains were on the horizon, Vin and Chick were on the radio, and all was well in my world. . . . until things happened that “unanchored” these anchors.  The smog became so bad that there were many days when the mountains were not visible.  They were still there, but I couldn’t see them.  Then I moved from Los Angeles and my radio anchors were no longer there for me.  From time to time I might see or hear them on television in my new home, but for everyday purposes I had lost them.  If I had hopes of re-anchoring with them at some point, that hope no longer exists.  Chick Hearn passed away, and Vin Scully finally retired.  These are the natural events of life, but when one loses his youthful anchors the uncertainty of life becomes much more vivid.

This peek into my boyhood anchors illustrates just how carefully we must choose the anchors for our lives.  We sing a great hymn that asks, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?”  If one’s anchors are like my childhood ones the answer is definitely, “No.”  The simple truth is that these kinds of things were never intended to hold in the crises of life.  Any anchor that is based upon things of this world, or those who are in this world, will eventually fail us.

In Heb. 6:17-20 the scripture says, “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His promise, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.  This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The anchors that give order and stability to our daily lives play an important role for us.  Our families and friends, familiar people and places, keep us from the fears and the uncertainties of the world in which we live.  However, the anchor that truly holds us is our hope in the promises of God the Father.  He has never failed to keep His promises.  He has never failed to provide for and care for His people.  He has always been, and will always be, faithful to the covenant he has made with mankind through Jesus Christ.  We can find assurance, comfort, respite from the cares of this life, and ultimately, eternal life only by holding fast to the anchor of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

An Asterisk Life

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “asterisk” in this way:  “The character (*) thought of as being appended to something (such as an athletic accomplishment included in a record book) typically in order to indicate that there is a limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be.”

The most famous example of this definition occurred at the end of the 1961 baseball season.  During that eventful year New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris chased the elusive single season home run record which was set in 1927 by the great Babe Ruth.  Ruth’s record was 60 home runs and on the final day of the 1961 season Roger Maris hit home run number 61 to break this record.  Ford Frick, the commissioner of baseball at the time, decided that Maris’ record should be noted with an asterisk because Ruth had hit 60 home runs in 154 games (the length of the season in 1927) and Maris hit 61 in 162 games (the length of the season in 1961).  The asterisk was later removed but for many years Maris’ record was not as highly regarded as it should have been.

During the infamous steroid era in Major League Baseball Maris’ record was obliterated by Mark McGwire, who hit 70 home runs in 1998.   McGwire’s record was then broken by Barry Bonds in 2001, when he hit 73 home runs in a season.  Many baseball purists believe that McGwire’s and Bonds’ records should be “asterisked” because of the PEDs we now know they were taking at the time.  The bottom line is that this record is forever tainted because of the “limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be.”

When we consider the definition of an asterisk in a spiritual context one biblical character immediately comes to mind.  Surprisingly, he was not one of God’s people, but a leader of one of Israel’s mortal enemies.  In 2 Kgs. 5 the scripture records the story of Naaman, who was living an asterisk life.  In 2 Kgs. 5:1 the scripture says, “Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram.  The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper.”

Naaman was a great man in every human method of measurement.  He held a high position in the army of Aram (Syria), and was a trusted lieutenant to his king.  He was a victorious commander and personally valiant in battle.  He was greatly esteemed in his nation because of his prowess as a warrior.  Naaman had everything going his way.  He was head and shoulders above everyone else in the service of the king of Syria.  But all of these accomplishments came with an asterisk.  Naaman was a leper.

Leprosy was a highly communicable and dread disease.  In the Law of Moses a leper was quarantined from the rest of society.  He or she had to live apart from the community and do everything possible to never come into physical contact with any other person.  The Syrians were not subject to the Law of Moses, but reason suggests that they also imposed restrictions upon lepers in their nation.  Thus, as great a man as Naaman was, he was severely limited in Syrian culture.  In addition to this, leprosy was a potentially fatal disease.  Under these conditions, Naaman’s accomplishments as a soldier were less important than they might otherwise have been.

Fortunately for Naaman, he discovered a way to remove the asterisk from his life.  In 2 Kgs. 5:3-14 the scripture relates how a slave girl from Israel who served in Naaman’s household told her master about the prophet in Israel who could cleanse him of his disease.  To his credit, Naaman believed the girl and with his king’s approval came to the prophet Elisha for cleansing.  After initially balking at the prophet’s command to “go and wash in the Jordan seven times” (v. 10), Naaman was persuaded by his servants to obey the prophet’s command.  When Naaman dipped seven times in the Jordan as the prophet commanded, he was immediately cleansed of this terrible disease.

After his cleansing, Naaman returned to the prophet of God and vowed to only serve the God of Israel from that time forward (2 Kgs. 5:17-19).  With his health restored, Naaman returned to Syria to serve his king.  Although the scriptures tell us no more about his life, we may safely conclude that Naaman lived the rest of his days without any limiting fact or consideration that made his accomplishments less important in the view of his nation.  In other words, Naaman no longer lived an asterisk life.

The lesson for each of us today is that we, like Naaman, are living asterisk lives so long as we are outside of Christ.  No matter what our accomplishments may be, no matter how good we may be, or the good we may have done, our sins are the “limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be”.  So long as we are still in our sins, nothing else about our life matters.  However, if we turn to the Lord in obedience to the gospel, then we can permanently remove the asterisk from our lives.  Like Naaman, if we wash, we will be clean.  In Acts 22:16, as Paul related the facts concerning his conversion to Christ, he told the Jews what the preacher Ananias commanded him to do after he had encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus.  Ananias said, “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”

Don’t continue to live an asterisk life.  Obey the gospel, wash and be clean.

If We Never Meet Again

 

This is the pulpit of the 4th & Bois d’Arc Church of Christ in Pecos, TX, where I preached for sixteen years.

I presented my final sermon there on August 26, 2018.

The following is my final bulletin article as the preacher for the 4th & Bois d’Arc Church of Christ in Pecos, TX.

 

One of the most moving songs in our hymn books is entitled, If We Never Meet Again.  The words and music were written by Albert E. Brumley in 1945.  Brother Brumley was one of the most prolific songwriters in churches of Christ, with over 800 songs to his credit, including, I’ll Fly Away, which is one of the most-recorded hymns in history.  Since its publication, If We Never Meet Again has been a staple in hymn books and a particular favorite among older Christians.

In this song Bro. Brumley captured the sentiment we all experience when we are about to separate from loved ones for the last time.  Our hearts ache because of the impending separation, and our love for those we are leaving makes us yearn for the time when we will be with them once again.  These feelings are especially deep when we have lost a loved one to death.  Bro. Brumley’s song is particularly comforting on such an occasion.

The stanzas say:

“Soon we’ll come to the end of life’s journey, And perhaps we’ll never meet anymore, Till we gather in heaven’s bright city, Far away on that beautiful shore.  O so often we’re parted with sorrow, Benedictions often quicken our pain, But we never shall sorrow in heaven, God be with you till we meet again.  O they say we shall meet by the river, Where no storm-clouds ever darken the sky, And they say we’ll be happy in heaven, In the wonderful sweet by and by.”

The chorus says:

“If we never meet again this side of heaven, As we struggle through this world and its strife, There’s another meeting place somewhere in heaven, By the side of the river of life; Where the charming roses bloom forever, And where separations come no more, If we never meet again this side of heaven, I will meet you on that beautiful shore.”

For some, the words of this song bring back memories of loved ones, long-departed from life, whom we will never meet again this side of heaven.  The faithfulness of these loved ones while they lived tells us that we can only see them again if we, too, are faithful to the Lord.  Therefore, when we sing the words of this song, this truth should move us to greater diligence in our Christian walk.

There is no more comforting thought than the promise of scripture that the redeemed will have a sweet reunion in heaven at the end of time.  In 1 Th. 4:16-18 Paul said, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up other with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.”  We may never see one another again before that time, but the joy of that meeting will far outweigh the loss we feel in the meantime.  This truth should compel us to take the words of this song more seriously than we may have before.

As we consider the words of this song, we are compelled to take stock of our lives.  Are we living in such a way that we may truthfully sing, “If we never meet again this side of heaven, I will meet you on that beautiful shore”?  If so, then we may sing with all the fervor within us, and in full confidence that it will happen.  If not, then we must repent and turn back to the Lord before it’s too late.  Life is too short, and eternity too long, to risk missing the great reunion by the side of the river of life.

Until we meet again, may the Lord keep you in His watchful care.  God bless you!!

The Work of Ministry

 

Someone once said that the work of preachers is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.  While this is almost certainly an over-simplification of the work of ministry, it does capture, at least in part, the spirit of this work.  We absolutely see this principle in the work of the Old Testament prophets.  The messages they brought to the people of God sometimes comforted and encouraged them.  On other occasions they scolded and chastised to try to bring the people back into faithful service to God.  The work of the apostles and other preachers, as it is recorded in the book of Acts, suggests that this work did not change in the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant.  It was then, and still is, hard work that takes a toll on the one who undertakes it.  Even so, there have always been, and Lord willing there always will be, men who are willing to take on this challenging work.

One of the greatest challenges preachers and churches face is properly defining what that work should be.  When left to our own devices, we may expect far too much or far too little from preachers.  Fortunately the scriptures give us the direction we need in this regard, if we are willing to let them set the bounds of this good work.  Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have long been used to set the parameters of the work of ministry and their contents should guide us still today.  However, we find an excellent summary of the work of ministry in Paul’s farewell to the elders of the church in Ephesus.

In Acts 20:17-35 Luke recorded this final meeting between the great apostle and these shepherds.  He had worked with them longer than with any other church of which we have record.  At the time of this meeting Paul was hurrying to Jerusalem where he would undergo great hardship.  He knew he would never see these men again, so he spoke with them one last time.  His words to them show us what the work of ministry should be.

First, Paul reminded them that he had persevered through all kinds of trials as he worked with them (Acts 20:18-19).  Too many men are unwilling to work through the rough spots with a congregation.  Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to persevere through all such things.

Second, he reminded them that he had taught them everything they needed to know from God’s word (Acts 20:20-21, 27).  Too many men lose sight of the big picture and focus instead on their pet themes, or on what the congregation wants.  Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to proclaim the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27).

Third, he warned them to be prepared to meet every spiritual challenge that would arise in the future (Acts 20:28-31).  Too many men are so focused on being a spiritual fireman that they fail to teach the church how to meet these challenges themselves.  Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to equip the saints for every good work and to discern right from wrong.

Finally, when all was said and done, Paul commended the elders of Ephesus to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32).  Paul knew he would never see these men again on this side of life.  They could fulfill their responsibility as shepherds only if they depended on God’s word.  Too many preachers assume that they are indispensable.  Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to point God’s people to the implanted word which is able to save their souls (cf. Jas. 1:21).

May all who preach commit themselves to the work of ministry, as the scriptures define it.  If they do so, they will be the kind of ministers the Lord intends them to be.  May all God’s people commit themselves to expect ministers to do the work of ministry as the scriptures define it, nothing more and nothing less.  If they do so, our churches will be what the Lord intends them to be.

Just Do It!

 

One of the most famous advertising slogans of all time is Nike’s “Just Do It!”  Next to its “swoosh” symbol, these words are Nike’s most recognizable trademark.  As a slogan it perfectly fits the bill.  It is concise and memorable, and it encapsulates the culture of the company it represents.  Nike wants its customers to believe that their products will enable them to reach any goal, and “Just Do It!” unquestionably conveys that idea.

In the sporting world, which is Nike’s chosen niche, “Just Do It!” zeroes in on the heart of competition. Many people talk a good game, but precious few can actually back up their words with their performance on the field.  This is generally the difference between champions and also-rans.  The champions get it done, while the also-rans make excuses as to why they didn’t.

“Just Do It!” is more than a sporting motto, however.  It is a fundamental character principle that applies in every aspect of life.  Children learn this truth when their parents deflect their excuses for not doing their chores, or their homework, or some other task that has been given to them.  Students learn it from teachers, who are not impressed with, “The dog ate my homework”.  Employees also learn it from supervisors and bosses, who are concerned only with results.  The truth is, no one appreciates an excuse maker.  We reserve our esteem for those who do what they say they will do.

There is no area in which the “Just Do It!” philosophy is more apropos than in spiritual matters.  The inescapable conclusion of scripture is that only those who “do” are going to be rewarded by the Lord. When the Lord concluded the Sermon on the Mount He said that the one who does the will of the Father in heaven will enter heaven (Mt. 7:21).  In Mt. 7:24-27 He went on to say that the one who hears His word and does it is like the wise man who built his house on a rock.  His house will stand all the onslaughts of life.  He also said that the one who hears His word and does not do it is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.  His house will fall, and he with it.

During the ministry of Elijah the prophet laid this principle before the people of Israel.  In 1 Kgs. 18:21 he asked them, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”  Their silence in response to this question indicated their lack of commitment at that moment.  In essence, the prophet was telling them to “Just Do It!”, whatever their choice might be.  One cannot waver in response to God.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, the Lord said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37).  Later, on the night of His betrayal, the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15).  This is what loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind is.  This is what the Lord requires, and there are no excuses for failing to do so.  We either do it, or we don’t.  It’s just that simple.

Our Lord did all the hard work of salvation, the things that we were incapable of doing.  He went to the cross and shed His blood to pay the penalty for our sins.  He didn’t make excuses, He just did it.  What remains to be done so we can enter heaven is well within our ability to do.  Our Father in heaven wishes for all of us to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).  Therefore, let’s stop making excused.  Let’s “Just Do It!”

Approved Workers

 

Many commentators refer to Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus as the Pastoral Letters.  This is because these letters are viewed as instructions for preachers.  This designation has been assigned to these letters for so long that it is virtually impossible to speak of them in other terms.  Nevertheless, even a cursory reading of them reveals that most of Paul’s instructions apply equally to all members of the body of christ, not just to preachers.  Among his admonitions that apply to all Christians is the command to study God’s word, so we will be approved by Him and will handle His word accurately.  In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul said, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

The clear implication of this command is that Christians are expected to become proficient in the use of the scriptures.  Such proficiency cannot be achieved without diligent effort.  The KJV rendition of this verse uses the word “study” in the place of “be diligent”, and this certainly captures the idea of the form that our diligent effort must take.  We cannot be proficient with the scriptures if we do not spend time in them, both reading them and meditating upon their message.

One aspect of this command that might easily be overlooked is the connection between our diligence with God’s word and our approval by Him.  Paul said we are to be workers who are approved by God.  This approval is given only if we accurately handle His word.  We cannot accurately handle God’s word, however, unless we devote the time and energy necessary to equip us to do so.

The imagery of an approved worker is significant.  We recognize it in all aspects of life.  One cannot be confident in a repairman who seems unacquainted with the tools of his trade.  A workman who lacks rudimentary knowledge of his craft will not be approved of by his employer, and he will not long remain employed.  We, as consumers, do not tolerate a workman who doesn’t know how to use the tools necessary to do his job.

This being true, we should be just as dissatisfied with ourselves about our skill in using God’s word.  Too many of us are so unfamiliar with the scriptures that we have no idea how to accurately handle the word of truth.  Too often we depend primarily on the preacher to guide us through the difficult waters of life.  When a spiritual question arises, we ask the man whose business, we believe, it is to know God’s word.  Unfortunately, this is not what Paul had in mind.

To be approved workers before God, each of us must be diligent with God’s word.  The writer of Hebrews told his readers that they would become mature only through practice with God’s word, by which they would train themselves to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14).  Thus, in order to be approved workers, we must study God’s word consistently and systematically.  We must study God’s word contextually; that is, seeing what it meant in its original setting and then applying that lesson to today.  We must also study God’s word reverently.  We cannot cherry-pick our way through the scriptures.  All scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The contents of scripture are exactly what God has revealed so we may be approved of by Him.

Therefore, let us, like Job, treasure the words of His mouth more than our necessary food (Job 23:12).  Let us learn and become proficient with “the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21).  If we do so, then we will be workers who do not need to be ashamed, and we will be approved by God.

 

Love Is . . .

 

On January 5, 1970 a single pane cartoon strip entitled, Love Is . . ., appeared for the first time in the Los Angeles Times.  The strip was inspired by the artist’s feelings for her future husband, and featured a male figure and a female figure in various situations that depicted her vision of love.  It was an immediate success and very soon was syndicated worldwide through Tribune Media Services.  Most young couples of the 1970s were enthralled by the Love Is . . . comic because it perfectly captured the very feelings they shared.  The original artist passed away in 1997, but the strip continues in syndication under the direction of her son.

In many ways the Love Is . . . comic speaks to the practicalities of human love.  It correctly identifies the little things that one might do to keep the spark of love alive.  It also often addresses the kinds of things that can squash human affection.  In this respect it has no doubt helped multiple generations give deeper thought to this most important of human relationships.  As heartwarming and inspiring as this comic strip is, however, it doesn’t tell the whole story of what love is.  For that we must turn to the pages of scripture, because only there can we discover the most perfect and most complete explanation of what love actually is.

John is often called the apostle of love because he spoke of it so often, especially in the three short letters he wrote near the end of the first century A.D.  His most well-known statement of love, though, is Jn. 3:16, where he wrote, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  When taken with a statement made by Paul, we begin to see what love truly is.  In Rom. 5:8 Paul said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Love, as the scriptures define it, is choosing to do what is best and right for everyone in every situation.  This is what God the Father did when He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 3:11).  We had not done anything to warrant this sacrifice.  God did it, because He chose to do so.  He did it, because it was what was best for us.  He did it without regard to our response to it.  This is what love is and this is why John said, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8).

Love is an act of the will.  It is a decision to do what is best and right for the object of one’s love.  It is something more, though, and John also reveals this to us.  In 1 Jn. 5:2-3 John wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”  In very simple terms, then, love is obeying God’s will.

Some balk at the idea that love and obedience are one and the same, but the Lord Himself affirmed this truth.  In Jn. 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  This was not the only time He made this point.  In Lk. 6:46 He exclaimed, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  It cannot be more plainly stated.  As defined by the Lord and by His apostles, love is obeying God’s will.  If we obey God, we will not fail to do what is best and right for each other every day.  This, after all, is what love is.

I Am With You Always

 

In 1972 a Motown group known as The Temptations released a song entitled, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, that went to number one on the U.S. charts.  The song is a mournful conversation between a young man and his mother as the young man sought to learn more about his father, who had gone to an early grave.  The refrain after each series of questions from the young man was the mother’s reply, “Papa was a rollin’ stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home.  And when he died, all he left us was alone.”

The last words of this refrain capture what is perhaps the most awful circumstance of human life.  Most of us are social creatures.  That is, we need the companionship of others in various forms.  While all of us enjoy periods of solitude and quietness, very few of us are emotionally equipped to stand isolation.  We desire and need interaction with other people.  This is why God created Eve for Adam, because it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).

Our human companionships, from friends and family members, to our spouses, are an essential part of our existence.  These relationships provide the means by which we are able to cope with the many ups and downs of life.  They make our lives more enjoyable and full, and they enhance our ability to be productive members of society.  Conversely, it is well-accepted by most that the absence of such relationships is often a contributor to disturbed and sometimes criminal behavior.

As important as these human relationships are, there is another relationship that is even more important.  It is our relationship with our Father in heaven.  Someone once said that we are all made with a God-shaped void in our hearts.  If that void is left unfilled, or is filled with something other than God, the results are predictably bad.  We see this played out before us daily in the lives of those who ignore the overtures of God’s word.

Sometimes, though, even Christians may feel that they are all alone in the world.  The great prophet Elijah experienced this in the aftermath of his victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kgs. 18.  When Jezebel threatened him, Elijah fled to Horeb, the mountain of God.  When God spoke to him there, Elijah expressed his feeling of isolation (1 Kgs. 19:9-10).  Elijah felt that he was the only faithful man in Israel, but God assured him that this was not the case.  He thought he was all alone, but in addition to God being with him, there were still 7,000 in Israel who had not yet bowed to Baal (1 Kgs. 19:18).

Before our Lord left the earth, He made a significant promise to His disciples.  In Mt. 28:18-20 He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

When we become Christians by obedience to the gospel, we are added to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13-14).  We are thus added to the body of Christ, and as long as we are faithful to Him, we are never again truly alone.  This is because our Lord abides in us and we in Him.  Paul understood this when he stood before evil kings and all his friends deserted him (2 Tim. 4:16-17).  Even there, the Lord was with him and sustained him.  The Lord promised to be with us always, until He takes us home to heaven.  Therefore, we can take courage and not fear the uncertainties of life.  We take courage because our Lord will never leave us alone.

In God We Trust

 

Every current U.S. coin and every denomination of paper currency bears the inscription “In God We Trust”.  Anyone born after the mid-20th century is likely unaware that this was not always the case.  The first coin to bear this inscription was the 2-cent piece minted in 1864.  However, it was not until 1956 that Congress passed a bill requiring this phrase to be inscribed on all forms of U.S. currency.  The intent of the phrase is to affirm our nation’s dependence upon Almighty God.  Some may find it ironic that this declaration appears on our money.  This irony stems from the fact that many in our country place more trust in the “almighty dollar” than they do in the Almighty God.

The concept of expressing one’s trust in God may have come late to American society, but it has a long and rich history.  It is, in fact, the foundation of God’s relationship with His creation.  From the beginning of time God has urged mankind to trust in Him, rather than trusting in themselves or in any man-made deity.  When His people have truly trusted in Him, they have been blessed.  When they have placed their trust elsewhere, they have suffered for it.

The Old Testament abounds with exhortations to trust in God.  The psalms, in particular, pay tribute to the benefits of trusting in God.  One of the most powerful of these is Psa. 56:4.  In this psalm David said, “In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can mere man do to me?”  In v. 11 he added, “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”  David’s confidence is underscored by the writer of Hebrews, who quoted this statement in Heb. 13:6 as one of his final exhortations to faithful service.

Saying that one trusts in God is easy.  Living up to that profession is more challenging.  Every day Americans exchange currency that declares their trust in God.  They do so for goods and services of all sorts, many of which belie the words emblazoned upon that currency.  They do so without giving thought to the true meaning of this inscription.  We don’t expect unbelievers to think about this irony, but even Christians can be guilty of it.

This is because trusting in God is more than a motto.  It is a way of life that is characterized by humble obedience to His word, and complete dependence upon Him for everything one needs.  This truth is demonstrated in the history of God’s people during the Old Testament era.  When the kings and people of Israel obeyed God, their trust in Him was rewarded with His blessings and deliverance from their enemies.  When they disobeyed God, their lack of trust resulted in calamity.  In Isa. 31:1 the prophet chastised Israel saying, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong; but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!”

Our Savior put trust in a context that is particularly apropos to our time.  In the Sermon on the Mount He urged his audience not to worry about their daily sustenance, but to instead rely on God.  In Mt. 6:33 He said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  This is the key to trusting in God.  If we put Him first, which means to obey Him in everything we do, then our trust will be rewarded.  If we trust in God, we will be faithful to Him and we need not worry, because He is our helper.  If we live a life of trust in God, our life will be better here on earth, and we will have a place in God’s house forever.