Friday, February 27, 2009

What Does God Know? (Old Testament)

1 Samuel 2:3. . .the LORD is a God of knowledge. . .
What does God know? What does the Bible say? I searched the Bible for words containing 'know', this included 'knoweth', 'knowing', 'knows', 'knowledge'. This search came back with over 1300 verses. I then looked at each verse to see if it was God who was doing the knowing. It was a very fascinating and powerful study for me.  

Genesis 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
1. God knows that we will be changed by the knowing of good and evil.

Genesis 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
2. God knows the future.
Genesis 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
3. God knows how we will raise our children and keep our household.
Genesis 18:21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.
4. God inquires of and knows the truth of a situation.
Genesis 20:6 And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.
5. God knows when our intentions are good.
Genesis 22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
6. God knows by our actions, what our attitude is toward Him.
Exodus 3:7 And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
7. God knows and is intimately aware of our saddness and sorrow.
Exodus 4:14 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.
8. God knows the abilities of men.
Exodus 33:17 And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
9. God knows and is familiar with those who pray to Him.
Deuteronomy 2:7 For the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.
10. God knows of, is with, and continues to provide for His people during their time in the wilderness and dry areas.
Deuteronomy 31:21 And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.
11. God knows the ungodly secrets of our heart.
Joshua 22:22 The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD, (save us not this day,)
12. God knows the truth of a matter despite all outward appearances.
2 Samuel 7:20 And what can David say more unto thee? for thou, Lord GOD, knowest thy servant.
13. God knows everything about his servants, our weaknesses and our strengths. He knows us in our proud moments and in our shame.
2 Kings 19:27 But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
14. God knows everything about those who don't recognize Him.
Job 10:7 Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of thine hand.
15. God knows our makeup and that He alone controls our fate.
Job 11:11 For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it?
16. God knows intimately desolate and corrupt men.
Job 23:10 But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
17. God knows the path that we choose for ourselves.
Job 28:22-23 Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. (23) God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof.
18. God knows how everything fits together. The evil in the world only has a tiny hint of what is going on.
Job 34:24-25 He shall break in pieces mighty men without number, and set others in their stead. (25) Therefore he knoweth their works, and he overturneth them in the night, so that they are destroyed.
19. God knows the mighty and powerful men. He holds them accountable for their actions.
Psalms 1:6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
20. God knows both the eternal, unending path of the saints and the final destination of the corrupt.
Psalms 31:7 I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;
21. God knows our misery and affliction. He goes these times with us.
Psalms 37:18 The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be forever.
22. God knows the span of the saints from birth to death. When the last testament of their Father is allocated, their blessings will never end.
Psalms 40:9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.
23. God knows that I could have taken the easy way out, but I spoke the truth without regard for myself.
Psalms 44:20-21 If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; (21) Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
24. God knows the times He wasn't foremost in our mind and when we opened ourselves to ungodly things.
Psalms 50:10-11 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. (11) I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.
25. God knows every creature of the earth. He owns all of them.
Psalms 69:5, 19 O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee. (19) Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonor: mine adversaries are all before thee.
26. God knows my stupidity and wrong thinking. I am naked before you. Nothing covers my shame.
Psalms 91:14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
27. God knows me. I am not a mere face in the crowd. I will give birth to a great love and adoration for Him.
Psalms 94:11-12 The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. (12) Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;
28. God knows the emptiness and foolishness of the untaught man's thoughts.
Psalms 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
29. God knows our origins. He knows how we are built. He knows how we were originally created from mud. He is greatly aware of our humble beginnings.
This whole passage is so beautiful, I include it. . .
Psalms 103:11-17 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. (12) As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (13) Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. (14) For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. (15) As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. (16) For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. (17) But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children;
In verse 13 the translated 'pitieth' seems to me to poorly convey the thought of this passage. I do not pity my children. I pity a beggar by the side of the road for whom there is no hope of rescue by me. No, a father has not pity, but greatly abundant tenderness and affection for his children, as does God have such feelings for those who hold Him in high reverence. . .
Psalms 139:2,4 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. (4) For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
30. God knows my every action. You are completely aware of both my contemplation and my actions. Nothing about me is a surprise to you.
Isaiah 66:16, 18 For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. (18) For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.
31. God knows the actions of the ungodly peoples. He has tried through His Spirit (fire) and through the Word of God (being the sword of the Spirit) to show and convince them to change their ways, but many will ignore until the very end, when it is too late. . .when God reveals Himself.
Jeremiah 12:3 But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee. . .
32. God knows us through our actions in times of testing.
Jeremiah 18:23 Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: . .
33. God knows all the talking and secret planning of our enemies.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
34. God knows His own wonderful love and blessings for us. He knows the plan He has for us, that is a plan of love and beauty and grace.
Jeremiah 48:30 I know his wrath, saith the LORD; but it shall not be so; his lies shall not so effect it.
35. God knows the proud words of those who hate us. He knows of the evil plans against us and He will disrupt them.
Ezekiel 11:5 And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the LORD; Thus have ye said, O house of Israel: for I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.
36. God knows every idle and sinful thought that we think.
Ezekiel 37:3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.
37. God knows things beyond our ability to understand.
Daniel 2:22 He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.
38. God knows what to our eyes is hidden from view.
Hosea 13:5 I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.
39. God knows your needs. He remembers you though you see nothing around you, but rock and sand.
Amos 3:2 You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
40. God knows the believers above everyone else. He has blessed the believers above everyone else, therefore He also holds us to greater accountability.
Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
41. God knows those who put their hope in Him, those who confide in Him, those who look to Him for their place of safety and rescue. . . their salvation.
This is such a powerful passage. Verse 7 especially lifts me up:
Nahum 1:2-10 God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. (3) The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (4) He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. (5) The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. (6) Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. (7) The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. (8) But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies. (9) What do ye imagine against the LORD? he will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time. (10) For while they be folded together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry.
Never lose hope. No matter what the appearances may be, the Lord is there for you.
Zechariah 14:7-9 But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light. (8) And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. (9) And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one
42. God knows the day of His plan's culmination. It will be a specific day, a most particular day of illumination, a day without shadow. All seasons will be covered, the season of harvest as well as the season of dormancy will be restored by this non-destructive refreshing flow of life giving water. This living water, the Spirit of God will flow covering all the earth, all time from the former. . .the earlier, to the hinder. . .the later, from the east to the west. The light will be everywhere. No shadow of darkness will be found. . .He will reign revealed and unveiled everywhere as the One True God of all the universe. . .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How to Find a Great Church. . .

Beetles and Bell Curves. . .

The following is expanded from a talk that I gave at a men's meeting at the Elkhart County Jail March 11, 2009

Many years ago I heard on the radio, or read in a magazine or book, or saw on television. . . I just cannot remember even what medium I saw this on. . .anyway,  a scientist talked about what he could deduce about God from the design of the universe.  This man's response fascinated me and I have continued to ponder upon it for some twenty or twenty-five years after hearing it.

This scientist said that he could tell two things about God from the design of the universe.  The first being that God has an inordinate love of beetles.  Zoologists have catalogued roughly 700,000 species of insects and almost half of those are various kinds of beetles.  Of all living plants and animals roughly 20% of that entire number are beetles.  That was the first thing that this scientist noticed about God's creation.

The second thing was that God must greatly enjoy bell curves.  The distribution of many things in the universe, in many varying aspects of God's creation fall into a bell curve distribution shape.  For example take the the height of people.  There are a few really short people.  There a a few really tall people, but most of us are of an average height in the middle of the curve.  It was God's universe to do with what he wished.  He could have done it another way.  He could have made 90% of everyone 6 feet tall and 10% of the people 4 feet tall, but He didn't.  People's heights are distributed in the shape of a bell curve.  The same would follow for our weights, intelligence, . . . bell curve distributions are found lots and lots of places. . .

Years later, it comes to me that another population that follows the bell curve distribution shape is that of churches.  There are a few really rotten churches.  There are a few really great churches and there is a whole big mass of very average churches.  In short, all churches are not created equal.

One of the most important decisions that you will make in your life, is: Where will you go to church?  How do you find a great church?  What makes a great church?  How do you know whether a church is a good, bad, or humdrum average?  What yardstick do you use to measure a church?

You can divide Christian churches into two distinct groups.  Many when reading that would think immediately of the Catholic/Protestant division of Christianity, but that is not what I refer to.  There is another way of looking at how churches differ in their doctrine.  

The first group, and by far the largest group looks upon religious beliefs as an evolving philosophy.  They base their beliefs upon the Bible.  That is where their doctrine and their history began, but their beliefs have changed through the ages.  The Bible was a starting point, their foundation, but it was not complete and sufficient of itself.  Greater understanding has come, it is often referred to as, their doctrine has matured with the passage of time and many of the statements of the Bible are no longer thought of as being relevant to the modern church.  They were only relevant to the culture and times of the first century.  Various councils and historic writers have changed and modified the original doctrine.  Tradition has often taken on as an important role as Scripture in determining these belief systems.  

The second and much smaller division of Christianity looks upon the Bible not only as their foundation, but also as the walls and the roof of their belief.  No additional texts or commentaries or historical authorities are required to interpret Scripture.  All doctrinal questions must be taken directly to the authority of Scripture for the answer without any intervening filter of man's thought or ideas.

This is a hugely important difference between churches.  A house of prayer and a house of ill repute can both have the same foundation, the same starting point.  By looking at only the foundation it is impossible to tell what the final structure will look like.

To simplify it, the majority of Christian churches look upon doctrine as being given to the apostolic fathers in an immature and incomplete form.  They proclaim in believing in the authority of Scripture, but when you ask questions about specific items, that vary from the apostolic writings there are always reasons why the original apostolic doctrine needed to be modified and to be improved over what the apostles believed and how they did things.  This is not merely dangerous.  This is a lethal view.

Any time I begin to use my own judgment and my own opinions for doctrinal questions and do not use the unchanging Word of God, then my flesh must be inherently involved. . . my pride. . . my ego. . .my selfishness. . . my laziness all clamor for me to compromise, to take the easy way, to sacrifice righteousness and God's original intent. . .just a little.  

It is truly said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. . . a journey away from holiness to sin begins with one step. . . a journey from heaven to hell begins with one step. . .We all began with the same Bible and the same practices of the Apostolic fathers. . . today we have churches who believe that sexual immorality (even among the ministry) is acceptable. . .Churches where holiness is neither taught nor followed. . .We have churches who have so compromised the message of God that their members are indistinguishable from the world around them. . .and all this began with one step. . .

Imagine asking your mother for her meatloaf recipe.  My mom made the best meatloaf. . .take good ground beef (not the cheap fatty stuff), mix eggs, bread crumbs, chopped onions and green peppers, shake in a little garlic powder, a little Worcestershire sauce, a little salt and pepper.  Put it into a loaf pan, spread just the right amount of ketchup on top and bake at 350° for 1 1/2 hours. . .Well I didn't have ground beef, but I did have some ground turkey. . .I was out of bread crumbs, so I substituted rice. . .I had no ketchup, but I like maple syrup, so I used that. . .I don't know somehow that meatloaf didn't turn out so good.  It's not at all like I remember my Mom's tasting. . .I wonder what was wrong. . . Maybe she didn't tell me some secret ingredient. . .

Is that laughable?  But is it any different in what we have done in many of today's churches?  We are given a plan. . . a recipe if you will for salvation from God and now we begin substituting and changing things. . . doing things our own way.  How will things turn our?  That question cannot be answered after 90 minutes in the oven.  We will have that question answered as we stand before God.  

We do know that God is very particular.  Read in 2 Samuel chapter 6 how King David wanted to move the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.  This was an undeniably honorable desire.  David's heart was good, his intentions were good, but David did not follow God's instructions on how the Ark of the Covenant was to be moved.  Read how an innocent man named Uzzah merely tried to keep the cart from toppling over.  Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the cart and without meaning any harm, he touched the Ark of the Covenant, something only the Levites were allowed to do and God struck him dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant.

We serve the same God today as He who struck Uzzah dead for not following His instructions.  I do not send anyone to heaven or hell.  I refuse to entertain that question.  I cannot tell you what the consequences of not following God's instructions are.  That is for God to determine, but God has given us specific instructions on how He wants things done.  I am not going to mess around substituting and changing things.  Your intentions can be fine.  Your heart can mean well, but you are in dire peril if you do not follow God's instructions as they are written in Scripture.

An example of this, every baptism recorded in the Bible, where a formula of baptism is given, it is always in Jesus name or in the name of the Lord: 

(Acts 2:38)  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 8:12-16   But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.  (14)  Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:  (15)  Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:  (16)  (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

Acts 10:44-48  While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.  (45)  And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.  (46)  For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,  (47)  Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?  (48)  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

Acts 19:1-7  And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,  (2)  He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.  (3)  And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.  (4)  Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.  (5)  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  (6)  And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.  (7)  And all the men were about twelve.

Acts 22:12-16  And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,  (13)  Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.  (14)  And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.  (15)  For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.  (16)  And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

It is the name that is asked for and required.

At the very end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said: 

Matthew 28:19  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Jesus said: baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  What does that mean?  The apostles baptized, as we read above, in the name of Jesus, yet Jesus said: "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."  Is there confusion here?  Is this a contradiction?

I imagine going to the bank with my pay check.  I stand in line for quite a while before finally getting to the teller's window.  The nice young lady asks me for identification.  I give her my drivers license.  I sign my check: 'FATHER'.  I truly am a father.  The teller looks puzzled and slides slides the check back to me.  I cross out 'FATHER' and carefully write 'SON' and give it back to her.  She shakes her head looking a bit irritated and flustered.  There are people waiting in line behind me.  It's a busy time at the bank.  I again cross out 'SON' and write in turn: 'HUSBAND, BROTHER, UNCLE, NEPHEW, COUSIN, CHAPLAIN, ENGINEER, SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER' and on and on. . . The teller becomes downright angry and calls for her manager.  None of those will do.  She doesn't want my roles.  She doesn't care about my relationships.  It isn't my titles or functions that she requires. . . My name is required. . .and only my name will do, there is no substitution allowed.

Acts 4:12  Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Why change what the Bible says?  Who gives us the authority to change anything?  What is the motivation to change anything?  Why not do it exactly as the Bible says?  God directed the writing of the Bible:

2 Timothy 3:16  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

All Scripture is given by God.  It doesn't say that some of it isn't relevant.  No where does it say there that we have the authority to modify and change the Word of God to suit today's culture.  No where does it say that man's traditions are as important as Scripture.  The Bible doesn't mention baptizing infants.  The Bible doesn't mention sprinkling water on people for baptism. . .On and on we can look at practices and doctrines in the modern church which are not reflected in Scripture.

Several years ago I was riding the elevator from the lobby up to the third floor at the old County Jail in Goshen.  It was just myself and one other person who ministered at the jail.  Please, I was just trying to make conversation.  I very sincerely wasn't trying to start any controversy.  I just said, "I heard you speak for several years now here at the jail and I've never heard you mention baptism. . ."  Oh my goodness. . .I meant no insult. . .I wasn't trying to attack him. . .The man turned red in the face and just started sputtering.  He got really mad.  He said, "Baptism is just the public profession of your private faith.  It is not necessary for salvation. . .We are saved by grace through faith. . ."  He went on and on. . I think my mouth just kind of hung open. . .I was so taken aback that I don't believe I said another word to him.  His reaction was so beyond the intent of my question.  I meant to raise no controversy.  I just wanted to know what he believed. . . BUT. . . BUT. . . BUT. . . where did his doctrine come from?

Before we even get to that though, if you cannot ask a sincere seeking question of your Pastor or the elders of your church, I'm not talking about being argumentative or disrespectful, but if that is the atmosphere of your church, if you cannot ask a sincere question as to why your church follows certain practices and doctrines without anger and ridicule then you need to run away from that church.  That is not a godly and Christlike way to act.  There is something very very wrong with that attitude.  

Maybe this man was just having a bad day, maybe I caught him right after he had something really troubling occur and he reacted badly.  We've all said things we've regretted later and maybe he wishes he could have his words back. . .but it's been at least 5 years since that occurred and I've never received a hint of an apology of any kind and I continue to see this man regularly.  But ignoring the anger of his response, where did his doctrine come from?  Numbers of scriptures talk about the necessity of baptism:

Jesus said:

John 3:3-5  Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.  (4)  Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?  (5)  Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That is a clear reference to baptism of water and baptism of the Spirit.  John the baptist mentions the same baptism of water and Spirit:

Matthew 3:11  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Another verse, again Jesus talking:

Mark 16:16  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

I've read the explanation of this second scripture verse as the first part "He that believeth" is true and so comprehensive that whatever comes in the second part of the sentence, anything you put in the second half of the sentence would be true.  Therefore all the following sentences would also be true:

He that believeth and 
continues to sell drugs to grade school kids 
shall be saved.

He that believeth and 
continues to run an abortion clinic 
shall be saved.

He that believeth and 
continues to rape women 
shall be saved.

He that believeth and 
continues to commit murders 
shall be saved.

He that believeth and 
continues to molest little kids 
shall be saved.

According to this man's doctrine, your belief is all that is required.  Tie your belief with any other statement and both will be true.  

That is not the way people speak.  You would not interpret any other sentence in that manner.  If I am at a restaurant and the waiter comes to take my order.  I tell him, "A hamburger and French fries would make me happy."  A little while later he arrives carrying a tray with a hamburger and a bowl of cottage cheese on it.  I will not be happy with what he has done,  He replies, "I knew that you would be so happy with the hamburger that anything else I brought would be OK."  That is crazy.  That is a Satanic interpretation of Scripture.  That is turning Scripture on its head and twisting it to suit your own beliefs.  

I've heard this same man who got mad at me for asking me about baptism, say this:  

I know you you will continue to deal drugs, beat your wives, molest children, murder and rape, but now you know with 100% certainty that you are going to heaven.  

That is as close to a quote as I can make it. That is no exaggeration.  The idea behind that doctrine is that if we do anything to ensure our own salvation, then we are being saved by our works and not by our faith.  This is not a Biblical doctrine.  If it were not so deadly serious it would be laughable. . . I absolutely aggree that I cannot do anything by my works to get into heaven, that is true, but I can surely find myself in hell for my works.

Read the words of Jesus:

Matthew 7:15-23  Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  (16)  Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  (17)  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  (18)  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  (19)  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  (20)  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  (21)  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  (22)  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  (23)  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Notice Jesus said that these people will think they were doing His will.  They were casting out devils in His name and have done other things that seem to be good.  They call Him "Lord. . .Lord. . .", but He does not know them because of the 'work of iniquity' that they do. . . they do bad things and therefore He doesn't know them. . .They truly are wolves in sheeps clothing. . . According to Jesus, their good works did not get them to heaven, but their bad works, their works of iniquity got them sent to hell. . .

The churches that believe this way often have wonderfully modern buildings, often with beautiful stained glass windows and large parking areas.  Their choirs are wonderful.  Their Pastors are friendly and compassionate.  They give greatly in charity to the community.  They are greatly desirable in many ways but for all their outward appearances, they are leading great numbers of people down a very dark path. . .

In choosing a church, don't look at the building. . .don't be distracted by the wonderful sound system. . .not that any of these things are in of themselves bad, but without basing their doctrine solely upon the Word of God and that means all Scripture, not just a few selected verses. . .without that a church is no more than a country club.  In a way it's worse in that the people in a country club have no pretense, they are not fooling themselves that they are living for God by going there. . .

Another thing I want to emphasize, and this is from a sermon that my Pastor, Mark Johnson, preached not long after I began going to church.  You cannot choose a church by going to several and trying each on to see which one fits you the best.  Looking for a church is not like buying a sports jacket.  You don't put it on and button it up to see if it fits just right across the chest.  You don't check the length of the sleeves to see that they are exactly the right length.  To continue with that metaphor, if your church doesn't pinch a little bit, if you don't have to lose some things to be comfortable there, if there aren't areas that are too big, areas where you have to grow in order to fit in, then there is something very wrong.  Your church isn't placing a high enough expectation upon you.  If it fits perfectly the first time you enter the doors of it.  Something is not right.  

Coming to God is a process which we never fully complete.  There must continue to be an expectation of, a requirement of change every day of our Christian life.  There will always be things I need to get rid of, out of my flesh.  There will always be areas in which I need to grow.  I need to have sermons preached to me, which make me squirm in the pew.  To only have feel-good experiences at church is a road to spiritual death.  To never have my toes stepped upon by my Pastor means that he is not doing his job.  It would be like a parent who never corrected or directed or disciplined their children.  That is a recipe for disaster because I will never be at the point where I don't need direction and correction from him.  I would be a fool to think otherwise, but it surely would be easier to grow a church.  The pews would surely be more full by only preaching messages which made people feel good. . .Don't choose church by how good it makes you feel, but rather by how much it makes you hunger for holiness and righteousness. . .by how much it makes you ache to be the person whom God wants you to be. . .

This is from my talk at the jail the other evening.  It is an extremely important question:  "How do I find a good church".  Find a church which bases it's doctrine not on tradition or the beliefs of men, but solely on the Bible.  Find a church that both stretches you and requires you to lose things.

I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Joy of the Spirit. . .The Pleasure of the Flesh. . .

In the days before I knew the Lord, the only happiness I knew was the pleasure of the flesh.  I was not at all a spiritual person, so obviously I could know nothing of spiritual joy.  I looked for happiness and justification for my life in my career, in money, in food and drink, in sexual satisfaction, in my relationships, in my possessions. . .The pleasure of the flesh requires more, more, more. . .It is never satisfied.  This following verse is so very vivid and so well describes the happiness of fleshly consumption:

James 5:5
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Cattle in the feedlot know no true happiness.  They have abundance of their physical needs beyond their imagination, but it brings no happiness and indeed immediately beyond the exit gate of the feedlot is the door to their death.  What an interesting metaphor.  How like the world.  The feedlot is not ultimately benevolent to the longterm interests of the cattle.  It only seemingly tends to the needs of the cattle, but another deeper and darker agenda lies behind the endless catering to the feeding of the cattle's flesh.   While in the flesh I continued and indeed the  world continues feeding and fattening itself like an ox gorging itself at the feed trough, endlessly feeding the flesh as if in preparation for day of slaughter.

I knew no different.  I could see that living for God meant sacrificing the desires of the flesh.  Most all of the things that I found pleasures in, were pretty obviously to be forgone in living for the Lord.   I could see no replacement for them.  I knew nothing of the joy of the Lord.  Such a concept was nonsense to me and as a result the thought of living for God appeared to me to be a very bland and colorless option. . . again. . . 

I've talked about this over and over. . . but the impact upon me that day when I came to Life Tabernacle (my church) as an atheist for the first time and watched an elder saint, Brother Studt, raising his hands and so fervently worshiping God.  It was clear to me that it was not a dry and dusty relationship that he had with God.  My eyes were opened a mere crack and I saw a glimmer of the joy and beauty of being in the presence of God.

In hindsight I was so very blind to anything spiritual.  My eyes were so oriented to the flesh.  The joy of the Spirit and the pleasures of the flesh are always in opposition to one another.  To cater to the flesh necessarily means denying the Spirit.  The feeding and strengthening of the flesh will inevitably have the result of the diminishing of the Spirit.  I don't think I overstate it.  Our Lord emphasized the dangers of riches:

Matthew 19:21-24
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.  (22)  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.  (23)  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  (24)  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

How can we read this and not be convicted that it applies to us?  The young man had lots of things and that was his stumbling block, but do you think this passage is only talking to the millionaires or billionaires of today?  Is the focus of this passage households that have 4 or 5 cars parked in the driveway rather than the 2 or 3 that most of us have?  I moved into my present house in 1995.  It was a huge effort to move, requiring the rental of a large moving truck, a number of trips between our old house and the new place and lots of people to help.  In the 14 years we've lived here our possessions have probably doubled or tripled in volume.  Most people of the world can probably carry all their possessions on their back or maybe in a little cart.  We are an extremely wealthy people. . .Make no mistake, in this country we are rich men and women.  This is a huge spiritual risk for us.

How important are your possessions to you?  Several years ago in the old jail we had had a very powerful service.  One man in particular was greatly touched.  He lingered after the meeting for a few moments.  He had greatly opened his heart to God, very likely for the first time in his life. . .He had no Bible.  He was shortly, probably the next morning, to go downstate to the Indiana Department of Corrections processing facility and I would very probably never see him again.  I only had a few moments with him.  I had just bought a new Bible.  I had no other Bibles with me.  That lovely Bible cost me $30 or $40 and I was greatly infatuated with it.  God clearly spoke to me and told me to give my new Bible to this man.  I heard the voice of God just as clearly as if someone were speaking directly to me.  I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach at the thought of giving up my new Bible.  It was a physical pain.  My flesh was so attached to that new Bible of mine.  That Bible was more important to me than that man needing one and its attraction for me was almost stronger than being obedient to God.  

This little internal battle of mine was over in seconds or fractions of seconds.  That man may have noticed a little flicker in my eyes, maybe a very slight hesitation, but I think that I quite smoothly answered God and his need by handing my Bible to him, but inside I wasn't the joyful giver that I should have been.  I don't think I will be receiving any rewards in heaven for that act of charity.  My heart wasn't right.

Can I take pride in winning that little battle?  That was a mere $40 Bible and I wrestled with the giving of it up. . .What if God told me to give my $1200 Nikon camera to someone?  Am I the owner of my possessions or do they own me?  Do my belongings own my soul?  Or am I in command of them?  What if the Lord told me that in order to be perfect, I needed to go and sell all that I have and give it to the poor. . .

I love you my God. . .
I love you my God. . .
I love you my God. . .
I love you my God. . .

Thank you my Lord. . .


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Running Late. . .

Ready to go?

You're not ready?
I thought you said you were?

Why didn't you think about that before now?

No, it has to be right now.

There's no more time.

You were supposed to be ready.

You had to know.

I'm sorry.

No, it can't wait.

No, not even five minutes.

It's no use.

There's no more time.

You should have thought about that before.

When you say you're ready, you need to be ready.

You had plenty of time, you should have been all ready.

It's a shame. . .

There's no more time now. . .

It has to be now. . .


No more time. . .

I'm very sorry. . .

It's really a shame.

It's too late. . .

I'm sorry. . .

Nothing can be done now. . .

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Very Dry Place. . .

What is a desert?  There is no set definition of a desert.  A desert is defined as a very dry place, possibly only in the mind of the one experiencing it.  What may be a desert to you, might be a place of sufficient moisture to another.  I have been in a very dry place for about a month now.  I have had to search for moisture.  Every desert contains water, but it must be sought after.  Water is precious in the desert.  It cannot be taken for granted.  When you are in a dry place, moisture must be a focus and a priority. . .

I recently read of men of a desert land, who many years ago were taken to the alpine mountains of Europe for a visit.  I paraphrase. . .This is my memory. . .They had no knowledge of and had never been outside of their desert land.  They were amazed by snowflakes falling from the sky and mystified by white magical rivers of solid water slowly creeping down the rocky mountainsides, but they were truly paralyzed with wondrous worship at the sight of a waterfall and in fact they refused to leave the sight of it.  When their hosts finally insisted that they go, the desert men explained that if God were to so honor them by pouring out such an abundance of water for their viewing, that it was the least that they could to do to wait until His display was over.  They could not imagine an endless waterfall. . .Water was so very precious to them.  They could not conceive such an abundance of it.  Water is available in a desert, but it is to be sought after and treasured.

I love to write, but every time I finish writing something, it is a mystery to me. . .I never know if I will ever write again.  I know not from where it comes, nor to where it goes.  In this last month, I have started writing half a dozen or more times. . .If I try to write without the inspiration of the Spirit, it is dead and dry and forced. . .That is the way it has been for me since the first of the year.  I always pray for God to give me something beautiful to write about, something that will magnify Him, and hopefully something that will draw men to Him. . . and up until this point He has always answered me, but life is about change.  My relationship with God has changed and continues to change.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but the way that He interacts with me is not unchanging.  He leads me ever deeper.  He leads me into more challenging terrain.  He leads me places where I must work to keep up with Him. . .where I must work sometimes to find Him at all.  He is my Shepherd.  As a good shepherd, he leads me to places where I will grow. . .

A couple of things have happened in the last six weeks or so.  A friend of mine died a little before Christmas.  I arrived at the funeral home very early.  The doors were not even unlocked yet.  It was a wonderful thing.  It was very much a God thing.  It was not at all planned by me, but by arriving so early, I was able to speak privately to a family member in a few quiet moments before anyone else arrived.  It was very powerful, but I was still very very early.  I had brought my Bible and I began to read Ecclesiastes.  It seems like about half the funerals I go to have readings from Ecclesiastes and I was able to read almost the entire book before the funeral began.  I understand why the passages from Ecclesiastes are chosen to read from for funerals (and in fact this preacher for my friends funeral also read from Ecclesiastes) , but that book to me has such a depressing view of life.  It's a valuable lesson, but I've never heard the lesson of the book itself preached at a funeral.  Just little snippets are used, little extracts that to me miss much of the point of the book.

The book was written by Solomon, one of the greatest kings the earth has ever seen.  His accomplishments, his wisdom and his riches are still renown, but he calls it all vanity.  Over and over some 37 times in only 12 chapters.  He begins:

Ecclesiastes 1:2  Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

Five times in one sentence he uses this word vanity.  The word vanity means ' a breath', a wisp, a puff of air.  Everything of Solomon's life is of no more importance than a transient wafting of insignificant air.  At one point in the beginning of the book Solomon writes:

Ecclesiastes 1:14  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

That phrase 'vexation of spirit' is maybe more literally and vividly rendered as feeding on the wind.  There is no nutrition or satisfaction in eating a meal of air.  Again according to Solomon all of life is the mere chasing of the wind.  Solomon's accomplishments are huge.  His temple, his kingdom, his riches, his wisdom combined together make any normal man's accomplishments seem puny and worthless by comparison and yet Solomon decries everything he has done as chasing the wind. . .

The second thing that has occurred over the last six weeks is that I have completed my training to be a Hospice volunteer and I have begun working shifts in the local Hospice house.  I just do little odds and ends jobs, emptying wastebaskets, making warm milk or cream of wheat cereal, getting ice water or coffee for clients or staff, helping the RN or Nurses Aide running errands as they might require. . . doing ministry on a most basic level.  I find it hugely rewarding.  I just love it, but you immediately are struck with how life comes down to a very small world.  For most the world ends up being no larger than their bed.  We begin our journey of life in a womb that grows and stretches to fit our needs so very closely.  At the end of our journey on this earth, the world likewise in reverse manner shrinks to a very snug and similarly small cocoon only sufficient for our immediate needs.  

Solomon was right.  Nothing much in his life amounted to anything.  Everything of the wonders that he accomplished was eaten by moths and destroyed by rust.  Virtually nothing he did was of any permanence.  He freely admits that whatever be built would be left to someone who may well be a fool:

Ecclesiastes 2:18-19  Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.  And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.

Solomon recognized that there is no telling what will happen to everything he has accomplished in the next generation.  Nothing is of any lasting importance. . .The Hebrew people were very centered upon themselves.  Theirs was a religion of isolation and protection.  A religion of trying to survive in the midst of hostile neighbors.   Probably the greatest Hebrew evangelist (maybe the only one) was Jonah.  God told him to go and preach to Nineveh.  Do you remember?  Jonah refused and a fish ate him.  He ran and disobeyed God rather than to preach to the gentiles.  God put Jonah into a position where he had to obey.  So Jonah preached to them and then sat outside the city and waited for God to destroy them and was disappointed when God didn't.  The Hebrew religion was not/is not a religion of outreach and evangelism.

In my Bible reading, I'm in the midst of reading the Psalms and it just strikes me as how self-centered and selfish the Psalms are in comparison to the writings of the New Testament.  There are exceptions, but almost every Psalm has to do with difficulties or circumstances of the writer.  If there is much concern for other people, it is for God to exact judgment upon those who torment the writer with their sinfulness and unrighteousness.  Contrast that with the epistles of Paul who, at the peril and abuse of his own life, actively tries to lead sinful people into the kingdom of God.

There is no lasting satisfaction with self-centeredness and pride and ego. . .In the final chapter, all of our worldly accomplishments are shown to be worthless. . .Working at the Hospice, I have a clear vision of the end of my life.  It is not at all hard to see a chart with my name on it, a shadowy view of my wife quietly reading next to my bed.  I see with crystalline clarity those things which will bring me satisfaction, those mental images and memories, which will sustain me and be more than meals of wind. . .I greatly desire not to be consumed with the regrets of a life lived in vanity when my world is reduced to the size of a hospital bed. . .of all the things I might write, I fervently hope not to be the author of Ecclesiastes.

I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .