Entering Our Inheritance

Settling down in the easy chair one night, I looked forward to an interesting-looking episode from the documentary, “America in Color.” It is not that I often find time to do this, nor can even afford the time to do this. But on this occasion, I did – my version of coming aside to rest awhile. One of the segments of the program highlighted the Osage native American tribe during the early twentieth century. Through a strange twist of events, the Osages, who had been granted property by the US government came into a vast amount of wealth. At first, the decision by the US to give them land seemed like a strategy to marginalize this needy and poverty-stricken people group. But what appeared to have dubious intentions, actually turned out to be for them an immense blessing in disguise when it was discovered that the land they resided on was situated on top of an abundant supply of subterranean oil. Because the Osages now owned the land, the government was obligated to make good on the rich supply that lay beneath their feet, paying the tribe handsome financial dividends beyond anything they could have ever imagined. It was reported at the time, that they were the wealthiest people in all the world per capita. It was truly a story of going from “rags to riches.”

Our Story

Certainly there is a spiritual lesson in all this. Every Christian has also been brought into a vast supply of spiritual blessings, undetected by the human eye. According to Ephesians 1:3, we have been drenched with every spiritual blessing in Christ. These blessings came to us when we came to Christ since Ephesians 1:11 reminds us that we have already obtained an inheritance (past tense). They are our present possessions by nature of our identity with Christ; crucified, raised up and made to sit together with Him. It is not based on any merit of our own, through any works of our own, or our social, economic or educational standing or even our parentage. No, nothing of the kind. Instead, it is because of a strange but wonderful twist of events – when needy people (like us) and perhaps marginalized, came into untold spiritual wealth, whose curse was turned into a blessing. When we were spiritually sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed, waiting for the “moving of the water” (Jn. 5), Someone came to our aid when no one else did. As a result, we are now sons and heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Amazing grace! To top it off, to be given an assurance that these blessings – our inheritance – will never disappear or be taken away and is reserved in heaven for us is even more astounding.

Our Spiritual Portfolio

So what makes up this inheritance that Scripture speaks about? For starters, it involves our salvation, which will never be corrupted, defiled or ever fade away. Another? The Holy Spirit – He will always be the same and He will never be corrupted, or defiled or ever fade away. Another? The Word of God – that will always be the same and will never pass away, (Mt. 24:35). On and on we can go: assurance; understanding (1 Jn. 5:20); sonship; spiritual gifts and abilities…the list is endless. As the hymn states, “blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.” How great is our God!

Entering In?

Yet, I wonder if some of us have not really entered into our inheritance as much as we could. Let’s face it, we all at times can be like those 2 ½ tribes (Josh. 1), unwilling to venture into the interior because we enjoy our current, comfortable situation far too much. We forfeit the better fruit of the land by our complacency. It is not that we don’t have the rights to a better experience or even possess the resources to get there. But the question is: “Are we living in the good of it?” Have we crossed over the Jordan (Josh. 3), are we following behind the Ark (Josh. 3, 4), have we applied the sharp knife of the Word in self-judgment (Josh. 5), and have we overcome in the strength of the Lord (Josh. 6)? If we have not, we can hardly say that we have entered in the full apprehension and appreciation of all that is ours in Christ. Comparing it with the example of the Osages but in reverse, I have heard of cases of landowners who never realized they lived atop oil fields and despite having the rights to the land, never tapped into the wealth that was theirs and consequently never entered into the benefit of that which they actually possessed.

Joshua was a person who never departed out of the Tabernacle (Ex. 33:11), but as fearless and successful as he was in the battles of the Lord, there was still more land he needed to possess. God said so (Josh. 13:1), even though he was old. God says the same to us. How about you, how about me? Can it be said of us that there remains very much land to be possessed?

The Great Divide: The Difference Between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology

For the typical believer and especially those younger in the faith, the terms Covenant theology and Dispensationalism can be very confusing. Even mature saints find it difficult to get a handle on these two main approaches to biblical interpretation. Combined with other theological terms such as premillennialism, amillennialism, preterism, Christian reconstructionism and progressive dispensationalism, the average believer in any congregation can be easily intimidated by the polysyllabic terminology. However, the serious student of the Word will want to investigate these concepts in the light of Scripture in order to obtain a clearer understanding of the differences between them. Because of the continuing interest in Covenant theology, it is important to understand what it is and how it contrasts with dispensationalism.

What is Covenant Theology and when did it begin?

Covenant theology or covenantism is a means of interpreting the Bible through the lens of two or three covenants in Scripture. Those who subscribe to this perspective refer to two of these covenants as the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Many in this camp see a third covenant called a covenant of redemption. Based on Hebrews 13:20, they claim that this was established between the Father and the Son in eternity past. Though these terms are not found in Scripture, adherents nevertheless claim that the principles are represented there.

As a system of thought, Covenant theology first appeared during the mid-1500’s at the time of the Reformation. According to Louis Berkoff a prominent covenant theologian, Kaspar Olevaanus was the first to develop this line of thought. Later in the mid-1600’s, Johannes Cocceius further developed this approach to this interpretation of scripture, which at the time was becoming quickly established in many of the churches in Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland and England. The Puritans were primarily responsible for bringing this teaching to America. Currently, it is the predominant theological persuasion in Protestantism and finds its center in churches following Reformed traditions and those who also favor a Calvinistic persuasion.

Simply put, Covenant theology purports that the whole of Scripture revolves around two or perhaps three main covenants, hence the name. In short, those in the covenant school hold that before time began, a covenant was established among the Godhead that the Son would be the Head and Redeemer of the elect, a select group of individuals predetermined to receive eternal life. This was done knowing in advance of Adam’s failure in the Garden. In return, the Son would be raised to life after His atoning work at Calvary, glorified by the Father and given power and great glory. This is called the covenant of redemption. After Adam was created, the triune God established a covenant with Adam in which he was promised eternal life for perfect obedience and warned of physical and spiritual death if he failed, which he did. This all occurred under the covenant of works. Because of Adam’s failure, a covenant of grace was then graciously established to provide forgiveness for the offending, elect descendants of Adam, whom he represented. This forgiveness was made possible by the covenant of redemption which predated it in eternity. Consequently, the elect sinner after being regenerated and given the gift of faith is then forgiven and then promises to live a life well-pleasing to God in obedience to the Lord. These are some of the main tenets of Covenant theology.

The Problems with Covenant Theology

Adherents of covenantism have a high regard for Scripture and seek to emphasize the great doctrines of the faith such as the centrality of Jesus Christ in history and justification by grace through faith alone. These are all commendable pursuits, many of which issued out of the Reformation, a significant turning point in church history. But there are also many things that are lacking in this school of thought. For one, it emphasizes God’s work in the salvation of the elect to the exclusion of a number of other important truths in the Bible. That God has a plan to save His people and the importance of that salvation is not the question. But God has other things that He will accomplish that will also ultimately redound to His glory. He has a distinct plan for Israel as well for the other nations, something that is not sufficiently addressed within the framework of Covenant theology. Scripture also cites a series of judgments yet to come: The Judgment Seat of Christ; the Sheep and the Goats (Mt. 25); the beast and false prophet; Satan and the unsaved dead at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20). All of these are clearly differentiated in Scripture and could hardly be grouped into one general judgment which Covenant theology maintains.

The difference between Israel and the Church is perhaps one of the most obvious differences between Covenant theology and Dispensationalism. To a covenantalist, the Church and Israel are essentially the same, the one simply a continuation of the other. They see Stephen’s reference to the “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) as proof positive that the church existed in the Old Testament despite the fact that the Lord referred to it in the future tense in Matthew 16:18, when He said “I will build my church.” To them, the church always was present in the Old Testament, instead of being inaugurated at Pentecost (Acts 2).

In contrast to covenantism, Dispensationalism presents scripture as the unfolding, progressive revelation of God. Through a series of dispensations or time periods, God dispenses His truth for man to obey. Failure to obey this stewardship of truth has resulted in God’s judgment on man throughout history and consequently results in a further revelation of God’s truth which then becomes the standard for the following time period. Therefore, a key component of dispensational thought is that it recognizes these distinctions in Scripture. Further, because covenantalists do not observe critical distinctions in Scripture, it leads to a convoluted interpretation of prophetic portions of the Bible. Because it does not distinguish between Israel and the Church, the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are erroneously applied to the Church, since it sees the Church and Israel as the same. When it comes to unfulfilled prophecy, Covenant theology also lends itself to the employment of a double hermeneutic, meaning two ways of interpreting scripture. This means applying a literal interpretation of the Bible on one hand and a symbolic or allegorical interpretation on the other. In other words, in matters dealing with the past fulfillment of scripture, a literal method is utilized. But when it comes to unfulfilled prophecy, instead of maintaining a consistency in Bible interpretation, a symbolic hermeneutic is employed. This results in some very interesting prophetic predictions, evidenced recently when a well-known radio Bible teacher schooled in Covenant theology, foolishly declared May 21, 2011 to be the end of the world. It was the sad result of the allegorizing of Scripture and failing to observe biblical distinctions.

Finally, because of the emphasis on God’s redemptive work of the elect, some view Covenant theology as having a deadening effect on evangelistic fervor. “Why evangelize if God is going to save the elect anyway?” is the retort by dispensationalists when analyzing the ramifications of this theological approach.

What makes Covenant Theology so popular?

The question naturally arises, “Why then, is Covenant theology so popular?” There may be a number of reasons. One is that it is historically tied to the Reformation. That has an appeal to some people because of the tremendous contribution made by the Reformers and the place it had both in church and world history. Something in the past always seems better. As someone has said “Distance lends enchantment to the view”. Another reason may deal with the academic nature of this topic. Detailed, intricate reasoning can appeal to the intellect and that discipline in itself is attractive to some people because it separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”, meaning those who have not grasped the concepts. Still another reason may be that historically, Dispensationalism as a theological explanation of God’s truth came after Covenant theology. Though evident in writings throughout the Church’s existence, it was significantly expounded and promulgated through the pen of J.N. Darby during the 1800’s. His voluminous writings and emphasis on the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ fueled the modern missionary movement and dramatically transformed the evangelical landscape. However, the fact that it came afterwards causes some people to favor covenantism, which appeared in church history much earlier. But timing in itself does not legitimize any school of thought. Look at the dangerous heresy of Gnosticism which appeared at the end of the first century – certainly not a valid school of thought!

Yes, there are many differences between Covenant theology and Dispensationalism, differences that can easily divide. But despite these differences, those who hold to another view of scripture should never be viewed as the enemy. “He that is not against us is for us” (L 9:50). Our attitude should be as Paul stated to the Philippians, “…if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Phil. 3:15). May that be our sentiment as we strive to rightly divide the word of truth.

Thanksgiving – Thanks Living

There is no question in my thinking that our pilgrim forefathers had Deut. 26 in mind when they established the first Thanksgiving in our country centuries ago. The law of the offering of the first fruits was God’s instruction to Israel to acknowledge His abundant provision once they entered Canaan, the Land of Promise. It was also designed to highlight His grace and mercy in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt and leading them to that place that flowed with milk and honey. It was the chronicle of God’s mighty power toward them as a nation and His continual goodness and grace upon them afterwards. Similarly, despite the initial hardship the pilgrims experienced in coming to the New World and their arduous first year here, they also declared that same goodness of God on their behalf in more ways than one – just as Israel did in the past and as we should do today.

The details of this law were simple. Upon entering the land, the grateful offerer was to take the first fruits of their produce and place them in a basket, setting it before the priest as an act of worship, v. 2. What followed was a firm declaration that God had indeed kept His word and brought the nation into their inheritance, v. 3. The priest would then take the basket from his hand and offer it to the LORD, v. 4. The testimony was that as a nation they were ready to perish (v. 5), describing the way they were mistreated in the world and afflicted and how in the midst of this horrible misery, the cry went up to the Lord who heard their plea. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, He greatly delivered them from their bondage in Egypt, as recorded in Exodus 2.

As believers, we too were on the brink of perishing, but were delivered from “so great a death” (2 Cor. 1:10). But God in mercy, raised us up and made us to sit together in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We too, have obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:11) as they did. Like Mephibosheth, we have been made to sit at the king’s table, despite our weakness and past infirmities (2 Sam. 9). Indeed, God has kept His Word and as a certain songwriter has penned it: “My Redeemer is faithful and true, everything that He said, He will do; every morning His mercies are new; my Redeemer is faithful and true”. Like that one leper who came back to the Lord, falling on his face and giving Him thanks, Luke 17:16, we too need to come back to the Lord regularly and give Him thanks for what He has done when we were helpless and hopeless. We declare with the same conviction as David in Psalm 40:1-3: “He heard my cry and brought me out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a Rock and established my goings. He put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God”. It is our privilege to express with grateful hearts, the work of redemption in our hearts each Lord’s Day as we thus remember Him. We are to bring our “baskets” full – whatever size they be – to our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, who offers it up and adds “His sweet perfume” before our Father in Heaven. As this is done, we are to give thanks to the Father who has “made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light because He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13). Praise His name.

But it does not stop there. As with Israel long ago, our thankfulness for our spiritual and temporal provision should not be confined to ourselves, but shared with others in practical ways. Rejoicing in every good thing that the Lord, the grateful offerer was to share what he possessed with others, the “stranger, the fatherless, the widow… they they may eat within your gates and be filled” (v. 12). The essence of true thankfulness is sharing with others what we have received and enjoy. The four lepers in 2 Kings 7 were smitten in their hearts when they realized that what they possessed, they were actually keeping to themselves. They acknowledged their wrong and determined among themselves that they needed to go and tell the king’s household and share with others what they had. We should do this with the Gospel, telling others of the Gospel of God’s free grace in Christ, whenever we have the opportunity to share the hope that lies within us, (1 Peter 3:15). We should also share of our material possessions as a tangible means to back up our words and give them weight.

At this time of year, let’s look for opportunities to share with others, both in word and deed how the Lord has blessed us and provided for our all our needs in Christ.

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. 13:15–16)

Starting Well, Finishing Well

“And behold I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me to give to every one according to his work.”
Revelations 20:11

I remember as a young boy, the thrill I had every September as I looked forward to the approaching school year. It was not that I despised the summer, it was my favorite time of the year and still is. But knowing that it was coming to an end, my focus shifted from fun and games to an inevitable reality – school. It was exciting indeed; there were new clothes to buy, new shoes and sneakers to get. There were also new school supplies that I just had to have, thanks to the skillful marketing ploys of cunning merchandizers. Even more was the anticipation of the personal letter that would arrive in the mail at the end of August, informing me of where I was to report on the first day of class. Yes, there was real excitement in the air as I geared up for a new school year! I was “raring to go” and determined to get off to a great start.

But it was not too long however before all of that disappeared, along with my enthusiasm. The regular discipline of waking up early each day to catch the bus, the long days of classroom teaching and not quite understanding what my teacher was saying, made my experience laborious to say the least, not to mention the homework (though I will!). Yes, the homework – oh, the homework. The things we had to put aside… because of homework, every student’s nightmare! Still, I knew deep down that if I applied myself, it would eventually pay off.

Lessons for Us

Thinking this through, I wonder if there are not some lessons in this in our walk with Christ. When Paul wrote to the Galatians he reminded them that at the beginning of their Christian lives they ran well, commenting, “who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth” (Gal. 5:7). Apparently, at the start they were passionate in their pursuit to do well, like I was at the beginning of each school year. The “fun and games” were over (1 Pet. 4:3) and now they had to buckle down to begin learning certain disciplines in the school of God. They had indeed run well but somewhere along the line they veered off course and were persuaded to go down a different path. They came under the influence of false teachers who cooled their godly ambition and zeal, and affected their first love. It is can happen to any of us, even as it did for the assembly at Ephesus (Rev. 2:4). The Scriptures identify a number of those who ran well in the beginning of the Christian race (Heb. 12:1), but for one reason or another turned off the path of devotion for Christ, and either slowed down or stopped in their forward progress for Him. Demas is a prime example (2 Tim. 4:10) as were Hymenaeus and Philetus who obviously did not understand what the Teacher was saying (2 Tim. 2:18).

Divine Strategy for Diligent Service

To counter the tendency in our hearts to coast in our spiritual lives, God has provided tremendous examples of diligence and dedication for our consideration. Foremost was the Lord Jesus, who “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despised the shame and is now set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12: 1-2). He knew the value of the eternal work He came to do, which was the reason for His cry in Gethsemane, “not my will, but thine be done” (Lk. 22:42). It was perseverance in the purest form. As the hymn says, “My Example is He!”. But there are others also who applied themselves because they knew and looked for the great recompense of reward. There was Caleb who cried out “Give me this mountain” (Josh. 14:12); Othniel, who took the city of Kirjath-Sepher and won Caleb’s daughter in marriage. And then there were David’s mighty men, a collection of would be losers who started out distressed, in debt and discontented (1 Sam. 22:1), but later became devoted to their leader, David. Their grand achievements have been recorded for us in God’s Holy Word as a testimony of their love and loyalty to the one who became captain over them (1 Sam. 22:2; 2 Sam. 23). It should inspire us to be devoted to our Leader and the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). Time would fail us as it did for the writer of Hebrews to enumerate all that was accomplished by the great heroes of the faith whose names and deeds are forever listed in God’s hall of fame chapter. They embraced the promises and looked ahead to the prize that awaited them with a single focus of starting and finishing well, diligent in learning, and doing their homework in the school of God.

Crowns for the Christian

In Nehemiah 3, one of the last gates to be repaired was the Ham Miphkad gate (v. 31). It was the gate through which those returning from battle were reviewed and rewarded for achievements on the battlefield. They went out through this gate to head into battle and came back to be rewarded. What a picture that is for us! Going out as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, to earnestly contend for the faith and then to come back to our reward. It is just as the Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I come quickly and my reward is with Me” (Rev. 22:11), and also alluded to in Isaiah 40:10. What shape do those rewards come to us if we earn them? Among other things, they come in the form of crowns. These crowns are: the incorruptible crown for a disciplined life (1 Cor. 9:24-27); the crown of life for enduring under trial and for martyrdom (Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10); the crown of rejoicing for winning souls (1 Thess. 2:19-20); the crown of righteousness for godly living in the light of the Lord’s imminent return (2 Tim. 4:8); and the crown of glory for helping others live a fruitful life (1 Pet. 5:4). These are divine incentives to press on to the prize set before us and to persevere until our graduation or the Lord’s return, when honors are bestowed at the judgment seat of Christ.

Like it is for many students, starting well is great. But doing well and finishing well is just as important. Don’t forget to keep your eyes on the prize (Phil. 3:14)!

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 15:58

Generational Differences and a Word About Youth

“One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.” – Psalm 145:4

No matter where I go, I continually hear the importance of reaching out and ministering to the younger generation. In a previous day, there was a concerted effort to do so with accounts of many young people coming to Christ by the hordes. There was Youth for Christ with Billy Graham, Torrey Johnson and Robert Cook. There was Percy Crawford’s Youth on the March; Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ, Jack Wyrtzen’s Word of Life camps, Dawson Trotman and the Navigators and Stacy Woods with Inter-Varsity and the Urbana Missions convention. These were major initiatives aimed at youth and were a major influence in American evangelicalism. Thankfully, there are still viable youth ministries taking place for which we praise the Lord.

But how do we reach the youth culture today with the life-changing message of the Cross – a culture on the skids and fixated on the macabre? If we do reach them, how do we effectively engage them and tap into their talents once they become part of a church fellowship? The opinions vary widely and run from pillar to post, ranging from the plausible to the ridiculous. At the center of the discussion is the music issue – traditional hymns versus contemporary music, a controversial topic indeed! There are definitely generational differences on this and other matters of Church practice that need to be talked out.

The Younger Generation

First, let’s look at the young people. They have so much to offer! They possess an abundance of energy, are willing to travel to the uttermost parts of the earth to go on an activity and can change the atmosphere of the meetings simply by being there. For the most part, they are on the cutting edge of technology and provide the technical expertise that can enhance the ministries of any local church. They are also a means for reaching others for Christ. Like Levi who invited his friends to a feast after coming to the Lord (Mark 2), young people are a potential pipeline to others. Young people are definitely a worthwhile ministry focus and a valuable investment that can pay high dividends for any fellowship that makes the effort to reach out and encourage them.

However, this is a hard sell for some. They have a tough time with the youth whose church attendance is inconsistent at best and whose casual dress and giving patterns have something to be desired. Some even feel they exhibit a disrespectful attitude toward the older generation, the result of buying into a secular culture that promulgates a message of “Question Authority”. They often think that the older generation is clueless, especially in the area of technology. That might be the case when working on an IPAD or tablet, or with emails, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. But to be honest, in the school of God the older generation has a lot more wisdom than youth, who should be actively seeking their advice. It is to their detriment if they do not. Look at the young servant of Elisha. Instead of checking with the prophet before preparing a meal, he went out into a field and collected a lapful of poisonous gourds in a time of famine. After putting them into the stew, “death in the pot” ensued, adversely affecting the sons of the prophets, 2 Kings 4:38-41. It is a spiritual reminder that young people need to seek out godly counsel from the older generation to avoid the harmful effects of false teaching. It also should speak to the older generation to offer protective counsel in a time of spiritual famine. A similar warning comes from the life of King Rehoboam who rejected the gracious counsel of the older generation and yielded to the shortsighted perspective of the younger men around him. When he did, civil war broke out, 1 Kings 12:1-15. Young people need to know this! As the verse says, there is a generation that is lifted up and pure in their own eyes. Unfortunately, the culture can adversely affect their perspective, thus the reason to regard the godly advice of the older generation. The gray hair of older people speaks for itself – they must have done something right to get this far in life!

The Older Generation

Now all this is not to say that the older generation is not without their faults. They have some issues as well. True, the “builder generation” have clearly proven their dedication to Christ over the years. They represent the faithful core. They have a commitment to the meetings of the church. They have abundantly given of their time, talents and treasures. What would we do without them! But they also need to realize that the youth today are facing monumental challenges compared to what they went through in their younger days. Youth have to be discipled, nurtured, and trained in the ways of the Lord if a fellowship is to continue to have a vital testimony. It may be difficult for older Christians to let go of ministries they have enjoyed and been doing for years, but it must be done if future generations are to be cared for. They also need to know that in previous centuries some of the movers and shakers were of the younger generation. The life of John Darby and other notables attest to that. Consequently, the older generation has to realize that because something “has always been done this way”, does not mean that adjustments cannot be done to make outreach and ministry more effective, as long as the Word is consulted and not compromised. David learned that lesson quickly when he borrowed the idea of using a Philistine cart to transport the Ark of the Covenant rather than by God’s prescribed way (2 Sam. 6). As he adjusted, obeying the Word, great progress was made, 1 Chron. 15:13-15; 26.

Which brings me to this image. What do you see? Depending on how you look at it, you will either see a very elegant woman or an older, not-so-elegant looking woman (to put it mildly). What is the difference? It simply is a matter of perspective. Similarly, some see what they do as beautiful; others see another side of things – not so beautiful. In Ezra’s day, the young people rejoiced when they saw the temple restored, while the older generation wept because, it paled in comparison to the former temple from their perspective, Ezra 3:12. Another difference between the generations, for sure.

To the youth, Paul writes, “Let no man despise thy youth”. He then elaborates, “be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity”, 1 Tim. 4:12, a challenge for young people to be above reproach. To the older generation, Paul writes “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also”, 2 Tim. 2:2. There is a duty to invest in the next generation and equip them. For the young, be a model Christian and earn the trust of the older generation so they can confidently “pass the baton” to you. For the older, look for opportunities to invest in a young person today.

A Love That Will Not Let Go

I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2

It was in the midst of a severe personal crisis in 1882, that George Matheson, then just forty years of age, penned the familiar words of this time-proven hymn: O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.

It was an acknowledgement of the Lord’s deep love for him as well as his own searching, self-confession that verbalized his commitment to give back to the Lord so that his life might “richer, fuller be”. The fact that he composed the hymn in less than five minutes by his own testimony is the irrefutable evidence of the fruit that remains when it comes down the path of suffering and through the valley of the Shadow.

The Love of Christ

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul prayed that they might be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ…”, Eph. 3:18-19. As we examine the manifold grace of God in salvation, we only begin to see the magnitude and scintillation of God’s deep love for us in Christ, a love that indeed is “vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!”. At best, we only see the edges of His glory. Nevertheless, it fills our hearts with wonder as we consider His amazing grace (and is one of the reasons why we include the “Salvation Stories” column in every issue of this magazine). This love is at work long before our salvation (2 Thess. 2:13) and is evident all the way through our journey with Him, John 13:1.

It is truly a love that will not let us go despite our failures, as Peter and others well knew. It is a love that will keep us from falling (Jude 24), will not allow us to be separated from Him (Rom. 8:39), and is the basis of the certainty and security of our salvation. (For more on this topic, see George Ferrier’s article: “Double-Knotted Security” in the March issue). To realize that I am my Beloved and His desire is toward me, and that His banner over me is love should make us exult in the Lord and join with the psalmist in saying, “…I will call upon Him as long as I live!”. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised!

Drawing Near

With such a love like this, the only reasonable response from us is to give Him our all. How so? The answer is by drawing near and abiding in Him. The Shulamite stated of the bridegroom, “I sat down under his shade with great delight”, Song 2:3. That should be our response as well for the One who loves us to the end. Martha was a server and busy for the Lord but Mary was a learner who sat at His feet to take in the teaching from the Master. It demonstrated her deep desire to spend time in His presence, an enjoyment that would not be taken away from her, Luke 10:42. Are we doing the same? Love for the Lord comes not so much from the messages we “hear” as it does from the messages we apply – musing upon His mercy and grace, drawing near to Him and staying close by His side. There are many disciples that sit around the table, but only one that leaned upon His bosom. When David’s mighty men were acknowledged for their achievements and feats of bravery on the battlefield, it was a special group of three men that attained the highest honors among their peers. They were the cream of the cream of the crop, 2 Sam. 23:14-17. What was their achievement? It was to penetrate behind enemy lines at risk of their lives to get a drink of water for their king. David had a longing for the water from the well of Bethlehem, his own town that at the time was under the control of the Philistines. The ambition of these three men were to meet the desire of their king. Many of David’s men performed outstanding feats of heroism – some defeated the enemy single-handedly, one slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day, but none attained to the achievement of these three men that issued out of love for their leader. Service for the Lord is important, as are many other things in the Christian life, but the highest occupation and the greatest activity is love for the Savior and worship of Him this truly is the highest occupation and should be the spiritual impetus behind everything we do for our King. The evangelist D. L. Moody said, “Before I was saved, I worked toward the Cross, but after the Cross I worked from it”. He came to learn that salvation was by grace alone, but service proceeded out of love for “that Man of Calvary.” Deepening our love for Christ should be like Ezekiel stepping into river of God (Ezek. 47), progressing until fully immersed. The Love that does not let us go should respond with a love that does not let Him go.

In this issue, Randy Amos instructs us on the spiritual lessons from the various brides of Scripture, while Willie Burnett shares with us gleanings from John 21 and the lessons from the Lord’s recommissioning of Peter – searching words to the apostle and us. We have another interesting account of the Lord’s work of salvation in the life of Gerrit Schakelaar during the days of World War II and Wade Le Blanc gives us a powerful report on the mighty hand of God working among the prison population in Kenya, Africa. Be sure also to catch the poem, “The Man in the Glory” on the back page. It is a thoughtful look of the One who is working all the time on our behalf – the One whom we do not see now, but one day will and when we do, we will rejoice even more with a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Shields & Shishaks

I press for the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

Coming through another winter Olympic season, we have all undoubtedly heard the oft-repeated phrase in commercials and elsewhere to “Go for the Gold!”. It is a verbal and vivid reminder to anyone engaged in competitive sport (or any other arena for that matter) – to excel and be the best in their particular discipline. To this day, I have never heard anyone say to a fellow colleague: “Go for the silver” or “Go for the bronze!”. The fact that there are runners up that finish in second and third place is fundamental, but the ambition of all the participants from the outset is to do well and to win.

When applying this principle to our spiritual life in Christ, we should have the same standard of excellence for the best of Masters. In writing to the Philippian believers, Paul exhorted the saints there to “approve the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10). He did not encourage them to lower the bar or change the standard from the previous generation with the claim that “times have changed”. Not at all. Paul would later challenge the saints at Philippi by example when he stated in clarion tones, “I press for the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). It is that indeed – a high and holy calling, issued from the One who said “Be ye holy, for I am holy…” (1 Pet. 1:15). It was his standard of excellence and one that he desired for them also, requiring dedication, diligence, and a steadfast pressing on with a high standard to attain to and hold.

When Shishak, King of Egypt invaded Jerusalem during Rehoboam’s reign, (1 Ki. 14:25-28), he took away the gold shields in the temple that Solomon had built. Over five hundred shields of hammered gold occupied that temple (1 Ki. 10:16-17), a plethora of precious items that characterized the glorious kingdom of Solomon and the house of the Lord. But because of rank failure among the Lord’s people (1 Ki. 14:23-24), these shields were taken away by the Egyptians and God’s protection of the nation was removed as well. These Egyptian intruders entered the land and took away the heritage of God’s people and the things that were counted dear to the nation. But rather than repenting, Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze ones, shields which looked the same but were in actuality, a cheap substitute. They were still handled with pomp and ceremony and also treated with care (v. 28), but certainly did not possess the value of the shields that were taken away.

I have often pondered this incident from the Scriptures and have wondered if it does not have a parallel for us today. Are there precious truths once held dear to a previous generation that somehow have been taken away from us? Have we lost our grip on them and have allowed the world to snatch them away because of the intrusion of modern-day Shishaks? I have sensed it in my own life and ask if it is true of others also? What has happened to those gold shields – the discipline of personal prayer and devotional time, the regular reading of the Scriptures, the faithful attendance to the meetings of the church, and the extended fellowship with the Lord’s people? All precious protective shields, for sure in our walk with Christ. It does not stop there – perhaps it has an application to the local church as well. What characterizes the church? Is there a lack of fellowship, an abbreviated schedule of meetings, an overemphasis of music over sound biblical teaching and worship? Maybe not, but maybe so. It is easy for us to ignore the biblical injunction to take heed to the things that we have heard lest at any time we should let them slip from our grasp (Heb. 2:1). Worse is the temptation to replace them with those things, which have a resemblance but are cheap look-alikes – casual attendance, token prayer time, cursory devotions and the like. We can all fill in the blank as to what those substitutes are in our experience.

Paul told Timothy to “lay hold of eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12). Solomon urged, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23) and to “remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). Whatever the cost, we are not to allow Shishak to take away the gold that is the standard of the house of the Lord. Whether it is Shishak or Amalek who stole David’s possessions (1 Sam. 30:2), or the Philistines who choked up Abraham’s wells with dirt (Gen. 26:18), every generation needs to discover, uncover, or recover the words of truth and like Israel, possess their possessions (Obad. 17).

In this issue, Jim Comte forcibly reminds us of that need – keeping in the forefront of our minds the certainty of the Lord’s return. Nate Bramsen challenges us to make sure that our focus is always on the Cross. Ning Tan walks us through her personal journey of faith, reminding us that the fruit that remains often comes about as we go through the land of our affliction (Gen. 41:52). George Ferrier reassures us that our security in Christ is doubly sure in Christ and our thanks to Ted Gliske who provided the poem by James Deck, which helps to keep our destination of Heaven in view. Precious truths indeed and the heritage of the house of the Lord!

Challenges to the Church

For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.” – 2 Corinthians 7:5

There is no question that the Church in North America is facing severe challenges. The decline in church attendance which has been steadily going on for years has now reached epidemic proportions in some circles. Why is this? To put it simply, there are more going out (and up!) than there are coming in. I remember well the healthy attendance that marked our fellowship in years past – the overflow VBS and Sunday school programs, the well-attended annual picnic, the regular stream of neighborhood visitors on Sunday mornings and all without any advertising! That is certainly not the case these days, especially for many traditional meetings like ours. Instead, there are huge gaps in the pews that in the past were simply not there – and the statistics bear it out. According to a 2013 poll from Pew Research Center, 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis. Gallup estimated that once-a-week church attendance for Americans was at 39%. That fact is bad enough but the Hartford Institute of Religion Research has an even more revealing statistic. According to their findings, 40 percent of Americans say they go to church weekly when in fact less than 20 percent are actually in a weekly church meeting. In the Institutes’ words, “more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends”. There you have it… “more fulfilling things to do on weekends”. It proves just how powerful the sway of the great god “Entertainment” is over the masses. The majority of the population is occupied with worldly pursuits while a number of those who profess to know the Lord are halting between two opinions, having erected competing altars to the Lord and to other gods (1 Kings 18:21). We wonder why the Church does not have more influence in the world!

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul indicated that he was simultaneously waging a war on two fronts. He elaborated on this in 2 Cor. 11 – shipwrecks, stonings, stripes and imprisonments – just a few of the “fightings” without, all in his quest to share the life-liberating message of the Cross. After listing these adversities (vv. 23-28), he concludes his list with a terse but telling comment – “the care of all the churches” (v. 28). These were the “fears within”, the ongoing conflicts that he experienced from the false teachers who had infiltrated many of the churches he established but whose simplicity in Christ was being threatened (2 Cor. 11:3).

These same pressures are with us today and likewise affect the life of the Church. Externally, there is the threat of government intrusion and interference. Ironically, after decades of decrying separation of church and state, government now demands that we bow to legislative decrees that are objectionable to Bible-believing Christians just as it was in the days of Daniel (Dan. 3). The intimidation that it evokes has been quite effective in muzzling the message decreed from a Higher Authority. Along with the influence of the entertainment world, the challenge to penetrate society with the Gospel message is even more difficult as it keeps the population pitched toward Vanity Fair, all the while portraying Christians as narrow, old-fashioned and behind the times. Adding to the dilemma is the preponderance of false prophets, whose main target is “the people” (2 Peter 2:1). They are tireless emissaries of the devil who appear as ministers of righteousness whose conflicting half-truths steer souls away from finding and following the One whom they so desperately need.

What are the fears within? It is that same line of false teachers who ignorantly are “brought in” (Gal. 2:4) or who have deceptively crept in the assemblies of God’s people (Jude 4). Together, these influences upset the rank and file, make merchandize of the Gospel, pressure leadership to adopt unscriptural practices (Ex. 32:4-5) and foster criticism of the leadership for unscriptural reasons (Num. 12; 16; Jude 11). What challenges we face!

So, what then is the Church to do amid such formidable opposition? It is to do precisely what Paul and others did in his day. Equipped with the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit, believers should fearlessly take the whole Gospel to the whole world. It is not for the world to come and hear but for us to “go and tell”. It is the responsibility of each one to do the work of an evangelist, 2 Tim. 4:5. “Each one, reach one” should be the cry. Buoyed by the promise that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18) and “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19), we are to steadfastly hold forth the message of Life. We are to regard the words of Paul to the Philippians: “in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (Phil. 1:28) and to the Corinthians “a great effectual door is open to us and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9). At the same time, we are to take heed to ourselves and to the doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16) and to be on guard against the devastating effects of false teaching and the subtle influences of the world.

Yes, there are far more fulfilling things to do on a weekend (and the rest of the week) but it is not in the passing pleasures of this world, but in Christ and in His Word! Our duty is to know Him and make Him known and as we do in the power and strength of the Spirit, perhaps we will see this trend turn around, with less gaps in the pews.

He Is Able

Don’t Forget, when things are looking tough… “He is Able!”

In the time of Trial, he is able to deliver us

If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17, NKJV)

There is no trial that He cannot bring us through (Isa. 43:1-2). Trials are the way that He can purge sin from our lives, but when they seem too big to handle, He can make a way of escape. (1 Cor 10:12). He says, Is there anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen. 18:14) and no trial is too big, if we call out to Him for help (2 Chron. 20:12). He is able to save to the uttermost (from the worst of situations, Heb. 7:25)

In the time of Temptation, He is able to Help us

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:17–18, NKJV)

His ministry as our Great High Priest, is to help us in our time of need, (Psalm 46:1). Even when we believe not, yet He remains faithful. (2 Tim. 2:13)

In a time of uncertainty in our hearts, He is able to Keep us from falling.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,” (Jude 24, NKJV)

When we need the assurance in our hearts that we will keep true to Him or that our faith will fail, He reminds us through His Spirit that we belong to Him. “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is toward me” (Song of Solomon 7:10). We are preserved in Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ”, Romans 8:37. He is able to keep us (2 Tim. 1:12) and will not leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5)

In the time of Financial strain, He can provide the means so that we can still give to meet the needs of others

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV)

God can provide for us when we are willing to be channels of blessing. He will provide for our needs so that we can take care of the needs of others. The widow of Zarephath was a prime example, (1 Kings 17:13-14; Matt. 6:33)

In the time of skepticism, when we think that someone will never bow the knee to the Lord is God is Able to Humble

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Dan 4:37, NKJV)

King Nebuchadnezzar was a tough person to humble, but God did; Manasseh was a tough king, causing Judah to err and quite possibly the one responsible for Isaiah’s death, but God humbled him (2 Chron. 33). Those who walk in pride, God can bring to their knees, if He chooses to do so.

There are so many things that He is able to do – able to subdue all things to Himself, (Phil. 3:21) able to raise children unto Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8) and to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, (Eph. 3:20). When things get tough, don’t forget…GOD IS ABLE!

Tried and True

“… that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:3

 

It could hardly be said that any Christian enjoys going through a trial. It is one of those aspects of our faith that we would rather avoid. Depending upon its depth and length, it could shake us to the core, far more than we ever anticipated when we first began traveling down its winding (and perhaps harrowing) path. Yet after coming through it in dependence upon the Lord, we will undoubtedly admit that it had a significant part it had in deepening our faith, sharpening our once nebulous convictions, and conforming us more closely to character of Christ, Romans 8.28-29.

The Scriptures refer often to the purifying and beneficial effect that trials can have in our lives. When Job was going through his great trial of affliction, he could hardly be thankful for the series of calamities that befell him. But through the eye of faith he uttered his deep confession of faith with unshakeable conviction: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”, Job 23:10.  Job understood well the benefit of the God’s refining process, a process he would have rather sidestepped if he had the option, but nevertheless proved invaluable in deepening his faith. It is not that Job was a blatant sinner—he was anything but that—yet, it could never be said of him that “he feared God for nothing” – that is, for personal benefit thus dismissing the arrogant charge of the devil, Job 1.9. There are a lot of trials that we also would prefer to sidestep, but if we do would likewise forfeit its beneficial effect in our lives. It was a tough road for Job and it may be a tough road for us, but it can and often does turn out to the glory of God and a shining example of how the Lord does indeed bring many sons to glory, Hebrews 2.9.

Sometimes however there are gaps in our lives as Christians that necessitate the disciplining hand of God through trial. Peter stated, if need be ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (trials)”. There is for many a “need be” from the Lord because of certain sins that have found an open door in our lives and have been permitted to go unjudged. Like Israel who failed to cast out all of the Canaanites in the land, we too can tolerate and fail to cast out the residue of sins of our past life (James 1:21), only to impede our progress in the life of faith. Strangely, we allow some things that are objectionable to God to comfortably coexist with us without realizing the slow erosion that can occur in our walk with the Lord. Trials serve to jar us out of that complacency and to realign our spiritual priorities. Just as Samuel had to hack Agag to pieces, so too we are exhorted to take decisive action and mortify the deeds of our flesh in obedience to the Lord, Colossians 3.5. In short, it helps us to stay on track spiritually. David confessed, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept thy word, Psalm 119.67. He knew too well the sting of the disciplining hand of God upon his life on more than a few occasions, only to express later the surpassing value of it. Eventually, God would call him “a man after mine own heart”, Acts 13.22. regarding this, Charles Spurgeon the great 19th century preacher once related the account of a rope bridge in his day that collapsed unexpectedly, plunging many to their deaths in a ravine below. Upon investigation, it was determined why the catastrophe occurred: a little seedling had been ignored and taken root between the strands of rope and the wooden planks, thus weakening the bridge. Trials from the Lord help us to do surveillance on our lives in order to motivate us to pull the weeds of sin that could eventually weaken and mar our testimony.      

God wants all believers to reflect the character of Christ in their lives. To accomplish this, God may bring certain trials to soften the hearts, making the believer more compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others.  In so doing, they are able to comfort others with the same comfort that they are comforted of God, 2 Corinthians 1:4.  They become more like Christ. Colossians 1:27 states this principle succinctly: “Christ in you the hope of glory”. Additionally, like Daniel’s friends, the believer going through a trial will sense the Lord’s nearness perhaps more than at any other time in our life as they go through the furnace of affliction. There will be a reality to the words Isaiah 43:2: “when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee”.  Further, in a mysterious way,  the Christian going through a trial will ultimately sense that that they actually are the object of His attention and affection just as Zechariah prophesied to Israel about the Man among the myrtle trees, the Lord Jesus, who reassured them of a future glory when at the time they were at the “bottom”, Zechariah 1.  

This principle is depicted for us in Malachi as God explains what will yet occur with the nation of Israel during the future Tribulation. As the result of His refining work during that time, He will bring about a great spiritual purging within the nation. He is described as sitting like “a refiner and purifier of silver” in order to “purify the sons of Levi and to purge them as silver and gold that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness”, Malachi 3.1-3. The work of any refiner and purifier of silver was to subject precious metal to intense heat in order to remove the impurities from it. The dross which rises to the top is then scooped away. As the refiner sits over the purified metal and looks down upon an even more valuable product, he is able to see an image of himself. And so it is with us: our Father in heaven, subjecting His own special people to the purifying process of trial and affliction, makes us an even more valuable and precious commodity to Him, being conformed to the image of His Son, Romans. 8:28-29.                                 

The great patriarch Joseph also offers us some additional lessons about the trial of our faith. After going through many years of severe personal trial, he also acknowledged the beneficial effect that it produced. Rising to the rank of Prime Minister of Egypt, he was able to look back and acknowledge the hand of God at work in his life. His two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim, outlined his response to trials. The first he named Manasseh saying, “God hath made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house”, Gen. 41.51. The second he named Ephraim, stating ‘…God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of mine affliction”, verse 52. Despite the rejection and hurt caused by his brothers, the slander of Potipher’s wife and being forgotten in prison by the chief butler, he was able to avoid the snare of bitterness and resentment, deliberately “forgetting” the plethora of personal slights against him. By so doing, he was able to attest to the fruitful result from such a course of action—and a great pattern for us to follow; first “forgetting”, then fruitbearing, the inevitable consequence of committing our way to the Lord. In due time, God will honor us as we honor Him.                    

How much more could be said about the positive effect of trials in the life of the believer, if we yield to Him! There is Paul’s request to have his thorn in the flesh removed, only to be denied by the Lord to keep him humbly dependent upon Him and cognizant of His all-sufficient grace, 2 Corinthians 12: 9. There is Jacob’s all-night wrestling episode at Peniel with the Angel of the Lord, ending in a limp but also a changed life and a changed name and a changed purpose and a changed direction, as he crossed back over the river Jabbok to reconcile with his brother Esua, the sun rising upon him, Genesis 32. What a picture! And then there is James’ direct exhortation to adjust our attitude as we enter a trial to see the rounding-out of character that it produces: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”, James 1:2-4.

The apostle Paul reminds us “for our light affliction which is for a moment “worketh for us a far more and exceeding and eternal weight of glory”, 2 Cor. 4:17.  Only as we look into the mirror of God’s Word, will we begin to understand more clearly the bigger picture and the wisdom of God in passing us through various trials and tribulations that we go through. As we do, we will be able to sing more convincingly the words of the hymn writer: “every joy or trial falleth from above, traced upon our dial by the Son of love. We may trust Him fully all for us to do, they who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true”.  

And is it so? I shall be like Thy Son, Is this the grace which He, for me, has won?
Father of Glory (thought beyond all thought), In glory to His own blest likeness brought.     

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

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