Monthly Archives: June 2015

Reverence

When we reach the summit of Hebrews, the author’s proof of the New Covenant’s superiority dismisses all potential debate with his moving conclusion, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). In this soaring language, we see the magnificent position to which Christians have been raised where we, “sit together in the heavenly places in Christ” (Colossians 3:1). Immediately preceding this glorious depiction is the terrifying account of Exodus 19-20 when Israel could not help but fear, tremble, and stand in awe as they witnessed a raw display of divine power. In drawing this distinct contrast, the author infers that the magnificence Israel observed at Mt. Sinai pales in comparison with what God has prepared for the Christian. The enduring glory of the New far exceeds the fading, obsolete, and inferior glory of the Old.   Though it was inferior, we must acknowledge that the arrival of this heavenly presence gave Israel reason to tremble and awe. Admittedly, Christians are challenged to imitate the reverence produced by the Old’s shadow in the reality of the New. We are “receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,” but are we serving “God acceptably with reverence and godly fear?” (12:28). Yes, John declares, “God is love,” yet that same God remains the consuming fire which Israel witnessed engulfing a mountaintop (12:29). As the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, are we offering our Lord the reverence His stature and covenant demand?

Many must create reverence through a stimulation of the senses. Religions construct magnificent edifices, contrive intricate rituals, burn incense, paint or sculpt meaningful images, orchestrate rousing music, and clothe clergy with beautiful attire. All of these sensual means are intended to arouse feelings of inferiority, reverence, and piety in the worshiper. Using human reasoning, we would expect such marvelous wonders to inspire an enduring reverence. Yet, as Israel’s history illustrates, such means produce a godly fear that quickly passes. The same Israelites who trembled at the foot of Mount Sinai trembled a few months later at the spies’ reports of the seemingly invincible Canaanite armies. Gone were Mount Sinai’s fearful cries, replaced by complaints of bitter regret:

“If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?” (Numbers 14:2-3).

How could this nation, chosen to witness wonders unrevealed to the rest of the world, lose their fear of God so quickly? Not even the voice of God thundering the Ten Commandments could produce a sense of fear or awe that lasted longer than a full term pregnancy.

Reverence is not motivated by external stimulation, but by the heart’s internal condition. God has always been concerned with the heart regardless of the era or individual. True, what Israel witnessed at Mt. Sinai was magnificent, not the least of which was hearing the voice of God. Yet as they were poised to enter Canaan, their hearts were, “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” making the word which they heard unprofitable since it was, “not…mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).   Why was the fear of God so quickly replaced by the fear of man? The bitter winds of iniquity and unbelief froze the hearts thawed by the fire of God’s magnificence. As with most other Christian qualities, proper godly fear (reverence) depends on our walking by faith, not by sight. Being, “divinely warned of things not yet seen,” Noah moved with godly fear by faith (Hebrews 11:7).   If our faith is weak, how can we truly revere a God we cannot see? Reverence is very much a matter of the heart.

As the body of Christ, we are a family and many congregations actively foster a warm, inviting, encouraging, loving atmosphere. Familiarity, however, can breed irreverence. While fostering goodwill and fellowship is an honorable intention, our familiarity with one another can negatively influence how we revere God. Certainly, we should take care that our desire for a reverent atmosphere is not pursued to an extreme where any heartfelt expressions of love and joy are suppressed. Rigidity is not the same as reverence. But by the same token, we must realize that with Christian joy comes sobriety as well. Worshipping God as a corporate, assembled body is serious business. He is the Creator of the universe, the Savior of our souls. He deserves our heartfelt, faithful reverence. Let us take great care that in pursuing one good end we do not sacrifice another.

True, enduring reverence is a matter of the heart. Reverence is the heart’s realization that we are truly inferior and that God is worthy of our soul’s adoration. Sin and unbelief neutralize our heart’s capacity to revere God, sapping the very life out of godly fear. Let us all heed the words of the Hebrew author as he concludes his comparison of the Old and New Covenants, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

~ Wade Stanley

Without Complaining

In Philippians 2:14 we read, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.” No action is left out of the purview of this command. All things are to be done without grumbling or arguing.

However, complaining appears to be one of our favorite activities. As the weather turns from winter to spring we rotate our complaints from grumbling about the cold temperature to the amount of precipitation. As summer sets in, undoubtedly conversation will venture toward complaints about the heat. A study done at Carnegie-Mellon estimated that we average about one complaint per minute. Thirty to forty percent of our conversations center on complaining.

Consider for a moment a people who, much like us, reveled in complaining. After crossing the Red Sea in Exodus 14 until they first reached the Promised Land in Numbers 13-14, the children of Israel lodged numerous complaints. In Exodus 15:24, just three days after watching God part the Red Sea for their escape, the people complained, “What shall we drink?” After just a month of leave from Egypt, Exodus 16 records in verses 2-3,

“Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, ‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ ”

On their first attempt to enter the Promised Land, again the people complained in Numbers 14:2-3,

“And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ ”

Do you suppose God looked down on His children and said, “What a faithful lot, my joyous people!” We see instead that He had no pleasure in them. Numbers 14:11-12 records God telling Moses:

“How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them.”

God stated that these people did not believe, and therefore would no longer be His children. He would disinherit them.

Nothing about their complaining reflected the spirit of a child of the Almighty Creator. They did not think He could provide for their needs. Yet He provided abundantly through spectacular signs showing His great power and presence in their lives. They did not believe God had the power to overcome the giants standing in their way. Yet He was giving them a victory already attained (Genesis 15:18). They denied His power and lost their inheritance.

Philippians 2:15 explains why we should do all things without complaining or disputing, “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Like Israel, we are God’s children, also having been promised a victory that has already been attained (1 Corinthians 15:57). If God so disdained the complaints of His people in Numbers 14 that He refused to let anyone over forty except Caleb and Joshua enter the Promised Inheritance, what do you suppose He will do to us who have a better covenant established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6)? 1 Corinthians 10:10 warns, “as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”

Therefore, let’s show thanksgiving to God for this tremendous covenant. Instead of complaining about the weather, let’s be thankful for God’s creation which He promised would remain as long as the earth shall endure (Genesis 8:22). Instead of complaining about our infirmities, let’s be thankful that we are only in a tent, ready to be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4). Instead of complaining about our bare fridge or empty closet, let’s be content with the blessings we receive without measure (1 Timothy 6:8). Let’s put aside our complaints so that we might reflect the blameless and harmless spirit of God’s child.

We are reflective lights, and our actions are noticed by the world. Does this crooked generation see God in you? Philippians 2:13 states, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” God could not work His will through the grumbling children of Israel. Their complaining hampered His ability to shine His power for the world to see His will. Is it possible that you have been placed in this very moment, when complaining might feel just right, so that God’s hand might work through you? We do not know who may be watching, looking to see how we will respond, in order to learn a little bit more about God. How do you react when you are treated unjustly? Do you complain when the cashier hands you the wrong change, or do you show politeness, mercy, and understanding? The world is taking note. We are a bright light in a world that cannot stop complaining. As His children, let us always reflect the goodness of our Father, not the grumblings of our displeasure.

The world may like to complain. It may be one of their favorite activities. Let us not join them in that flood of disappointing dissipation. Trust that God can and will take care of your needs (Matthew 6:31-33). Trust that through His saving grace you already stand victorious in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:5-6). Through that faith, let all your actions be done without complaint. Your light will shine ever brighter each day, and God will work His wonderful will and good pleasure through you.

~ Joshua Riggins

Can God Ever Forgive Me?

Less than two months had passed since Jesus was crucified. He had risen from the grave on the third day after His death. Then during the next forty days, He presented Himself alive to His apostles by many infallible proofs, and on one occasion He was seen by over five hundred brethren before He ascended back to heaven. On the Jewish holiday called Pentecost, suddenly there came a sound as of a mighty rushing wind and it filled the building where the apostles were, and there appeared unto them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat on each of them, and they began to speak with other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance.

A multitude, composed of people from several nations who were present in Jerusalem, gathered and were both confused and amazed. The apostle Peter, standing up, addressed the crowd and said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” and he quoted from Joel chapter 2 (see Acts 2:16-21). He drew their attention to other Old Testament prophecies with which they were probably familiar, that pointed forward to the corning of the Messiah, and then proclaimed, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Many were suddenly aware of the horrible deed that had been done seven weeks previous. We can only assume that in all probability many in that multitude were also in the mob that had stood before Pilate’s Judgment Hall and chanted “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” They may have been among those who wagged their heads and mocked Him as He hung there on the cross. Can we even imagine the depth of their conviction, and their feelings of guilt, and fear?

For centuries, they and their forefathers had been looking forward to the Messiah, the Deliverer and Savior. Now this Galilean fisherman, speaking by divine inspiration, makes them aware that they have killed the One who came to save them, The Scripture reports that they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). There was probably the awful sinking feeling in the hearts of many, “Can God ever forgive me?” They were now extremely interested in what these men whom Jesus had appointed would say. Peter said to them,

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).

“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized and that day about three thousands souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

That question, “Can the Lord ever forgive me?” without doubt, has troubled the minds of many through the years. The answer depends primarily on us, whether we are submissive to the terms God has given for our forgiveness. Forgiveness is a promise (Acts 2:39) from God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) for those willing to comply with His will, as did the three thousand on Pentecost. Men must believe and be baptized. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). But “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 20, 26). Men must repent and be converted that their sins may be blotted out (Acts 3:19). Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). The Scriptures say:

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21), and puts us into Christ (Galatians 3:27). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). And thus we are added to the church (Acts 2:47), His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

The question arises, “Can all sins be forgiven?” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did say, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). So it seems clear that if we want God to forgive us, we must forgive others. The Scriptures also say, “even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13).

Some people are troubled by the statement of Jesus, “Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men” (Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-30, Luke 12:10) even fearing they may have committed that sin. Little is written in the Scripture defining this sin, but in consideration of the setting of the statement, it seems to the writer of this article that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as is spoken of in this passage is not a statement of unbelief or of ignorance of the truth, but of willful perversion of the truth in effort to keep men from believing the truth. The Pharisees were well aware of the miracles of Jesus. They may have even been eye witnesses on some occasions, but in their wicked determination to keep the people from believing in Him, they went so far as accusing Him of doing miracles by Beelzebub, and it was then that Jesus gave warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Such blasphemy is not because of ignorance or unbelief but willful perversion of the truth in effort to keep men from believing in the Lord.

Concerning those of us who do believe and have had our sins washed away in baptism, we still sometimes sin. We must not do so to tempt God or with the attitude that God will forgive us, but if we truly repent we have Christ as our advocate (1 John 2:1) and both He and the Spirit make intercession for us before the throne of God (Romans 8:26, 34). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Never doubt God, or His Word, His love, or His promises.

~ Thomas D. Dennis