Monthly Archives: December 2014

Who Will I Be?

When the patriarch Jacob thought his young son Joseph was dead, he believed that in death they would be reunited, “he refused to be comforted and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’” (Gen 37:35b ESV). “Sheol” is the Hebrew word for the abode of the souls of the dead, equivalent to Hades in the Greek language. Likewise, when King David’s infant son was gravely ill, David prayed and wept and fasted, but when the child died, David got up and had a meal. He too reasoned that he would, in death, be together with his son. “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:23 ESV). Both Jacob and David believed that in death they would experience a reunion with those who had gone before. When Isaiah the prophet foretold the downfall of the mighty king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4ff), he predicted that other kings who had faded from the earth would mockingly greet the king of Babylon as he descended into the common realm of the disembodied dead (Isa 14:9-19).

Jacob and David and Isaiah believed that in death the personality and character is intact, the individual is recognized and remembered, and is conscious and remembers. Particularly striking in Isaiah’s depiction of the descent of the king of Babylon into Sheol is that the souls of other lesser kings still had their resentment and jealousy and grudges from their life experiences in this world as they ridiculed the fallen king when he fell into death, the great equalizer.

The same idea of personality and experiences being carried into the grave when the body dies is brought out in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. In that story both the poor man Lazarus and the rich man, who always ignored the poor man’s suffering, died. Lazarus, with the aid of the angels, was escorted to be with his honored ancestor Abraham, while the rich man found himself in a place of torment in Hades (the Greek name for the abode of disembodied souls). It is clear in the story that Abraham is himself, and completely recognizable, though dead for almost 2000 years. Similarly, the rich man is still himself, with all the same memories and attitudes he had acquired as a man in the flesh. Likewise, when Jesus was momentarily glorified on the “Mount of Transfiguration” (Matthew 17:1-5), two men from the distant past appeared with him, Moses and Elijah, and it is clear again that they still had their identities, and that they were recognizable even to the disciples who had never seen them in the flesh. Later, in the book of Revelation, John’s visions included a glimpse of souls under the altar in heaven, believers who had died for faith in the Lord, and clearly again those souls are depicted as aware and remembering their life experiences and were pleading with God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11).

Job, the man renowned for his patience, was an exemplary follower of God who lived in the same time frame as the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was made painfully aware of his own frailty and mortality by suffering severe losses of family, wealth, and health. He was horribly, miserably sick through most of the text of the book of Job, and as he wrestled with trying to understand why he was suffering so much he expressed his confidence that, even if his skin, his body, was destroyed, yet he would still at some time stand bodily before the Lord and see God with his own eyes, “my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). That assertion of faith in the resurrection of his whole self to stand before God, complete in mind and body, is prefaced with the statement, “I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25 ESV). Job knew his flesh would be destroyed, but he would continue, and he would again be clothed in a body some day, and he himself would see God after his Redeemer did his work. Himself, “and not another.”

Jesus, the grand example of our future resurrection and glory, clearly remembers in heaven all that he knew and experienced in this world (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15-16, 13:8), and with full comprehension of the kindness and justice of God has prepared a place where his people, whole and healed, can rest in complete understanding with real peace in the light of his presence (Consider also 1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 13:12).

~ Charles Fry

The Sin of Agreeability (Denial)

Erica and Hayley, sisters, are complete opposites. While Erica is quite shy, Hayley is outgoing. Their mother, Anna, works very hard to make a living for them. But Hayley’s desire to “fit in” causes problems at times.

Hayley hates the idea of buying clothes from off-brand department stores. In fact, it’s pretty common for Hayley to demand to go to brand name stores. Trying to be fair to both daughters, Anna tells Hayley to put back some clothes for cheaper ones, so that Erica can also have some nice things. But Hayley presents her well-rehearsed reply: “But Mom! How do I get a decent education if I’m constantly harassed by other kids about my clothes,” Hayley says. “They help me avoid being bullied so I can do better at school!” When Anna continues to protest, Hayley makes her teary-eyed plea to her sister, “Please, Sis, you know how girls get?” Erica nods. You see, she has a skin condition, a pesky case of psoriasis. Erica knows what it’s like to not be like the rest. “Mom, we can get my stuff next week,” Erica says to her mother, who seems glad the issue is resolved.

As Anna and Erica move to another rack, Hayley is greeted by two girls from school, Sara and Amy. The clothes the two girls wear are like the ones Hayley has picked out. Hayley notices the girls staring over her shoulder, a disgusted look on their faces. Amy asks Haley, “Is that your mother and sister?” Hayley glances over her shoulder, seeing her mother’s disheveled hair and her sister’s ruddy skin. Hayley turns back to the girls, a weak smile on her face. “Of course not,” she says, her smile becoming a nervous grin.

We know the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus and even Jesus’ prediction of the event (Mark 14:27-31). How did Peter make this terrible mistake of rejecting the Son of God?   What keeps us from standing up for Christ? It is the pursuit of worldly acceptance and the fear of persecution. The price for truth, as the prophets can attest, is great (see Hebrews 11:36-38). All of us know what persecution is. And we know the temptation that Hayley succumbed to—the same that Christ’s disciple Peter, was overcome by—the same that many in this world fall prey to: the sin of agreeability—the sin of denial.

“I agree with you, friend, boy/girlfriend, boss, teacher, mother, father, neighbor! You say faith is complacent! You say that Jesus is not the son of God, and you say it often, with so much fervor, passion, and many voices against all who disagree with you—that I am filled with fear of your revenge. I agree with silence, because I fear the social isolation, backlash and financial ruin, more than I cherish the mercies of God. I agree to deny the Lord to save the life I have today.”

We cannot continue to let the threats of the world derail us from doing God’s will and representing His Son. The penalty is too great to become an antichrist and be cut off from God (1 John 2:22, 23).

We know that fear is not given to us by God. He gives us power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). Fear is the “faith” of Satan, teaching us that we can be overcome by the evil of this world rather than be equipped to endure and survive the world. It is “fear” as in timidity.

“I am scared to tell my neighbor the truth—the truth of Jesus—because I fear suffering for it!” Was it not Jesus who suffered for us, to the point that salvation is possible through him (Isaiah 53)?

Do not fall to the sin of agreeability, but remain strong in the Lord, putting him above all worldly acceptance (Matthew 10:37-39). The saints must stand for Christ, no matter who stands against us—even family, friend, coworker, etc. When we choose to stay silent as the world lies about God, we fail as Peter did when he denied the Son not once, but three times. When we refuse to acknowledge or identify with our Lord in exchange for acceptance/avoidance of suffering, we, just as Hayley did, bite the hand that feeds us! The liar speaks against the Son, and is called an “Anti-Christ”. Are we willing to regard the favor of the world by denying the Savior? It is our light that should shine before others. Through righteous deeds God is shown to them and glorified (Matthew 5:15-17). If we are to agree with someone, let us agree with Jesus. Let us be so agreeable that people know we are saints.

~ Daniel Mobley

The First Love

The letters to the seven churches of Asia provide a full picture of the church. Though each of these congregations face unique circumstances and challenges in comparison with one another, they are not unique in comparison to other churches down through the centuries. There have been churches like Pergamos or Smyrna or Laodicea since the Lord dictated these letters and, I am certain, there continue to be churches like them today. I have found this to be particularly true in the letter sent to the church at Ephesus. The Lord says to Ephesus:

I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:2-6).

The Lord’s commendations portray Ephesus as an active and vibrant congregation. Like the Thessalonians whose works of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope were fondly remembered by Paul, the Lord recognizes the works, labor, and patience of Ephesus. The Ephesians were committed to both truth and morality. They would not suffer evil people or accept false teaching. Those masquerading as apostles were detected and rejected. Jesus reiterates their patience and adds that they had persevered. Both qualities imply a tried and true faith. The phrase “for My name’s sake” occurs nine times in the New Testament. In the other eight passages, Jesus connects it with sacrifice for the kingdom and enduring persecution. The faith of Ephesus was a living, genuine faith purified by fiery trials.

“Nevertheless,” the Lord says in verse four, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Brethren and expositors have long debated what exactly the Lord means. Many conclude that Ephesus abandoned her love for Jesus since we are to love the Lord above all others. However, the praise of Jesus weighs against this conclusion. Is disobedience to the Lord’s commands a problem at Ephesus? Had the congregation fallen victim to apostasy? Did she recant when her faith was put to the test?   On the contrary, Ephesus appears to love the truth and have a genuine faith in Jesus. If this analysis is true, what love had Ephesus abandoned?

The same apostle to whom Jesus dictated the letter to Ephesus writes in his second epistle:

I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it (2 John 1:4-6).

John reminds us of the Lord’s teachings in John 12:34-35. Jesus says the world would know His disciples by their love for one another. The Lord calls this a new command because our love for one another is measured against the sacrificial love He showed toward us. John acknowledges that he has found brethren in this congregation walking according to truth, but he feels compelled to remind them of the command that “we have had from the beginning.” Our love for our brethren is our first love. John found some members of this congregation walking in truth, but John pleads with them to walk in love toward one another. Is it possible to walk in truth and fail to love our brethren? Yes. When we fail to love our brethren, we have left our first love.

Before Paul describes Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13, he warns us that admirable gifts and achievements and ideals are meaningless in the absence of love: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (verse 2). Did you notice the final item in Paul’s list? A faith that can move mountains. Can one possess such a faith without love? Yes. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have love?   Paul says his or her faith is meaningless.

The problem at Ephesus was a lack of love for one another. She believed the truth, loved the truth, defended the truth, and confessed the truth before men. But in the midst of her trials, the love of the congregation had grown cold.

The trouble at Ephesus was much like the trouble with the first century Pharisees. However, what made Ephesus Pharisaical was not her care for doing what is right. Jesus taught, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). According to Jesus, greatness in the kingdom is attained by one who carefully follows the will of God and encourages others to do the same.   The failure of the Pharisees was that they followed the law closely but neglected the weightier matters. “These [weightier matters] you ought to have done, without leaving the others (tithing mint, anise, and cumin) undone,” says the Lord in Matthew 23:23. The righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees incorporates a close observation of God’s will with justice, mercy, etc. As we will see, the solution for Ephesus demanded that they return to a weightier matter.

Though the situation in Ephesus was dire, it was not without hope. Jesus tells them to remember the love they had for one another at first. Think back to when you were first born into the family of God and rekindle your commitment toward your brethren. Once they remembered, Jesus commands them to repent and do the first works. Like faith in God, love for one another is expressed in deeds and not in words only. Jesus calls the Ephesians back to a living love, a love of sacrifice and ministry to their fellow believers, a love where selfish interests are secondary to the well-being of the brethren and the edification of the church. If they failed to correct their ways, the consequences were severe: they would no longer be a faithful congregation in His eyes. Christ would no longer commune with the Ephesian church.

My dear brethren, I ask you: how many congregations have failed to learn from Ephesus? How many meetinghouses where the truth was taught and where people of faith gathered are now abandoned because the first love was abandoned? My brethren, we can believe the truth, closely follow the truth, teach the truth, defend the truth, or die for the truth and still lose our souls because we do not love our brethren. Let us not neglect the weightier matters by remembering the command we have heard from the beginning. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

~ Wade Stanley

The First Love

The letters to the seven churches of Asia provide a full picture of the church. Though each of these congregations face unique circumstances and challenges in comparison with one another, they are not unique in comparison to other churches down through the centuries. There have been churches like Pergamos or Smyrna or Laodicea since the Lord dictated these letters and, I am certain, there continue to be churches like them today. I have found this to be particularly true in the letter sent to the church at Ephesus. The Lord says to Ephesus:

I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:2-6).

The Lord’s commendations portray Ephesus as an active and vibrant congregation. Like the Thessalonians whose works of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope were fondly remembered by Paul, the Lord recognizes the works, labor, and patience of Ephesus. The Ephesians were committed to both truth and morality. They would not suffer evil people or accept false teaching. Those masquerading as apostles were detected and rejected. Jesus reiterates their patience and adds that they had persevered. Both qualities imply a tried and true faith. The phrase “for My name’s sake” occurs nine times in the New Testament. In the other eight passages, Jesus connects it with sacrifice for the kingdom and enduring persecution. The faith of Ephesus was a living, genuine faith purified by fiery trials.

“Nevertheless,” the Lord says in verse four, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Brethren and expositors have long debated what exactly the Lord means. Many conclude that Ephesus abandoned her love for Jesus since we are to love the Lord above all others. However, the praise of Jesus weighs against this conclusion. Is disobedience to the Lord’s commands a problem at Ephesus? Had the congregation fallen victim to apostasy? Did she recant when her faith was put to the test?   On the contrary, Ephesus appears to love the truth and have a genuine faith in Jesus. If this analysis is true, what love had Ephesus abandoned?

The same apostle to whom Jesus dictated the letter to Ephesus writes in his second epistle:

I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it (2 John 1:4-6).

John reminds us of the Lord’s teachings in John 12:34-35. Jesus says the world would know His disciples by their love for one another. The Lord calls this a new command because our love for one another is measured against the sacrificial love He showed toward us. John acknowledges that he has found brethren in this congregation walking according to truth, but he feels compelled to remind them of the command that “we have had from the beginning.” Our love for our brethren is our first love. John found some members of this congregation walking in truth, but John pleads with them to walk in love toward one another. Is it possible to walk in truth and fail to love our brethren? Yes. When we fail to love our brethren, we have left our first love.

Before Paul describes Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13, he warns us that admirable gifts and achievements and ideals are meaningless in the absence of love: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (verse 2). Did you notice the final item in Paul’s list? A faith that can move mountains. Can one possess such a faith without love? Yes. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have love?   Paul says his or her faith is meaningless.

The problem at Ephesus was a lack of love for one another. She believed the truth, loved the truth, defended the truth, and confessed the truth before men. But in the midst of her trials, the love of the congregation had grown cold.

The trouble at Ephesus was much like the trouble with the first century Pharisees. However, what made Ephesus Pharisaical was not her care for doing what is right. Jesus taught, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). According to Jesus, greatness in the kingdom is attained by one who carefully follows the will of God and encourages others to do the same.   The failure of the Pharisees was that they followed the law closely but neglected the weightier matters. “These [weightier matters] you ought to have done, without leaving the others (tithing mint, anise, and cumin) undone,” says the Lord in Matthew 23:23. The righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees incorporates a close observation of God’s will with justice, mercy, etc. As we will see, the solution for Ephesus demanded that they return to a weightier matter.

Though the situation in Ephesus was dire, it was not without hope. Jesus tells them to remember the love they had for one another at first. Think back to when you were first born into the family of God and rekindle your commitment toward your brethren. Once they remembered, Jesus commands them to repent and do the first works. Like faith in God, love for one another is expressed in deeds and not in words only. Jesus calls the Ephesians back to a living love, a love of sacrifice and ministry to their fellow believers, a love where selfish interests are secondary to the well-being of the brethren and the edification of the church. If they failed to correct their ways, the consequences were severe: they would no longer be a faithful congregation in His eyes. Christ would no longer commune with the Ephesian church.

My dear brethren, I ask you: how many congregations have failed to learn from Ephesus? How many meetinghouses where the truth was taught and where people of faith gathered are now abandoned because the first love was abandoned? My brethren, we can believe the truth, closely follow the truth, teach the truth, defend the truth, or die for the truth and still lose our souls because we do not love our brethren. Let us not neglect the weightier matters by remembering the command we have heard from the beginning. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

~ Wade Stanley