Monday, May 26, 2008

"Promised to those who love Him"

Up to this point in our study of the book of James, Christians have a lot to overcome. As a Christian, one must be prepared, sometimes literally, to leave everything they know and follow Christ. Some may believe that this is selfish of God or unreasonable of Him to ask so much of us, but is this true?

First let us look at what some would believe to be "selfish" of God. Selfish is defined as "lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure." Is God a person that lacks consideration for others? Is God a person that is concerned chiefly with His own personal profit or pleasure? The answer can be found in scripture, so let us begin our search of them. God is creator. In Genesis 1, God creates everything in six days: heaven, earth, and all that lies within them. On the sixth day, God created mankind, and chapter two describes this in more detail. We can read both of these chapters and we can see that everything that God created, which includes ourselves, was "good." Then Adam and Even commit the first sin. Paul tells us in Romans that, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12). Along with sin entering the world, death also entered. Sin and death spread to all men. Why? Paul tells us the reason: "for that all have sinned." When Adam and Even partook of the forbidden fruit, they gained the knowledge of good and evil. They gained the knowledge of sin. What is sin? "Sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). This is a very simple definition to understand. When we sin, we transgress the law that God has set before us. We are told in scripture, "God is holy" (Psalm 99:9) and "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). We become separated from God by our own doings. In Isaiah we are told, "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). It is not that God desires us to be separated from Him, but He can have no association with sin and darkness. His desires are to the contrary. We learn in 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" and in Matthew 23:37 that Jesus tells the Jews, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" It is on our part that the problem lies. God wants us to come to Him but we refuse!

So is what God tells us to do unreasonable? Once again we turn to the scriptures. In Romans 12:1-2 we read, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." This one verse draws our whole discussion together. We are exhorted by Paul, an apostles sent and inspired by God, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. This idea includes our thoughts on God calling us to put Him first and everything else at a distant second. It includes sacrificing everything that we may know to follow the true and living God. This verse discusses being holy. By putting God first and following Him above all others, we cannot help but be sanctified and holy. When we serve God and present our entire life as a living sacrifice unto Him, a distinction arises between us and the world. We become light and can have no association with darkness just like our heavenly Father. This is what makes us acceptable to God. By being sanctified by His word, we become one as Jesus and the Father are one (cf. John 17:17, 21). God can once again be joined to us, because we are no longer in darkness but in the light. Paul tell us that this is our reasonable service. The act of sanctifying ourselves and becoming acceptable unto God is not something beyond our reach. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the tenth chapter, and in verse thirteen, we have a promise given to us. We have discussed this promise before but it is central part to Christian life: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." God is faithful; He cannot lie. He tells us that we CAN live the way that He asks of us.

So what makes it so reasonable to do all this? This is where our text comes in. Up to this point in James, he has laid out something that may be hard for a Christian to do, and in verse twelve he gives the reward of it all, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." Another promise given to us is that if we stay with God He will reward us with Heaven. Our mortal minds cannot comprehend Heaven in its fullness. We can only use things that we do know to describe parts of it. John gives us some insight into a little of what Heaven will be like in Revelation 21:4, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." How great and wonderful God is! He promises that we can do all that He has commanded and promises that if we do we will receive eternal joy with Him in Heaven! We will receive that crown of life when we endure this life. The key to it all is enduring this life and its trials. Also in Revelation 2:10 we are told, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

Let us all be truly thankful for all that we have been given and let us all look forward to that day when we receive our rest from this life.

Jeremy Ferguson

Monday, May 19, 2008

The thief on the cross

Denominational preachers have been telling people for years that baptism is not essential to salvation based upon a misapplication of Luke 23:43. This is the passage where Jesus told the thief on the cross, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Denominationalists say that since the thief was saved and was not baptized, then there is no absolute need for us being baptized either. Let's observe a few points.

First, no one can prove that the thief was not baptized. We are quickly informed that there is no mention of his having been baptized. I will admit that. However, on this basis, we can prove that faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation, for there is not one statement to the effect that Lazarus had faith, yet he ended up in paradise (Luke 16:19-31). What proves too much proves nothing.

Second, it is possible that the thief had been baptized. John the Baptist had a very widespread coverage and acceptance of his teaching. John's baptism was for the remission of sins. The thief was also very well-informed as he hung on the cross (Luke 23:42). However, he could have been one of those who had gone back and "walked no more with Him" (John 6:66).

Third, the New Testament was not in force when the Lord made His promise to the thief (Hebrews 9:15-17). When Jesus was alive, He could execute His will in whatever way He desired, but once He died, we have no other authority than the will of the New Testament. While my parents are still alive, my brothers can fight over their possessions, but once they die, their will is in effect and we must live with it!

Fourth, the thief on the cross cannot constitute an example for us today. The New Testament was not operative, the "Great Commission" had not yet been given (Matthew 28:19-20) and the kingdom of our Lord had not yet begun using the "keys" to the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:19; 18:18). Can we be handling the word of God accurately to pass over the multitude of cases of conversion in the book of Acts and go back to the account of the thief on the cross?

As you can see, there's not as much "evidence" about the thief on the cross as most would like to proclaim. I mentioned a couple of posts ago that baptism is essential to salvation. Why not just take that on faith in what the Bible says and submit to it? Why "kick against the goads" like Saul (Acts 9:5)? I want people to be saved the same way in which they were in the New Testament. That means submitting to water baptism for the remission of sins.

Kyle Campbell

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who needs authority?

I'm not exactly sure what was the main cause of rebelling against authority. Maybe it was part of the 70's and the "hippie" movement. Or maybe it was something earlier than that. All I know is that the secular lack of respect for authority (Parents, Government, Laws) has a foothold in the minds of religious people today. It would seem now that if there is any appeal back to a standard of any kind, or laws by which someone should live, hands go up everywhere stating how that's just your opinion or that those laws were just guidelines that were meant to change with the times.

Friend, the word of God will not be rendered useless by a change in times or by man's opinion. There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10); people are the same and because of their own stubborn will they choose to rebel against the powers God has put in place. We have become a nation of people that no longer listen to leadership and it shows when those of the religious world have no care if something is in the Bible or not. There is no longer an appeal for book, chapter or verse preaching anymore. We are in a time of itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3), and people want their opinions or false beliefs more than the truth of God's word.

Shane Millard

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Major earthquake in China

Yesterday, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Chengdu, China and at the time of writing, over 12,000 people are dead and more than 18,000 are missing. Online pictures depict the immense devastation, must of it affecting students and children. We will keep them in our prayers, hoping that no Christians perished and hoping that God will comfort those who lost loved ones.

It won't take long, though, for people to use this incident to teach false doctrine. They are going to claim that this earthquake is a precursor to the end of the world. They may even quote Matthew 24:7: "For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places." If you look at the context of Matthew 24, Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, not the end of the world.

I'm a preacher myself, and perhaps most people would believe that I would be inclined to agree with people who say that these events are harbingers of the end of the world, but it contradicts the truth and is in very poor taste to use a tragic disaster like this to teach erroneous theories of the "end times." There has been enough suffering. Let's not add to it by condemning people's souls to an eternity in hell by claiming that a made-up series of "end events" are just around the corner.

Kyle Campbell

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why baptism is necessary

A primary doctrine that most people associate with churches of Christ is the essentiality of baptism to salvation. Now, I can assure you that it is not my desire to stand out like a "sore thumb" among people. Probably less than 1% of religious groups make this claim. The reason that we do is because we find it necessary according to the Bible.

Peter said that baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus said that those who believe and are baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). On another occasion, Peter, when asked by the people at Pentecost, "What shall we do to be saved?", stated that those who repent and are baptized will be saved (Acts 2:38). Finally, the Lord Himself said that those who are born of water will "see" or "enter" the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5).

In light of this plain, scriptural evidence, who will deny the one who wants to be baptized for the remission of their sins. Ananias told Saul that baptism would "wash away his sins" (Acts 22:16). Why do so many religious groups deny the effectiveness of baptism when the Bible so plainly states that it saves us? Why not just submit in humble faith to this simple command?

Kyle Campbell

Monday, May 5, 2008

"The rich man … will fade away"

Christians are different than those in the world. Even the word "church" carries with it the definition of those who are "called out." We are called out from the world to be a separate people. This is what makes us holy; this is what makes us sanctified. What is that that separates us from the world? It is the truth. John 17:17 states, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." This is part of a prayer by Jesus about His disciples, soon to be His apostles. Jesus' time to be crucified had come and He realized that He was not going to be with His disciples any longer. He prays that God will keep His followers. In the prayer, we see how Jesus and the Father are one and how Jesus was sanctified. The spotless lamb of God then tells us that His disciples must be one with Him and the Father; they must be sanctified. He clearly makes the distinction between those of the world and those of the Father. The truth is the dividing line (cf. John 17:14). All those who are Christians, who love and worship God, draw closer to Him. The closer we draw to Christ and the Father, the clearer the difference between us and the world.

In James 1, we see that trials and tribulations force people to choose sides. True Christians, as we've discussed earlier, draw their strength from God (cf. Philippians 4:13). The harder life becomes the more Christians rely on their Father. For all those who falter under life's ebbs and tides, they draw closer to their father, Satan. They begin to rely on self or on the things of this world. This shows through their actions: not attending services, reliance on drugs, etc. Christ tells us, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take us his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). We must give ourselves wholly over to God: "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). We must banish from our lives whatever keeps us from drawing closer to God.

This is the spirit of the humble; this is what it takes to make it through our trials. "But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away" (James 1:9-11).

The humble are exalted in Christ and in their spiritual blessings. The rich of this world should glory in their humiliation because it puts them in a situation to draw closer to God and separate themselves from this world. The simple fact is, "No one can serve two master; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24). Trials make you make that decision. Sometimes we try to rationalize our shortcomings with excuses: "I'll serve God when I grow older," "In a couple of years I'll have gotten myself in a better position to serve God" or "It's just too hard right now to serve God." All of these are feeble attempts to hold on to the passing pleasures of this life. We are as "flowering grass" that lives for a short time. If we put our lives into this world then our joy is short-lived because everything around will pass away shortly and we can take nothing with us after we die. Christians put their treasures in God and Heaven. These are eternal possessions. When Christians die they gain more than anyone could here on this earth.

This does not just apply to possessions. If we choose family or friends over God, then we have not sanctified ourselves. As Christians, we are made to make some hard decisions. Some of us come from homes that do not serve the Lord. Our families are a part of this world, and some of our families threaten to reject us if we try to serve the Lord. Christ tells us, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). This is a hyperbole to make us come to a realization of the truth. Christ does not literally "hate" our parents or family, but He does require us to love Him more. This is something hard to do, but that is what makes it a trial and a tribulation. If it were not hard to do then it would not be a trial. In the next post we will view all of the rewards we receive through our trials and who is responsible for our trials.

Jeremy Ferguson