Christianity 201

November 15, 2017

Is This the End?

This our ninth time returning to the writing of pastor B. J. Rutledge.  These articles kicked off a sermon series at his church.  First, he wrote a shorter introduction:

Sometimes I think we’ve become a desensitized to the tragedies that happen around us. The news will sensationalize it for a while, but then there’s the next story. We care about the people impacted, but if it doesn’t hit close to home we don’t dwell on it too long. However, when we experience a personal tragedy, a question that lingers in the back of our mind or may be asked is: “Where’s God in all of this?”

Our country has been experiencing many tragedies over the past few months: the horrific shooting[s]… hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. We’re also very aware of the tragedy that impacted our southern neighbors as another earthquake ravaged Mexico City. There’s horrible violence and flooding going on in Asia…

Two days later he posted our key article for today:

Are These THE END TIMES?

In light of all the chaos going on in our country and world, I get asked this question from time to time.  Here are a few things I believe.

Throughout history when there have been major wars or many natural disasters, there’s an increased focus on “the end times” among Christians.   This is good because it reminds us to focus on the fact that Jesus will return and time as we know it will end.

Every day we get closer to the End Times, and Scripture gives us numerous signs we can look to and expect; like what Jesus told us in Matthew 24.   However,  Jesus was clear to His disciples and us:    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.    Matthew 24:36-42 NIV

Here’s what I suggest we keep in mind:

  • Jesus will return as He promised
  • Every day we’re getting closer
  • No one knows when He will return
  • We need to be ready every day  (1 John 2:28)
  • We need to share the truth about Jesus with as many people as possible

He then linked to an article from the Billy Graham Association:

Q: How bad is the world going to have to get before God finally steps in and Jesus comes back? I get very concerned when I see all the evil things that are happening in the world today. Are we living in the last times?

A:

The Bible warns us against making precise predictions about the exact time of Jesus’ return—but His return is certain, and we may well be living in the last days before He comes again. The Bible says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12).

Shortly before returning to Heaven Jesus told His disciples that someday He would come back to establish His Kingdom. But before that could take place, He said, certain things would have to happen—and we see many of these today. For example, He said that before His return the Gospel must be preached throughout the world (see Mark 13:10). Never before has this been possible—but now it is, through radio and the Internet and other modern means of communication.

You also have placed your finger on another sign Jesus gave: Satan’s final attempt to halt God’s work through a massive onslaught of evil. Our world is no stranger to evil; Satan has always been working to stop God’s plans. But God’s enemies now have access to modern weapons of mass destruction, and no one can predict what the outcome will be. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. … Nation will rise against nation” (Matthew 24:6-7).

The real question, however, is this: Are you ready for Christ’s return? You can be, by turning to Him and putting your faith and trust in Him. Don’t take His warnings lightly, but commit your life without delay to Jesus Christ.

Are you ready for Christ’s return?

Read the full set of five questions and answers from Rev. Graham at this link.

November 14, 2017

“I Have Lost Everything!”

by Russell Young

I recently heard a committed believer lament, “I have lost everything!”  Perhaps as someone endeavoring to walk “in the light,” as John puts it (1 Jn1: 5─7), you are struggling through a valley experience; you feel that you are being attacked from all sides. The committed believer does not need be overwhelmed with loss, the only things that those “in Christ” can lose are sin, sin’s practices, right to self-determination, and your status “in Christ.”

The greatest fear that any believer can have is his or her failure to remain “in Christ.” Many teach that such a fear is unbiblical, that a person cannot lose his or her position in Christ. However, Christ presents this change in status as a very clear possibility. “[My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Jn 15:1; Italics added.) Further, the Lord spoke about the blessings that arise “If [a person] remains in him” (Jn 15:5, 7, 10), and promises that he will remain in the person who remains in him. (Jn 15:4) A person remains in him if he or she obeys his commands. (Jn 15:10) The believer—a believer is one who obeys him—need not fear loss, but all who claim his name need to be believing–belief must be ongoing. In another place Christ also spoke of the possibility of impermanence in the family. (Jn 8:35)

It is important for the believer, the person “in Christ,” to understand the reality of what is transpiring in his or her life. Valley experiences require that time be committed to prayer and meditation. Truth must be separated from feelings and losses from gains. Certainly, disappointment, the thwarting of dreams, and even the loss of “friends” or financial security can weigh down a sensitive spirit, but these may not be losses from the Lord’s perspective; consequently, they should not be considered losses from the believer’s perspective. This is easy to say for someone not involved, but reflection will reveal that losses, in fact, may not have been losses at all.  “Losses” bring a person up short. They greatly impact the progress of life and call for an alteration in some sense. However, the Lord is looking out for the good of those “in him.”  Paul encouraged, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) It is easy to become distracted and to stray from the Lord’s will and it can hurt to become re-oriented, to have ungodly interests chipped away, and to be maintained on the narrow path.

The Word never taught that all things would go painlessly for the believer. In fact, he promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and trials (1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:6) and even discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-7; Rev 3:19) and punishment. (Heb 12:6) Discipline and punishment apply to those he loves.  (Heb 12:5) “God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10 NIV)

God tests hearts. He did it for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 12:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16, 13:3;) He tested Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job (Job 23:10), and Jeremiah (Jer 12:3). He even tested the heart of his Son (Mt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:1) Those who claim the name of Christ will be tested also. (Job 7:18; 1 Chr 29:17; 1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) God tests hearts and the faithful will be found walking obediently with him.

The only way a believer can “lose everything” is for him or her to abandon the Lord and the position that was provided for them. Trials must be faced for what they are…trials. This life is not easy. Imperfections must be cut away; holiness must be built through righteousness practices. (Rom 6: 19, 22) All those who want to remain in Christ and attain to the resurrection must live as he did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6)

When you are counting your loses, it is important to consider them from an eternal perspective.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25 NIV) Loss is often a very good thing.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

August 9, 2017

Initially, Job Got It Right; But Then…

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One of the consistently finest sources we have used here at C201 is Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. Breaking our six-month rule, this is his twelfth appearance here. As always, click the title below to read this at source.

Four Reasons Job Stumbled

Job started so well. His faith was as invulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts as a turtle snuggled up inside its shell is to the frantic pawings of a dog. Job tucked his head and feet inside his faith in God and said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Later, however, Job was rebuked by God for his complaining spirit. What went wrong? There are at least four reasons Job’s trust in God took a tumble. First, he listened to bad counsel.

Avoid Bad Counsel

If you are going to handle your calamity in a wise, God-honoring manner, you must ignore well-intentioned but unbiblical counsel. If Job’s counselors had been from the church in our era, they probably would have said, “Job, look at these terrible things that are happening to you. We have to break the generational curses that have power over your life. We have to cast out the demons of skin disease. You need to send 500 dollars to the faith-healer, I. M. Acharlatan, at Better-for-a-Buck Ministries.” People will say all kinds of crazy things to you when calamity strikes (“don’t worry, God didn’t know this was going to happen.” Really? now I am worried!). Don’t let their well-intended but unbiblical counsel trip you up spiritually and send you sprawling. To handle calamity, you must ignore unbiblical advice with a gentle smile and a thank you. People speak to you because they care; receive their counsel with a gracious attitude, but don’t let their unbiblical advice throw you into a tailspin like Job did.

Time Keeps On Tickin’

A second reason Job went off the rails was that he let the termite of time gnaw at his faith. According to Job 7:3, Job’s grief and the burning torment of his physical ailments had extended for months by the time his friends arrived. Job’s suffering felt eternal; the sheer duration of it was wearing him down. Like an eager marathon runner, Job bolted off the starting line of faith, but as the race of responding to his calamity stretched out mile after mile and day after day, Job’s faith began to stumble and stagger. Time is a killer in trials. Like Job, we start with strong faith, but as we tick off days on the calendar, turn over the page to a new month, eventually buy a new calendar for next year, and then a new one for the year after that, we can easily despair. Time makes trials hard.

The Expectations Trap

A third reason Job stumbled is he had false expectations of God. In chapter 29, Job listed his many accomplishments. For example:

  • He was a respected civic leader: “When I went out to the gate of the city … the old men arose and stood” (29:7–8).
  • He was adored by the poor and disadvantaged because of his philanthropy: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15).
  • In summary he declared, “My steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (29:6).

Because of his success and his great kindness to others, Job had built up some expectations—things he believed God owed him because he had been good. In chapter 30, Job had this flash of insight into his confused and angry heart: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came. I am seething within and cannot relax; days of affliction confront me.” (30:26–27)

Job’s summary is both pathetic and perfect: “When I expected good, then evil came” (30:26). The expectation that God owes me good if I have been good is dangerous because it leads to feelings of betrayal and anger at God. God, however, never promises endless good if we are a devoted mother, a patient father, a faithful taxpayer, or if we don’t run with the wrong crowd at school. To handle calamity rightly, Christians must avoid Job’s mistake of building up the expectation that “God owes me because I’ve tried to be good.”

The Shield of Faith

Finally, besides bad counsel, time, and expectations, there was one other reason Job stumbled: he lost his grip on the shield of faith. In chapters 1–2, Job was solidly entrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of faith in God’s wisdom—a perfect example of Paul’s teaching about the shield of faith in Ephesians 6. The soldiers of the ancient world often carried large shields. When enemy archers fired a volley of arrows, they ducked behind those shields and let the arrows harmlessly ricochet off. In Job 1–2, Job had done just that. Satan had fired a barrage of fiery darts at him, but the shield of Job’s faith had deflected them all. That’s how faith works: no arrow of Satan—no matter how hot or deadly—can overwhelm simple, childlike faith: “I’ll trust God whether I understand what he is doing or not.” In chapter 3, Job allowed the handle of the shield of faith to slip from his sweaty fingers. Rather than preoccupy himself with believing trust, Job allowed his thinking to be dominated by frustrated expectations and, later, by the disheartening, untrue accusations of his friends. In the Gospels, the man cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In calamity, we must voice a similar cry to Christ: “I believe; rescue me from my doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief.”

For these reasons, Job stumbled. But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. In heartfelt worship, Job returned to a fear-of-the-Lord-faith which enabled him to humbly walk with God the rest of his days.

[This post is a chapter excerpt from Joel James’ helpful mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials. If you find yourself in the midst of a painful trial, or know a friend who is, you will benefit from reading Joel’s counsel from the life of Job.]

May 6, 2014

When You’re Surrounded by Darkness

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (PS 112.4)

I know how it feels to be in the darkness. Literally and spiritually. I remember touring Onandaga Cave in Missouri as a kid. At one point the tour guide turned out the lights. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I also remember when I walked in spiritual darkness and the Lord shone his light into my darkened heart. And I remember many times since believing that Jesus has taken me through dark and dismal valleys where all I could do is trust him until his light broke through.

When we’re in the darkness of affliction, our temptation is to circle the wagons and turn inward. We’re tempted to self-pity and self-focus. To withdraw. We don’t feel like being around others. But God tells us to do the opposite. When we’re in the darkness we should seek his grace to be others-oriented. To be gracious, merciful, generous. And Psalm 112 emphasizes being generous to the poor.

While we wait for God’s light to dawn in our darkness, we should:

Fear the Lord and delight in his commands (PS 112:1)
Be gracious and merciful (4)
“Deal generously” and lend (5)
Continue to steadfastly trust the Lord (7-8)
“Distribute freely” and give to the poor (9)

So as you pray and wait for God to save a loved one or break through in your own night, keep trusting in the Lord. Give to the poor. Give to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse. Wire some money to a pastor in a poor nation. Bless someone in need in your church.

And remember, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, hung in the darkness of God’s wrath for 3 hours for you, so that his light could pierce the darkness of your sin and lostness. If he did the greater thing – opening your blind eyes and bringing you into his glorious light – then surely he will do the lesser thing now that you are his beloved child – to answer your prayers for your loved one or meet your need.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (PR 4:18)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday. PS 37:3-6

Keep trusting Jesus. He has not abandoned you. He is just waiting for the perfect moment for his light to dawn in your darkness.

March 22, 2014

On Asking God, “Why?”

There are always new readers here, so I want to again recommend the devotional website that is regularly the place where I begin my day. I try to make it my ‘first click’ once the computer is fully booted up, but often there are distractions. The site is Daily Encouragement and the authors are Stephen and Brooksyne Weber.

Normally we don’t do a lot of stories or illustrations here. There are devotional writers who do that, but I try to either find or write pieces which go straight to exposition of the text. But sometimes a contemporary example of an individual, couple, family or church working through the principle that the text teaches us can bring the text to life. Sometimes we need to see the text being lived out. This article appeared at Daily Encouragement as Why Me Lord?

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20).

“See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).

…We all bear burdens, some large and some small. Last fall an Amish family in our area was traveling along in their horse and buggy when they heard what sounded like a firecracker. They made it home but found out the sound they thought a firecracker was a gun shot fired at their horse. Somehow they made it home but the horse died before the vet arrived. The shooter did it because he thought it was funny. I suppose since I have given a lot of consideration in the last several weeks to the Romans 1 portion of Scripture I consider the phrase, “They invent ways of doing evil” (Romans 1:30). His trial here in Lancaster County will be held in April. Of course such a reckless act could have very easily physically harmed any member of the family as well.

As a pastor, situations like this are among the greatest challenges we have when attempting to minister to the family and loved ones. Many of us have had situations in our lives where we have uttered a deeply felt “Why me Lord?” I’m not speaking of the many trite situations where we are inconvenienced in some manner or things just aren’t going our way. Really, these situations amount to mere grumbling if we honestly examine our hearts!

We want to draw your attention to a song…provided after our message today that speaks of God’s faithfulness in the deepest of trials. Brian Doerkson sings a stirring song he wrote after the birth of his son born with special needs. He and his wife have six children and both of his sons were born with a severe form of autism.

In our previous church in New England we had a member whose little daughter was backed over by a service truck in her own driveway and died. These are the “Why me Lord?” experiences that test the very limits of our faith in God who is good. I myself have had to deal with a few situations like this in my own life and so have many of you.

The severity of the testing may vary among Christians but the grace of God is all-sufficient to meet every affliction we have. Annie Johnson, a woman orphaned at a very young age and severely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis by the time she was a teen-ager, wrote the following poem set to music:

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
to added affliction He addeth His mercy,
to multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.”

Simply put, the grace of God more than matches the depth of our need.

The best step I have found in dealing with these troubling situations is to humbly acknowledge, “I don’t know why,” get my focus off the situation (which will eventually lead to bitterness), and focus on the character of God. He can turn the situation around or He may be shaping my character in ways that can only come about in times of difficulty.

Naomi had great loss. Her husband and two sons had died. She expresses her deep hurt and confusion in our daily text with these heart-felt words, “The Almighty has made my life very bitter.” But the little book of Ruth ends with a contented grandma holding an ancestor to Jesus. As people of faith we believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Today if you are dealing with a situation that prompts bitterness may you recall Naomi’s story and remember the powerful truth in our second daily text, “See to it that …no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Father, when burdens increase and answers don’t come I have a choice to let a bitter root grow up or to remain firmly rooted in You. Focusing solely on my troubles is sure to germinate doubt, fear and unbelief. But when I clothe myself in the spiritual armor You provide I have a powerful defense against the enemy; I can stand firm against his evil schemes. Though he plots evil You plan my eternal good. We are cautioned repeatedly in Scripture that we will have many troubles, but that we should take heart because You help us to overcome them. Father, though You’ve proven Yourself over and over I ask for grace to trust You even more.  Amen.

March 24, 2012

Learning from Job

I’m not a regular follower of John Piper, but while searching the Desiring God website for something else, came on this article about Job. When we think of the losses that Job incurred, perhaps we really don’t know the half of what was involved in his unique testing…

I Was Warned by Job This Morning

I take this as a serious and sober warning to people with significant influence and respected standing in the church and community. Job was a good man. “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). His fall from health, wealth, and family wholeness was not owing to an evil lifestyle.

Whatever remnants of pride lying in the bottom of Job’s glass of holiness, which God meant to expose and purge, he was a faithful man, no worse than you or I.

But he was prominent. Very prominent. He was utterly successful. He was revered by the young, and respected by the old. He had authority and great influence.

For example here is a sampling from Job 29:

  • I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent.
  • My children were all around me.
  • My steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!
  • The young men saw me and withdrew.
  • The aged rose and stood.
  • The princes refrained from talking and laid their hand on their mouth.
  • The voice of the nobles was hushed.
  • I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.
  • I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
  • My justice was like a robe and a turban.
  • I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.
  • I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
  • Men listened to me and waited and kept silent for my counsel.
  • I smiled on them when they had no confidence, and the light of my face they did not cast down.

And God took it all away. He tested Job. Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job.

When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation.

~John Piper