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The past couple weeks have been quite interesting here in northwest Montana (and in other locations of the West), as we have been surrounded by forest fires and have faced extremely smoky conditions and the possibility of having to evacuate should the fires get too close. Last Friday, high winds which swept through Oregon and Washington were expected to hit our area. So, the folks living on the West side of the highway out our way were given pre-evacuation notices because the fire in the Cabinet Wilderness just a few miles to the West of us could conceivably have crowned and headed our way. Those who lived closest to the mountains actually were told to evacuate. Others living along the Bull Lake Highway 56 were also told to be ready to evacuate (some, including one family from our church had already evacuated). Well, praise the Lord, the winds weren’t as bad as expected and they brought rain and lowering air temperatures and the fires actually subsided for the time being.
If you were given an “evacuation notice,” what items would you quickly gather up to take with you? It is interesting here to see what the first things are that people gather up to save—their guns! We live in an area where a great percentage of the people hunt and many of them depend on wild meat for a big portion of their diet. So, their guns are not only valuable from a cost stand point, but from practicality as well. Of course most would try to save some special jewelry, photo albums, etc. I would surely want to save my study Bibles with all my recorded notes! I guess the computer hard drive would be a priority too.
I couldn’t help thinking about the “Pre-evacuation Notices” we are given in Scripture, and the purpose isn’t so we can gather up the things we want to take with us when we leave, but rather so that our lives will be ready for when it happens. The New Testament speaks of an event that we might call “Operation Evacuation,” or “The Great Snatch.” We usually refer to it as the “Rapture,” which is a word that doesn’t actually appear in the English translations of the Bible, but does in the Latin in I Thes. 4:16,17, which in the NASB translations says: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The Apostle Paul, writing to comfort believers who had lost loved ones through death as to whether or not they would ever see them again, spoke of being “caught up with them.” The term “rapture” comes from the Latin for “caught up.” It speaks here of believers, both those who have died and those who are alive, being caught up together to meet the Lord and then being taken to heaven.
This is the event which Jesus alluded to in the Upper Room as recorded in John’s Gospel: “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3). Jesus was soon to go to the Cross, and then 40 days after His resurrection would ascend back into heaven, but He promised He would return to take believers to live with Him in heaven. As you put together all the passages in the Bible regarding the Second Coming of Christ, it indicates that He will first come to take believers (referred to as His “Bride” or the “Church”) to heaven and then will carry out a period of judgment on the earth called the “Great Tribulation” or “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble,” during which God will again deal directly with His chosen people, Israel, to bring them to repentance. Then, at the end of that time, Jesus will return to the earth, bringing His “Bride” with Him, to set up the earthly Kingdom that He promised to Israel throughout Scripture (called the “Millennial Reign”).
As Jesus spoke of the final events that would take place before He comes to set up His earthly kingdom, He warned that people need to be ready, because His coming would be “like a thief in the night” (Mt. 24:43). He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt. 24:36). His coming will be sudden, catching many unaware and unprepared. Paul spoke of the suddenness of the Second Coming in his first letter to the Corinthian believers: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (I Cor. 15:51,52). The Greek word Paul used for “moment” (atoimos) means “an individual particle, “ or “an indivisible particle,” i.e., “an atom of time,” indicating it will be too instantaneous, too small to measure. “the twinkling of an eye,” refers to the time it takes light to pass from the pupil to the retina, which is infinitesimally small. So, when the evacuation (the “Great Snatch,” or “Rapture”) happens, there will be no time to get ready. It is a matter of “ready or not, here He comes.” He has already given us the “pre-evacuation” notice several times in Scripture, warning us “be prepared.” And that doesn’t mean to gather up any of our precious belongings to take with us, for as Job observed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). Solomon also wrote: “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15). You don’t ever see a U-haul behind a hearse (unless they are carrying digging tools)! We prepare for “evacuation” by trusting Christ for eternal life, by acknowledging our sinfulness and that Jesus died for our sin and was resurrected to prove that God was satisfied with His atonement on our behalf. We also prepare daily by walking with the Lord, living a life pleasing to Him, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33). John gives us good exhortation: “And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28). It is my desire to live such that I will hear one day—soon—“Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21).
How about you? Jesus has issued each of us an “pre-evacuation” warning. Are you ready?
Our valley has been smoke filled for the past week or more from the many wild fires in the Northwest. There are 101 fires in Northwest Montana alone. One family from our church has had to evacuate their property and others have been notified to be ready to leave. Last Thursday and Friday were especially bad with smoke and even visible ash falling. Those with any breathing problems were really struggling and didn’t dare go outside. Then Friday afternoon we had a thunder storm and a little rain which improved things a bit. Fortunately most of the lightning with the storm was cloud-to-cloud so didn’t start new fires. Friday evening it rained hard for a time and dropped the air temperature considerably. Saturday morning we awoke to cloudless, smokeless clear blue skies. What a beautiful sight and what a contrast to the past couple days. Many, ourselves included, got out and took advantage of the day, going for hikes, working in the yard, and just enjoying being outside and breathing clean air and seeing the mountains around us. The rain had done an amazing job of washing away the smoke and ash from the air. What a blessing the rain showers were. They also gave the fire crews a brief respite, knowing the battle is not over by any means. Many of these fires won’t be out until the snow comes, but at least for a day and a half, we had clear skies and clean air. The smoke is now back and temperatures this week will be back in the high 80’s and low 90’s with no more possibilities of rain until this coming weekend.
I was reminded of the old hymn, There Shall Be Showers of Blessing, based on Ezek. 34:26 which says: “And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.” It is a prophecy concerning the future of Israel when God “will deliver His flock, and they will no longer be a prey…” and He “will set over them one shepherd, His servant David, who will feed them;…and He will be their Shepherd” (vv. 22,23). It is a reference not to a resurrected King David, but to David’s greatest descendant, the Messiah (cf II Sam. 12:16; Isa. 55:3; Jer. 23:5), who will come and rule over Israel and the whole earth for a thousand years. Bible scholars refer to it as “the Millennial Reign.” During that time, God will establish a new covenant with His chosen people, Israel, and the blessings will include the taming of nature (Isa. 11:6-9), increased productivity in the land (Isa. 35:1,2), safe occupation of the land of Palestine (Amos 9:14,15), and the knowledge of God and acceptance of Jesus as Messiah (Jer. 31:34 cf Ro. 11:25-26). When you think of Israel’s situation today, facing the hatred of surrounding nations and increasing anti-Semitism world-wide, what a contrast the coming Millennium will be. Now they face the dark, smoky, ash-filled skies with fires all around (metaphorically speaking), but will one day (soon) experience the showers of blessing promised in Ezek. 34:26 which will produce the conditions described above.
Maybe you are experiencing a lot of smoky days in your life right now and are having trouble seeing the Sun. Maybe the fires of adversity are pressing in all around you and you long for a refreshing rain so you can again have blue skies and see things clearly and breathe in refreshing air. Well, if the fires and smoke are of your own doing by ignoring God and going your own way, then you need to repent, confess your sin, and ask God for the cleansing that comes through His shed blood. The Apostle John gives us this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9). If the fires and smoke are just the result of living in a cursed world that has turned its back on God, just know that you can still experience the blessings of God in your life, no matter your circumstances. Maybe you can’t see the hand of God, but you can trust His heart and His promises to you such as: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand…When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God…” (Isa. 41:10; 43:2); “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3); “for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’ (Dt. 31:6), so that we can confidently say, ‘The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?’ (Psa. 118:6)” (Heb. 13:5,6).
So, no matter what we face, as Christians, “For this we have Jesus” in whom we have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
“There shall be showers of blessing: This is the promise of love. There shall be seasons refreshing, sent from the Savior above. There shall be showers of blessing—precious reviving again; over the hills and the valleys, sound of abundance of rain. There shall be showers of blessing; send them upon us, O Lord. Grant to us now a refreshing; come and now honor Your Word…. There shall be showers of blessing; O that today they might fall, now as to God we’re confessing, now as on Jesus we call! Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need. Mercy drops around us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” (Daniel Whittle and James McGranahan).
Our pastor, Alex Mauck, is currently doing a series on the Church, the Bride of Christ. Yesterday we were in Ephesians 1: 3-14 where Pastor Alex spoke on “The Church’s Identity: What makes the Church Unique?” The passage in Ephesians shows how “The Church is Blessed by the Father” (vv. 3-6), “Redeemed by the Son” (vv. 7-12), and “Sealed by the Spirit” (vv. 13,14), so we see how the Triune Godhead is involved in the identity of the Church. Pastor Mauck pointed out too how the pronouns used referring to the Church are: “us” and “we,” emphasizing that while we are individually accountable to God and must individually make a choice concerning Jesus Christ and salvation, when we do trust Him as our personal Savior, we are placed in a body made up of many members with whom we need to spend time and to help each other grow into maturity as Christ’s Body, the Church.
Interestingly, my wife and I are currently reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and I want you to observe the portion we just read this weekend. (Usually Kathy drives and I read since she gets motion sick very easily if she doesn’t do the driving. So I read to us as she drives).
The Boys in the Boat is a true story about nine American young men and their quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympic. It is a thrilling tale of struggle, and triumph during the most desperate of times, the Depression of the 1930’s. You would thoroughly enjoy reading it.
Rowing is an interesting sport where, in this case eight big, strong, athletic young men try to propel a narrow, shallow cedar boat called a shell as smoothly and rapidly as they possibly can while they are directed by the smallest and least powerful person in the boat, the coxswain, “who must have the force of character to look men twice his size in the face, bark orders to them, and be confident that the leviathans will respond instantly and unquestioningly to those orders. It is perhaps the most incongruous relationship in sports.” And, added to this crucial relationship between the coxswain and the rowing crew, is the fact that while the goal is to move as quickly through the water as possible, the faster the boat goes, the harder it is to row well, as each oarsman must stroke with exquisite precision, as the pain to his body increases with the stroke rate.
As I quote three paragraphs from pages 178-180 of the book, keep in mind the Body of Christ, the Church and how we are to relate and work together, though we come from different backgrounds and have differing spiritual gifts, personalities, and interests.
“The greatest paradox of the sport has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff—of oil and water, fire and earth. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic will power. They must be almost immune to frustration. Nobody who does not believe deeply in himself —in his ability to endure hardship and to prevail over adversity—is likely even to attempt something as audacious as competitive rowing at the highest levels. The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at all. And yet, at the same time—and this is the key—no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding coxswains or stroke oars or bowmen; but they have no stars. The team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat and water; the single, whole unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self.
‘Even as rowers must subsume their often fierce sense of independence and self-reliance, at the same time they must hold true to their individuality, their unique capabilities as oarsmen, or for that matter, as human beings. Even if they could, few rowing coaches would simply clone their biggest, strongest, smartest, and most capable rowers. Crew races are not won by clones. They are won by crews, and great crews are carefully balance blends of both physical abilities and personality types….Each must be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat so that all oars remain parallel and enter and exit the water at precisely the same moment. This highly refined coordination and cooperation must be multiplied out across eight individuals of varying statures and physiques to make the most of each individual’s strengths. Only in this way can the capabilities that come with diversity—lighter, more technical rowers in the bow and stronger, heavier pullers in the middle of the boat, for instance—be turned to advantage rather than disadvantage.
‘And capitalizing on diversity is perhaps even more important when it comes to the characters of the oarsmen. …Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh…Even after the right mixture is found, each man in the boat must recognize his place in the fabric of the crew, accept it and accept the others as they are. It is an exquisite thing when it all comes together in just the right way. The intense bonding and the sense of exhilaration that results from it are what many oarsmen row for, far more than for trophies or accolades.”
Now check out the Apostle Paul’s description of the Body of Christ, the Church, working together in Ephesians 4:1-16. You will see an amazing parallel of the importance of unity in diversity. With our varied giftedness, personalities, and backgrounds, we are to lay aside self and work together as a team, recognizing our place, accepting others for how God has equipped them, and striving to work together as a team. When it all comes together, “It is an exquisite thing!” And it is exhilarating.
A Member of the Team,
You’ve undoubtedly read stories about folks who have been led astray following the directions of their GPS. I did a “Wisdom of the Week” devotional about my experience with some friends when we went to visit “Wilderness School of the Bible” in Montana for the first time. Lola obviously didn’t know the correct location and rather than admit it, took us on a rather “wild goose chase.” At least we were able to stop and ask directions and managed to find the remotely located Bible school. Others who have been led astray have not been so fortunate and some have lost their lives before they were located.
In contrast, when God promises to take someone to a certain location—it will happen. He has never deceived anyone or led them in a direction other than He promised. Yesterday in our adult Sunday school class we were listening to Dr. David Jeremiah’s lesson on “The Fear of Sudden Trouble” from his series What Are You Afraid of? He used the story of the disciples and Jesus on the Sea of Galilee when a severe storm suddenly swept down upon them and the waves began breaking over the boat which was filling up with water. While the disciples were frantically trying to keep the boat afloat, Jesus was fast asleep. “They awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, ‘Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?’” (Mk. 4:38-40). As Dr. Jeremiah pointed out, before they left shore Jesus had said to them, “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35). They had missed the fact that with Jesus on board, they need not fear, for they would reach the destination He had promised.
Another story is told in the New Testament about a storm at sea when it appeared those on board an Alexandrian cargo ship bound for Rome laden with grain along with some prisoners and soldiers to guard them would perish. But one of the prisoners happened to be the Apostle Paul who had been arrested in Jerusalem and had—as a Roman citizen—appealed his case to Caesar. There were 276 in all aboard the ship and it appeared they had no chance to make it in the fierce storm, but Paul urged them saying, “keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship, For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; for you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27: 22-25). Paul knew God would do as the angel said. He trusted God fully, and knew they would reach their destination, in spite of the storm, and even in spite of ship wreck.
In his lesson about the disciples and Jesus in the storm, Dr. Jeremiah pointed out two interested verses. The first is Psalm 56:3 which says: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee.” And the second is Isaiah 12:2 which says: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid…” Dr. Jeremiah made a good observation as he compared those two passages, saying: “We can either trust God in the midst of the storm and learn in the process (to not be afraid…as David wrote in Ps. 56:3), or we can learn to trust Him ahead of the storm and know He is sufficient for every need (not be afraid, as Isaiah writes). The more you build your faith, the less you will be terrified by fear. It is a choice. We either live by fear or walk by faith.”
We can have the same assurance regarding our eternal destination as the disciples should have had in reaching the far shore or the Apostle Paul in reaching Rome in spite of the storms they encountered along the way. Jesus gives us this promise in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” In the next chapter, John records another promise Jesus gave: “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:37-40). If you have come to Jesus Christ (drawn there by the Father), acknowledged your sinfulness, and believed on Him as your personal Savior, that He died for your sin and rose again, you have been “born again” (Jn. 3:3) and are no longer under the judgment of sin, and have changed your eternal destination from hell to heaven. And you can say with the Apostle Paul, “…For I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (II Tim. 1:12), “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
As believers in Jesus Christ for eternal life, our destination is assured, no matter what “storms” we face along the way. With Jesus “on board” we will get there! As someone has aptly put it, “As long as the Head is above water, you can’t drown the feet!” And Christ is the Head of the Church. We are members of His body. Remember to do as Isaiah 12:2 tells us: “I will trust and not be afraid.” But, if you have yet to trust Christ for salvation, by all means do that! Otherwise, you have a lot to fear! If you’ve never done so, admit to Him today that you are a sinner and believe on Him for eternal life, and you will pass from death to life (Jn. 5:24) and then you “know that you have eternal life” (I Jn. 5:13), for “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (v. 12).
It is easy to get focused on all the bad things happening in our world, how our nation has turned its back on God, how the Middle East is a powder keg just waiting for some nation like Iran to light the fuse in an attempt to annihilate the nation of Israel and to eliminate all Jews and Christians from the face of the earth. It is easy to observe the moral depravity and anti-Christian bias of our leaders and the media, to watch the compromising church lose its power and influence and to become very discouraged and depressed, thinking “God, why are you allowing this to happen?” Well, in the first place we—the church—just as Israel did—have brought this judgment upon ourselves for becoming apathetic and complacent and have ceased to be the salt and light as intended in our society. But, amidst all the negative things taking place and the moral and spiritual decline all around us, there are still those, who, like the 7,000 believers of Elijah’s time, “have not bowed their knees to Baal” (I Kg. 19:18)—during a time when Elijah thought he was the only one living for God (v. 10). It is always such an encouragement to hear missionaries come and report on the exciting things happening throughout the world where many are coming to Christ and are standing firm in the face of severe persecution or even death. But sometimes we wonder if any good things are happening here at home in the “good old U.S. of A.” that has been so blessed by God in its history.
Well, yesterday we had the privilege of attending the baptism and rededication of one of the young people who lived here with her grandparents and who grew up in our church. Alanah True-Silva attended Troy High School and there maintained her testimony for the Lord, not being swayed to “join the crowd” that was not going in the direction she wanted her life to go. She is now attending Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, a solid Christian college, where she is very involved in the Young Life program that reaches out to high schools in the area—a very challenging ministry among some very troubled young people. Alanah left today for her junior year at GCU. Her summer consisted of counseling at a Bible camp in Colorado and then flying back to Montana to again counsel at Elohim Bible Camp for the month of July as she has done for the past several years. At the baptismal service, Alanah shared how she has fully dedicated her life to serving the Lord in all that she does and wants to be. She challenged us to pray for her, encourage her, and hold her accountable. There were six of us there who were pastors or youth leaders or camp directors who have had a part in her life. It was a very blessed, and moving time—and an encouraging one, knowing that there are those young people out there who are truly “followers of Jesus” and are not content to “follow from a distance” as it seems so many believers today are content to do.
I am reminded of something Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (I Tim. 4:12). Alanah has definitely heeded Paul’s admonition.
In attendance at the rededication and baptismal service were a couple young men from our church, William and Robert McAbee. William recently attended Wilderness School of the Bible in Montana and is leaving in a week for the Philippines to help out missionary Annette Fosgate, from Libby, Montana. On her own she, as just a single young lady, went several years ago to the Philippines and started a ministry of feeding children and sharing Christ with them. It expanded to a ministry to teen agers as well. She too has dedicated her life to serving the Lord with the talents God has given her. Robert McAbee is returning soon to continue his schooling at Montana Bible College and is available to whatever the Lord directs him to do.
As a pastor it is such an encouragement to see young people growing up and dedicating their lives to serve the Lord in whatever area He would call them. May their tribe increase!! With all the discouraging things around us, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that Christ is doing just what He promised to do, build His church, and is not allowing the powers of darkness to overpower it (Mt. 16:18). The darker our culture gets, the more those who are holding forth the light will stand out and shine forth.
The Psalmist gives us a great word of encouragement too, along these same lines, in Psalm 37: “”Do not fret because of evil does, be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD. Trust also in Him and He will do it” (vv. 1-5).
I really enjoy the game of tennis and have coached and taught lessons for many years. It is easy to get frustrated in the sport because it isn’t always easy to get the ball over the net or to keep it within the lines to win a point. In our mind we think, “Oh, if only the net were a little lower, or the boundaries a little farther apart, then I could really be successful! Well, this summer we had three of our six community courts re-surfaced. They took down the net and net posts, patched the cracks and then covered the whole area with a dark brown material before re-doing the final colored surface areas and re-painting the lines. So, for a while, if you were to have played on it, there was no net to get in the way and no lines to worry about! But would that have been the game of tennis? How would you know if your serve was in or the ball made it over the net or if your groundstroke was within the boundaries? You wouldn’t and the whole purpose of the game would have been destroyed.
As ridiculous as the illustration, that is just what some (including five judges on our Supreme Court) in our nation are trying to do—remove all the obstacles, boundaries and restraints so people can be “free” to do as they please. Is that really the “liberty” our founding fathers had in mind for our nation, or is it “license” for the selfish desires of our old, sinful natures? I’m afraid it is the latter. It seems that many don’t understand that because of the nature of man, we need boundaries, limitations, and guidelines in order to experience true freedom. In other words, “freedom has fences.” That’s why the phrase in America the Beautiful (which many of us probably sang at church services yesterday) says “liberty in law.”
In the epistle of James in the New Testament, we read: “So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (Jas. 2:12). The essence of the “American system is liberty under law—the laws of nature placed there by our Creator and the revealed laws of God’s Word. Within that framework we do have liberty—but not liberty to defy either the physical laws of God’s World (like gravity) or the spiritual laws of God’s Word. English common law and our system of constitutional law are both based on Scripture. Some today, seeking license rather than liberty, recoil at the very idea of “the law of liberty.” They may even consider it an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms. But Jesus said that only “the truth shall make you free!” (Jn. 8:32). The foundation of freedom is truth—the truth of God’s Word, and Christ Himself, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). We are only really free when we have “the Truth” (Christ) living in us and we are living according to the truths of God’s Word. Then we are “free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
By our natural birth, we were under the Law (Ro. 3:19), sinners (Ro. 3:23), condemned (Ro. 5:12,18), in bondage to sin (Ro. 6:17), separated from God (Ro. 6:23a), dead in sin (Eph. 2:1), separated from Christ (Eph. 2:12). without hope and without God (Eph. 2:12). But, through faith in Christ as our Savior, we died with Him to sin, and to Satan and self. We are no longer under the condemnation of the Law because He was condemned on our behalf. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…” (I Pet. 2:24). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6). Praise the Lord, in Him (Christ) we have been set free. The words of an old hymn by Philip Bliss, Once for All! say: “Free from the Law, O happy condition, Jesus hath bled, and there is remission. Cursed by the Law and bruised by the fall, Christ hath redeemed us once for all.”
We are free—free from the Law, from sin and self and Satan, free from condemnation—but free to do what we ought to do, not what we want to do! Liberty is not license. True freedom is not found by choosing our own way but by yielding to God’s way—in submission (bondage) to Christ. Liberty is not license. Peter wrote: “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (I Pet 2:16). The Apostle Paul wrote: “For you were called to freedom, brethren, only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). While we are no longer under Law, but under grace (Ro. 6:14), we are under a new law, the “law of love.” Note what Paul wrote in II Cor. 5:14,15: “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live (those who have trusted Christ for eternal life) should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” God doesn’t save us by grace that we might live in disgrace! “After all He’s done for me, how can I do less that give Him my best and live for Him completely?” You will notice that Paul begins most of his letters with: “I Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus….” (Ro. 1:1 cf Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:1; Philemon 1:1).
Even though Christ died to set us free from sin, and self and Satan, God has not yet eliminated sin or our old sinful self, or Satan. So, He put guidelines in place within which we have freedom to be all God wants us to be and to have a purposeful, significant and fulfilling life—providing we allow Him to be Lord and the Holy Spirit to be in control. That may sound paradoxical, but it happens to be how God works. So, whether it has to do with marriage, or sanctity of life or any other feature of our society, only within the confines of God’s parameters can we experience His blessing in our life and sense our freedom in Christ. When we start ignoring, or trying to tear down those fences, we lose the freedom He offers, because we are right back in bondage to sin, self and Satan. We experience chaos and frustration—all the while thinking we are really free.
Interestingly, the Psalmist, who wrote about 3,000 years ago, observed the same scenario. He wrote: “Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His Anointed: ‘Let us tear their fetters apart, and cast away their cords from us!” (Ps. 2:1-3). Does that sound like our day or what! But notice what the next verse says: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (v. 4). God is not in heaven wringing his hands over the decisions of our Supreme Court or Administration (or the actions of any government in the world) saying, “Oh, my, what should I do now?” No amount of unbelief or anti-biblical/Christian legislation can defeat the purposes of our sovereign God. He says: “Remember, I am God and there is no other…there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning…My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa. 46:9-11).
I’m so glad I belong to a God like that in a day and age like this! As believers, let’s continue to demonstrate to the world around us the true freedom we have in Christ that provides the purpose, significance and meaning others are desperately looking for in life, thinking they will find it by removing the fences. When those around you are “losing their heads…and hearts,” don’t lose yours. Stay focused on Christ and His Word—that’s the foundation of freedom.
It has been a good season for solar lights!! We, along with most of the Northwest, have had a hot, sunny, dry spring and summer thus far, with daily highs from 95-108 (yesterday registered 108!). It is hard to keep lawns, flowers and vegetable gardens alive. For many, it is a serious problem as they are depending on hay and grain crops and no longer have water available for irrigation so are dependent on getting rain, which is still not in the forecast. Or, they have livestock which needs food and water and shelter from the intense heat. Today was to be our chance of a little rain, and that came but not even in a measurable amount. It just raised the humidity for the remainder of today and the temperature is already back above 90 degrees. But, our solar lights sure like it! We have quite a variety of them scattered around and come dark, which isn’t until 11 p.m. or so this time of year here, they really shine, having soaked up all that energy from the sun during the day.
I am reminded of how, as believers, we are a bit like those solar lights, absorbing energy from the “Son” so that we can shine brightly when it becomes dark. Well, It seems we are getting more and more opportunities to do that as our society continues to grow darker and darker spiritually. The Supreme Court decision last week to approve homosexual marriages is just an example of how far and how fast we are spiraling downward away from biblical, moral, traditional, Christian values. We have seen a rapid erosion in the rights of Christians in this nation, especially in the past six years. It is mind boggling how quickly we have moved away from a place where God can bless our nation as He has in the past. (“”Blessed is that nation whose God is the LORD”…Psa. 33:12).
As we approach our 4th of July Celebration this coming weekend, I can’t help but think of how difficult it is to handle freedom. A picture of that is seen in our military. Our men and women in uniform are fighting to protect our freedoms, while they themselves aren’t free to openly express their faith in Jesus Christ. They can be court-martialed for sharing verses from the Bible or telling others about their relationship with Jesus Christ—wow! Somehow there are those who have come to believe that freedom comes from removing all the restraints on those who wish to express their ungodly, non-biblical lifestyles (see Ps. 2:3), but to suppress any who speak out against them or express a Christian viewpoint. Now is that a double standard when it comes to free speech or what?!
But the good news is, the darker it gets, the brighter our light for Jesus shines (just like the solar lights in our yard). We are hearing amazing testimonies of those who are shining their lights for Jesus, no matter the dark circumstances in which they are. We have stories of Christian bakers, Christian florists, military personnel, and missionaries who are standing up for Jesus when it would be so much easier to just compromise their Christian convictions and back off and blend in and be tolerant and politically correct. Praise God for those who are “daring to be Daniels!”
Because of decisions made by our Administration and by the Supreme Court and Congress over the past few years, it is going to become harder and harder for those who wish to openly live out their Christian lives—which all believers are to do. But, it also means that our lights will shine even brighter, provided, of course, that we are exposed enough to the Son that we have the spiritual energy to do so. It is going to be more and more important to be in close fellowship with the Lord to keep our light shining brightly. If we start to give up, thinking “What’s the use,” or “Jesus is coming soon, we’ll just bide our time and coast on home,” then we will start blending right into our dark surroundings instead of being lights in the darkness of our world. I think of a verse concerning a couple of Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John, recorded for us by Luke in Acts 4:13. He wrote: “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Their lights shone brightly during the darkness of persecution, because they had spent time being exposed to the Son. That’s the key.
Jesus challenged His followers—us included—saying, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Now, that doesn’t mean that if we stand up for Christ and His Word, that everyone around us will cheer and glorify Jesus in response, but it will give them an opportunity to do so. It will open the door to God bringing them to faith. Some may respond that way while others may jeer, boo and cause us grief or even physical harm. But that is between them and God. Remember, Jesus also said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If your were of the world (compromised your beliefs to appease), the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 15:18,19; 16:33).
It is easy to be discouraged, confused, and angry at what is taking place in our country, but also keep in mind that it is giving us as believers an opportunity to be the witnesses we were intended to be. When things are easy, peaceful, and comfortable for us as Christians to “do our thing,” we can become complacent and apathetic and forget we need to totally depend on God. Our tendency is to become spiritually lazy. Well, I believe we have been receiving wake up calls. It is time for us as believers to be the salt and light we are called to be (Mt. 5:13-16). Just make sure you have lots of exposure to the Son and your light will be shining brightly no matter what comes—in fact, because of what comes!