Saturday, November 17, 2018

Give Thanks for the Giver!

With the Thanksgiving holiday begins the official Christmas shopping season, as stores vie for our attention and our dollars while we seek the perfect presents for our loved ones. No matter how much we try, some gifts fall short, and instead of the joyful surprise and appreciation we had hoped for, we hear a polite “Gee, you shouldn’t have,” or “It’s the thought that counts.”

Often we try to give our loved ones, especially our children, what we know they need instead of what they think they want. Classic books, educational software, warm mittens and socks get left behind under the piles of wrapping, while the child disappears into his room with the worldly video game given by a well-meaning family friend or relative. For an older son or daughter, a membership to a towing and roadside protection emergency service has a lot less appeal than a gift card to the mall, until that fateful night when their car breaks down on a dark, lonely road.

Hopefully as the child grows up he would realize that Mom and Dad gave gifts motivated by their deep love and caring, wanting to nurture him and to guide him along the right path. Better yet, he would be thankful not only for the gifts, but for the giver, realizing that he was blessed with loving parents who wanted to encourage their child to follow God’s perfect plan for his life.

It may be a lot to hope for such maturity in our children, especially if we ourselves are less than thankful for the gifts God gives us. Even when things are going well, we tend to gloss over God’s many blessings upon us. But God knows what we need even before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). God is always faithful to provide for the physical needs of His children (Psalm 37:3, 25; Matthew 6:25-33).and showers them with good and perfect gifts (James 1:17). Even for those who do not recognize or love Him, He is the source of all blessing (Matthew 5:45).

In the Thanksgiving season, and whenever we take the time to reflect on God’s provision, it is easy to give thanks for what we perceive as blessings -– religious freedom, prosperity, good health, loving relationships, quality time with our family.

But do we faithfully thank God for those blessings that are harder to recognize? When we go through trials of sickness, financial loss, death of a loved one, rejection, divorce, do we give thanks? Our first reaction may be like that of Job -- to question God or to be angry with Him, even though we lack wisdom and He knows all (Job 38:1-4).

Yet the apostle Paul tells us to give thanks in EVERY thing, for this is the perfect will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul is our role model not only of being thankful, but even joyful, in the midst of tribulation including persecution, punishment, imprisonment, deprivation, and physical infirmity (Philippians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-30)

How is it possible to be thankful in trials? Clearly not in our flesh, but only through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He teaches us that God is sovereign and all-powerful; that He loves His children infinitely (1 John 4:9); that it gives Him great pleasure to give His children good gifts (Matthew 7:11); and that He works all things together for good for those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

This side of glory, we cannot always understand or see the amazing ways that God is using tribulation in our life to accomplish His perfect will for us. We do know that trials can strengthen our faith in and dependence on God, can build our character by conforming us more and more to the image of His Son, and can give us the compassion and experience needed to help others going through similar circumstances (Romans 8:16-18; Philippians 3: 10-14).

As the infinitely good Father, God always gives us what we need, even if it is not what we think we want. We would not allow our children to gorge themselves on candy until they got sick, or to play with fire or broken glass, even though they might cry and even say hateful things in a vain attempt to change our mind. They lack the wisdom, experience, and perspective to know what is best for them, and we love them too much to allow them to get hurt.

Similarly, God will not answer prayers motivated by selfishness or lust or that are not in accordance with His will, for to do so would be harmful to our spiritual growth (James 4:3). Instead, as we find joy in our relationship with Him, He grants us the desires of our heart, for those desires become conformed to his perfect will for our lives (Psalm 37:4).

If we trust and love God, we can be thankful in all circumstances. The phrase “He really shouldn’t have,” truly applies with Him, because it is beyond our comprehension that the Creator of all things would willingly subject Himself to the suffering needed to pay for our sins in full (Colossians 1:12-29; 1 John 3:16).

With Him, the thought really does count, because He thought enough of us to give His only Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 8:32), so that all who repent and trust in His death, burial, and resurrection have eternal life (John 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Romans 1:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). How amazing that as Jesus faced the agony of crucifixion and the even more painful separation from His Holy Father as He took on our sins, He thought of us and prayed for us in the Garden of Gethsemane! (John 17)

At Thanksgiving and always, let us give thanks not only for all our blessings and in all our circumstances, but especially for the ultimate Giver Who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer (Psalm 103:3-5; 104:1-15). He loves us enough to give His only Son to save us, to clothe us in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), and to give us eternal and abundant life in His presence (John 10:10).

As if that were not abundantly more than we could ever dream of (Ephesians 3:20), He adopted us as His children (Romans 8:14-17), made us joint heirs with Christ (Galatians 4:6-7), and appointed us as His ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20) and joint rulers with Him in eternity!

It is not about what He gives us, but about Who He is. Thank you, God, that You are all we need!

© 2012 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Know What You Believe!

Photo by FatherRon2011

So now that we’ve examined the definition of an evangelical Christian, what do those who identify as evangelicals actually believe? Could it be that some nominal Christians differ from core doctrine not only in fine points over the meaning of a few controversial verses, but also in basic concepts about Jesus Christ, salvation, and God’s Word?

And does it really matter? As long as they prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and “asked Jesus into their heart,” isn’t that enough? Or does accepting heresy as truth really mean that the “Christian” doesn’t know Jesus at all, and therefore is not truly saved? Jesus Himself warned that not all who did good works in His Name or claimed to know Him belonged to Him, for He never knew them, and banished them as workers of evil (Luke 13:23-30).

To find out what those meeting their research definition of an evangelical Christian actually believe, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research surveyed 3,002 Americans in 2018, including 518 identified as evangelicals. Their findings regarding agreement or disagreement with 34 core beliefs about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible are published in the October 16, 2018 issue of Christianity Today.

Not surprisingly, the overall proportions of Americans disagreeing with Bible-based doctrine has continued to increase since previous surveys in 2014 and 2016. But more disheartening is the widespread, increasing, deep confusion about core Christian beliefs even among so-called evangelicals.

Among Americans with “evangelical beliefs,” nearly all (97%) endorsed the true statement that “there is one true God in three persons.” Yet 78% agreed with the statement that “Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father,” attesting to their overall confusion. As Scripture clearly states, Jesus Christ is God, the Word Who was present with God the Father since the beginning of time (John 1:1). Not only was Jesus Christ not created, but He actually is the Creator of all that there is and ever was (John 1:1-3).

If our thinking relegates Jesus to the status of a mere created being, it not only strips Him of His divinity, but it invalidates the miracle of salvation. The mystery of salvation is that God Himself, the Creator of all, willingly left His throne in Heaven, took on human form (John 1:14), and suffered an agonizing death to pay our sin debt in full (Romans 3:25).  He then rose again on the third day, proving His divinity, so that all who believe this and trust Him have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16).

More than half (52%) of “evangelicals” agreed that “Most people are basically good,” which flies in the face of the curse of sin affecting every human since Adam disobeyed God (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12). Jesus in His earthly ministry reaffirmed that only God is good (Matthew 19:17), and the apostle Paul wrote that no person is righteous (Romans 3:10-12), for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The prophet Isaiah wrote that our so-called righteousness as a claim to salvation is as offensive as filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6)

Even Paul, arguably the most devoted Christian ever to walk the earth, acknowledged that he had to die daily to his sin nature (1 Corinthians 15:31), which was constantly at war with the Holy Spirit  (Romans 7:4-25) living in His heart since the moment he was saved (John 14:16-17).

Perhaps even more shocking than their belief in man’s goodness is that 51% of “evangelical Christians” agreed that “God accepts the worship of all religions.” Yet all other religions deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, claiming instead that he was a good man, wise teacher, great prophet, or even the brother of Lucifer. Jesus Himself proclaimed that He is the only Way to the Father (John 14:6), and that the gate to salvation is narrow, whereas the gate to destruction is broad and captures the souls of many (Matthew 7:13-14).

Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

In keeping with this all-inclusive, yet tragically erroneous belief of many paths to Heaven, nearly one third (32%) of “evangelicals” agreed that “religious belief is a matter of personal opinion [and] not about objective truth,” as did 60% of all Americans surveyed.

But if evangelicals put no more stock in their religious belief than they do in any personal opinion, they slide down a slippery slope that ends in denying the absolute truth of the Bible.  We cannot “cherry-pick” verses to match our idiosyncratic beliefs or to justify “lifestyle choices” that are actually sins, for “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” but rather was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).

2 Timothy 3:16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

If we give way to popular opinion rather than Bible truth, for example by endorsing evolution rather than a literal six-day creation by the Triune God (Genesis 1,2), then we are falling prey to “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1: 16) that erode the very core of our faith. The theory of evolution calls for ongoing and repeated cycles of death to “improve” the gene pool, which in itself is ludicrous since observed mutations lead to disease rather than to better function.

More importantly, it denies the power of God to speak the worlds into existence, including mankind created in His image (Genesis 1:26). If we evolved from the animals, we are no better than the beasts, and there is no absolute standard for morality, and no rationale for or consequences of the construct of sin.

Even worse, striking at the heart of Christian faith is that if we are not all sinners through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, we have no need of a Savior. Christ’s death on the cross was therefore in vain, totally unnecessary, and irrelevant, because there is no God, no Heaven, and no meaning to our existence beyond the stark biological reality. Doubting portions of God’s Word ultimately leads to rejection of its saving power (Romans 1:16).

As we shall see next time, Americans as a whole are at even greater odds with Bible truths than are those who claim the Name of Jesus. So, born-again Christian, know what you believe, make sure it lines up with Bible truth, and be prepared to defend it to others!

© 2018 Laurie Collett