Saturday, February 18, 2017

God’s Word Endures

Photo by Isaac McCord 2016

As my husband looked inside a dilapidated trailer that needed to be cleared from a lot, there were signs of neglect, decay, mold and rust everywhere. A mouse scurried away through a hole in the back wall, and a menacing spider seemed to leer at him, poised to strike from the center of its vast cobweb.

Nothing salvageable here, or was there? On the crumbling remains of a countertop he spotted a small black Bible, oddly pristine in this sea of filth, intact, still bearing its original inscription, containing all its pages and even its red ribbon bookmark.

An even more poignant incident made national news on November 16, 2016, when a Dollywood employee cleaning up the rubble after wildfires had ravaged the park found a charred, yet soggy, piece of paper lying in a puddle. Out of curiosity, he looked closer and was shocked to realize it was a Bible page!

The edges were burned so that most of the text could no longer be read, but on the right sight of the page there was a legible verse, one that spoke directly to the hearts of all who were afflicted by the tragic blazes that had destroyed many lives, homes and businesses in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and surrounding areas:

Joel 1:19 O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. 20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.

Isaac McCord, the employee who found the burnt page from the King James Bible, was profoundly moved, as were his fellow workers (who corroborated his story), and many others who found renewed faith and hope in this example of how God continues to speak to us through His Word ((Psalm 119:15-19).

God’s Word is alive ((Psalm 119:97-107) and eternal (Psalm 119:89,152,160), foiling all attempts by Satan to destroy it. Every time we read it, God can move our hearts in a new way by giving us fresh wisdom to follow Him more closely (Psalm 119:129-133). He has promised that His Word will never return to Him empty, for He uses Scripture to accomplish His perfect will (Isaiah 55:11).

His Word wins others to Himself and encourages those who have been born again (John 3:3-8) by trusting in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). All Scripture is inspired by God, for it is God’s very Word, and it teaches, uplifts and corrects us (2 Timothy 3:16).

Believers in Christ are privileged to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and fellow workers with Him (1 Corinthians 3:9), spreading the Good News of salvation (Acts 20:24) through our personal testimony and lifestyle (Matthew 28:19-20). We can share God’s Word (Acts 8:4) by speaking or reading Bible passages to others (1 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Timothy 4:2), passing out Gospel tracts, and even distributing Bibles as God enables us (Psalm 126:6).

While at the movie theatre on Valentine’s Day, my husband and I were blessed to encounter an old, jauntily dressed man, walking with a cane and carrying Bibles from the Dollar Store in his other arm. “Would you like a free Bible?” he offered to those standing in line, after greeting them courteously. We chatted with him briefly and encouraged one another to keep on keeping on for the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3; Galatians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:58).

Many ministries and missionaries distribute Bibles more formally and on a larger scale, as does Gideons International, which places Bibles in hotel rooms and hands them out to students and on street corners throughout the world.

For one local Gideons’ convention, the chapter had reserved and paid for a block of rooms in a suitable hotel. They asked if they could place Bibles throughout the hotel, but were then informed by management that it was “against policy.” A few days later, they received a call from the same manager, humbly asking if it were too late to place Bibles after all.

Of course the Gideons were delighted to oblige, and the camp leader felt led to inquire what had motivated the sudden policy change. Hesitantly, the manager explained that on the night after he had denied the Bible distribution to hotel rooms, a young man had checked in and shortly after attempted suicide by jumping from his fifth story window.

Thankfully, he landed in the branches of a tree, and was unharmed except for some scrapes and bruises. When interviewed later, he explained that he was going through rough times and had checked in hoping to sort things out and find some peace. Instinctively he reached for the Gideons Bible he was accustomed to finding in hotel nightstands, but there was no Bible there! Distraught, he took it as a sign that he was meant to end his life.

All is transient in this universe except for man’s soul, which will either spend eternity in Heaven (John 3:16) or in hell (Matthew 18:8; 25:41); God’s Word, which shall endure forever (Matthew 5:17-18; 24:35); and God Himself (Isaiah 9:6;63:16). God is an everlasting three-part Being: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:6).

Jesus Christ is Himself the Word of God (Revelation 19:13), the Self-Existent One (Exodus 3:14) Who is without beginning and without end (Revelation 1:8). He spoke the worlds into existence with the Word of His mouth (Genesis 1:3-26; John 1:1-3) and He will use that same Word, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), to defeat all His enemies at the War of Armageddon (Revelation 1:16; 19:11-21).

May we always follow His Word as a light to our path (Psalm 119:105), hide it in our heart to not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11), and share it with others to bring them closer to Him!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our Shepherd Securely Saves Us

Of all the metaphors Jesus could have used to describe His followers, calling us sheep is not very flattering (Matthew 15:24; Psalm 119:176). Yet deservedly so, for compared to Him, we lack wisdom (James 1:5), strength (Psalm 6:2) and even common sense (Psalm 69:5). We tend to wander away from the path (Psalm 107:40) straight into danger (Psalm 141:9), and to follow a herd mentality that collectively as well as individually often gets us into trouble (Job 14:1).

Without His guidance (Psalm 119:105), mercy (Romans 9:16) and protection (2 Samuel 22:2) we are helpless, vulnerable to predators, and doomed to death (1 Peter 5:8). But His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and He alone can save us (Acts 4:12) and keep us (Romans 8:39; 1 Peter 1:5). Sheep are simple creatures, and thankfully, so is the path to salvation – all we must do is believe (Acts 16:31).

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not believing in Him, and therefore not being part of His flock (John 10:26). They were trying to confuse the simplicity of His message by adding to, omitting, and changing God’s Word (Revelation 22:18-19). Unlike the Pharisees, believers in Christ hear His voice; for He knows us and we follow Him (John 10:27).

Once we believe that He died to pay for our sins and reconcile us to Holy God (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2); that He was buried; and that He rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) so that all who trust Him will live forever with Him (John 3:16), we have a relationship with Him in which He knows, guides and protects us and we trust , follow and obey Him (Psalm 23). This is so simple that a child can be saved (Matthew 18:3-4), just as a child soon grows to know, love and obey the parents who nurture, care for, and teach him (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4)

In contrast, the Pharisees preached a doctrine of their own legalistic tradition (Matthew 15:3-6), in which salvation was based on following the law (Matthew 19:17-20), respecting religious rituals, and painstakingly counting out the tithe even from the seeds they gathered from their herbs (Matthew 23:23). But in this self-righteous system of salvation by good works (Galatians 1:8-9), they ignored the greatest commandment, which is to love God and to love one another (Matthew 22:36-40).

Although a good shepherd will guard his flock even to the point of jeopardizing his own life (John 10:15), earthly sheep eventually die from natural causes. But the Good (John 10:11,14), Great (Hebrews 13:20), and Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) promises His sheep eternal life! (John 10:28)

Once we hear His voice, believe in, and follow Jesus Christ, we are His forever, for no man can remove us from His secure grip (John 10:28). He loves us infinitely (1 John 4:8), is omnipotent (Genesis 18:14) and all-knowing (Psalm 139:6), so it is His desire (2 Peter 3:9) and completely within His power and wisdom not only to save us (Hebrews 7:25), but to keep us and to give us eternal life (John 3:16).

Just in case we had any doubts about this, Jesus goes on to assure us that His Father is completely on board with this plan, being the ultimate backup defense. God the Father, Who is greater than all, gave all believers to God the Son for safekeeping, which is a fail-safe plan because Jesus the Son and God the Father are One (John 10:29).

To make it absolutely clear that once we are saved, we cannot lose our salvation, Jesus reassures us that we are in the double grip of His hand, surrounded by the Father’s hand (John 10:29-30). No one, nothing, no power could pluck us from the hand of God the Father, which surrounds the hand of God the Son, where we are securely kept from all evil, harm and danger.

The three Persons of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit always act together, in one accord, for they are united in will (Luke 3:22). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must also participate in ensuring the eternal security of the believer.

Not only are we held securely in the impenetrable grip of Christ, and further protected by the omnipotent hand of the Father, but this fortress is also sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). No question that in this sealed double grip we are eternally safe!

In contrast, the Pharisees’ grip is weak and their religiosity completely impotent to save (Matthew 23:15). When they attempted to capture Jesus for alleged blasphemy, He escaped out of their hand (John 10:33-39).

As our pastor likes to say, religion is dangerous, deadly, and will lead you straight to hell. We are saved not by baptism, attending church, or tithing, but by His grace through our faith in His death, burial and resurrection, not by works (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9). Those who are “good Baptists” or those of any denomination, but who have never believed in Him, heard His voice and followed His lead are doomed to hell (Mark 16:16).

They may protest that they did many good works in the name of Jesus. But He will counter that He never knew them, command that they leave His presence, and call them “workers of inquity” (Luke 13:23-28; Matthew 7:22-23). Saved or unsaved, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), but those who have trusted Christ are forgiven (1 John 1:9); our sins are paid for in full by His shed blood (Galatians 3:13), and removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

He robes believers in His righteousness (Revelation 19:8), which is our wedding garment at the marriage feast, whereas those who have not trusted Him will be ashamed at their lack of this garment and be cast out into utter darkness (Matthew 22:2-14).

The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) illustrates that we can only be found when we know we are lost. Notice that the ninety nine sheep are not in the safety of the sheepfold, as the hymn states, but in the wilderness, which is a type of sin. The Shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep who are unaware of their plight and finds the single lost sheep, laying it across his shoulders all the way home, and rejoicing with his friends and neighbors.

Jesus explains the parable by saying that all heaven will rejoice over a sinner who repents, rather than over ninety nine self-righteous people who think they are holy, have no reason to repent, and have no need of the Shepherd.

To drive the point home, He then tells the parable of the lost (prodigal) son, who was lost but was found when he came to the end of himself, realized he was unworthy, and returned to His Father (Luke 15:11-32).

Some reading this may protest that the backslidden Christian is no longer part of Jesus’ flock. But to argue this would be to contradict the doctrine of eternal security. If we did nothing to earn our salvation, there is nothing we can do to lose it, even if were foolish enough so to desire.

The Great Shepherd made an eternal promise with His sheep, wrote it in His shed blood, and He alone can make us perfect (mature or complete) in every good work, according to His will, for His pleasure. His “everlasting covenant” means that it can never be broken by our own actions, omissions, or evil thoughts, nor by anyone, anything, or any power (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Praise God that through Christ, our pastors, deacons and teachers can be undershepherds, feeding His flock with pure motives, not for financial gain, and being good examples for believers to follow. Praise God that when Jesus Christ, the chief Shepherd, appears, He will reward these undershepherds with a crown of glory that will never fade! (1 Peter 5:1-4)

© 2017 Laurie Collett

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