By Don Case
As we struggle to become more spiritual, we will face situations that mold us towards becoming a more perfect product. This process never ends if we are growing as Christians.
Many afflictions come to the righteous, because we are not exempt from harsh situations but we have faith He will always deliver us. Our Christ himself endured hardships to fulfill His purpose. Our lives as Christians are full of trials, temptations, and suffering, but He will deliver us. For every harsh situation we go through, we will get some form of reward and growth while understanding God will not go back on His word. Even when everything looks dismal and there seems to be no way out, God is still in control. When our hopes are in God, we learn to see beyond the issues and situations we face. We will look at them in a positive light, so instead of complaining or being depressed we simply wait to see what good can come of the situation. "All things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Faith teaches us that when the facts appear negative our hope will always be to trust in God. The sooner we believe in God's word and walk in His path the easier our life will become.
We are to stay positive and look for the good in our situations. Jesus will not forsake His children. God will take us through rough waters as He promises. Christians will suffer; it is a part of life. But, we can overcome our challenges. Our mandate is to trust and obey. We will find happiness in loving God and serving others which will give us real purpose and meaning in our lives.
As we plan for the New Year, let's challenge ourselves to become more spiritually minded and to continue doing good works knowing that our Father in heaven is glorified.
One could take virtually any verse or collection of verses in the wisdom filled book of Proverbs and learn many numerous and meaningful truths about God and how we are to go about serving Him. Then again, that's part of God's design so that we can understand Him and fully obey His commands. Proverbs 30:5-6 fits this mold quite well when Agur, the author, provides us with three important and timeless facts about our God. The author writes,
"Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar."
First, when we read God's word, we take incredible comfort in the fact that we don't have to pick and choose what's good and what's not. That is, the Bible is not a book filled with, say, 90% pure teaching and 10% false teaching wherein it's up to us as readers to distinguish the two. That's not the way the Bible is because that's not the way God is! He is 100% pure and the perfect and complete truth are things that we can easily and fully depend on. Furthermore, Agur's initial statement should serve as additional encouragement for us to study God's word further because, indeed, every word is pure. Experienced Bible students will be the first to admit that the deeper they look and study, the more they get out of the text. Knowing this makes studying even more exciting!
Second, God has always been a protector to those who serve Him. The image of God as a shield would be especially effective to individuals who were plagued by a vivid theatre of war. This statement in Proverbs reminds us that God will consistently be there to stand in the way of the dangers that come to His followers. God is very gracious. He always has been and always will be. It's up to us to not only not take this fact for granted but also to take confidence where God wants us to. While overconfidence is dangerous, under-confidence is detrimental and it seems that Agur wanted to remind his own readers of the protection that God provides to His children.
Finally, we are not to add to God's words. Given that God's words are pure and that He truly desires to protect us, we are not to be the ones who go about "improving" His commands or ways. In fact, the author of this text tells us that those who choose to do so are liars. That is, to say we trust God but yet go about trying to change His ways are lying and proving that we don't actually trust Him. The unfortunate thing is that most of the religious world seems to believe that altering God's commands is not only "okay" but needful. Often times, denominations and their respective leaders will change the rules governing their particular organizations in order to adapt to changing mores and times but that's not the way the Bible is to be read or followed. Instead, it's a timeless, perfect, and complete book that is only marred when humans choose to change, add to, and take away from its holy precepts. We'd do well to spend more time following God's word than seeking occasions where we can change it!
Christians that attend this congregation do so because they believe we are worshipping according to the New Testament directives. Some people today say that all religions are basically the same and therefore acceptable. Some also say, if a person is really sincere in what they believe, they will get to heaven. In reality, all belief systems cannot be true because they contradict one another.
As Christians we believe that God is the being who created humans, the earth and all that is in it. We believe that Christ died for our sins and if people turn from their sins and follow Him, they can be forgiven and have the hope of heaven. We believe that Jesus was sinless and that he died and was raised from death to redeem mankind.
COMPARING THE WORLD RELIGIONS
Buddhists deny the existence of a personal God and believe salvation is by self- effort only. They believe that Jesus Christ was a good teacher but less important than Buddha. There are an estimated 488 million Buddhists in the world.
Hindus believe in two major gods, Vishnu & Siva, as well as in millions of lesser gods. They believe in achieving salvation by devotion, works, & self-control. Their belief is that Jesus was just one of many incarnations, or sons of God. They also say Christ was not the unique Son of God, and he was no more divine than any other man and that He did not die for others sins. There are an estimated 900 million Hindus in the world.
Muslims believe in one God named Allah. They say that people earn their own salvation and pay for their own sins. They believe that Jesus Christ was the greatest of the prophets below Muhammad. In addition, they do not believe that Christ died for people's sins. Estimated membership of 1.5 billion
It is clear to see that we cannot believe that all major religions of the world are acceptable to God. It is important to know what the New Testament says about the church, its' doctrine, and how it functions. It is with the knowledge of the New Testament that we can be sure that this congregation is meeting God's standards.
And Speaking of "Church"...
Being a member of the Lord's church ought never be taken for granted. Luke tells us that God adds us to His church when we obey His gospel in baptism (Acts 2:47). Christians are not members of a man-made organization, but a holy and perfect institution that has been a part of God's plan before time began. Given that there are so many churches, it's good for us to be reminded of how great God's church is in comparison to anything that man could ever create.
Asking someone to "describe" God could be an interesting request. In some ways, it's complicated. After all, we are mere humans who are limited to an earth-based life that struggles to see the spiritual side of things that is required in order to more fully please our very spiritual Creator. At the same time, the Bible was written to give us an understanding of God in a way that was tangible and practical. The Psalmist David is one of the best sources for us to turn to in order to better understand and describe God. Consider the three ways he does so in Psalm 86:10:
"For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God."
One of the best ways to "begin" describing God is that He is great. He is awesome, powerful, all-knowing, perfect, gracious, merciful, and eternal. Only God can be God! In His attempt to introduce Himself to a people who knew little about Jehovah, God spent a lot of time stressing the importance of worshipping Him and Him alone. This makes perfect sense as one compares the only true and great God with the false, man-made images of deity that proved time and again their inability to really be worthy of worship.
A second effective way of describing God is to see Him as the worker of truly wondrous things. The Hebrew writer reflected on this when he spoke of God creating the world by His mere voice and dong so without any sort of "raw materials" (Hebrews 11:3). If that was all we knew about God, that would be "enough" to convince us of His greatness. But, we are fortunate to know a more complete and even more meaningful picture of the Creator to see His most wondrous work ever and that's the salvation-providing plan for mankind. The gift of Jesus, God's only Son, is without a doubt the most wonderful thing ever-- period.
Finally, to describe God, it's important to note that only He is God. This fact should cause us to reflect on two key things. First, as previously noted, it reminds us of the fact that in a world that wants many gods, there is only one God whom we should worship. But it's also helpful to know that this means that only God can be counted on. He is faithful and reliable, more so than any human. We can trust God more than anything or anyone because He alone is God. In a world filled with disappointing things and even disappointing people, it's incredibly comforting to consider the only God as a compassionate, caring Father who will never let us down because only He is God.
Later this week, millions of American citizens will celebrate "Thanksgiving" as a time to be with family and friends while also considering the many blessings we've been given. Unfortunately, too many Americans won't take the time to consider the important place of God as part of this day. Far too many men and women don't worship or obey the Creator and fail to take a few extra moments to consider the greatness of our God. For Christians, Thanksgiving ought never become a "once-each-year" event but a continual part of who we are as servants of the most high God.
The phrase, "giving thanks to the Lord" is used only one time in the Bible. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel some five centuries before Jesus, returning captives of the Babylonian armies began rebuilding the great temple of God in the holy city of Jerusalem. Once the foundation was laid, the spiritual leaders led the people of God in a pseudo-dedication ceremony that included singing, shouting, and weeping on the part of the older men who had now lived long enough to have seen the original temple as well as this one now under construction. Ezra records that, "They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel." The scribe continues by writing, "Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid" (Ezra 3:11).
The only way that the people had returned to Jerusalem was through the grace of God. The only way that the people were able to rebuild the temple was through His mercy. And the only way that these men were able to experience a rebirth that they must have dreamed about for years was through the incredible planning and allowance of the Creator. If there was ever a time in the lives of these people for them to give thanks to the Lord, it was now!
The same is true for each of us. Now is the time to give thanks to the Lord. It is only through Him that we are made free from the captivity of sin. It is only by the grace of God that we can be both reborn and rebuilt in ways that are really hard for us to describe. As we consider the Thanksgiving holiday, let us remember those in Jerusalem who gave thanks to the Lord and how much they had to be thankful for. In consideration of them, let us also be very aware of our own lives and how much we have to be thankful for. With that in mind, let us do two things. First, let's conduct our lives with obedience to God, sharing with Him how thankful we are. And second, let us do all we can to use our thankfulness to influence others to consider our God and hopefully join us in service to His holy name.