November, 2017

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Authentic Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” Luke 6:32-35 [Emphasis mine.]

Photo by KRK, All rights reserved.

As Americans gather to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday there is much cause for gratitude.[1] God’s providential goodness towards His creatures is repeatedly extolled in the Bible. Natural life itself is our Creator’s gift; if we possess eternal life through faith in Christ, moreover, they may also give thanks for full pardon and a righteous standing in the Almighty’s sight – indeed they are blessed with “every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3; John 5:24; John 17:3; Rom. 3:23-26.) Lesser – but still important – temporal blessings like health, food, friends, and family all provide ample cause for thanksgiving today and every day. It is never amiss to thank God for His goodness towards us, as the Psalmist says: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy” (Psalm 107:1-2.)

A Thousand, A Thousand Thanksgivings

It is striking to read our Lord’s own description of His Father’s kindness: “. . . He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35.) He enunciated a similar principle in Matthew 5:43-48, saying: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Emphasis mine.) God gives even to those who are undeserving of His largesse. His generosity flows out of grace: it is unmerited favor lavished on the unworthy. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8.)

Eternal, Unending Kindness

God did not wait for mankind to clean up its collective act, before initiating the plan of salvation. In grace, He shows kindness to the least, even offering His incomparable forgiveness, adoption, and love to those who receive it by faith in His Son (Eph. 2:8-9.) He manifests His grace and goodness by continuing to maintain the universe notwithstanding the deleterious effects of human sin on our world and us. Despite our history of poor choices and bad behavior, He offers us a new creation relationship with Himself (John 17:3; 2 Cor. 5:17.) We may walk with Him in this world, enjoying His friendship, practical provision, and wise guidance (Prov. 3:5-6; 1 Cor. 1:30.) To put it succinctly, we may begin to enjoy Him in this life and continue enjoying Him for all the future eternity.

Now that is cause for Thanksgiving!

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[1] The same applies to our Canadian friends who celebrated their own Thanksgiving holiday in October.

“Outside The Camp” by R.P. Amos

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

“Go forth therefore unto Him without the camp”  Hebrews 13:13

The Hebrew believers were asked to make a most costly choice.  It’s called “without the camp”.  The camp in OT language was the center of Jewish religious life.  It’s where the tabernacle-temple was with God’s presence centered among the tents of His people.  So being outside the camp was usually not a positive thing.  However, if “the camp” became corrupted, they then were to separate from their corrupted religious heritage to stay true to God – even though shame and unpopularity would be waiting for them outside.

At the time of Christ, the Jewish religion (camp) was out of God’s ways in Christ the Son.  They had ritualistic sacrifices, clergy priesthood, holy days of worship, moral ethics, family values and Moses as their law authority.  However, they crucified the One Moses wrote about, Christ (Messiah) Jesus.  Thus the Jewish camp of that day disbelieved the gospel of God’s Son in His redeeming sacrifice, resurrection as high priest, and risen authority as Lord.  (Philp. 2:6-11, Acts 2:36, Rom. 10:9, Col. 3:17. Heb. 1:3).  His gospel of saving grace was spurned for their religious law keeping.

So for a believer to be faithful unto God, he had to go by faith unto the Lord Jesus Christ.  But the Lord Jesus was not in the religious temple in Jerusalem.  He was in heaven on God’s right hand – outside the camp.  For the camp did not enthrone Him in the holy city, but crucified Jesus outside the city gates in a place of execution and shame for criminals.  But God raised Him from the dead.  Thus going forth to God now involved separation.

A Jewish believer in Messiah Jesus would know all too well what being “without the camp” meant.  Following is a list of things that were to be outside the camp.

  1. The Sin Offering – burning of flesh and its dung – sin and its stench  (Ex. 29:14 / Lev. 4:12)
  1. The Ashes of Death – where the ashes from the burnt offering would be taken  (Lev. 6:11)
  1. The Dishonorable Dead – where those who died under God’s judgment were           disposed                                                (Lev. 10:4-5)
  2. The Leper – where the diseased unclean lived in an isolated and quarantined state (Lev. 13:46 / Num. 12:15)
  1. The Lawbreaker – where the blasphemer and sinner were executed and removed         from society                                        (Lev. 24:14-16 / Num. 15:36)
  2. The Defiled and Unclean – contamination – where the removal of those who             could endanger others were sent          (Num. 5:1:4)
  3. The Slayed Red Heifer – where the solution for uncleanness had to be killed        and totally burnt                                          (Num. 19:3,9)
  4. The Gentile Captives – where strangers (foreigners) were judged: either         executed or spared – but not with full privilege          (Num. 31:13-20 / Josh. 6:23)
  5. Human Dung – where the garbage-filth was buried. Because God is                                                        holy there is no human filth permitted in His camp   (Deut. 23:12-14)
  6. The Enemies of God – war: where Gideon saw the Midianites destroyed (Judges 7:17-19)
  1. The Separated from the Corrupt Religious Mainstream – where one would have to go in unpopularity to be apart from the popular                 (Ex. 33:7)
  2. Jesus – capital punishment outside the city walls where criminals were crucified                        and removed from society as unfit                                           (Hebrews 13:12)
  3. The Faithful Christian – where believers are exhorted to identify in shame and reproach with their rejected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ                 (Heb. 13:13)

It is interesting that the first and last mention in Scripture of being outside the camp has to do with meeting with God.  The first mention is in Exodus 19:17 where Moses brought the people “out of the camp to meet with God”.  The last mention is in our text from Hebrews 13:13 where Christians are to go by faith “unto Him without the camp”.  This is to meet with the Lord Jesus, who though rejected on earth is now glorified in heaven.

The believers were reminded that the Lord Jesus is not identified with any one city on earth as the holy headquarters of their faith.  It was no longer Jerusalem for it had rejected God’s Son.  Nor would it be Mecca or London or Vatican City in Rome or Varanasi or Bodhgaya or Plymouth or Nashville or Ottawa or Salt Lake City or Washington.  They were told, “here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come”, Heb. 13:14.

So what now?  Through Christ Jesus we offer the sacrifices of praise and doing good to God, who called us by His grace into this blessed minority, Heb. 13:15-16.  We now suffer outside the camp but will glory later at the coming of the Lord Jesus.  Whether we meet in a cave or building, we don’t have an authoritative city on earth but a Person in heaven.

…Come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant … .  Heb. 12:22-24

“Looking Unto Jesus” – A Thought From The Past by John Newton

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

“I still reflect with pleasure on the opportunities I was favoured with among you; and if, as I hope, my little visits were not unacceptable to each or any of you, let us not lose a moment in apologies or compliments to each other, but refer the whole praise where it is wholly due. Salvation, in its whole extent, and in each particular step, is of the Lord. Though we can but lisp a little word about his goodness, yet when he is pleased to be near us, his presence and blessing can work by the meanest instruments, and cause our hearts to burn within us. On the other hand, when he withdraws, we can no more help each other than we can help ourselves: then, the very best of us prove miserable comforters, fruitless teachers, and blind guides. Could I bring my heart to this point, to regard myself as insufficient to think one good thought, or to speak one profitable word, any further than is influenced by that enlivening Spirit which Jesus is exalted on high to bestow, I should be well; but, alas! I am often hurt by a fond desire of being or doing something considerable, and this, so often as it prevails, like a sudden fatal blast, spoils my fairest blooming prospects of comfort and usefulness. It is a great point to be constant and diligent in the use of all appointed means, and yet to have our souls waiting only upon God, in a deep persuasion that neither the best means, nor the closest attendance upon them, can do any thing for us in themselves; and that nothing short of renewed communications from him, can either satisfy or sanctify our hearts.

The best advice I can send, or the best wish I can form for you, is, that you may have an abiding and experimental sense of those words of the apostle, which are just now upon my mind,—‘Looking unto Jesus.’ The duty, the privilege, the safety, the unspeakable happiness, of a believer, are all comprised in that one sentence. Let us first pray that the eyes of our faith and understanding may be opened and strengthened; and then let us fix our whole regard upon him. But how are we to behold him? I answer, in the glass of his written word; there he is represented to us in a variety of views; the wicked world can see no form nor comeliness in the portraiture he has given of himself; yet, blessed be God, there are those who can ‘behold his glory as the glory of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth;’ and while they behold it, they find themselves, ‘changed into the same image, from glory to glory,’ by the transforming influence of his Spirit. In vain we oppose reasonings, and arguments, and resolutions, to beat down our corruptions, and to silence our fears; but a believing view of Jesus does the business. When heavy trials in life are appointed us, and we are called to give up, or perhaps to pluck out, a right eye, it is an easy matter for a stander-by to say, ‘Be comforted;’ and it is as useless as easy;—but a view of Jesus by faith comes home to the point. When we can fix our thoughts upon him, as laying aside all his honours, and submitting, for our sakes, to drink off the bitter cup of the wrath of God to the very dregs; and when we further consider, that he who thus suffered in our nature, who knows and sympathizes with all our weakness, is now the Supreme Disposer of all that concerns us, that he numbers the very hairs of our heads, appoints every trial we meet with in number, weight, and measure, and will suffer nothing to befall us but what shall contribute to our good;—this view, I say, is a medicine suited to the disease, and powerfully reconciles us unto every cross. So when a sense of sin prevails, and the tempter is permitted to assault us with dark and dreadful suggestions, it is easy for us to say, ‘Be not afraid;’ but those who have tried, well know that looking to Jesus is the only and sure remedy in this case;—if we can get a sight of him by faith, as he once hung between the two thieves, and as he now pleads within the vail, then we can defy sin and Satan, and give our challenge in the apostle’s words, ‘Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again; who also maketh intercession for us:’ (Romans, 8:34.) Again, are we almost afraid of being swallowed up by our many restless enemies? Or, are we almost weary of our long pilgrimage through such a thorny, tedious, barren wilderness? A sight of Jesus, as Stephen saw him, crowned with glory, yet noticing all the sufferings of his poor servants, and just ready to receive them to himself, and make them partakers of his everlasting joy, this will raise the spirits, and restore strength; this will animate us to hold on, and to hold out; this will do it, and nothing but this can. So, if obedience be the thing in question, looking unto Jesus is the object that melts the soul into love and gratitude, and those who greatly love, and are greatly obliged, find obedience easy. When Jesus is upon our thoughts, either in his humbled or his exalted state, either as bleeding on the cross, or as our nature by all the host of heaven, then we can ask the apostle’s question with a becoming disdain, ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?’ God forbid. What! Shall I sin against my Lord, my Love, my Friend, who once died for my sins, and now lives and reigns on my behalf; who supports, and leads, and guides, and feeds me every day? God forbid. No; rather I would wish for a thousand hands and eyes, and feet, and tongues, for ten thousand lives, that I might devote them all to his service: he should have all then; and surely he shall have all now! Alas, that in spite of myself, there still remains something that resists his will! But I long and pray for its destruction; and I see a day coming when my wish shall be accomplished, and I shall be wholly and for ever the Lord’s.”

John Newton, “Letter I: Letter To Miss M****, September 10, 1760,” in Eighteen Letters To Several Ladies in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 6, ed. Richard Cecil. (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 3–6.