Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Guest Post: Vanishing Lovingkindnesses and Tender Mercies

The idea that kindness seems to be vanishing in our day and in our country is not a matter of a pessimistic outlook but one of everyday observation. Political differences, as an all-too-obvious example, appear to have reached a new level of ugliness. Kindness hasn’t disappeared altogether, yet neither has it taken society by storm. For many people, an act of kindness is little more than a “nice” occurrence, even though some are aggressively promoting the action. Hence the bumper sticker: “Practice Random Acts of Kindness!” Things like holding the door open for a person or letting an individual with very few items go ahead of us in a checkout line are just a few of the countless number of acts that we can all appreciate.
On the other hand, it’s grievous that many even consider their acts of kindness to be a contributing factor toward getting their “ticket” to heaven. They erroneously believe that their works add up to making them a “mostly good person”—certainly not one deserving of hell!
None of these views relate to what the Bible has in mind regarding kindness—not even one’s accumulated “nice” acts. When I want to get a better idea about the definition of English terms used in Scripture, I’ve found Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary to be very helpful. His love of God’s Word is evident, as he often supplied the KJV scripture verses in which the words are used. In addition, his 1828 Dictionary is easily accessible and can be searched online. He defines “kindness” as an “Act of goodwill; beneficence; any act of benevolence which promotes the happiness or welfare of others. Charity [love], hospitality, attention to the wants of others, etc., are deemed acts of kindness or kindnesses. Acts:28:2.”
The primary focus of the biblical Christian is understanding what God is communicating to His creatures through His Word. His major objective is to go beyond what the world thinks, and the Scriptures indeed go far beyond the mindset, practices, and capabilities of the world. How far? God’s kindness itself is a significant action on His part that is involved in the salvation of humanity. “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus:3:4-6; emphasis added). That’s “opening a door for us.” That’s providing a “kindness” that no one but Jesus could—and did—provide. He has “set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation:3:8). Notice that the verse in Titus:3:4 connects kindness and the love of God.
Twenty-three times in the psalms we read of “kindness” and “love” as one word. That’s rarely, if ever, found in the world’s “random acts”—and certainly not God’s lovingkindnesses. Here is what’s involved in His lovingkindnesses, as given throughout the psalms: physical salvation for those who put their trust in Him (17:7); tender mercies (25:6); truth (26:3); trust, protection (36:7); continuation, righteousness (36:10); proclamation (40:10); preservation (40:11); night and day (42:8; 92:2); worship (48:9); mercy and forgiveness (51:1); better than life (63:3); goodness (69:16); faithfulness (88:11; 89:33); His promises (89:49); redemption (103:4); understanding (107:43); reviving and refreshing (119:88, 149, 159); praise (138:2); guidance (143:8). These are just some of the attributes found within the character of our loving God, whom we are to know and love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark:12:30).
Isaiah declares, “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses” (Isaiah:63:7). Yes, that was for Israel, but better yet, it’s made available for all mankind! Yet humanity has a penchant for taking what God has “bestowed” and turning it to self-glorification. The word received by the prophet Jeremiah corrects that self-serving orientation, which completely misses what God’s lovingkindness is all about: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah:9:23-24).
God wants us to understand Him and know Him. It’s not about us; it’s about Him. He wants us to delight in what He delights in, and He delights in our extending lovingkindness to others. To that end, He has enabled us by His grace to reflect His attributes. We are to “be the children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil [person]” (Luke:6:35). We are to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians:3:12). For all of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ, those are not just things we do, but they are who we are to be as Christians. True Christianity is wholly others-directed. Selfless. Is that the way the world sees us? 
I received an article recently that startled me. It was an interview with Richard Dawkins. What surprised me was his observation that Christianity is losing its influence for good in the world, and, as a consequence, creating a vacuum that is giving rise to increasing wickedness. That is a stunning reflection by a man who is arguably the chief of the atheists. He still doesn’t believe in God, but he sees a literal fear of God by those who do believe in Him as a welcome deterrent against evil. He’s concerned that losing that fear will give “people a license to do really bad things,” and what he sees happening throughout society is shaking his confidence in his own belief in humanity’s inherent goodness. He realizes that people need help to do good ( 
But that’s not the main shocker. When a committed atheist can see Christianity failing in its influence while, at the same time, Christendom’s own leaders are mostly heedless of that fact, the church is in serious trouble.
What’s the problem? Much of the church is in the world, and much of the world is in the church. How can the church influence the world for good when it’s emulating it? When they both look and act alike, their differences fade away. Consequently, those things that delight God—particularly our emulation of His lovingkindnesses and our “others” directedness—are slowly but surely vanishing.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is what Martin and Deidre Bobgan refer to as “hidden in plain sight” (See That has to do with counseling and its errors. The Bobgans have written volumes to enlighten the church as to the true biblical way that believers in Jesus are to minister to one another. This case in point displays a classic irony. Biblical counseling should be an altruistic activity in which people help one another by first and foremost restoring their relationship with the Lord, and out of that will follow a reconciliation with one another. In other words, growing in our love for Jesus and being obedient to His instructions is the only true solution to a believer’s problems, whatever they may be. The irony is that the opposite, through counseling (with few exceptions), is taking place throughout Christendom. 
Counseling in the church emulates psychological counseling, which is all about self and is therefore antithetical to the Word of God. “Hold on a minute!” protest those who function in a church as so-called biblical counselors. “We are doing it God’s way!” The Bobgans have read volumes of biblical counseling instructions and watched hours of such videos and have yet to find counselors doing it “God’s way.” Here are only two examples that demonstrate just how destructive such “therapy” is for the body of Christ. 
Everyone who goes to counseling wants to have his or her problems solved, no matter what those problems may be. When that becomes the focus, however, it departs from the biblical solution, which is only found in one’s personal relationship with Jesus. Problems (which never end this side of heaven) for the believer in our Lord must be worked out according to Galatians:2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” To think that a significant problem of living, especially involving our relationships with others, can be solved by any other means is to invite the disaster of Proverbs:14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Death here means separation from the truth of God’s Word.
The second very critical error found in church counseling is the “hidden in plain sight” state of affairs. Counselors and counselees are seemingly oblivious to their opposition to God’s Word as they go about their counseling sessions. How opposed are they? Let’s start with what is declared all through the Scriptures regarding how we, as believers, should treat others. The golden rule is basic and covers a great deal: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew:7:12). That’s fundamental, yet Jesus sets the bar way beyond that. After declaring what was the first of all the commandments, He adds the second: “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark:12:31). When questioned by the lawyer as to who was his neighbor, Jesus gave the example of what the Samaritan did for the man attacked by robbers and left half-dead, ending with the admonition to “Go, and do likewise” (Luke:10:29-37). Luke also records, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil [person]” (Luke:6:35, emphasis added).
The word “kind” in this verse is translated “gentleness” in the passage that lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians:5:21-22). It’s the same Greek term: chrēstos. Similar to fruit, kindness must be cultivated and grown in grace. As noted earlier, a believer’s life in Christ must reflect His lovingkindnesses. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans:12:10). A host of analogous verses are far too numerous to list here simply because this is what biblical Christianity is all about. Any belief or practice that deviates from those verses is a travesty, meaning a false and utterly destructive representation. Does present-day psychological counseling and psychologically influenced “biblical” counseling qualify as a travesty? Yes, even though its practice clearly perpetuates sin, that fact seems to be hidden in plain sight of the perpetrators.
Typically, as noted above, counselees come to counseling to have their problems solved by a counselor. The counselor believes that he or she must amass details related to the problem to discern what needs to be addressed and fixed. The counselee’s primary focus is upon getting the problem solved. Two critical errors are exposed here. 1) The counselor is displacing the Holy Spirit, who alone knows the heart, mind, depth, and complexity of the sin involved, as well as the truthfulness of the counselee. 2) The process bypasses the counselee’s current relationship (or lack thereof) with the Lord as the only truly effective way to resolve his or her sin issues.
As bad as that is, it leads to a far worse situation. Both counselors and counselees are clearly sinning against the Lord in their counseling process. That is particularly evident when relationships are involved. Take, for example, a married couple that is not getting along. In the counseling process, complaints are brought against one another. These complaints inevitably turn into bad-mouthing each other, which the Bible calls “evil speaking.” The counselor is guilty of prompting such a sinful activity through his problem-solving attempts. Furthermore, all of this is diametrically opposed to God’s lovingkindnesses and tender mercies. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians:4:31, emphasis added). Tragically, the above describes most attempts at counseling failing marriages. This may also contribute in a major way to the fact that, statistically, the number of divorces among Christians is little different from non-Christians. 
In summary, God’s lovingkindnesses and tender mercies are vanishing—not from God but from His church. That’s because His church is slipping away from Him (Hebrews:2:1) and leaving its first love, who is Christ himself (Revelation:2:40). His bride is turning to the world for ways to solve its problems—ways that will only make her conditions worse. Although Richard Dawkins does not know the reasons for Christianity’s failing influence, he recognizes its current state. Counseling that is truly biblical should be what the world sees, and its successes should glorify our Lord and increase Christianity’s influence for good. 
When psychotherapeutic counseling entered the church in the 20th century, it began as a snowball rolling down a mountainside. It quickly reached avalanche proportions, burying the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture in its destructive path. The only change in this century is the incredibly massive remaining snow and debris that seems to be frozen solid. Turning Christianity back to counseling God’s way may not happen, given the increasing apostasy that is and will continue to take place prior to the Lord’s return. Nevertheless, as watchmen of God’s Word, we must heed the words of Isaiah: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence” (62:6). Our function as watchmen is to warn those individuals who are entrapped by the Christianized psychological delusion. We are to be in a grace-enabled rescue operation, praying that the Lord will help us to reach those who have “ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Revelation:2:7,11,17,29;3:6,13,22).
By T. A. McMahon

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Guest Post: Choosing God's Will

During the temptation in the wilderness, Satan offered to give Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world...and the glory of them" (Lk 4:5-6). He was not bluffing. This world really is Satan's to give to whom he will. Jesus did not dispute Satan's boast that this world had been "delivered unto me [by God]; and to whomsoever I will I give it." The conditions upon which Satan offered this world to Christ were clear: "If you bow down and worship me"—which, of course, Jesus refused to do. Beware! For the kingdoms and glories of this world are still the favors Satan bestows in order to entice today's recipients into worshipping him.
Like their Lord, Christ's true followers refuse the kingdoms and glories of this world. This refusal includes the highly touted new world order, which will still be under Satan's control. Christ has promised believers something far better—an eternal and heavenly kingdom procured through His defeat of Satan at the cross. As a result of that victory, "the kingdoms of this world [will] become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ" (Rev:11:15). Worldly kingdoms will soon pass away, and in their place the kingdom of God will come to earth. Then Christ, together with those who have shared in His rejection and suffering (Acts:14:22Rom:8:172 Tim:2:12), will reign in glory and ultimate joy forever.
It would be a denial of their Lord for Christians to bask in the popularity and honors which this present world may bestow upon them. That is not to say that a Christian should never be successful in business, science, the academic world, sports, etc. Indeed, Christians should be the very best they can possibly be at whatever they do. But their skill, talent and diligent efforts are expended for God's glory, not for their own. This world has no attraction for believers; they neither love it nor its plaudits. They are not swayed from the course they must run (1 Cor:9:24-272 Tim:4:7-8) either by the world's criticism or its compliments. They know that ultimately nothing matters except God's opinion of them.
We are warned, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn:2:15). Satan is called "the god of this world" (2 Cor:4:4), and those who love this world are siding with and honoring Satan, whether they realize it or not. Indeed, they are on the road to Satan worship, which will be the worldwide religion during the Great Tribulation (Rev:13:4).
One obvious evidence that Christianity has been seduced by Satan is the fact that those who are highly honored by the world are, on that basis alone, given instant and special honor in the church. The Christian media fawns over a sports hero, an attractive actress, a wealthy businessman, or a highly placed politician who has supposedly become a Christian. These too-often immature, worldly new believers are paraded and lauded on Christian TV and held up to the church as heroes of the faith and role models for youth—and Christians turn out by the thousands to "ooh" and "aah" at their testimonies. Yet the humble, godly missionary, mature in the faith, who has remained true to Christ through decades of privation, temptation, hardship and danger, and who has won souls in difficult fields of labor, can scarcely draw an audience. Obviously, the average Christian admires worldly success far more than godliness. Something is badly askew!
Jesus told His disciples, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you " (Jn:15:19). Thus, to Pilate, Jesus declared, "My kingdom is not of this world" (Jn:18:36). He did not mean that His kingdom is totally detached from this earth, but that it is not of this world system. In fact, it stands in opposition thereto. This present world system (including the new world order), which belongs to Satan, must be destroyed for the kingdom of God to be established.
Christ came to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn:3:8), which He accomplished upon the cross (Jn:12:31-33). Such is His purpose in all those who receive Him as Savior and Lord. The works of Satan in and through our lives, and any attachment to this world, must be destroyed so that Christ can reign in us. This goal can only be effected through the work of His cross applied to one's daily life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only to that extent will the love of God and His will and Christlike character be manifested in the hearts and lives of believers.
The unsaved love the world. In contrast, Christians do not love the world; they love the Father. We are citizens of heaven, "from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Philippians:3:20-21). Instead of trying to make our mark in this world and to receive its benefits and enjoy its pleasures, we seek to please the Father because we desire a heavenly and eternal reward.
The choice we face is not, as many imagine, between heaven and hell. Rather, the choice is between heaven and this world. Even a fool would exchange hell for heaven; but only the wise will exchange this world for heaven. One cannot have both: "all this and heaven, too." One cannot live both for God and for self. Many who call themselves Christians find it difficult to resist the temptations of this world and to live wholly for Christ.
Why should it be difficult to choose life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, eternal fulfillment instead of remorse, God's truth and love instead of Satan's lies and destructive lusts? The choice is only difficult for those who are deceived by Satan, and who thus, in believing this liar, doubt and dishonor God. What an insult it is to their heavenly Father for Christians to act as though surrendering to God's will were a great sacrifice—as though exchanging this world for heaven were a bad bargain!
Motivation is a key element. One powerful motivation comes through comparing the length of eternity with one's brief life on this earth. Only a fool would trade the heavenly and eternal for that which is earthly and temporal—and, remember, one cannot have both. "Christians" who habitually live for what they can accumulate and enjoy in this present world, instead of "lay[ing] up treasures in heaven" (Mat:6:19-21) as Christ commanded, deny with their lives the faith they profess with their lips.
Those who repeatedly, in the daily choices they face, opt for this world instead of for heaven, should not be surprised when God gives them for eternity the choice they have made. How can one complain if he is not taken in the next life to the heaven he consistently rejected in this one? Someone has said there are only two kinds of people in the world: (1) those who say to God, "Not my will, but Thine, be done," and (2) those to whom God says, "Not My will but thine be done." What a tragedy to be chained for eternity to one's own will instead of His—forever imprisoned with self and separated from God!
Christ's declaration to the Father, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42) put Him on the cross. Likewise, we must deny self in submission to the cross (Mat:16:24). That submission puts an end to self, and Christ becomes our very life, our all. This is the path of wisdom (Job 28). The wise will " the stars for ever" (Dan:12:3) with His light in their hearts—pure vessels eternally radiating His glory. Fools will experience the blackness of darkness forever and ever because they have insisted upon doing their own thing and being their fallen selves. Man's destiny is either eternal joy in the presence of God and His angels and saints, or a lonely and eternal agony, shut up to self.
William Law had the gift of expressing with unusual clarity the choice between heaven and this world. He pointed out that a man would be considered insane who spent his life planning the house, tennis court, swimming pool, retirement condominium, etc. that he expected to build on Mars—yet someone who spent his life equally absorbed in planning, achieving and enjoying such things in this world would be respected as successful and prudent. In fact, said Law, both men are fools. The first is obsessed with a world where he cannot live—while the other is attached to a world where he cannot stay. The degree of their folly differs only by a few short years.
Jim Elliot, one of the young missionaries martyred in Ecuador in 1956, put it succinctly: "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose." What a tragedy to barter eternal life for the enjoyments of this brief world. The Bible does not say that sin has no pleasure; it says that the pleasures of sin can only be enjoyed "for a season" (Heb:11:25)—and a very short season at that, particularly when compared with the endless ages of eternity. A bad bargain indeed!
The phrase "eternal life" refers not only to the quantity of the life God offers but to its quality—a quality of life that God wants us to begin to experience here and now. Jesus said that eternal life was knowing (not knowing about) God and His Son (Jn:17:3). Paul warned that Christ would one day take vengeance upon those who "know not God" (2 Thes:1:8). In keeping with the truth of these and similar scriptures, evangelicals profess that they don't practice a religion about God but that they have a personal relationship with God. Unfortunately, this boast has become almost a cliché—one that sounds good in theory but for which there is often little practical evidence in daily life.
Recognizing that eternity is infinitely longer than one's most optimistic life expectancy provides a powerful motivation for living for Him (and thus choosing heaven instead of this world). But to truly know God provides an even more powerful motivation.
Knowing God leads to holiness. He alone becomes one's consuming passion, displacing all other desires and overcoming the power of sin in our lives. His presence within is sufficient to satisfy every longing. For to know God is to love Him—and there is no higher motivation for obedience to His commands than love. In fact, no other motivation is accepted. It is no accident that the first commandment is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut 6:5).
Obedience to God's laws must spring from love for Him. Otherwise, as 1 Corinthians:13:1-3 declares, obeying the letter of the law is nothing. We could give all our possessions to the poor and submit to martyrdom at the stake in service for Christ, but if our motive is not love it would all be in vain. So it is that Christ declared, "if a man love me he will keep my words...he that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings" (Jn:14:23-24).
Loving God is the secret of the Christian life. If we truly love Him, then we want to serve and please and glorify Him. We would not want to do anything or even think a thought that would displease or dishonor Him. A genuine love for God—and only that love—produces consistent holiness and godliness in our daily lives. Love is also the great wellspring of joy and peace. It causes us to witness to the lost about us with passion and without shame. For who is ashamed of one's lover? And who does not rather speak well, boldly and continually, of the one he loves!
Where shall we find this love that we must have for God, and without which we cannot please Him? It is not hiding somewhere in our hearts waiting to be discovered. Nor is it a potential that we have which only needs to be developed. We cannot work it up. It cannot be produced by effort. This love is not in us at all. Though it involves our will and emotions, it comes from God alone.
How then is this love produced? Love is the fruit that the Spirit bears in our lives (Gal:5:22). It is miraculous, like the fruit on a tree—something that only God could produce. Yet we are not like a tree, which has no will or emotions. Obviously, much more is involved when the Spirit bears fruit in the believer's life than is involved in fruit-bearing in nature. His love is the key.
"We love him because he first loved us" (1 John:4:19) tells us that our love for God comes as a response to His love for us. We know of His love through His Word. Our hearts are stirred as we believe what the Bible tells us of God's love in creating us, giving His Son to die for our sins, patiently bearing our stubborn rejection, pardoning and saving us from the penalty that His holy law demands for our sin, providing heaven at infinite cost. Surely to meditate upon God's love for us must produce, by His Spirit, fervent love for Him.
Much more, however, is involved than reading and memorizing and believing what the Bible says about God and His love. Jesus reproved the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures and at the same time refusing to come to Him, the One of whom the Scriptures testified. What the Bible says about God is there in order to lead us into a personal relationship with Him. We must know not only His Word, but we must know Him personally. There is an intimacy with God that is promised to those who love and thus obey Him, an intimacy that is missing in the lives of many Christians.
To those who love and obey Him, Christ offers an incredibly wonderful promise: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (Jn:14:21). This promise to manifest Himself to those who love Him implies a real communication of His presence. This is more than a strong belief that He is with us. It is a spiritual manifestation of His presence.
This intimate fellowship begins at conversion with a real communication from God's Spirit to the believer's spirit. God's Spirit "beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom:8:16). It is not simply putting one's name in John:3:16 and taking it "by faith." There is a knowing God, a very real knowing that we are His, and an ongoing communion with Him in prayer. This does not involve visualization, journaling or any technique, but an intimacy that He initiates and promises to maintain with those who love and obey Him.
Most people, Christians included, would jump at the chance to become an intimate friend and confidant of some world leader, perhaps an astronaut, Olympic gold medalist, the head of a multinational corporation, or a famous heart surgeon. How many, however, neglect the infinitely more wonderful opportunity to know the God who created the universe, to have continual and intimate fellowship with the One who has all power, all wisdom, all knowledge, and Who loves us immeasurably! As with anyone else, God's companionship must be cultivated. It takes time. And we will only devote the time if we really believe that we can know God and that it is worthwhile.
"He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek [not success, pleasure, health, or wealth in this world, but] him" (Heb:11:6). God said to Abram, "I [not land or cattle or other possessions that I will bless you with, but I] am thy shield and thine exceeding great reward" (Gen:15:1). God wants to reward us with Himself. Let us not settle for any lesser rewards, for mere gifts instead of the Giver. Let us diligently pursue this intimate fellowship with God himself that He desires for each of us.
God willing, if our Lord tarries, we will come back again later to this subject of knowing and loving God. In the meantime, let us say with David, "O God...early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee" (Ps:63:1); and with Paul, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Philippians:3:10). And may knowing and loving God be our passion, as it was theirs.
By Dave Hunt

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Guest Post: Reflections on a Reasonable Faith

A false idea exists in both the world and in the church that faith and reason do not go together when, in fact, one cannot exist without the other. When God called out, “Adam, where art thou?” it was not Adam’s physical location He was asking about but his moral and spiritual relationship with his Creator. As a bumper sticker says, “When you feel far from God, guess who moved?”
We move on to the prodigal son, who demanded to receive his inheritance before the designated time, which would have been after the death of his parents. Instead of investing his inheritance wisely, he spent it all on harlots and wild living. It could be when those he thought were his friends saw that he had exhausted his resources, they deserted him, leaving him destitute, thus showing what kind of “friends” he had accumulated on his downward path to poverty and shame.
God wants to get our attention. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says God to His wayward children. His Word has much to say to us in regard to this exhortation. He wants us to meditate upon it day and night. My earliest memories of my father were of seeing him on his knees with his open Bible. I never had to try to memorize the Bible. I had heard it so many times in our family devotions and had read it so often in my personal study that it became a part of me.
A wedding is coming. It will take place in heaven. As the hymn says, “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see. When He takes me by the hand and leads me through the Promised Land...what a glorious day that will be!” This should be our eager anticipation.
When someone asks, “How soon do you think the Rapture will be?” I often respond, “How soon do you want it to be?” The story is told of a preacher asking his audience, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” All the children raised their hands except one small boy sitting in the front row. When the meeting ended, the preacher sat beside the lad and asked, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” he replied.
“But when I asked all those who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands, you didn’t raise yours.”
“Oh, sir, I thought you meant right now.”
Of course we want to go to heaven, but there is so much we want to do on earth first that we lose our sense of urgency. We are the Bride of Christ. How tragic if we lack the eagerness of anticipation that the bride ought to have as the day of her wedding draws near! On the one hand, we desire to be with Christ. We know that the Lord loves us, but to think of standing before the I AM is awesome beyond belief. May we all look with renewed longing for His promised coming.
It is amazing that God wants to reason with us, His creatures. The Word speaks much of understanding. What does this mean? God may explain why He has done certain things, but He will not consult with us about anything nor debate issues. He does not look to us for advice but delights in our obedience. We are to love God with our whole heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said this was the essence of the law and the prophets.
God has no obligation to explain Himself to us. Even so, God says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah:1:18). I think this is His way of trying to share His heart with us. I often think of how great God is and marvel that He would desire our fellowship, but such is His heart. With salvation, all things are become new, and that includes the beginning of an intimate relationship as between father and child.
Scripture says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs:4:7). God is not trying to force anything upon us, but he wants us to understand and to delight in the relationship that He desires to have with His children.
Of course, faith is not a leap in the dark  and the hope of a soft landing. We must seek to know where God wants us to go and what His will is for our lives. He wants us to know. He wants us to understand. He does not wish to treat us as slaves but as dearest friends. How astonishing! How glorious! Abraham was called “the friend of God.” Jesus said to His disciples, “Henceforth I call you not servants...but friends” (John:15:15). This is hard to fathom—that we could be God’s friends, and not only His friends but the dearest objects of His heart’s affection.
How well George Matheson expressed this truth, which came, as he said, “like a dayspring on high”:
Oh, Love that will not let me go!
I rest my weary soul on thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flick-’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there
            blossoms red
Life that shall endless be. Amen.
We are commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. This is not a suggestion from God but a command. Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, or your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” That’s hard for us to face, but the language is clear. Jesus goes on to explain that “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew:6:15). This is part of what we know as the “Sermon on the Mount.” It pierces our hearts. I remember a long cab ride when I was trying to explain the gospel to the driver. He claimed that he had never sinned. I quoted the same scripture to him and asked him if he had followed this admonition: “Do you love your neighbor as yourself?”
With a short laugh, he said, “I haven’t done that for one second.”
“Well,” I replied, “the words of Christ are clear: if you hold anything against anyone, you must not expect God to forgive you any of your sins.” Of course, without the new life that Christ’s death imparts, such forgiveness was beyond his ability. What was impossible for the cab driver is incumbent upon us as followers of Christ.
This is difficult to face. What we call “The Lord’s Prayer” is really the prayer that Christ gave to His disciples and to us as well. We can address the Almighty God: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew:6:9-13).
I often think how amazing it is that we could have a personal relationship with God and that He should call us His friends. This is awesome! I often tell God, “We are such pitiful creatures. You are so great. How can we even dare talk to You? You are without beginning or end; You are infinite in power and wisdom, yet You call us Your friends. What gracious condescension! O give me the ability to respond in like manner!”
The psalmist said, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (Psalm:8:3-6).
Why should God want us to love Him? What could our love mean to Him? He really doesn’t need anything from us. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelt in perfect harmony, complete in fellowship with one another for all eternity past. There is no question that man was made not only in the image of God but for a unique companionship with Him. That’s too much for us to even begin to understand!
Surely God didn’t need a companion in man. It was a special relationship that He desired. That relationship was lost when man sinned and God could no longer have fellowship with him. We don’t understand this loss, but I believe that every human being feels it. How deeply God himself must have felt that loss!
There is an emptiness in every human heart that only God can fill. God and man were meant to dwell in fellowship—in companionship. The angelic beings who did not follow Lucifer in his fall could never have this relationship with God, for as sinless beings, they could never experience the redeemed sinner’s debt of gratitude. Only man could (Luke:7:47).
The breach between God and man affected the entire universe. Romans 8 says that the whole creation groans in travail, waiting “for the manifestation of the sons of God.” I believe every human being knows that something is wrong with this universe that goes deeper than the headlines about war, murder, rape, robbery, and all of the evils in human society. There is something else behind all of this.
The old writers knew this and tried to express it. Dickens put it into his writings, as did Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and many others. In contrast, the vast majority of films that Hollywood turns out today are not only repulsively immoral but generally shallow in their expression of what humanness is all about, and fail to reveal the emptiness in man’s heart. Many of our older writers presented the evil of man’s heart and, although they were not Christians, their writings were filled with examples pitting good against evil. That does not come out in the popular novels and movies of today, where God is not honored but often derided. They reflect God’s sad commentary: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm:14:1; 53:1).
When we present the gospel, we must be prepared to reason. We know that the Word of God is living and powerful, the sword of the Spirit, yet we are given the privilege of sharing it with others. We must share the reasons for believing in God: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter:3:15). This raises a question. Why would anyone ask us for a “reason”? It presumes that we must have given some occasion to arouse the question—hopefully, the personal witness of our godly life.
We often hesitate to share the gospel because we don’t know how to begin. I think of the illustration my father used. He told of the barber who was shaving a man and raised the open blade above his head and said, “Are you prepared to die?” The man ran out of the barbershop in terror. Obviously, this is not a good opening in presenting the gospel!
I remember a well-dressed, well-coifed, and obviously wealthy woman sitting next to me on a plane. I tried a couple of times to open a conversation, but she remained aloof. I prayed to the Lord, “I have tried twice to find a way to talk with this woman so that I could present the gospel to her. If anything is going to happen, this woman is going to have to open the door.” I was reading Richard Dawkins’s book, The Selfish Gene, and had it in the pocket of the seat in front of me. I pulled it out to read it, and my seat companion looked at it and said, “Who would write a book like that?” That was the opening I was waiting for, and we had a wonderful conversation. She turned out to be a seeking soul.
There are those all around us who are waiting for someone to present the gospel to them. I once sat next to a man who was contemplating suicide. He was certainly ripe for the gospel. If we want to share the Good News with someone, the Lord will open the door. I do not advise trying to force the gospel on anyone. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. We must seek God’s direction if we are to be about His business effectively.
Modern man has no time for God. An old hymn asks, “What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be. One day your heart will be asking, ‘What will He do with me?’” For all eternity, lost souls will be haunted by the realization that heaven’s door could have been opened to them by the Savior they rejected.
Happily, we can still proclaim that the door remains open and whosoever will may enter in. How much longer this may be the case we cannot tell. While there is still time, every true Christian ought to be alert to eagerly seize every opportunity that presents itself to share the good news of the gospel. It is our Lord’s “reasonable” expectation.