Archive for December, 2010
Our attitude of giving during the Christmas season can stir old memories. Sometimes we remember something nice we’ve done for someone else, and other times we recall others’ acts of kindness toward ourselves. Have you ever suddenly (and for no apparent reason) remembered something good that you’ve done in the past? I believe that there may be a connection between these memories and the heavenly rewards that believers will receive in eternity.
Matthew 6:1-4 says, “1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
It’s obvious from this passage that if we draw attention to our giving and other acts of kindness, we will receive no reward for them in heaven. We can receive either paltry earthly rewards and honor from men, or superb eternal rewards and attention from God in heaven. However, I think there’s an even deeper meaning in these verses.
We’re told to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. This seems almost impossible, but I believe that it’s an analogy about our thoughts and our actions. We should give so freely that our hands are almost constantly giving, whether or not our minds can even keep up with that giving. In fact, we should even hope to forget these things. We should be doing so many acts of kindness that we can’t remember them all. These should just be a part of our daily routine–nothing abnormal.
I believe that pride sometimes causes us to remember good things that we’ve done. In the best case, we remember how good we were, and in the worst case, we become bitter that we didn’t receive proper recognition, or a thank-you, for our generosity. This probably means that our giving wasn’t done in grace. Instead of freely giving, with no expectation of payment, we gave while expecting something in return.
Johnny Cash once recorded a song called, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget Her,” obviously putting a comical slant on a tragic situation. We wonder why the man was able to forget to remember, yet unable to forget his true love. Have you ever wondered how much you’ve forgotten? Are you disappointed that you may have forgotten a lot? Hopefully, we’ve all forgotten plenty of things. In fact, we should thank God for forgetting. The Bible assures us that these things will be remembered at the appropriate time, by an omnipotent God.
Johnny Cash has always been one of my favorite singers and songwriters. In addition, his life was a perfect example of the ongoing struggle between spirituality and the flesh. Johnny rebelled with hard living, drugs and alcohol, but his rough life always convicted him to seek a spiritual answer to the evils of the flesh. In his biography, his daughter Roseanne makes an interesting observation about her dad. Roseanne said, “I don’t think that he believed that having faith had anything to do with being good.” Johnny was nothing if not profound, and, in true fashion, this statement is both true and false.
Of course, the Bible commands us to be good, but the problem is that we’ve all done bad deeds, along with our good works. Many people mistakenly believe that salvation is achieved through one’s good works and deeds. This doctrine teaches that God will somehow decide our eternal fate by weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds. Although we will all be judged, this doctrine confuses two forms of judgment. We will all be judged as to whether or not we claim Christ as our Savior from our sins, and this judgment will determine whether or not we will spend eternity with God. In additions, believers will then indeed be judged to determine their additional eternal rewards, and this judgment is indeed based our good works.
However, the question of our salvation is decided by one simple thing, and it’s not our good deeds. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible offers more clarity on this fact than anything else. One of the many places where this is emphatically stated is Galatians 2:16: “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” For a detailed explanation on this doctrine, please go to Salvation By Grace.
So, on the one hand, the observation about Johnny Cash is true, because it can indeed be said that faith has nothing to do with being good. However, this is only try if we are talking about our being good by our own means. If we could live a sinless life, we might have an argument for going to heaven based upon our good deeds, and the complete absence of bad deeds in our lives. However, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), so none of us could get to heaven on this basis.
However, from another perspective, God indeed demands righteousness. God cannot allow sinful men into heaven, as this would corrupt the perfection there. Thankfully, His plan of grace provides an answer for even this. When we are saved, many great things occur, in addition to receiving eternal life with God. One of the greatest things is that Jesus imputes His perfect righteousness to us (Imputation). Now, when God looks at a believer, He sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ–not the sins of the believer, because Christ’s death on the cross was the perfect sacrifice for those sins.
So, in this way, the observation about Johnny cash is not true. Faith does indeed have a lot to do with being good. In order to enter heaven, we have to be perfect, but the only way we can be perfect is for Jesus Christ to impute His perfect righteousness to us.
Psalm 131 offers a series of challenges for all believers:
- 1 “My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty;”
Our flesh causes us to be proud, and our prosperity deceives us into thinking that we have something to be proud of. Even when we achieve some level of humility, we’re usually proud of that.
- “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”
This verse isn’t telling us to be unconcerned. Instead, it’s telling us not to worry. For example, on a physical level, we should be concerned about political policies, but not worried about their outcome. On a (more important) spiritual level, we should question things and search the Bible for answers, but we shouldn’t worry about the things of God that are too big for us to understand.
- 2 “But I have calmed and quieted myself,”
One of our biggest challenges is dealing with stress in our lives. We should be able to take comfort in God and His Word, but too look to medications like Xanax for our comfort.
- “I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”
We should have calm and quiet hearts, like the contentment of a small child with his mother.
- 3 “Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.”
Like the nation of Israel, we should put our faith and our hope in God. We should be less concerned about the material challenges of this life, and more concerned about eternity.
Who were the best men in the Bible? God gives us some hints about this in a couple of often overlooked verses.
Jeremiah 15:1 says, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people.’”
This verse seems to tell us that Moses and Samuel were most effective in prayer. However, we’re given few details. Moses often prayed to God, but hardly any of his prayers are recorded in the Bible. The same goes for Samuel, where the most details we have about his prayer life are in 1 Samuel 8:6″ “But when (the Israelites) said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.”
Why the lack of details? I believe it’s because prayer is usually a very personal and private activity, between only the believer and God. Of course, there is a time for corporate prayer, but most prayer is to be done in our “closet.” (Matthew 6:6)
Ezekiel 14:20 says, “Even if Noah, Daniel and Job were (in Jerusalem), they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness.”
This implies that the three most obedient men in the Old Testament were Noah, Daniel, and Job. Their lives should be our role models. Noah ignored popular opinion as he obeyed God. Daniel wasn’t afraid to defy earthly authorities as he obeyed god. Above all, Job refused to sin, even through trials and troubles. Job 1:22 says, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing;” and, Job 2:10 says, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”
There’s a song that talks about a man who retires from his job after thirty years of faithful service to his company. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but think about its spiritual and prophetic implications. The chorus goes like this:
Today’s the day I get my gold watch and chain,
Engraved with thirty years of service and my name.
Men in pin-striped suits and ties,
Shake my hand as they walk by.
Today’s the day I get my gold watch and chain.
This man has been been faithful in his duties, waiting every hour of every day, day-after-day, for thirty years. Finally, the time has come for him to be recognized with his reward. Likewise, one day, each believer will be recognized in eternity, at the Bema–the judgment seat of Christ. Each believer’s deeds will be tested with fire. The hay and chaff will be burnt away, leaving only his pure, just, and precious rewards. Instead of a gold watch and chain, the believer will receive something of real value, too precious even for us to fully understand in this life.
Like the engraving on the gold watch, each believer’s rewards will be personalized. However, a gold watch and chain will seem like nothing compared to these eternal rewards. This is because the One that the believer is devoted to is so much more powerful than an earthly company.
We will no longer answer to authority figures wearing pin-striped suits. Instead we will answer to the ultimate authority. Here, we are congratulated with a handshake, but in eternity we will live forever with Jesus Christ.
I can’t wait for the day when I receive that ultimate gold watch and chain.
Emile Durkheim was a secular scholar who claimed that religion emerged out of social gatherings. Although Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, there is some truth in Durkheim’s claim, even for Christians.
There is a characteristic of the flesh that gives us an impulse to participate, not only in secular activities, but also in the spiritual realm. It’s a sociological phenomenon, where mob-mentality takes over, and we’re more comfortable in a crowd, and we adapt to the natural leaders in that crowd. This can coerce people into feeling something beyond themselves, and then attributing that force to the divine. Studies have shown this child-like phenomenon to be true, even for adults.
When we go to church, we need to do so because of obedience and allegiance to God, regardless of what others are doing. Christianity should never be reduced to social gatherings.
Christmas is an ideal time for giving, although we should exercise the same spirit of giving throughout the year. Proverbs 11 illustrates why we should be encouraged to give.
Verse 24 says, “There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.” In other words, the giver, as well as the receiver, is blessed. However, if we pass up opportunities to give, we’ll all be the poorer for it.
Verse 25 says, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.” If we want to prosper, we should give. It’s like being thirsty. We can expect our thirst to be quenched by giving a drink to someone else who is thirsty.
It’s a paradox that only God can understand. When we give, our wealth is not depleted–instead, we prosper all the more. It’s like feeding a crowd of people with a single basket of fish and bread. When food is removed from the basket, it somehow just keeps replenishing itself. When it comes to giving, there are no losers.
If our national security is only as good as our intelligence reports, then we’re in big trouble. Our first big clue for this was when we invaded Iraq because our intelligence reports confirmed WMDs there. More recently, intelligence gurus were gathering information from a person thought to be a terrorist, only to discover that he was just a prankster. With such poor intelligence, Presidents Reagan and Bush (41) wouldn’t have been able to end the Cold War.
Now we find out that we are not only inept at finding reliable information, but even when we do, we can’t keep a secret. We entrust the information to people who are only too eager to leak it to WikiLeaks, which, in turn, leaks it to the whole world. It doesn’t help the situation to have men like Leon Panetta (with no background in intelligence) as the Director of the CIA.
Imagine being the President of the U.S. as the military officer enters the Oval Office each morning with the latest “intelligence” report. The first thing I would ask is, “Why should I believe this information?” Then my next question would be, “Who already knows about this?” How can the President possibly keep our country safe under these conditions?
This is not just an embarrassment for our country. It’s a serious danger to national security. Unfortunately, in both senses of the word, we do seem to no longer have any background in intelligence.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recently weighed in on the issue of the Bush tax cuts. They said that taxes should be raised on rich people like themselves. This statement is quite interesting. At first glance, it appears to be a statement about patriotism and generosity–how willing they are to pay more taxes so that we can have a better America. However, there’s a deeper, and slightly hidden, meaning to these words.
If Gates and Buffet really feel like they’re not paying enough taxes, then they should get out their checkbook and write a big check to the Treasury of the United States (and they should do so without letting the press know about it). After all, what’s a few hundred million dollars out of a $30 billion fortune? However, they wouldn’t be satisfied with this, because they’re not really speaking out of patriotism and generosity. They’re actually speaking out of selfishness and greed (and perhaps guilt, as well).
How can it selfish and greedy to want to pay more taxes? Well, you see, they know all about how to control money. Along with their lust for money, they also have a huge lust for power. It’s not enough for them to be independently wealthy. It’s not enough to have control over their own money. As rich as they are, they want more. They want to have control over other people’s money as well. They don’t want to just write a check to the IRS. They want a law that says that other people have to do so as well. Then they can use their power to influence the way our tax dollars are spent.
Gates and Buffet have egos almost as big as their fortunes, and they are always in desperate need of a challenge–something, or someone, to conquer. They used to be challenged by gaining wealth and power. However, they became so wealthy and powerful that these things no longer challenged them. Then they became challenged by philanthropy (a worthy goal), but they’re so wealthy that even this is no longer challenging. When people become this wealthy and powerful, it’s probably only natural to progress to the next step. Now, instead of being satisfied by spending their own fortunes, they want to spend other people’s (tax) money.