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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Belief unto Righteousness

          Is our belief unto righteousness? Martha told Jesus she knew Lazarus would rise on the last day in the resurrection of the dead. She knew Lazarus believed the prophets foretelling and believed Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus told her He was the resurrection and the life (John 11:25 New American Standard Bible). He is the means to have eternal life and fullness of life devoted to God. Jesus meant He would give her eternal life and a full life because it would be devoted to God. Jesus asked her if she believed this. She did not answer that question, but she heard and believed within herself that He is the resurrection and the life. The answer she gave showed she believed He is the one who came from God as a gift to the world. Her answer did not show she believed He had power over life, death, and resurrection (vs. 27). Jesus said no one who believes in Him would ever die (vs.26). Martha said she believed He was the Messiah. She believed about a person, not about what the person, Jesus, could offer and do. 

In verse 40, Jesus confronted Martha’s belief. Jesus asked her, “Did I not say to you if you believe, you will see the glory of God” (NASB)? He said He is the resurrection and the life. He came to show the power of God over life and death by His own death and resurrection. This is what He asked Martha and Mary to believe, that He is not only the Messiah but also the way to eternal life with God. “You will see the glory of God” if you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfiller of God’s power to take away sin and death, to bring life. This is why He says He is the resurrection and life. He is not just the Promised One, but He is also the power of God to salvation. He is not the teacher, but the fulfiller. 
Jesus thanked the Father (Yahweh) in the hearing of the people so those around Him would believe the Father sent Him to the world (vv.41-42). The Father sent Jesus Christ into the world for the salvation of humanity. Just by believing Jesus is the Messiah does not save you. The Jews had heard a Messiah was coming. The demons recognized Messiah, but did not receive salvation by that knowledge. People received salvation because of their belief: 1) God sent Him to be Messiah; 2) God’s Messiah is the atonement for our sins; and 3) atonement through Jesus’ sacrifice is received by admitting they are sinners, believing Jesus is the Son of God, asking forgiveness for their sins, and receiving forgiveness. This atonement removes our sin so we can stand before God. 
This belief in Jesus Christ, the power He has as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and, the power over death into eternal life, brings righteousness. We receive Christ's righteousness when we become His followers. So how do we receive this righteousness for ourselves? We believe Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to fulfill the Law and to take away the sins of the world through His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. Romans 3 says,  
There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none
 who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless: there
 is none who does good, there is not even one…There is no fear of God before their
 eyes…But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested,
 being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God
through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction, all
 have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10-12, 18, 21-23 NASB)

Abraham believed and his belief was “reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3). Nothing we do will give us righteousness or eternal life except believing Jesus is God’s Son and following after Him. His death and resurrection removed our sins so we can have eternal life in heaven with Him. Prophets foretold of Jesus, the Messiah’s, coming and His fulfilling the Jewish Law. Jesus is the only sacrifice necessary to remove the sins of the world. Whoever believes in Him and accepts His gift of love and grace will live in His power and will be with Him forever in heaven upon their death on earth. What is your faith like; is it big enough to accept Jesus and His gift of sacrifice and love for your sins? Is your faith big enough to be credited to you like Abraham’s righteousness? You can never get the law 100% right; you sin. Only through Jesus can you receive forgiveness of sin and the power to avoid temptation in this earthly life. Only through Jesus can you receive eternal life with God in heaven. Think about it: righteousness comes through belief and belief is a gift of God. Do you believe or want to believe?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trials, Troubles, and Truth

          We live in a world that is different from thirteen years ago. The world is different from a generation ago. People speak of how different things are. They give examples of disrespect to adults and authority. They speak of fear of crime and wars. They even voice that weather is not the same; it is more violent. I consider these things and see that, yes, a lack of respect for authority figures and humans is evident. I live the change of the physical environment. People are losing heart and faith in humanity. They are erecting walls around their homes. These people are installing security systems in their homes, cars, and work places. Security companies patrol in their personal spheres of living. People are removing their landline telephones to avoid intrusion into their private lives, but at the same time, they are more involved in the cyber-world through emails and social networks. People are afraid, but they are lonely, too, and trying to fill the vacuum from a lack of relationships. This is America.

       Let us consider worldwide. There is rampant poverty, hunger, crime, wars, and religious intolerance. There is corruption, abuse, fear, and a breakdown in human relationships. Consider it this way; everyone experiences trials. Do not think I am discounting how hard trials are, but consider, everyday types of trials and severe types of trials affect everyone. When we are going through our particular hard time, we feel it is the hardest thing to do. It is hard. I very seldom meet people who are thankful they went through a trial. In time, though, we look outside ourselves and see other people are having a more difficult time in life. We see there are harder times people endure, such as mass genocide, religious persecution, executions, starvation, and becoming separated from family when fleeing for their lives. We live in this world.  
            A few people might say, oh, we must be getting near the end times. People might be shocked at first, but then gradually return to their jobs or school and forget what is happening elsewhere. I am not trying to say we are crass and unfeeling. What I am trying to make understood is that, for the largest number of us, persecution is a word in our vocabulary that sharply breaks into our mind periodically with media images and reports, but we do not live persecuted, so we do not take much notice of it. For millions of people, though, persecuted living is their reality. They are hunted by military regimes because of their culture or their faith. They are running in fear through forests, jungles, or deserts to get away from a present reality of torture, forced military service, prison, or execution. We each experience our own trials, but many million are in this world right now experiencing their trials that are “unto death.”     
            The statistics of these trials and persecutions point to areas around the globe predominantly near the equator, but include China, India, and North Korea, as well. With the violence, we hear reported from these places, we think the end times are coming. We do not know that is true; we only understand what is happening. Jesus stated, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Matthew 24:36 NASB). We may be in the end time or we may not be; what is important is we keep living and believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Without Jesus, living our lives, wherever we are, is futile. What is the purpose of living through this?  
            Let me offer a thought. God’s purpose for allowing trials is to strengthen His children in their faith and character and their dependence upon Him. His purpose for allowing trials in the lives of nonbelievers is so they will turn to Him as their Savior and Father in heaven. I understand our ease to blame bad things on God because He let them happen. What if we took the positive view, though, and considered that He allowed them to happen to teach us He will take care of us, to teach us He is stronger than the situation. We must come to the point where we learn that we must quit fighting this trial in our own strength and allow God to take charge. When we have come through the trial, we are stronger Christians. How does that work, though, for those going through extreme trials and persecution? I do not know exactly. I have heard a few stories from those surviving extreme trials. We do not often receive news from those who survived religious persecution through torture, imprisonment, removal of human rights, and wars. From what I have heard and read, several persecuted believers say they waited on the Lord and endured through prayer, reviewing memorized Bible verses, singing hymns, and talking to other believers in the places where they were held. God is still God in the midst of persecutions and He works to grow a stronger believer in these circumstances, as He does in our lives. Through their prayers, verses, songs, and encouragements from other believers, they became stronger and endured their trials while remaining in their faith. Yes, a few people do recant their faith. There are people who do not recant and are killed or die. A few people do not recant and live. Either way, these latter two came out of the difficult experience changed; they are stronger believers.  
 We each will go through trials, whether severe or not. God gives us the opportunity to rely upon our own strength or rely on His strength, which will take us through the fire and make us stronger. Whichever way we choose to face the trial, if we relied on God, we are saved to live now on earth or to live now in His heaven. Either way, God is victorious. If we do not reply on God, we may survive the trial in our own strength or we may not. What is important to know, though, is that we have not actually won. Our unbelief has won us a temporary respite on this earth, but we cannot experience eternal victory in heaven without God and His plan for salvation through Jesus Christ. John said, “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease.” John trusted Jesus was the one for whom he was making the way. Jesus is God’s anointed One through whose death and resurrection we can obtain eternal life. John understood that he was only a man, but Jesus is the One sent by God. He acknowledged that when he said, "He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:31, 33 NASB).
John and others came to believe that God is true. People from the beginning of the world understood God was true. Consider Adam, Abraham, Moses, Noah, David, the prophets, and now John the Baptist. They knew then God was true. John bore witness to the fact Jesus is God’s Son, come to take away the sins of the world.
 If you had to go through an intense time or trial, what would you do? Would you blame God for letting that happen to you? Alternatively, would you become strong in the Lord knowing He has already conquered all things and He will get you through your time now? The latter will make you into a believer. The former will make you tired and, maybe even quit. Are you going through a trial now? Are you going to let God be your strength? One day we may have to fight the extreme trials we hear of in other countries where Satan’s slaves are creating life-changing problems. Now is the time to grow in the strength of the Lord, before you go through horrendous times, so that you can stand strong now and forever more. Right now, Jesus is offering you a relationship with Him, the relationship of which you have a void in your life. This relationship is unbounded, unforced, and all loving. God wants only what is best for you, peace, love, and eternal life with Him in heaven. He will give you everything you need to live now, on this earth, and forever…Love, Faith, Hope, and Peace