A Lesson of Olympic Proportions

The 2014 Winter Olympiad in Sochi was quite a spectacle.   A lot can be learned from athletic competition.  Through the inspiration of God, the Scriptures draw on athletics to teach several important spiritual lessons. The fact that “the race is not to the swift” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) illustrates that “time and chance” happen to us all.  The admonition to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” and “run with endurance the race that is set before us ” (Hebrews 12:1) teaches us the need to put forth steady continual effort in order to gain heaven in the end.  And the fact that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12) helps us perceive the true might of our spiritual enemy and our need to rely upon God’s strength.

  Among the greatest lessons athletics can teach is the need to abide by the rules.  The inspired apostle Paul observed that, “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).  In the Sochi Olympics, more than one competitor was disqualified because they did not compete according to the rules.  Some used performance enhancing drugs, while others merely had a couple of false starts or skied off the course.  Whether the infraction was intentional or inadvertent, it caused the athlete to lose their chance for a medal.

  The disqualified athlete may have trained as hard or harder than other athletes.  He may possess more ability, more skill, and even more luck than the others.  But it all counts for nothing if he does not follow the rules.

  What a tremendous lesson this is for those who would run the race for the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give” (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8).  A person may be “good” and even confess his love and devotion for Jesus Christ, but if he has not or will not “repent” and “be baptized for the remission of sins,” he is not running according to the rules (Acts 2:38).  He may worship God enthusiastically in song, and yet if he adds a mechanical instrument of music, he’s not abiding by the rules (Ephesians 5:19).  He may give much to the Lord’s cause, but because he does not give cheerfully or as he has been prospered, he is disqualified. 

  The Lord has given us a number of rules for our race.  Let us ever strive to compete “according to the rules.”

 –Steve Klein

Keep Your Job

 The following ad appeared in the HELP WANTED section of a newspaper. “TIRED OF WORKING FOR ONLY $9.75 PER HOUR? WE OFFER PROFIT SHARING AND FLEXIBLE HOURS. STARTING PAY:   $7 — $9 PER HOUR.”  Now, maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that $9.75 is a little more than $9, and a good bit more than $7.  I wonder how many people responded to this ad?  If folks evaluated this opportunity the way many evaluate things in the spiritual realm, there may have been quite a few! 

Satan offers work that is easy, convenient and pleasurable, at least initially.  He tries to make it sound as if the rewards of working for him are greater than those to be received from serving the Lord.  Of course, the truth is that they are not – in fact there is no comparison.  In the end you’re a slave working for nothing at all, and the retirement vacation he advertised as warm and balmy turns out to be an eternal sweat shop in which you get “no rest, day or night.”

Moses was able to see through all that.  “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Today Satan places the modern treasures of Egypt before us every day.  He would like us to think that the glittering pleasures of sin are worth pursuing, and that a life of simple faith and service has nothing to offer.  Friends, read carefully between the lines of his HELP WANTED advertisement.  If you are serving the Master, keep your job!  Look to the reward!

 — Steve Klein

The “Misleading” of the Holy Spirit

Bill Hallguest article by Bill Hall

The 1980s will surely be remembered as the decade when so many “Spirit-led” projects failed.

The fall of Jim Bakker with his PTL empire and Heritage USA will long be remembered. Jim Bakker could hardly speak without referring to what the Spirit was leading him to do. His explanation for the collapse of his empire was: “God has me on a roller-coaster ride” (Time, March 30 1987).

Oral Roberts built his $150 million City of Faith “on direct orders from God” (Time, Nov 6, 1981). Roosevelt Greer, Rex Humbard, and Pat Robertson attended the dedication. Barbara Mandrell sang the national anthem. President Reagan sent a congratulatory letter. Further, in 1983 the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Roberts sent out “millions of letters saying Jesus appeared to him and told him God had chosen Roberts to find the cure for cancer” (Jan. 18 1983). The (Nashville) Tennessean had a news item, however, in its 15 September 1989 edition that said, “Roberts announced Wednesday the City of Faith hospital will be closed by the end of the year and the Oral Roberts University School of Medicine will close after the current school year” (Guardian of Truth, Nov. 1989, p. 25).

Jimmy Swaggart was once called the “King of Honky-Tonk Heaven” by Newsweek. He raised $142 million in just one year (1989). Because of sexual misconduct, however, his ministry is also foundering. An article by Bill Crews (Park Forest Proclaimer, July 22 1990), reports that the number of Swaggart’s TV viewers has fallen 83 per cent and that enrollment in his college has declined from 1451 to 419. Throughout the buildup of his ministry, Swaggart credited God for the growth that had taken place.

These examples of “Spirit-led projects” gone awry are truly signs of the times in which we are living. We frequently hear people claiming that the Spirit is leading them to do this or that. Often the very activity into which the Spirit is supposedly leading them is contrary to the teaching of the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. Several observations are in order.

1. The Spirit on occasions did directly lead men of the first century into specific fields of labor. The Spirit told Philip to join the eunuch in his chariot (Acts 8:29), then caught Philip away after he had baptized the eunuch (Acts 8:39). The Spirit told Peter to go with the messengers Cornelius had sent (Acts 10:19, 20). The Spirit gave the orders for the beginning of the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4). The Spirit forbade Paul to preach in Asia and Bithynia as he traveled westward on his second journey, and then through a vision directed his feet toward Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).

2. Whenever the Spirit did directly lead men in the first century, the results were always favorable. The eunuch was baptized and went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:38,39). Cornelius and those with him were converted, becoming the first fruits among the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48). Paul’s first journey resulted in much fruit, and when he went into Macedonia on his second journey, his work resulted in the beginning of great churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.

3. The Spirit did not so completely take over the lives of men in the first century that every move made by them was “Spirit-led. ” More often they were left to make their own decisions and plans. For instance, plans for a second journey were formulated in the minds of Paul and Barnabas, and when they went separate ways, “Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas . . . and he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (Acts 15:39-41). Had the Holy Spirit directed that Paul and Barnabas go on this journey as he did on the first, they would have been defying his directions in going separate ways. But these were their plans, and they had every right to change their plans.

Later, Paul made his own plans to go to Rome and Spain after completion of his third journey, and he asked the Romans to pray that he could come to them “with joy by the will of God”(Rom. 15:23-33). Had these plans been made through the direction of the Spirit, our faith might well be shaken, for these plans did go awry. But they were Paul’s own plans which fell through just as some of our plans fall through.

4. The tragic failure of “Spirit-led” projects of our generation is proof that they were not truly instigated by the Holy Spirit. Had the Spirit truly instigated them, they would have been successful. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn.4:1).

5. The Spirit does lead us into various fields and activities through the revealed word, leading us through the directions he gave to the inspired men of the first century. As we read the Spirit’s directions to Peter to go to Cornelius, the Spirit is leading us to go to people of all races without prejudice. As we read of the Spirit’s directions to Paul not to turn aside into Asia and Bithynia, he is leading us to ever expanding territories in our world. As we read of the Lord’s encouragement to Paul in his time of despair in Corinth (Acts 18:9, 10), he is encouraging us in our time of despair.

6. We do believe that God’s continues to work within our lives, “choosing our changes” on occasions, but his providential workings should not be confused with the direct leadings of the Spirit in the first century.

Paul wrote of certain ones in his day who were inflated without cause, taking their stand on visions they had seen, rather than holding to the Head
(Col. 2:18,19). Such people always seem to take on an air of superiority, lightly regarding those who simply take their stand on revealed and confirmed truth. Paul did not want the Colossians to be intimidated by such people in his day, and we must not be intimidated by such people in our day.

The Spirit leads through the word he has revealed. When all fully realize that the Scriptures are the product of the Holy Spirit, and that whenever we read the Scriptures he is speaking to us, teaching us, and leading us, most of our problems over the Holy Spirit will vanish.

A Good Review of “Bible Secrets Revealed”

For those who may have seen and been disturbed by the History Channel’s six part series “Bible Secrets Revealed,” I recommend Michael J. Kruger’s review of it on his blog “Canon Fodder”.  According to Ferrell Jenkins here , “Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte. You will find much useful material on this blog ”

While I’m certain that I would disagree with Mr. Kruger on some things, I appreciate his defense of the Bible against the unscrupulous attacks of this History Channel series.  We would do well to familiarize ourselves with how to respond to the misinformation about the Bible being propagated in popular culture.  Average citizens who have a passing interest in the Bible are being misguided and deceived by such.

Every Christian should “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

— Steve Klein

The Right Side of History

The attorney general of Virginia recently announced that his state will no longer defend its constitutional ban on gay marriage.   Attorney General Mark Herring said that he wanted to ensure the state was “on the right side of history.”

I’ve heard several similar statements by politicians and media pundits lately.  What do people mean when they say they are deciding their stance on a given issue because they want to be on the “right side of history”?   Do they mean that they are taking a side because they think that it will eventually win or that  posterity will smile on it?  It seems to me that they are admitting to making moral decisions by sticking a finger in the air to see which way the current wind of public opinion is blowing.

One author wrote, “My chief problem with the ‘right side of history’ argument is that it is used as an appeal to the authority of an imagined future that hasn’t even happened yet. It is a way of saying to your opponents: you should give up not because your arguments are wrong but because you will eventually lose anyway. It is an attempt to demoralize your opponents not engage them.” (Jonah Golberg, National Review Online)

For the Bible believer, the right side of history is not determined by outcomes in human affairs.  Abortion, gay marriage and legalized marijuana are not right because they gain acceptance in a culture, anymore than Chairman Mao was on the right side of history when he led his nation into godless communist oppression.

The right side of history will be determined by the judgment of the God of heaven. “For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth” (Psalms 96:13).  “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7).

The right side of history is the Lord’s side!

All of the people depicted in the mural below believed themselves to be on the right side of history in their day.  Perhaps the only one who was totally on the right side was Jesus Christ.  Many others certainly accomplished great good.  If you click on the picture, your browser will open an interactive window enabling you to identify the people in the mural by placing your mouse on their images. Remember that they all probably thought they were on the right side of history — Hitler, Caligula, Ayatollah Kohmeini — all of them!

Tapestry-of-the-Centuries.jpg

Tapestry of the Centuries, Vladimir Gorsky

— Steve Klein

Where is it Written in Stone?

  Our culture deplores unchangeable rules.  We don’t like prohibitions and restrictions, and so we want to be able to alter or eliminate them.  This attitude is so prevalent that some advertisers actually try to attract buyers with slogans like “no rules, just right” or “the rules have changed.” 

  Often those desiring to change rules will ask, “Where is it written in stone” that something must be done a certain way?  The implication is that if it isn’t written in stone, it wasn’t meant to be permanent to begin with, and it is therefore subject to change.   The question, “Where is it written in stone?” expresses the desire of man’s heart to change rules or procedures.

  So, rules are changed constantly in virtually every area of modern life.  Some are changed because they are bad or inadequate; but just as often, they are changed because it’s inconvenient to keep them, they aren’t being kept anyway, or somebody complained enough.

  The rules or laws God gave the Israelites in ancient times actually were written in stone.  They were literally delivered on “two tablets of stone” and were “written with the finger of God” (Deuteronomy 9:10; cf. Exodus 34:1).  Choosing the medium of stone as a writing material emphasized the relative permanence of these laws.  By writing with His own finger, the Lord indicated that these laws were of divine origin, unalterable by human hands.

   The Lord Himself did eventually change those rules.  He took the “handwriting of ordinances…out of the way, having nailed it to his cross.” (Colossians 2:14).  He decided to give His people new rules as part of a new covenant. He declares, “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).  Notice that the new laws would still be written by God and thus be unalterable by man. But they are not written on tablets of stone.  They are written on human hearts. 

    God’s laws today are on the hearts of His covenant people. Since God has written them there, they are not subject to change by humans.  But more than that, because they are written on our hearts, we do not want to change them.  You see, if we are truly God’s people, His laws are part of us.  They are what we want to do!  Regarding His laws, we would never begin to ask, “Where is it written in stone?” because there is no desire within us to change His rules.  We love His laws, and we live His laws. 

   

 — Steve Klein