Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Living Rock

~ Rock of Ages ~  

There is an old hymn entitled “Rock of Ages” which was a favorite of many generations. This image, or word picture, of God as a rock is a clear concept in both the Old and New Testaments. One of numerous examples from the Old Testament is “He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). A New Testament example is “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

While a rock is certainly a meaningful word picture of Christ, not all references to rocks in the Bible are references to Christ. What does the image of a rock convey? What are some parallels between a rock and Jesus Christ?

Strength & Solidarity ~ This is the reason that a prominent American insurance company uses a logo which features the Rock of Gibraltar—one of the largest visible rocks in the world. The source of strength for the believer is God. “In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God” (Psalm 62:7). 

Foundational ~ Rocks mixed with sand and concrete make a great foundation, but for an even stronger foundation build your home directly on a solid bed of rock. Jesus Christ is the only foundation of all true Christianity. “Jesus said, ‘Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:  and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall’” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Shelter ~ Notice also that we now live in His house—our new dwelling place—a place of safety and comfort. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22). 

Protection ~ Rocks provide a good hiding place. Today American businesses sell outdoor loudspeakers disguised as rocks.  Some people hide their house keys under a rock. Since the beginning of time man has used caves as places of hiding and protection. “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by” (Exodus 33:22). “Be my strong refuge, to which I may resort continually; You have given the commandment to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71:3). 

A person who is “in Christ” is shielded from the punishment of sin (spiritual death), and He becomes the place of shelter and refuge (Romans 8:1). "The Lord  is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge” (2 Samuel 22:2-3). 

Consistent & Unchanging ~ While rocks do slowly change over centuries, they are among the most unchanging physical objects on our planet. God does not change. "For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6a). Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Additional Comments ~ (1) Perhaps the most important New Testament reference to Christ as a rock is when He told Peter that He would build His church. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The context of this verse clearly shows the Rock upon which the church will be built is Jesus Christ (see verses 16-18). 

(2) A rock, while a symbol of strength, can also be an obstacle. The same is true of the spiritual rock. Again this is both an Old Testament and New Testament truth. “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken" (Isaiah 8:14-15). 

“Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:6-10). 

Is Jesus Christ your rock of ages or a stone of stumbling?  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bible 101

~ An Overview of Scripture ~  

First, we should note the extreme antiquity of the Bible. Did you know that the average life of a contemporary book is less than 10 years? Do you realize that 70 percent of all printed books are thrown out within 90 days? Throughout the centuries the Bible has withstood organized attack after attack—yet it remains a perennial best seller! Why?  

Christians believe the primary reason for the Bible’s survival and its popularity is its Author. The words in the Bible are not man’s but rather the very words of God Himself—just like it claims. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16a). Since its words are from the Creator of everything, they are worth reading, understanding, and following. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Second, consider some empirical evidence of the uniqueness of the Bible. The Bible is made up of 66 books written by more than 40 writers over a period of 1600 years. The writers were a diverse group which included fishermen, herdsmen, physicians, judges, priests, prophets, poets, scribes, scholars, and kings. 

There are two major sub-sections in the Word of God. The Old Testament contains 39 books and the New Testament contains 27 books. There was a period of about 400 “silent years” between the last writing of the Old Testament and the first writing of the New Testament. Even though there are two main sections of the Bible, it is truly only one book. 

The New Testament is CONCEALED in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is REVEALED in the New Testament.
Thought of slightly differently: the New Testament is CONTAINED in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is EXPLAINED in the New Testament.
Still another way of stating this is: the New Testament LIES HIDDEN in the Old Testament. The Old Testament LIES OPEN in the New Testament.

The Old Testament PREDICTS a Person—Jesus Christ. The New Testament PRESENTS that Person—the Son of God.
Or one might say: the Old Testament ANTICIPATES the New Testament. The New Testament AUTHENTICATES the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament we find the revelation of God, revealing God’s righteousness and justice.
In the New Testament we see clearly the salvation of man and God’s mercy, His love, and His grace. 

It has been correctly stated that you cannot understand the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, unless you understand the Old Testament book of Daniel. Yet these two books were written 630 years apart and the writers were about 1,200 miles apart when they wrote. 

When the Son of God came to earth, His life and His words authenticated the reality of the “messianic” nature of the Old Testament (about the Messiah). For example, Jesus Christ quoted from 24 of the 39 books in the Old Testament. He quoted or made allusions to 66 portions of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible), 40 passages in Isaiah, 36 writings in the Psalms, 22 portions of the book of Daniel, as well as others. 

The Old Testament is largely about a nation—Israel. Yet the careful and analytical reader finds Jesus Christ throughout the Old Testament. For example: The Pentateuch presents FIGURES OF CHRIST. The Psalms present the FEELINGS OF CHRIST. Moving into the New Testament we find the Gospels (first 4 books) present the FACTS OF CHRIST. The epistles present the FRUITS OF CHRIST. 

The New Testament is about a person, Jesus Christ the Messiah. The Gospels are about HIS PERSON. The next book, Acts, is about HIS POWER. The epistles are about HIS PRECEPTS, and the last book, Revelation, is about HIS PROGRAM. 

For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give [a future] account” (Hebrews 4:12-13). 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

EXTRA: Book Award Finalist

~ One Precious Pearl is a Readers Choice ~  
The Readers Views “Literary Awards for 2011” has selected One Precious Pearl by Robert Lloyd Russell as a finalist for the best book of the year (“Religion” category). Final determination of the top books for 2011 will be made by March 3. 

The Readers Views prides itself as “reviews, by readers, for readers.” You may view the complete list of 2011 finalists at the Readers Views website

There is more information about One Precious Pearl at Robert Lloyd Russell’s author website. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Myth of “Judge Not”

~ If You Are NOT Judging—You Are Not Mature! ~  

There is often an emphasis on the passage which tell Christians to “judge not” (Matthew 7:1 – part of the Sermon on the Mount) without a corresponding consideration of the context. In so doing it is easy to forget that the Bible also says that if we are not discerning (judging), we are not mature! “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). 

Judgment and discernment both concern themselves with distinguishing between good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable, legal and illegal, and so forth. Without a lot of explanation in this blog, I will simply say that we are wrong to judge motives but should be evaluating ideas and actions. 

One area of judgment or evaluation which is hard to dispute is with regard to the Word of God as the standard used for judgment. 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “He that is spiritual evaluates all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). The context of Paul’s comment is in regard to God’s truth. We also find Paul challenging Timothy to accurately discern or judge the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). 

Also, recall that the Bereans were commended for “Evaluating the Scriptures daily, to see whether the things they were told were really true were so” (Acts 17:11). It is clear that judging is a direct responsibility of every Christian

This concept of spiritual discernment or correct Christian judgment is closely related to what might be called applied Christianity. There are those who know the right thing to do but do not take action on their knowledge—intellect without action. On the other hand there are those who are going about doing good without knowing the Biblical basis for their good works—action without corresponding knowledge. Authentic Christianity has a threefold aspect, first knowing what to do, second judgment or discernment regarding the situation, and third taking appropriate action.  

The more Christ-like we become—the more spiritually mature—the more we will be able to judge between good and evil.

We are to judge all areas of life except other people’s motives—God will judge that. Here are a few examples of what we are to judge. 

Examine Your Spiritual Position ~ “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). 

Examine Your Lifestyle ~ “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” in the Christian ordinance of communion (1 Corinthians 11:28).    

Examine and Correct Others ~ “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself!” (Galatians 6:1). In many other Bible passages we are told to rebuke and to exhort our fellow Christians (for example Titus 2:15). 

Examine Everything Around Us ~ “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). 

The Bible tells us “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15), but be cautious because a careful reading of this verse shows that such judging is based upon being a “spiritual man” who has the “mind of Christ.” 

contemplate:  Do you have a good grasp of the balance with regard to the command to “judge not” and the mark of Christian maturity—the ability to “distinguish between good and evil?”  (Also see Proverbs 11:1.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Core Message of the Bible #2

~ My Response to a Comment ~   

Background  ~  On June 1, 2010, the topic of ALN was “The Core Message of the Bible.” That posting has consistently been of one of the most-read postings (currently #1). Recently (January 28, 2011) an additional comment was received which stated, “Actually, I think that the core of the Bible is love, about God loving us and animals, how we should love our brothers and sisters and your enemies, etc.”  
The Problem  ~  This view is an unfortunate and common view. Rather than the core message of Scripture, this is A MAJOR THEME of the Bible—and that difference is the difference between life and death for many—perhaps for you! First, let’s look at the important theme.

The Bible clearly states, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus Christ told His disciples, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

To this point, most people will agree. But to think that one understands the core message of the Bible with just this theme is like someone who has only seen the head side of a coin thinking they can describe the total appearance of the coin. 

The Rest of the Story ~ God’s love must be seen in context of His holiness and our accountability to Him. John 3:16 quoted above is right to the point. God would not have allowed His Son to suffer for our sins if it was not necessary. Earlier in human history God gave man the Law in order that each of us could see our own sin and guilt.

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that [the murmurs and excuses of] every mouth may be hushed and all the world may be held accountable to God. For no person will be justified (made righteous, acquitted, and judged acceptable) in His sight by observing the works prescribed by the Law. For [the real function of] the Law is to make men recognize and be conscious of sin [not mere perception, but an acquaintance with sin which works toward repentance, faith, and holy character]” (Romans 3:19-20 Amp). “But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment [to express itself], got a hold on me and aroused and stimulated all kinds of forbidden desires (lust, covetousness). For without the Law sin is dead [the sense of it is inactive and a lifeless thing]” (Romans 7:8 Amp).

In other words, God gave man the law for our education about who we are and who God is. The Authorized Version terms the law “our schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24-25).
Jesus said, “Don't suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God's Law or the Prophets. I'm not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God's Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God's Law will be alive and working. Trivialize even the smallest item in God's Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

“You're familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.  … 

“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don't go to bed with another's spouse.’ But don't think you've preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt. Let's not pretend this is easier than it really is” (Matthew 5:17-22, 27-29 The Message). 

Conclusion  ~  The situation in which you find yourself is not unlike someone who has the winning ticket to a huge lottery. Having the ticket is okay—but actually worthless without action on your part! You must claim your winnings. To really experience the love of God and to receive eternal life you must see your sin as God sees it, repent of your sin (make an about face from it), and most importantly accept the free gift (your lottery ticket) which Jesus Christ has already provided for you. But if you don’t specifically claim it, it is like the unclaimed lottery ticket—you won big but forfeited your winnings. It is much more serious than losing out on the winnings of a huge lottery—it is about having life or death, eternal happiness in heaven or eternal suffering in hell.

Solution  ~  Genuinely admit your guilt to God. Ask God for forgiveness. Turn from your sin to Him. Accept His free gift of salvation. The Bible says, “He who has the Son has [eternal] life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life [they are spiritually dead—a life apart from God]” (1 John 5:12).