Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Christian Martyr: Part 1 -- Jesus, Our Great Exemplar

It is not possible to talk of Christian martyrdom without first looking at the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The evening before His crucifixion, as the disciples prepared to leave the upper room where they had just shared the Passover meal with Jesus, Jesus made a rather strange request that has left many puzzled. “Then said he unto them, … he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one… And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.” (Luke 22: 36,38).

What was that all about? Jesus, knowing the end from the beginning, and knowing human nature, that there would be temptation on the part of many to defend their faith by force of arms, was about to give his disciples a living object lesson that they would never forget. Jesus was about to settle once and for all the issue of the use of violence in the defense of faith.

In the garden of Gethsemane the mob came to arrest Jesus, and the disciples proved themselves to be all too willing to wield those swords in Jesus' defense. “When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” (Luke 22:49). And Peter, most likely the one doing all the talking, and leaping to Jesus’ defense even as he spoke, swung his sword and managed to clip the ear of one of the servants of the high priest.

John 18:10-11 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

Matthew 26:52-53 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

By these words the use or force to defend the Christian faith was expressly forbidden. If even the Lord Himself was not to be defended by force of arms, then neither was the church He established was to be defended by force of arms. Such violence was to have no place in Christianity. And this was a lesson the disciples learned well. Never again, no matter how grievous the persecution they suffered, did they take up arms in self-defense. From that day on the only sword they carried was the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Not stopping there, Jesus, surrounded by His enemies, proceeds to give a living example grace to His disciples by healing the servant's ear that Peter had cut off.  Grace is commonly defined as unmerited favor.  But true grace goes far beyond mere unmerited favor.  If you were to give a gift to your children for no apparent reason, that may be unmerited favor, but that would not be grace.  Grace is doing something good for someone who hates you, someone who despises you, an enemy.  (See Romans 5:10 and Matthew 5:44-45).  That is grace. 

The following morning, when Jesus was taken before Pilate, Pilate asked a question of Jesus. The answer that Jesus gave is most relevant.

John 18:36-37 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.  Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness [martureo] unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

First of all, Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. And if Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, neither can the kingdom of His followers be of this world. Can the realm of Jesus' disciples extend beyond the realm of Christ's kingdom? Scripture tells us, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). If our citizenship is in heaven, then Christians were not to be fighting over some patch of holy land as the peoples of so many other religions do. Christians are to stand above all the squabbling and fighting that takes place in the world. We have been commissioned to preach the gospel, and nothing is to be allowed to divert us from that purpose.

Second, if Christians do find themselves fighting over some patch of holy land, then by that act they declare that their citizenship is no longer in heaven, but here on this earth - and are thus living and working outside the realm of Christ's kingdom.

Following Jesus' example, Christians are to bear witness of the truth. The word martyr is Greek for witness. [Martureo -- to be a witness, i.e. testify.]  To be a Christian Martyr is to bear a true witness of Jesus, even with your life if need be. A true Christian martyr is one who bears witness of the truth as it is in Christ - with the ultimate witness being the giving up of their lives for the truth.

Through all the cruelty of his trial and crucifixion Jesus never once resorted to force - not by word nor deed, to defend Himself. Scripture tells us of Jesus that "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;" (1 Peter 2:23).

By Jesus' own example, even in martyrdom, the Christian is not to retaliate even by a word. But Jesus goes far beyond merely "not reviling" or "not threatening." He actively blesses. Listen to His words. “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, … 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." (Luke 23: 33-34).

"Father, forgive them." This is the voice of the true Christian martyr. Never a curse, never a threat, but only blessings to the end. The true Christian martyr looks beyond themselves and see souls to be saved. Their whole burden is for the salvation of the lost. And with their last breath they will call down blessing from heaven on their persecutors with the hope that they might be saved.

Listen to the teaching of Jesus:

Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Those are the words of Jesus, words that He lived by, and words that He died by. That is how a true Christian martyr's will behave. That is the ideal - the true pattern set forth by Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Elden Miller

Friday, August 30, 2013

Lesson of Grace from David and Bathsheba

When David was at the height of his power, when he was involved in his great building projects, he expressed to Nathan the prophet his desire to build a temple for God. After all, why should God be worshiped in an old tent when he had built great cedar palaces for himself. Nathan told David that that was a great idea, and to go for it. But as Nathan was leaving the palace God spoke to him and told him to go back to David and tell him that he could not be the one to build Him a temple. But, although David would not be allowed to build the temple, God would give him a son, Solomon by name - and he would be the one to build the temple.

Now just stop and think about that for a moment.  David is blessed, and Solomon is mention by name - years before the Bathsheba incident. Think of what the implications of that is.

Does God bless us even when He knows that we are really going to blow it bad in the future? Will He even use the very mess we make of our lives to bring that blessing about? Yes. And David is a prime example. David blew it about as badly as anyone possibly could, and made a real mess of things. David committed adultery with the wife of one of his most trusted soldiers, and then plotted murder to cover up the crime. And God, knowing all things, blessed David anyway, and declared years in advance that Solomon, who would be David's child through Bathsheba, would be king after him and would be honored with the task of building His temple. WOW!!! Talk about Amazing Grace.

God doesn't stop loving us just because He knows we are really going to blow it bad sometime in the future. If He did, we would all be in real trouble. God doesn't wait for us to get our act together first, but blesses us even now. As Scripture says, it was while we were still sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, even enemies, that Christ died for us.

But it should be noted - Just because God told David in advance that he would have a son named Solomon does not mean that God was dependent on David committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed to bring that prophecy about.  God has ways of working things out. If David had not committed adultery with Bathsheba, perhaps Uriah would have ended up being killed in battle anyway, and Bathsheba would have lawfully become David's wife - and the adultery and attempted cover-up and all the tragedy that flowed from that event need never have happened.

But God's word will come to pass no matter how badly we mess things up

1 Chronicles 22:7-10 And David said to Solomon: "My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the LORD my God; but the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.  'Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies all around. His name shall be Solomon, for I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’"

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Study on Psalm 37

Psalm 37, Verse 1
“Do not fret ...”
The first three words of Psalm 37 are a sermon in themselves. And how much better off we would be if we would only follow that advice.

Now what does it mean to fret. According to the dictionary, to fret is to "be continually perturbed by worry, anxiety, annoyance, or resentment." And that is a pretty good description of the world as it exists today. People are worried about everything, anxious about everything, annoyed about everything, and resentful about everything. And look at the shape the world is in because of it.

"Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious …”
Now what does it mean to be envious. The dictionary defines envy to be "a feeling of mortification or discontent excited by seeing the superiority or prosperity of another person." If you are envious then you are looking at the wrong thing. You focus is on "another person," not on God. And there is a biblical principal that by beholding we are changed into the image of what we dwell upon. If you are full of envy your thoughts are on the world, not on God, and consequently you will become like the world. You will become like that which you envy. The dictionary goes on and says of envy that it is the "desire for the possessions or advantages of another." Envy then is a transgression of the 10th commandment - Thou shalt not covet. And again envy is "ill will combined with jealousy."

"Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity."
Now ask yourself this, What in the world does the wicked have that we should be envious about? As verse two points out, nothing. Everything they possess will ultimately prove to be an illusion.

Psalm 37 -- Verse 2
“For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.”
Everything the wicked possess is a illusion. Everything they possess - wealth, power, prestige, fame - all will vanish away, because without God, none of it is real. So why in the world should any Christian be envious of even a Donald Trump? But human nature being what it is, we all fight this battle.

Look at Psalm 73 - the first three verses. “Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:1-3).

Look at what David is saying, "My feet had almost stumbled, My steps had nearly slipped." And why? Because of envy. To be envious you have to look "down" at the world. And if you are looking down you are not looking "up" to God who alone can keep you from stumbling and slipping. Envy will drag you down into the muck of the world. It will destroy you. David goes on and says in verses 12-13 of Psalm 73 that his envy of the wicked almost caused him to lose his faith in God, to believe that all his efforts to be true and faithful were in vain. “Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, And washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:12-13).

Envy will separate you from God. And so it was with David until he stopped looking down and started looking up. “When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction.” (Psalm 73: 16-18).

And so it will be with us. We will go in whatever direction we look. Until we learn to stop looking down and start looking up we will go down with the world.

Having in these first two verses of Psalm 37 outlined the problem, David now goes on in the next several verses to give what can only be described as a prescription of how to walk with God.


Psalm 37 -- Verse 3 Step one on how to walk with God.

"Trust in the Lord …"
What is trust? What does it mean to trust? The dictionary defines trust as "reliance on the integrity, veracity of a person." To trust in the Lord is to rely on Him because of who He is.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good …
If you trust in the Lord, if you rely on Him, then you will also do good. It is a package deal. You can never do good if you don't trust in the Lord, but if you trust in the Lord you will do good.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.”
I like to paraphrase that last part to "Dwell in His land, and feast on His righteousness." And that is what we all want, to dwell in His land - the new heavens and the new earth. To truly feast on His righteousness.


Psalm 37 -- Verse 4 Step two on how to walk with God.

"Delight yourself also in the Lord …"

The dictionary defines delight as "a high degree of pleasure or satisfaction - thrill with pleasure." And so we might paraphrase this to say "Thrill with pleasure in the Lord." Doesn't that sound good? And when you do that, the verse continues to say "He shall give you the desires of your heart."

Now what are the desires of our heart? If you are of the world it would be riches, wealth, honor, fame - all things that are just passing shadows, mere illusions. But if your heart is thrilling with pleasure in the Lord the desires of your heart are going to be the things of God. And that you will receive. You will get to live with Him, dwell with Him, and abide with Him. You will become ever more like He is. Isaiah says: “Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 58: 14).

And what is the "heritage of Jacob"? Ultimately the new heavens and new earth. Salvation, eternal life, and the very presence of God.

Look at Psalm 145:19. It says, “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.”

Here whose desire will He fulfill?  He will fulfill the desire of "those who fear Him." Now normally we define the "fear of God" as being an awesome reverence. And so it is, but if you link this verse with Psalm 37:4 which says, "Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart" then we must come to the conclusion that the "fear of God" must also contain an element of "delight" of "thrilling with pleasure." For it is "those who fear Him," those who "delight" themselves "in the Lord" that have their desires fulfilled.


Psalm 37 -- Verse 5
Step three on how to walk with God
"Commit your way to the Lord …"

Now what does it mean to commit. The dictionary defines commit as "entrust to another’s care." And so when we commit our way, ourselves, to the Lord we are entrusting Him with all our plans, with all that we have and all that we are. We are giving all into His care. Which means - we must let go. If we hold on to "our" ways, to "our" plans, to "our" things, then they have not been entrusted to the care of God.

The word translated entrust may be literally translated as "Roll off onto." We might paraphrase it to say, to "cast ourselves, our way, our lives upon" to "throw ourselves upon the Lord." As it says in Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Jesus took up this thought on the Sermon on the Mount when He said: "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26).

Notice what Jesus is saying. If we cast our burdens, our plans, our ways, our selves on the Lord then we won't be fretting about all these things. We won't be worried, or anxious about these things. We have "entrusted" all that we have are and will be into God's care. And we know that we can rely on Him, we can trust Him. As the wicked fret, we delight ourselves in the Lord. And we can do this because we know that He really cares for us.

And as we commit our way to Him the promise is (continuing with verse 5) "Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass." And what is the "it" that He will bring to pass. It is that we may dwell in His land and have the desires of our heart (verse 3-4), and the righteousness and justice of verse 6.

Psalm 37 -- Verse 6 “He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday.”

And what is your, my, our righteousness - the righteousness that shines as a light, like the noonday sun? As the Bibles tells us plainly "THE LORD” He is “OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Jeremiah 23:6). And JESUS is LORD.


Psalms 37 -- Verse 7
Step four on how to walk with God
"Rest in the Lord …"

What does it mean to rest? Rest is defined as "a state of quiet repose, freedom from care, peace, quiet." Sounds good doesn't it? This is just the opposite of fretting -- of being continually perturbed by worry, anxiety, annoyance or resentment.

That is what we most commonly think of resting being. But there is yet another definition -- "that upon which something leans for support." Yes, I know, I am using a modern English definition here, but it fits. Can we truly ever say that we are at rest in the Lord as long as we strive to support ourselves, to stand on our own strength? No, never. It is only as we lean on the Lord, only as He is our support that we can stand and walk as Christians.

To "Rest in the Lord" is to find both quietness and strength. “For thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’” (Isaiah 30:15).

And note also, "salvation" is found in that rest -- because the rest is in God. “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:26).


Psalm 37 -- Verse 8
Step five on how to walk with God
"Cease from anger …"

What does it mean to cease. It means quite simply to "stop." To "stop doing an action, desist" to "come to REST." And it is only as we come to "rest in the Lord" that we can "cease from anger."

"Cease from anger, and forsake wrath …"

To forsake is to "renounce' to "abandon," in other words, to repent. Repentance is after all a forsaking, a turning away from sin, from wrong -- to the Lord. This is not something we can do on our own. Repentance is a gift of God. (Acts 5:31).

“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret - it only causes harm.”
Do not fret!!! Why? It only causes harm. Harm to who? Will any of your fretting cause any harm to the person who is the object of you errant thoughts? No. Not at all. It is you who's harmed. You only do damage to yourself when you fret. You only injure yourself. But once again, we are reminded that in the long run there is no real cause to fret over anyone or anything.


Psalm 37 -- Verse 9
Step six on how to walk with the Lord

"Wait on the Lord …"

“For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth.”

To wait, what does that mean? According to the dictionary to wait is to "remain, expecting something." Now that is interesting. To remain is to abide. In Revelation 3 in the message to the Ladiocian Church Jesus is represented as knocking on the door of the heart. Why? That He might enter and abide in and with every one of us.

We are to wait, "expecting something." Something most wonderful. Waiting also implies patience -- something most of us are in short supply of. But it is a fruit of the Spirit.

Now something interesting here in verse nine. It says that those "who wait on the Lord" will be the ones who "inherit the earth." In verse 11 it says that it is "the meek" who "shall inherit the earth." Can we then conclude that the meek are those who wait on the Lord - in great expectation of something most wonderful happening.


Psalm 37 -- Verses 23, 24
One final comment before I leave Psalm 37. Take a look at verses 23 and 24.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand.”

We have been talking about how to walk with God. To walk with God our "steps" must be "ordered by the Lord." That is, we must be willing to walk His way. But there is another point I want to make here. This may be a little bit of a stretch, but I think it fits. Let’s tie in Acts 3:6 to these verses and see what happens.

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."

God says to every one of us, "What are you doing sitting in the dirt? In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." Will we? Many are afraid to try because they are afraid they might fall. This is where Psalm 37:24 comes in. "Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand."

So what if we stumble and fall. Is not God our Support, our Rest? Can we not trust Him to lift us up again.

So, then ---
“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!!!”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Angel’s Hand

One day as a child, as he was coming home from school, Molyono saw a piece of paper partially buried in the dirt.  Curious he picked it up.  The winkled and dirty piece of paper turned out to be a Christian pamphlet titled “Where Are the Dead?”  Tucking it into his notebook he hurried on home.  That evening as he did his homework he read what the pamphlet said about what happens when people die.  It was complete different from anything his father, a cleric serving at the local mosque, had told him.  The pamphlet told of a resurrection day when all that sleep in the grave will rise to meet Jesus. 

The next morning Mulyono asked his father about what he had read.  His father angrily asked where he had heard such fanatical ideas.  Mulyono showed his father the pamphlet he had found on his way home from school.  With only a glance at the tract his father ripped it to shreds and tossed it into the fire.  Molyono was forbidden ever to mention the name of Jesus again. 

Years passed and Molyono left home while in his teens to work in the Indonesian city of Motoling, sharing a tiny room with three other young men in a crowded tenement building.  Physically strong, he took up martial arts, and joined a rough street gang. 

One day a Christian missionary evangelist came and began holding a series of meetings in a large tent on Suclirman Boulvard in the city.  It did not take long for Mulyono and four of his friends to decide to go down to where the meetings were being held and try to break them up.  After all they reasoned, Allah cannot be happy when one teaches from a holy book other than the Koran. 

Sneaking down the narrow, winding back streets, they made their way to the tent where already a crowd of people had gathered to listen to the missionary evangelist.  They waited in the dark until the missionary got up to speak.  He was standing under one of three kerosene lanterns that illuminated the open sided tent.  Mulyono had a good throwing arm. Impulsively picking up a stone he hurled it at the lantern that was hanging over the pulpit some 40 feet away, anticipating the panic that would ensue when the rock struck.

Then it happened.  Just as the stone was about to strike the lantern, a mysterious bright hand reached out of thin air and intercepted it.  Incredulously Mulyono watched as the hand vanished along with the stone he had thrown at the lantern.  The lantern itself seemed to shine even brighter than before.  To Mulyono’s frightened mind, the hand could be nothing other than the hand of an angel.

No sooner had the hand disappeared than Mulyono was struck by a sharp pain in his right arm, and it fell numb to his side.  The numbness spread up his arm into his neck and face.  As he crumpled to the ground his companions, who had also seen it all, fled in panic, leaving him alone outside the tent.  Out of sight of those inside the tent he could clearly hear the minister’s message.  Convinced that the attack was a divine punishment, he prayed for forgiveness and surrendered himself to the will of God.  Slowly the numbness began to go away.  When that evenings meeting ended, Mulyono pulled himself together and made his way back through the darkness to his little room.

The next night Mulyono and a number of his gang friends returned to the tent.  But this time they were not there to cause trouble.  Arriving early, they took seats and stayed for the service.  Night after night Mulyono and his friends returned to the tent, stirred with a realization that what the missionary was speaking was truth.

Surrendering their hearts to God, Mulyono and four of his gang members were baptized a few weeks later.  With encouragement from the missionary Mulyono enrolled in a Christian college.  He graduated from the ministerial course, and with his new bride, Tina, entered the ministry.  All because he saw an angel’s hand.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And Donkeys Still Talk

When Pastor Moyo retired after more than 30 years of active service he decided to return to his home village in the mountains of Zimbabwe.  He and his wife fixed up the old family hut, and being in good health and having acquired a comfortable living, they soon contentedly situated. 

But Inclemento, (not his real name), a neighbor of his of about the same age, and who grown up in the village with him, quickly became jealous of Pastor Moyo as he contrasted his own shabby circumstances to that of the retired pastor.  More than that, Inclemento despised Christianity as a poisonous European import.  

And so, acting on his jealousy and hatred, Inclemento went to the local military police substation in town about eight miles away and fabricated a story about how Moyo was acting as a plotter for the overthrow of the government, prompting the captain to send out a detachment of soldiers to kill Pastor Moyo.  The soldiers upon arriving at Moyo’s home, without any semblance of official inquiry began to beat Pastor Moyo with unrestricted fury, at last leaving him for dead on the side of the road. 

A few days later Inclemento passed by Moyo’s hut to see how his widow was getting along, when to his horror Inclemento saw a badly bruised and battered but still very much alive Pastor Moyo walking around inside his hut.  Fearing now for his own safety, thinking that Pastor Moyo would seek to get revenge, Inclemento dashed off to the little military outpost once again and told them of Moyo’s mysterious survival.  “If he reports us then we could all get into serious trouble with the government.” 

And so another detachment of twelve soldiers were sent out determined to finish off Pastor Moyo for good this time.  As the captain and his men cautiously approached the house they saw Pastor Moyo shuffling across his room and were about to raise their rifles to shoot him when they distinctly heard low, voices coming from a clump of trees about a dozen yards away.  The captain whispered to his men saying, “We can get Moyo later.  He can’t run.  Let’s investigate those voices.” 

Slowly they approached the trees from which the voices were coming they distinctly heard what sounded like a group of several men discussing a plot to overthrow the government.  But just as the soldiers advanced the plotters moved off deeper into the trees.  Several times the soldiers advanced on these plotters but each time they mysteriously eluded them.  But the conversation continued as if the plotters had no idea that they were being overheard or that the soldiers were seeking to capture them.  Following the voices the soldiers were baffled as to why they could not close in on these plotters or even get a view of the men discussing their plots.

Finally they heard the voices again, this time in a thick but isolated clump of trees about fifty feet away.  Now they had them.  Surrounding this isolated clump of trees and with no way of escape for these mysterious plotters, the soldiers went in, guns at the ready.  Yet even as the soldiers advanced, the treacherous talk of the plotters continued without interruption.  Bursting into a small clearing in the center of the clump of trees the soldiers were met with the view of six grazing donkeys.  Here were the plotters the soldiers had overheard.  

Looking at his men, the captain said, “Let’s return to base, and leave Moyo alone. We shouldn’t be bothering anyone with a God who protects him like this.  There is no plot. We are fools, and Inclemento is a liar.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

And Manna still falls from Heaven

It is March of 1939 and as the result of a severe and prolonged drought in the area the 52 people at the Namba Mission station located in central Angola in Africa, as well as some 400 members of the Seles tribe were on the verge of starvation.  The crops had died and even the grasshoppers that the natives had been eating were gone.  The mission was far removed from any settlements, and there was little money to buy food even if any had been available.

On this particular day the mission director Pastor Carlos Carpenter was away visiting some of the area schools.  His wife, W H Carpenter, because there was no more food to be had at the mission called the mission personal in for a prayer meeting.  “We have run out of food,” she said. “We must remember God’s promises and ask him to ‘give us this day our daily bread.’”  Then after reading to them passages from the Bible recounting how God had given manna to his people in the time of Moses, they prayed.

As they were engaged in prayer, Mrs. Carpenter’s five year old daughter wandered outside.  A short time later the praying company looked up as she came back in.  They were surprised to see her munching on handfuls of some kind of small white morsels. 

“What are you eating?” her mother asked.

“Manna, the ground is covered with it.”  Then she described some men dressed all in white who said to her, “God has answered your prayers and has sent you food, just as in the days of Mosses.  It is manna.  Take it and eat it.” 

Hurrying outside to see for themselves, they discovered the ground l literally covered with small, irregularly shaped white lumps.  The famished people, after satisfying their hunger, gathered up as much of the manna as they could.  For three day the manna came, but only on the 40 acres of cleared land belonging to the mission.  For these three days they gathered the manna into every available container until they had no more room to store it.  This manna was enough to sustain the people until the drought passed and crops could be harvested once more.  Samples of this miraculous food was sent to a number of people.  It tasted like honey and those who ate it sensed that it was a whole food in itself.

And the manna still falls to this day.  Not in the vast quantities it did during those three days in the midst of the famine when they were able to gather enough to sustain them until the famine was over, but like clockwork a small amount of the manna falls twice a week, every Wednesday and Friday.  Why?  Nobody knows for sure, but perhaps as a continuing witness to an ever more skeptical and unbelieving generation that the God who brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt and provided for their every need is still both willing and able to deliver His children and provide for their needs today.

Some of the manna was sent for analysis to the Thomson Laboratory of Mass Spectrometery, Institute of Chemistry, in Campinas, Brazil in June 2011.  It was found to consist largely of oligosacharides, (see along with a large number of other nutrients. The entire analysis consists of an 11 page report. I do not know if that report is available online.  The conclusion of the report was that it is a good source of nutrients for the human diet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shining the light in Islamic darkness

John 4:35 Do you not say, There are still four months and then the harvest comes? Behold, I say to you, Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white to harvest already.

There is a real hungering and thirsting in Muslim lands for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The dry empty husks of Islam cannot quench the thirst or satisfy the hunger that God has placed in their hearts. By God's grace even in lands hostile to missionary activity, courageous missionaries, often at the risk of their lives, daily work to shed the light of the Gospel into the hearts and minds of men. And the light is shining. In the following story we catch a glimpse of how ripe the harvest is in Islamic countries. It is a secret harvest that is taking place, and one that is violently opposed, but it is a rich harvest nonetheless.

This story takes place in a country that is hostile to evangelism, and so, for the protection of the person's involved, all names of persons and places have been changed or omitted.

Posted with the permission of AFM.

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness! For they shall be filled.

Dean, a lanky 20 year old man, returned today from six months of driving a taxi in Centerchee. He made his way stealthily to our home, climbing over a 12 foot security wall. He wants to know the truth. Should he believe in the Quran and Mohammad or in Jesus and the Bible? He trusts me because he sees me as an honest seeker of truth.

We talked earnestly for an hour - Dean asking question after question and I answering eagerly out of my deep desire to open the truth to him. Our topics: How can we know what is truth? The plan of salvation, the fall, the flood, Israel's history and Jesus' life. At one point, I told Dean we should stop to give him time to contemplate what we'd covered, but he was unwilling to end the interview. I realized how very hungry he was for truth, so I agreed to continue. After another hour, I again suggested we take a break. Again, he begged me to continue a few minutes, assuring me he could assimilate more.

We skipped lunch, but I felt no hunger pangs. Dean's questions were so penetrating. Knowing that this might be his moment of decision, I dared not refuse him. Seven hours later, he prepared to depart with my last copy of the Bible in his language. He said he would postpone his return trip to Centerchee to devote more time to Bible study, which was more precious to him than anything. Wow! We set another appointment for two days later. After Dean left, I sat there dazed. We had covered so much material. He was so perceptive, so discerning.

Our next visit was the same -- seven hours of intense truth discussion! "If only the Quran said that Jesus is God," he said thoughtfully. I cited where the Quran says that only Allah can raise the dead and create. Then I cited in the Quran where Jesus did both. "I never saw that before!" he said sheepishly as a knowing look came into his eyes

If Dean becomes a follower of Christ, he will be like Paul both in zeal and in mental acuity, a defender and an apostle for truth.

The “Valley of Death”

In 1983 27 year old Valentina was charged and convicted of the crime of transporting Christian literature.  Suddenly she found herself in a Siberian work camp that was ominously known as the “Valley of Death” because of its high mortality rate. But there in the midst of that prison camp, a place designed to crush the human spirit, completely isolated from the rest of the world, Valentina found a Christian sister, Natasha.  And together they discovered that God was bigger than any gulag.  

Together, in the middle of the night they would sneak out of their separate barracks and meet under the open heavens to worship God.  Freezing in temperatures that often plunged as much as 40 below zero, they would sing and pray for a few brief minutes before being compelled by the cold to sneak back into their barracks to warm up a little before going back out again.

Valentina recalls that “Sometimes we stood silently, just gazing together toward heaven. Nothing was dearer to us than heaven.” For five years she and Natasha worship God in the frigid cold under the open sky, and never did they feel abandoned by God. From time to time she would receive a letter in which would be a brief quotation from Scripture - verses that seemed to answer to a very specific question or need of the moment. It seemed to her that God Himself had personally selected those verses to be sent to her for that very time.

When in 1987 she was released, Valentina summed up her experience with these words. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:35-37).

To God be the Glory

In the early 1950’s two men confronted each other in a Romanian prison.  One was lieutenant Grecu, an intelligent self-assured atheistic Communist, and brutal interrogator.  The other was a young Lutheran pastor named Richard Wurmbrand.

Lieutenant Grecu had spent the past several days interrogating pastor Wurmbrand.  On this particular morning Grecu sat with a rubber truncheon in his hand ready to “interrogate” pastor Wurmbrand once again.  Then at the end of the interrogation Grecu gave Wurmbrand paper and a half hour to write a confession of his crimes against the state.  Leaving Wurmbrand alone Grecu went out to beat other prisoners as he waited for the pastor to write out his confession.  Pastor Wurmbrand knew that he had to make a confession, yet he also knew that almost anything he wrote would either endanger fellow prisoners or be twisted and turned into evidence against him.  Finally at last he decided to make a confession - a confession of his faith in Jesus Christ.

When the half hour was up Lieutenant Grecu returned from beating the other prisoners.  Picking up the paper on which pastor Wurmbrand had written his confession he began to read.  In his confession pastor Wurmbrand confessed that as a disciple of Christ he loved his enemies.  He confessed that he prayed for them, prayed for their conversion so that they might become his brothers in Christ.  As Grecu read this he laid his truncheon down, looked up and said, “Mr. Wurmbrand, why do you say you love me?  This is one of your Christian commandments that no one can keep.  I couldn’t love someone who shut me up for years alone, who starved and beat me.”  Pastor Wurmbrand then courageously shared more about his faith, boldly telling him of Jesus, giving living witness of Christ to his tormenter.

Lieutenant Grecu had thought that he would always be an atheist, but as pastor Wurmbrand continued to speak God suddenly became very real.  Pastor Wurmbrand’s confession led to a series of discussions on Christianity.  Grecu saw Christ in Richard Wurmbrand and could not resist the power of divine love.  He became a believer.  Through a tortured prisoner who was not afraid to confess his faith God touched the heart of an atheistic communist lieutenant.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Will There Be Faith on the Earth?

In Luke 18:8 Jesus asks the question “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”  The implied answer is no.

The Barna Group recently conducted a survey for the American Bible Society and summarized the results in a document titled “The State of the Bible 2012”.  Here are some of their findings.

48% of American agree that “the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.” Just one year earlier (2011) the figure was 53%.

16% said they felt that the Bible has too much influence on society.  Just one year earlier (2011) the figure was 13%.

60% said they wished they read the Bible more.  Just one year earlier (2011) the figure was 67%.

Only 46% could name the first five books of the Bible.

39% identified Abraham as the person who raised his staff and parted the Red Sea.

26% said they never read the Bible and another 10% said they read it less than once a year.

Psalm 2:2-5 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
"Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us."

"Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us." Isaiah 30:11
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh:
The Lord shall hold them in derision,
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:

And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" Revelation 6:15-17.

Esther - A study of Divine Providence

The book of Esther opens with a swirl of events that quickly see Queen Vashti deposed from her position and essentially exiled from her husband the King of Persia.  God did not ordain that this should happen to Queen Vashti.  Generally the messes we make of our family relationships, whether we are the ruler of an empire or just a lowly commoner, are of our own making.  God is not in the business of breaking up relationships.  God is not in the business of separating husbands and wives.  But although God did not ordain that this should happen, God did in His divine providence, take and make use of the situation.  God often takes the messes the world makes and overrules it to cause it to work out for the good of His people.  As it is written; “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). The Lord reigns.

Now trouble was on the way for God’s people.  Yet there was no one who knew, no one who even suspected the deep scheming of Satan.  But before any of God’s people even suspected the need of prayer, He who knows the end from the beginning was already in action turning the course of events to work for the good of His people.  “And it shall come to pass” God says, “ that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24).

Before we even know to pray, God has already heard.  Before we even suspect danger, God is already making a way of escape. But God kept his purpose hidden.  To Mordecai and Esther it must have seemed like events were spiraling out of control.  A decree came that the most beautiful women in the kingdom must be brought to the king.  The command is definite, it could not be disobeyed.  One can only imagine the intensity of prayer these two sent up pleading for deliverance from this decree, but none came.  This was a most trying time for both Mordecai and Esther, but little did they know that in all this God was answering a prayer that they did not even yet know to pray.  He was working out a deliverance that they did not even yet know they needed. And He was delivering not just them, but their whole people from a danger that they did not even suspect existed.  How often is it so with us?  The very thing we pray so earnestly for deliverance from is the very answer to a most urgent prayer we do not even know to pray.

And God allows the wicked to prosper.  God allowed Haman to be exalted above all of the other attendants of the king.  God allowed Haman to be granted special favors and honors.  God allowed Haman to obtain a decree from the king condemning all Jews to death on a certain date.  God allowed Haman all the resources of the Persian state to put this decree into action.  God allowed Haman to build a king-sized gallows on which to hang Mordecai. “I have seen the wicked in great power, And spreading himself like a native green tree.” (psalm 37:35).

By this time Mordecai, Esther, indeed the whole Jewish world may have been wondering where God was.  Didn’t He know?  Didn’t He care?  All appears lost.  In outward appearance all God’s people have on their side is hopeless hope and unanswered prayers.  But at that very moment when their enemies are celebrating their anticipated triumph, God lifts the veil and reveals His providential workings.  And suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, the enemies of God’s people suffer a most complete and most humiliating defeat.  They are wholly overthrown.  All of their plotting and scheming come to nothing.   God’s people are delivered.  And more than that -- God is glorified.

Psalms 37:12 The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. 13 The Lord laughs at him, For He sees that his day is comeing.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Single Minded Vision

When it comes to salvation, nothing in this world that touches our lives is left to random chance.  Everything that in any way touches your life, every influence that moves you, is under the ever watchful and careful guidance of God. 

We may not at all understand why God allows what He does.  In many cases, not until we can see with the clear vision of heaven will we comprehend His workings.  But we can be sure of this; once we can see the end from the beginning, we would not wish that God had done things any different.  Try as we might, we will not be able to find a more perfect way that God could have dealt with us than what He did.  That is not to say that we won’t see countless things that we would wish we had done differently.

But until that time we, by God’s grace, must walk in faith.  Faith being the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1).  And by that faith we can know and rejoice in that which cannot yet be seen or understood.  Indeed, by faith we can rejoice in the knowledge that God will cause even the workings and devices of the enemy to work out for our good.  For it is written, “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:8). And again, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

It is Satan’s effort to get us to look away from God and to the dark things of this world.  But like Paul and Silas beaten and locked way in the deep darkness of a dungeon, our sight must by faith be kept on God above. 

If we take our eyes off God we will be overwhelmed.  Storms may rage all around us.  The waves may threaten to crash over us and crush us.  But if our sight is fixed on Jesus, we may walk through that storm in perfect peace, heedless of the towering waves of stormy fury that threaten to crash down and crush us.  We need fear only that we might be induced to look upon another than Jesus.  Peter learned that lesson - if you are going to walk through the storm, you must keep your eye on Jesus, or you will sink beneath the raging waves. 

It is Satan’s purpose to get us to look away from Jesus, to set our thoughts on someone or something else.  He knows that if he can focus your attention on anything or anyone other than Jesus he has won the battle.  We must be single minded in our purpose in seeking Jesus.

Psalm 91: 1-8
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust."
 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence.
 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sowing the Good Seed

Mark 4:26 And He said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

Sowing the Good Seed – Part 1 of 2
Sowing the good seed involves more than just preaching and teaching. It involves more than just presenting the Scriptures. One vital ingredient, (you might look at it as the fertilizer) is prayer. Peter says that we have been given "exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these [we] may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."

When we present the truth to others, we can pray that God will open the hearts and minds (the understanding) of the people we are reaching out to "that they might comprehend the Scriptures." Because truly, except God gives them that understanding, they cannot understand it. The Bible tells us plainly that the carnal mind cannot comprehend the Scriptures.

We can lift up the promise of Isaiah 29:18 to God, asking that (spiritually) blind eyes may be opened and (spiritually) deaf ears be unstopped - so that they can see their way out of the obscurity and darkness of error - and so that they will rightly hear (and give heed to) the words of God.

We can lift up to God the promise of Isaiah 29:24 in behalf of those for whom we pray, trusting by faith in this word (And God's word cannot fail) that those who are deceived and are in error (in spirit) will, (by God Almighty Grace) "come to understanding."

When we submit to let God work (instead of trying to do His work for Him) wonderful things happen. The (spiritually) blind see, the (spiritually) deaf hear, the (spiritually) dumb speak, the (spiritually) dead are raised to life.

Trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit however, only leads to frustration. And generally, when we try to do the work of the Holy Spirit, it is because we don't really trust Him to do it right.

Luke 24:45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

Isaiah 29:18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.

Isaiah 29:24 These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, And those who complained will learn doctrine."

Sowing the Good Seed – Part 2 of 2
How often we strive to wage spiritual warfare using the weapons of the flesh. We put forth our best reasoned and most logical arguments, only to discover to our dismay that however powerful the argument, however flawless the logic, it has no power to change the heart. We use all our arts of persuasion, and our best efforts fall flat - the darkness is not shattered, error still prevails. We call upon our authoritative sources, all to no purpose -- and we wonder, 'What more could have been done?'

But battles of the spirit cannot be fought with the weapons of the flesh. Here the flesh is powerless. It is the Holy Spirit Who converts and convicts. It is by the Holy Spirit that hearts are softened. It is through the Holy Spirit that understanding and enlightenment is given. God alone can change a heart, a life. God alone can speak light into a darkened mind.

If we would sow good seeds of light and truth, we must first go to the source of all light and truth, and receive from Him the seed we are to sow.

When we use the right weapons, (those weapons which are "mighty in God") then strongholds of opinion, and strongholds of prejudice, and strongholds of error and darkness will come down like the walls of Jericho before the Lord's armies. All the finely polished arguments of the enemy fall like houses of cards before the mighty weapons of God. "And every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God" will be brought "into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

The battle is the Lords.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Crown of Thorns

Why are the lives of so many one of difficulties and trials?  Why doesn’t God shield His people from all heartache and trials?  Why must day to day life be such a struggle for so many?

Such is the nature of fallen man that few spiritual lessons are learned on the mountain tops.  Such is our fallen natures that it is often the case that not until we are sunk to the bottom of the valleys that we truly turn to seek after and learn of God.  As David once said: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.” (Psalm 119:67).

And so it is written, that as soon as sin entered this world, God cursed the ground FOR man’s sake.  A divine discipline, that through the trials and struggles (the thorns and thistles) of our day to day living, we would know our own weakness and insufficiency, and be moved seek after God, in whom we have all things.

Scripture says “there is no peace for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22).  This is a divine blessing of the highest order.  The most awful, dreadful thing God could do, would be to leave the sinner at peace in their sin.  Trials and troubles, as hard as they may be to bear, are appointed for our good by a God who’s love for us is beyond measure.

That God must take such drastic steps testifies to the powerful hold that sin has in our lives.  But even in all our trials and troubles, like roses on thorns and flowers on thistles, we may know all the fullness of love and joy and a perfect peace that transcends all reason and understanding.

YOU SEE -- God said that in our lives there would be thorns and thistles, difficulties and trials. But we can endure BECAUSE Jesus wore those thorns as a crown for us.

Genesis 3:17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field.”

Matthew 27:29 When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Good News -- Yes, You Are Insufficient.

Have you ever felt insignificant?  Have you ever wondered what possible good you can do?  You have so few resources, and the problem is so very big.  You are just one person, and the task is so impossibly huge.  You look at yourself, and you see nothing of significance.  You look at what you have, and all the cupboards are bare.  What can you do?

The good news is that you are just the kind of person God is looking for. 

It matters not how many you are, or what resources you have at your disposal.  It matters only what faith you have in the One who sent you. 

You are not sufficient!!!  The good news is, God is sufficient.  The even better news is, He Himself is your sufficiency.  "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God." "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." (2 Corinthians 3:5, 9:8).

Jonathan and his armor bearer were not sufficient.  They could have come up with many reasons not to take on the whole Philistine army all by themselves.  But they did not look on the fact that they were only two against thousands.  They considered that they were three against the Philistine’s thousands, and the presence of the Third much much more than made up for all that they lacked.

When 32,000 soldiers under the command of Gideon went to fight against the overwhelmingly vast armies of the Midianites, they were very insufficient for the task.  And God said to Gideon, “This will never do.  There are way too many of you.”  And so, God cut Gideon’s already hopelessly outnumbered army down to just three hundred men, armed only with trumpets and lamps hidden in clay pots. And by them God routed all the vast armies of the Midianites.  Yes, Gideon and his men were much more than merely insufficient, but God much much more than made up for the lack. 

When Jesus asked the disciples what they had on hand to feed the multitudes, the disciples said there was among all these people nothing more than five loves and two fishes.  There just was not enough, nowhere near enough.  But when those ever so meager loaves and fishes were given to Jesus, Jesus blessing them gave them right back to the disciples.  And coming, blessed, from Jesus’ hand, those five loaves and two fishes proved to be much more than enough. 
So what about you?  Not smart enough? Not eloquent enough?  Not rich enough? Not influential enough? Not something enough?  It doesn’t matter.  Jesus is always much more than enough. And so if you have Jesus, what else could you possibly need.
1 Corinthians 1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Zechariah 4:10 For who has despised the day of small things?
1 Corinthians 1:26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

Darkness and Light

In the beginning God created.

God is eternal, self-existent, the cause of all else. All that exists apart from God Himself, exists only because God created. And this is a fundamental truth that we all need to know and understand. We exist by the will of God. All we are, all we have, all we ever hope to be, is or will be only because God created.

And here is the solution to a mystery that has troubled many. We know that God is light and truth, the source of all that is right and good. Scripture declares: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5).
And yet we also find statements like the following in Scripture: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

And here, if we look closely enough, we see a pre-figuring of the Cross, a pre-figuring of Jesus as our sin bearer. It is true that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” All that God created was good, even very good. And we are told: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17)

All that is dark and evil in our world is the result of sin, the result of a perverted twisting by men and devils of the good things that God created. Yet there could have been no twisting and perverting of a good creation if God had never made that good creation. There would never have been sin if God had not created intelligent beings with the good gift of a free-will

And in view of the fact that if God had never created there could have never been any perversion of that creation then God takes upon Himself the responsibility for the existence of darkness and evil.
God could have existed in a splendid eternal isolation. God could have created a physical universe with no intelligent beings. God could have created beings that were little more than puppets. But God did not do any of those things. God is Love, and this love is not so much something He does as it is what He is. God is Love, and all that God creates will reflect that love. Love requires the existence of choice. Love requires the existence of a free-will. And so God created a universe populated with intelligent beings capable of freely of their own will loving Him, or not, as they so choose.

Time and again all through the Bible you come across instances where God takes upon Himself the responsibility for the evil that has come into this world. That God would do such a thing is a mystery that many people cannot comprehend, nevertheless it is so. Here is prefigured the ministry of Jesus as our sin bearer, for Jesus Himself is the God of the Old Testament. “And without controversy is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Jesus freely took our sins on himself.  He freely took the blame, if you will, for our actions.
Jesus is the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Revelation 13:8). The sacrificial system that was instituted after the fall of man pointed to Jesus as the One who would take the blame and bear the penalty for our sins. The word of God to Adam and Eve was that on the day they ate of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" they would die. That they did not die that day is because as soon as sin entered this world, Jesus (Almighty God) stepped forward to take the blame, to bear that sin.

However this does not translate into universal salvation as some would have it. Because all that exists, apart from God Himself, exists only because God created, God accepts the blame for darkness and evil on a broad generic level. However, because we are creatures of free-will, this does not automatically translate to personal salvation. Because we are creatures of free-will, we must of our own free-will accept Jesus into our lives as our personal sin-bearing savior. We must of our own free-will give ourselves to Him. Only then will Jesus also take the blame for our own personal sins.

In the Bible we don’t see God in His royal splendor on the throne of the universe, but God in his work clothes wading through the muck and mire of this world, working to save the lost. It is dirty work, but He is willing to do that dirty work even at the risk of being misrepresented and misunderstood by the very people He is trying to save. “Why Lord, Why?” is the question, and the accusation, that has been voiced by millions through the ages, and God allows His reputation to be stained as He accepts the blame and takes to Himself the sins of the world.

Isaiah 53:4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Let There Be Light

And God said, Let there be light.

 God did not need six days to put the finishing touches on the earth. He could have done it all with a single word. But there is a deep spiritual lesson to be learned not only from the ‘what’ of creation, but also from the ‘how’ of creation. The primal planet, without form and void, is a fit representation of the natural human heart -- Cold, dark, lifeless - and no prospect that it would ever be anything else. It is the presence of God alone that makes the difference. God is light, and where God is there is light.

 Just as God spoke the word causing physical light to shine on a dark and cold world, God speaks the word, and spiritual light shines in our cold and darkened hearts. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

 But to the heart that receives the light that is only the beginning, not the end of the matter. Step by step God patiently transforms us until we are a whole new creation. Where once we were dead, now we live. Where once darkness reigned, light shines forth. Where once there was only coldness, love and grace abounds. For it is “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” (Romans 4:17).

“And God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:4-5).

 Even in the division of the light from the darkness there is a lesson to be learned. It is only as the earth turns to the sun that there is light. Night does not fall because the sun goes away, but because the earth turned away from the sun. So it is in our spiritual lives. God through His Holy Spirit moves on our heart and mind and in response we turn to God, and we rejoice in the light. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2).

 Like the coming of dawn, the light does not reach its full brilliance all at once. Likewise, we do not come out of spiritual darkness all at once. “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (Proverbs 4:18). So long as we continue to turn toward God the light will shine ever stronger and clearer until finally at last we are, figuratively speaking, walking in the full light of the noon day sun.

 But if we begin to turn away from God, if we begin to allow other concerns to crowd out our time with Him, the light begins to fade. But just like the dawning of the light in our lives, the darkness does not come all at once. A person may be slowly turning away from God and never know it until suddenly to their surprise they awake to find themselves in darkness. And it is not that God has turned away from them, but that they have turned from Him who is their light.

This to a greater or lesser degree is the story of every person’s life. It is the story of whole peoples and nations. As you read the history of the Children of Israel you see time and again, like the earth revolving on its axis, the people turning first to and then away from God. First basking in His light and then stumbling in the darkness. But unlike the earth revolving on its axis, we have a choice - we do not have to turn away.