Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 3: The Wonderful, Glorious Aftermath of Christmas

Every once in a while, I am asked, “What’s it like to be adopted?” I was two days old when my parents chose me to be their son. Being adopted is an amazing thing. I was taken from a situation that probably would not have turned out well and was given the opportunity to grow up in a loving Christian home. I became a member of a new family. I had a new identity, a new name, a new opportunity, and eventually a new inheritance. I was chosen! Adoption into God’s family is all of that and infinitely more.
Rod Martin

In ancient Israel slavery was permitted but regulated by Old Testament law. God never intended for people to be mistreated or abused. Among other things, the regulations included a limited time frame for servitude. Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18 highlight this limitation, but in these passages is another provision that absolutely arrests our attention. In Deuteronomy through Moses, the Lord declared,

Moses received the law from God and then gave it to the Israelites.

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14 you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today. 16 And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, 17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”

Imagine having been a servant for six long years. The day of your release is near, and this is a date on the calendar you looked forward to, especially in the early days of your time of service. Yet now, as you think about leaving your master, you wonder if you really desire your freedom more than serving him. Your master is a kind man who’s been good to you and treated you extremely well. He even loves you, and you have grown to love him. In the end, you come to realize that while you once couldn’t wait for the day when you would be set free, you now want to serve your master the rest of your life.

It’s difficult in our culture to imagine being willing to remain in service to a master and to choose that life over freedom, but Old Testament law made a provision for such a choice. The key to understanding the choice isn’t in contrasting freedom to servitude; we’ll hit a dead end there! The key is in understanding the heart of a master who creates and maintains a loving and warm environment from which even his servant cannot walk away.

Who means so much to you—who has treated you so wonderfully and so well—that you want to serve that person forever? For Christians, this shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Christmas, which we just recently have celebrated, reminds us of the Lord’s great love for us—a love that is without parallel in the world. For the past two weeks, we have considered God’s great overture of love as presented in Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV).

4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under  the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Two weeks ago, we explored the meaning of the phrase “the fullness of the time.” Last week we examined the truths that “[1] God sent forth His Son, [2] born of a woman, [3] born under the law [4] to redeem those who were under the law.” This week we want to discover something of what God ultimately intended when He initiated Christmas— “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” This is the glorious, wonderful, aftermath of Christmas! On what more wonderful theme can we reflect as we transition into a new year?

As we explore this topic, keep in mind that the spiritual truths we will examine are absolute, concrete realities for those who believe in Christ. We are not considering something we want to happen or imaging a scenario that is “too good to be true.” No! Instead, it is true, and we as Christians need to live accordingly!

Consider these passages that showcase the theme of adoption into God’s family. Links have been added for clarity and to enhance personal study.

  • [D]ear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Rom. 8:12-17, NLT).


The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt

  • [Y]ou are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you (Gal. 3:26-29, NLT).
  • All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Eph. 1:3-5, NLT).
  • See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. 5 And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.7 Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. 8 But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. 10 So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God (1 John 3:1-10, NLT).

This last passage is a powerful reminder that being adopted into God’s family changes everything about the believer’s perspective. The world cannot understand a Christian’s motivation to live a pure life, but the Christian knows: Anyone who is in Christ “is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). The Christian isn’t reformed, but transformed because of being made alive in Christ and being adopted into God’s family! In a small way, in the language of our opening illustration, it’s like the difference between your serving your master because you have to, and choosing to serve him because no one else in the world ever has loved you as he has or treated you so well.

One evening, a fire broke out in a home where a grandmother lived with her young grandson. The fire spread rapidly, trapping the young boy in his room. The grandmother attempted to save him but perished in the fire; and it appeared the boy, too, would not survive. Then a man broke through the crowd of onlookers. He grabbed hold of the iron drainpipe that ran down the side of the house next to the boy’s bedroom window. Climbing up, rescuing the child, and climbing back down again as the lad held tightly onto his neck, the man brought him at last to safety.

The child’s life had been spared, but who now would be his guardian? He had no other living relatives. Two months after the fire, a hearing was held. Several people in the town asked to be considered, including a professor at a nearby college, a restaurant owner, and one of the community’s wealthiest couples. All of them presented compelling cases for the boy to come live with them, but the judge noted he seemed indifferent to each one. Then a man walked to the front of the room and said he wanted to adopt the orphaned youngster. He held up his hands before the crowd so everyone present could see they were badly discolored and scared.

The boy looked up when he heard the man speak. Beaming with delight, he ran into his arms. He knew this man had rescued him from the fire. The hot iron pipe had burned the man’s hands, leaving them permanently blemished. No one needed to say anything more. Those scars demonstrated to the judge and to everyone else present that the boy’s rightful place was in the home of the man who had saved him.

After relating this story, Dr. Bill Bright writes that just as the rescuer’s scars ended the debate over whom should have custody of the young boy, Jesus’ nail-scared hands demonstrate decisively that we belong to the One who died for us on the cross. Realizing no one ever could love us more or in any better way than Jesus has, we understand that living for Him and serving Him are the greatest privileges of our lives.

It makes sense, then, that these will be the greatest privileges we will have in 2017, as well.

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

image credits: looking down the road (top image) and Christmas tree: lightstock.com

Scriptures marked NKJV have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scriptures marked NLT have been taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Facing the Future with Confidence

The other day I heard a man say, “I owe it to Jesus Christ that I can walk down the street with my head held erect and my shoulders squared to the world. I owe it to Him that I can look a pure woman in the face and grip an honest man by the hand.”
Robert A. Laidlaw (1885-1971)—

At the close of the Book of Acts, we see that Paul was under house arrest: He “dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). The year was approximately AD 61. Because of insufficient historical information, scholars have difficulty reconstructing events in Paul’s life beyond this point. Still, many believe the apostle subsequently was released from confinement, that he traveled and continued his preaching ministry, and that he later was rearrested and imprisoned once more in Rome. Between these separate Roman imprisonments, Paul wrote two of what we now know as the three Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy (written around AD 64) and Titus (around AD 65). He wrote the third, 2 Timothy around AD 67 during his second imprisonment, just before being executed under Nero.1,2,3

Both Timothy and Titus (see 2 Cor. 8:23) were Paul’s companions at various times on his missionary endeavors. At the time Paul wrote his letter to Titus, Titus was a pastor in Crete (see Titus 1:5).

Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus (see 1 Tim. 1:3). In his first letter to Timothy, knowing the pressures his “true son in the faith” (v. 2) was facing as a young pastor (see 5:23), Paul encouraged his protégé with regard to several matters, including the critical importance of combatting false teachings (see vv. 1:3-11; 4:1-10), spiritual warfare (see 1:18-20), corporate worship (see 2:1-15), church leadership (see 3:1-16; 4:11-16; 6:1-21), and the treatment of the church’s widows and elders (see 5:1-25).

When he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul knew his time was short: “Because Paul was at the end of his life, he thought of the kingdom of God as a present heavenly reality, a destination at which he was about to arrive (4:18). Even so, he looked forward to the future glorious from of the kingdom that would be revealed in connection with Jesus’ ‘appearing’ on earth again (4:1).”4 Keep in mind the observation that for Paul, God’s kingdom is a “present heavenly reality.” We will recall it in just a few moments.

It is in 2 Timothy that we look today for a strong word of admonition and encouragement. Paul told Timothy right off the bat that he was praying for him, that he missed him, and that he was appreciative of the spiritual heritage that had set the stage for Timothy to genuinely commit his life to Christ:

2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.

Then the apostle encouraged Timothy with these important words:

6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

What does stirring up or kindling one’s spiritual gift have to do with the confidence that comes through God’s powerful, loving, and discerning Spirit? Plenty—and to Timothy as well as the thousands upon thousands of pastors who have served in churches since the 1st century, the connection was—and is—self evident. Effective church leadership relies not only on a repudiation of fear, but also on all three of the qualities Paul highlighted in verse 7 as characteristic of the Spirit God gives. One writer observes that power “works,” love “cares,” and self-discipline (another meaning of the word translated “sound mind”), “controls.”5

This isn’t just about pastors, however. All believers need courage, power, love, and self-discipline to exercise their gifts. Even so, the next verses establish with bedrock certainty that Paul’s encouragement to Timothy has application for every Christian. Continuing, Timothy’s mentor and spiritual guide wrote,

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Are you ever tempted to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ? Are you ever tempted to shy away from defending life, marriage, and the principles and values that God ordained and graciously gave to humanity through His Word and affirmed through His Son? It’s true that these are difficult days for Christians. Evil surrounds us, and it seems to be multiplying exponentially. Yet, even in the midst of this darkness, the confidence we need to point people to the divine light of Christ comes from God. It’s this simple and straightforward: The Lord “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (v. 7).

Just ask Corrie ten Boom. In the throes of German’s occupation of Holland during World War 2, Corrie and her family defied the German government to save hundreds of Jews from extermination. Eventually they were arrested. Many members of Corrie’s family, including her father Casper, her brother Willem, and her sister Betsy, died in confinement or as a result of the conditions of their imprisonment.

corrie-ten-boom21-1024x634

In the latter part of 1944, Corrie and Betsy were imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp. Ravensbruck’s horrors truly were unspeakable. Cruelty, hunger, sickness, and death were overwhelming—but despite the barbarism and brutality, Corrie and Betsy held out the light of God’s love and God’s truth to the women in their spheres of influence. God miraculously had arranged for the ten Boom sisters to have a Bible, and with it they pointed others to divine strength, courage, warmth, comfort, and love. I quote Corrie at length to convey as much as possible the full extent of her experience.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls [of Barracks 8, where the women were assigned,] there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. Will You carry this too, Lord Jesus?

Ravensbruck_camp_barracks

Barracks at Ravensbruck

But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were not shown. As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of and ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

Female_prisoners_in_Ravensbrück_chalk_marks_show_selection_for_transport

I would look about us as Betsie read, watching the light leap from face to face. More than conquerors.…It was not a wish. It was a fact. We knew it, we experienced it minute by minute—poor, hated, hungry. We are more than conquerors. Not “we shall be.” We are! Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible, The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory. 6

Now, recall at this point what we noted earlier about Paul’s perspective when he wrote 2 Timothy. The apostle, who was close to the end of his life, “thought of the kingdom of God as a present heavenly reality.”7 This was Corrie and Betsy’s experience as well. Betsy would enter God’s presence before year’s end, but Corrie would not pass from her earthly life until several decades later. She died in 1983 on her 91st birthday.8 Corrie and her sister were experiencing the reality of God’s kingdom in one of the worst places on earth. God’s Word had given them and the other women of Barracks 8 a window into His world. As they availed themselves to the Lord, they knew and experienced this world, despite the evil and darkness that surrounded them. Corrie continued,

Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little sack with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry. I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were—of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts.9

Corrie-Ten-Boom

Corrie ten Boom

There is more. Although she didn’t speak of it directly in the above quoted statements, it is clear Corrie ten Boom and her sister knew the courage of which Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7 (see also Rom. 8:12-15). They experienced the power, the love, and the discernment and discipline God’s Spirit supplies. You see, fear is incompatible with the kind of faith the ten Boom sisters exercised. Fear simply cannot coexist with God’s Spirit.

What does all this have to do with us? Well, as we have said, Paul’s admonition to Timothy wasn’t just for Timothy; it is for us as well. Are we letting God’s Spirit, along with His Word, remind us of heavenly realities? I am not trying to say that we in America necessarily will experience horrors like those that took place at Ravensbruck; yet it is becoming quite clear that even in this country, it is costing more every day to live as a faithful Christian. Despite the cost, we need not be ashamed of the gospel or of any of the values and principles the Bible upholds. We can face the future with confidence because God’s Spirit, who resides within us, is a Spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind.” He will enable us to see and uphold the reality of God’s kingdom, even before we arrive!

 

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1Holy Bible, ESV, Scofield Study System, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1579, 1590, 1585.

2https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/paul/timeline.cfm

3“Timothy, Second Letter to” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2003), 1599.

4Kendall H. Easley, Holman QuickSourceTM Guide to Understanding the Bible, (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2002), 335.

5Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 1110.

6Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 35th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971, 1984, 2006), 206.

7Easley.

8Guideposts magazine, source for Ten Boom Family Timeline, in Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place, 35th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971, 1984, 2006), 267.

9Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherrill, 207.

 

 

 

Good News About Obergefell

People used to blush when they were ashamed. Now they are ashamed if they blush. Modesty has disappeared and a brazen generation with no fear of God before its eyes mocks at sin.1 I’ve quit saying civilization’s going to the dogs out of respect for dogs. I wouldn’t want to insult the canine kingdom with any such remark as that.2 [Yet] it makes a difference when you’re looking up instead of when you’re looking down, like you’re going by what you read in the paper and see on television. May the Lord help you! Get your sights up! Your vision’s bad. Maybe you need your glasses cleaned. You can’t be optimistic with a misty optic! Get your eyes cleared up, and let the Lord open your eyes, and you’ll see things you didn’t even know where there. The outlook’s bad, I grant you that, but the uplook’s good—as good as ever!3

[The account of Elijah on Mt. Carmel demonstrates that] there had to be a confrontation on earth before there could be an intervention from heaven.…Elijah poured 12 barrels of water all over that sacrifice.…He wanted to make it perfectly clear to those people that there were not tricks about this thing, that nothing was going to happen unless God moved onto the scene.…I tell people all over the country it’s the drenched altar that God sets on fire.4

Christians, like snowflakes, are frail, but when they stick together they can stop traffic.5

—Vance Havner—

A couple had two young sons who were like night and day with regard to their outlooks on life. One was consistently positive and upbeat while the other was unwaveringly pessimistic. One morning the two awakened and discovered a massive pile of manure in their front yard. The pessimist wondered who would do such mean and cruel thing to their family—but the optimist went straight to the garage and grabbed a shovel. He promptly ran to front yard and began shoveling through the manure. “There’s got to be a pony in here someplace!” he exclaimed.

Of all people, Christians should be decidedly optimistic. Of course we must temper our optimism with realism, because we understand we live in a sinful world. In the language of our illustration, there really is a pile of manure in our front yard. Obergefell, the Supreme Court ruling that redefined marriage nationwide to include same-sex couples, underscores this. In saying this, we do not mean that those who fought for and celebrated the marriage ruling don’t deserve to be treated with dignity or respect. Surely they do, for they, like all human beings, have been made in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). However, they are blinded and unable to see clearly the dangers of getting what they think they want (Prov. 14:12; 16:25; John 3:16-21; 2 Cor. 4:3-6). We must be burdened for them and seek to help them come to know Christ, but our responsibilities do not end there.

As Christians, we have been given the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20) and the Cultural Commission (see Gen. 1:28). As Chuck Colson so eloquently said, “Christians are agents of God’s saving grace—bringing others to Christ. But we are also agents of His common grace: We’re to sustain and renew His creation, defend the created institutions of family and society, and critique false worldviews.” Defending man-woman marriage, even after the Obergefell ruling—perhaps especially after it—is part of our job, our duty, as believers.

Today I have some good news about Obergefell. As we resist this ruling—and we must resist it—we will be well served to remember these five things.

First, Obergefell rests on lies, propaganda, illegalities, a false view of reality, and injustices on many different levels. Put another way, we can say that the marriage ruling, like the seat on a three-legged stool, rests on three legs: judicial activism, a faulty worldview, and bullying by militant homosexual activists. I plan in the future to discuss this idea more fully; but for now, be aware that in previous entries, I have written about each one of these. The good news we must understand is that each one of these supports is illegitimate.

Second, we can work to point out the illegitimate nature of each of Obergefell’s supports. If we keep at it, then over time God will use our efforts to effectively weaken these supports, not just in the legal arena, but also in the public’s eyes. We have seen similar things happen with abortion because of the pro-life movement, and they can happen with marriage because of the protect-marriage movement as well.

Third, the church, which has been a sleeping giant on this issue, will be compelled to address it head-on. The good news is that the church has a strategic opportunity to take a stand for biblical truth, yet in ways that demonstrate respect for proponents of same-sex marriage (SSM). SSM proponents still may accuse the church of hate, but we must remember that regardless of appearances, it never is loving to look the other way when a fellow human being is being led astray by a lie.

Alliance Defending Freedom has a website that helps pastors address issues from the pulpit that many may consider controversial. When we’re tempted to think that preachers and churches need to “stick to presenting the gospel,” let’s remember that we must obey the Cultural Commission as well as the Great Commission. If we ignore the Cultural Commission, we’re also disobeying the Great Commission, for Jesus affirmed the importance of obeying “all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus’ teachings address not just spiritual matters, but every area of life, including marriage (see 19:4-6). When it acts as it should to fully represent Christ in the world, the church is indeed a powerful force. Jesus said of His church that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

Fourth, God is sovereign over all of life, and, despite appearances to the contrary, He remains in control. Proverbs 21:1 declares, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” In Psalm 11:3, David asked, “If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?” If we assume the answer to this question is in the next verse, then in times of moral decay we have a powerful reminder that will help us with every action we must take: “The Lord is in His holy temple, The Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men” (v. 4). Many more verses also speak to this issue, but we’ll cite just one more. Proverbs 15:3 states, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

Fifth, prayer is a powerful, forceful weapon in spiritual warfare. It is not mentioned as a specific piece in the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-17, but in verse 18 Paul writes, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” As James wrote in his letter, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

Thus, the Obergefell ruling offers Christians and the church opportunities to stand out for Christ and to represent Him effectively before a watching world. If we take advantage of these opportunities and remain faithful, we will marvel at how God will use us! (See Eph. 3:20-21.)

Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1 http://likesuccess.com/author/vance-havner

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ4li2FS2jg

3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ4li2FS2jg

4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ4li2FS2jg

5 http://likesuccess.com/author/vance-havner

 

Keep Cultivating and Don’t Lose Heart

Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers,
Kind deeds are the fruits,
Take care of your garden
And keep out the weeds,
Fill it with sunshine,
Kind words and kind deeds.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow1,2

Born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774, John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, became one of America’s best known folk heroes.

He moved to Ohio at the beginning of the 19th century, bringing seeds from Pennsylvania cider presses with him and planting them along the way.…Chapman planted orchards along the pioneers’ routes, staying ahead of other orchardist competition since his nomadic, unmarried lifestyle allowed him to cover more ground. He would then trade his seedlings with new settlers in the area so that they could grow apples for their new homes.3

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Johnny Appleseed’s life and work are remembered and celebrated even today.4 While just about anyone can look at an apple tree and see apples, John Chapman was one of those special individuals who could look at an apple and see trees. Perhaps this is one reason he is so well loved in American folklore and history.

Actually, this is the kind of insight we as Christians are called upon to exercise. Despite the challenges and difficulties involved, we’re not only to believe trees can come forth but also to work to cultivate them so they can flourish. The trees of which I speak here aren’t literal trees, but the intangible results of good works.

To be clear, we don’t perform good works to be saved, but because we already have been saved. In Ephesians 2:8-9, the apostle Paul affirmed that salvation comes only “by grace…through faith…not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Then he wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

As we perform good works in the power of God’s Spirit, God uses our deeds to impact lives and to promote righteousness and the cause of Christ. In Galatians 6:9, Paul said, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Let’s examine several elements of this important verse.

  1. We note first that we are not to “grow weary.” In other words, we must not become exhausted or spiritless.5 The Greek word represented by the English words grow weary appears five other times in the New Testament, and in every case it is presented with a negative modifier (see Luke 18:1; 2 Cor. 4:1,16; Eph. 3:13; 2 Thess. 3:13).
  2. Second, we must persevere in our efforts to do good. The word translated good in Galatians 6:9 is used just over 100 times in the New Testament. It carries these meanings: “genuine, approved, noble, praiseworthy, precious, competent.”6 Consider this verse where the word appears twice: Paul wrote to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).
  3. Third, we will get to reap the harvest our good works produce if we persevere. The word translated reap means just that, although it also can refer to sowing.7 Moreover, while it is clear from verse 9 alone that Paul was speaking in terms of reaping in a spiritual sense, the previous verse, Galatians 6:8, makes this assertion undeniable. Paul wrote, “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
  4. Fourth, the timing of the harvest will be “in due season.” Just as crops do not ripen overnight, our good works often do not bear immediate fruit—but they will bear fruit eventually. We must be patient—obviously another reason why Paul emphasizes the theme of perseverance more than once in Galatians 6:9.
  5. Finally, we are to not to “lose heart” or faint. The Greek term means “to weaken or relax, to grow weak or to be tired out.”8 Certainly it also carries the idea of giving up, a concept employed by the translators of the New International Version and the translators of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

It is clear that anyone reaping a harvest of good works has great cause to celebrate, but it also is evident that cultivating this kind of crop can be very costly. For examples, we need only turn to brothers and sisters in Christ like Kelvin Cochran, who was fired from his position as Atlanta Fire Chief simply because he expressed his belief in biblical marriage on his own time.9,10 Or we could turn to Kim Davis, county clerk for Rowan County in Kentucky, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, David and Jason Benham, or Aaron and Melissa Klein, to name a few of many.11 Moreover, it isn’t just Christians’ livelihoods that are threatened, it’s their very lives. Many believers worldwide are paying the ultimate price to remain true to their faith.12

Thus, to produce the crop that results when good works are sown and cultivated, we may have to sacrifice a great deal. Often these sacrifices come because unbelievers misunderstand our faith and want to force us to betray our God. We would not minimize the pain of any of these sacrifices. Even so, in the end, if we remain faithful, what we gain will far outweigh everything we lose.

A Norwegian family lived on the shore, their home located very close to the lighthouse. Frequently the fisherman father would take his two teenage sons with him to catch fish. On one expedition they started out early in the morning, but by mid-day the sky had grown black and the sea rough. Conditions rapidly grew even worse, and their tiny boat was tossed unmercifully by the strong, relentless waves, which rose higher and higher with each passing minute.

In fact, the storm was so violent that it doused the light in the lighthouse. This left the man and his sons relying only on their best guess as to where steer the ship. It seemed they would perish. After some time, when the fisherman and his sons were drained of almost all their strength, they spotted a light on the shore! It grew brighter and brighter, making it possible for the captain and his two-man crew to direct their boat toward the shore at just the right time. Much to the relief of all three, when the onshore light began to dim, they’d made enough progress to ensure their safe arrival, even as the storm began to wane.

As they walked to their home, the man and his sons saw that it now was a charred, smoldering shell. The wife and mother ran to meet them and gave them the sad news that a fire had broken out she hadn’t been able to contain. Their home, along with all their possessions, had been lost. Seeing that her husband was taking the news in an almost lighthearted manner, she cried, “Karl, didn’t you hear me? We’ve lost everything!”

“But Ingrid, don’t you see?” Karl replied, “The light in the lighthouse was out because of the storm, and the same storm was battering our boat. We were groping in the dark! We surely would have perished had it not been for the light we saw onshore coming from the fire. The same fire that took our house saved our lives!”13

In the grand scheme of things, this family had a great deal more to celebrate than to grieve. So it is with us as we sow, cultivate, and tend to a crop of good works performed in the strength of God’s Holy Spirit. Despite the sacrifices we are called upon to make, if we remain faithful, then “in due season we shall reap” a bountiful harvest for God’s glory.

Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Notes:

1http://thinkexist.com/quotation/kind_hearts_are_the_gardens-kind_thoughts_are_the/158511.html

2Even Longfellow, who apparently was not a Christian, understood the need to cultivate a garden yielding kind words and deeds.

3http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-was-johnny-appleseed

4http://cleveland.about.com/od/peopleandpets/p/johnnyappleseed.htm

5https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1573&t=KJV

6https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?page=2&strongs=G2570&t=KJV#lexResults

7https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2325&t=KJV

8https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1590&t=KJV

9http://www.adflegal.org/detailspages/case-details/cochran-v.-city-of-atlanta

10http://dailysignal.com/2015/10/14/city-made-dangerous-admission-about-faith-in-the-workplace-atlanta-fire-chief-lawyer-says/

11http://www.wnd.com/2015/04/courts-conclude-faith-loses-to-gay-demands/

12http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/26724

13Swindoll, Charles R. (2006-01-29). The Darkness and the Dawn (pp. 312-313). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. Swindoll’s source: Charles A. Allen, You Are Never Alone (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1978), pp. 126– 127.