Manhandling God

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When a person “manhandles” something, they treat it roughly, or move it by mere human strength. The title, “Manhandling God” is not meant to suggest that anyone could ever move the true God by his or her own strength. What the title suggests is that there are gods of human design that can be manipulated. A little “g” god—the lord of one’s own persuasion—the figment of a person’s imagination—can definitely be manhandled.

The Bible uses the most interesting satire to expose the absurdity of worshiping little “g” gods (idols). The Scriptures leave no doubt about whom God is, and why He is to be worshipped.

Through Jeremiah God commands His people: “do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens…for the customs of the peoples are delusion; Because it is wood cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool” (Jeremiah 10:2-3).

Then the prophet points out the fallacies of man-made-gods: “They decorate it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers so that it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk! Do not fear them” (verses 4-5).

The prophet Isaiah also portrayed the foolishness of idolaters when he wrote: “Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house” (Isaiah 44:13).

After that insight, God’s prophet revealed the folly of worshiping a god made from a tree: “Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of the them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships: he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.’ They do not know, nor do they understand….No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!’” (Isaiah 44:15-19).

Jeremiah contrasts the true God and gods—the Creator and the created—the Maker and the made: “They are all the work of skilled men. But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King… It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:9-10, 12).

The prophet’s summary in verses 6 and 7 gives an accurate picture of the true God:

  1. He is unique, “There is none like You, O LORD…” The God of the Bible, His attributes, character and being are exclusive in human history. “For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You” (verse 6). Among world religions and theological beliefs, none compares to the God of the Bible. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
  2. He is great, “You are great and great is Your name in might….” Nehemiah rallied his workers on the walls of Jerusalem, as they were fearful of enemies, he said, “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14). Later he encouraged their faith in God by pointing to “Our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness” (Nehemiah 9:32). God’s greatness will only increase. “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations” (Malachi 1:11).
  3. He is King over all, “Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?” It is only the Lord God of Scripture who will be King over all the nations. Though every attempt at world peace has failed, true peace will only come under one King over all, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalmist wrote, “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name” (Psalm 86:9). Isaiah prophesied Christ’s kingship, “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshears and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:4).
  4. He is worthy of all praise, “Who would not fear You…Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You.” Because the Lord is God of all mankind, history and eternity, He is due our greatest praise and worship!

Don’t fall for a cheap imitation! There is only one God, one Lord, and one Savior. Only the true God can comfort your heart and speak to your soul. All our worship and service should go to Him! “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27).

 

 

Living Up to Your Name

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I got into livestock at the age of twelve. Bennie Chastain and I became co-owners of some livestock—well, a Mexican burro, actually. We were southern California wannabe cowboys, and we had to start somewhere. So, we pooled our resources and purchased this burro. The little animal had been around a while and was retired from a team used for donkey basketball games. I broke my piggy bank and came up with $12.50, my half of the purchase price. We found him in a lot near the corner of Rosecrans and Garfield Avenue, in Paramount. I will never forget leading that skittish little donkey down a four-lane highway, through Friday night traffic, to Bennie’s house in Bellflower. I am sure that was a sight to behold!

Donkeys are funny, stubborn little critters. This one was mostly ears, with brown and white hair and a constantly-swishing tail. He would bite if you gave him the chance and kick if you touched him anywhere south of his mid-section. He was also bad about balking. When he balked, nothing could make him move. But he was so small that you could get off and push him around to get him moving again.

The little donkey was not much, but Bennie and I gave him a great name—Sebastian Citation Man-O-War. We thought, with a name like that, though he was small and homely, he would at least have a great title. Sebastian lived for many years, carried innumerable kids on his back around the corral, served as a substitute calf for roping practice and was an all-around great pet.

Though he was a good donkey, Sebastian Citation Man-O-War never lived up to his name. It was a lot bigger than he was. If you stop to think about it, a name is more than a designated handle. Your name represents who you are. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth.” A good name, worn proudly, is valuable, while a bad name brings shame.

When I was growing up my dad would say, “Remember who you are.” He wanted me to honor the name we shared, by behaving properly, and not bringing reproach on our family. After seven decades of wearing my name, it is still important to honor it by my life. In truth, people judge your whole family by what they know of your life.

However, since coming to Christ, it is more important to honor my heavenly Father, as I also carry His name. If you are a Christian, you are to be Christ-like in attitudes and actions. Just as your physical body looks like your earthly father, your spiritual life should resemble your heavenly Father. Peter wrote, “As obedient children…like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

In fact, Peter said it was God’s purpose for believers to follow Christ: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus died for us on the cross to save our souls, and to redeem our lives—“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (verse 24).

If you are a believer in Christ, you represent Him to people around you. The title “Christian” is a more than a name—it describes a person who is Christ-Like in life. And, as a follower of Christ you represent Him and your church, wherever you go.  It is not about pride or ego—it is about honoring and obeying God and His Word in your life. It is about being a light shining in darkness. You can honor your Savior by living up to your name.

Jesus used the same reasoning when He reminded His disciples to celebrate things of true value instead of temporary achievement. They were rejoicing the fact that demons had been subject to His name, through their actions. Jesus sought to correct their thinking by saying, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Your name inscribed in Heaven is more valuable than on any trophy, land title, or possession on earth, because Heaven is forever! Paul commended several Christian workers who had helped him, because their “names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3). The Bible says that “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will be in the eternal heavenly city (Revelation 21:27), and that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

So, how can you be sure your name is written there? The difference between Heaven and Hell, eternal life and eternal death, comes down to believing and trusting in Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. After preaching about the saving power in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:10), Peter said, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (verse 12). The words of Jesus sum it up best in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

It matters what you believe and how you live. What you believe determines how you behave. Your name is valuable. No matter where you are, remember who you are and whose you are!

 

 

 

 

Developing Endurance

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Endurance is a powerful word. It means the ability to continue despite pain and hardship. The word itself conveys strength, fortitude, toleration and a multitude of patience. Endurance is the power to go through an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way, without giving up, and without giving in.

When you think about it, endurance is one of the leading character qualities we admire most in people we consider heroes. Think about George Washington at Valley Forge, Abraham Lincoln during the War Between the States, the life and death of our Lord Jesus, His apostles and His followers throughout centuries of persecution. The list of heroes who endured hardship is long.

William Carey, the first Baptist missionary to India, was a man of incredible endurance. With his wife Dorothy and their four children under 9 years old, they sailed from England in 1793. They did not know they would never see their homeland again.

During their first two years, two children died, and Dorothy went insane and required constraints until her death 15 years later. During that time, Carey’s support got so low he had to take a job at an indigo factory to support his family. He was on the field for seven years before leading the first Indian to Christ and baptizing him. Imagine that—Seven years!

After learning the language, he translated the Bible into Bengali and Sanskrit, only to see his print shop and all his work burn to the ground in 1812. But William Carey had endurance. He admitted his first translation was not his best, and immediately set about on a new translation. And he was right. The newer translation Carey produced is still in use today.

William Carey is quoted as saying, “Expect great things from God—Attempt great things for God.” Because William Carey endured, over 1,400 people came to Christ over the three decades that followed those first difficult years.

Someone said, “The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running,” and that rightly defines endurance. So, how can we learn to endure? Fortunately, the apostle Paul knew a great deal about durability and tenacity in life, and in 2 Corinthians chapter 4 shared how to develop endurance.

As Paul led up to addressing the need for endurance, he began with four pairs of contrasting conditions of difficulty paired with enablement he had faced: ”We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed—perplexed, but not despairing—persecuted, but not forsaken” and “struck down, but not destroyed” (verses 8-9). He said they were “constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake” (verse 11), but they also knew “that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (verse 14).

Paul then shares how “we do not lose heart,” in the final three verses (2 Cor. 4:16-18). He gave three ways to develop endurance:

First: You must daily renew the inward man—It takes Persistence.

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (verse 16).

The outer man is the physical body, whereas the inner man is your spiritual life. God wants you to be “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). If you want to endure as a Christian, to be strong and godly, not faint and lose heart, you must daily renew the inner man.

Just as we care for the outer man, by food, cleansing and clothing; So we need to care for our inner man—our spiritual man—by feeding on God’s Word and prayer (Matt. 4:4; Acts 17:11; Psalm 88:9), and by fellowshipping together, (Matt. 18:20; Heb. 3:13). Be persistent renewing your inner man.

Second: You must rightly evaluate affliction—It takes Perspective.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (verse 17).

We have a tendency to exaggerate affliction—when we should rightly evaluate it. When you must suffer as a Christian, you need to keep it in perspective, so you will not become discouraged and quit. You can do that by comparing the cost to the reward—the affliction to its effect—the hurt to the blessing it will bring. Paul did this when he wrote; “our momentary light affliction” is producing for us “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

When we evaluate our suffering compared to its product, we will find that: Our “affliction” ends in “glory”—We may suffer now, but it will result in incomparable praise! Then we will realize that our affliction is “light,” compared to the glory it produces, which is  a “weight” (heavy!). Finally, we will realize that while our affliction now is “momentary,” it creates an effect that is “eternal”—Our suffering will end, but its positive results will continue. Seek to view your affliction from God’s perspective.

Third: You must constantly focus on the eternal—It takes Perception.

“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (verse 18).

If you would develop endurance, you must focus on doing things that have eternal value and not waste time on temporary, passing things. Paul readily gave up his home life, income and reputation because he focused on the eternal.

What should we focus on that is eternal? People—every person will exist forever; Heaven—it is God’s throne and will be home to all believers; God’s Word—it is eternal (Psalm 119:18; Matt. 24:35), everlasting and unchanging. In the midst of affliction—focus on the eternal—God’s perspective.

With God’s help, develop endurance, and keep on keeping on, walking with the Lord!

 

 

 

How to Be Your Best for Jesus

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Like many of you, as a Cub Scout, I took the Scout Oath: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

Memorizing and reciting the Oath earned my first merit badge. Additionally, by memorizing the motto, it would be available for reflection, consideration and hopefully become the foundation for actions in my, and other Scout’s lives.

The Scout motto begins by one giving his word that he will do his best. Truthfully, we do not always give our best. But, in our heart of hearts, most people really want to do their best.

With this in mind, let me ask, as a Christian, are you doing your best for Jesus? Of all the areas we need to do our best, being our best for Jesus should be a top priority. Here are some thoughts from Romans 12 on how to be your best for Jesus.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans falls into two main divisions. The first 11 chapters deal with theological doctrine, while the final 5 chapters present practical applications. The final section begins in Romans 12, this way: “Therefore I urge you brethren…” (verse 1). It starts with Paul’s exhortations for them, and us, to apply doctrinal truth to real life. It is never enough just to know doctrinal truth. To be affective, learning must be translated into living.

In Romans 12:1-8, Paul answers the question: How can you be your best for Jesus—as a Person? He then shares four ways to be your best.

First: Surrender Yourself Unreservedly (verses 1-2)

In most cases when you surrender, you lose, but as a Christian when you surrender to God, you win! You surrender to God by giving Him your Body—“Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Before you were saved, you did what you wanted with your body, but after coming to Christ by faith, your body becomes a temple of God. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own…For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

As you surrender your body to God, you are a living sacrifice, not a dead one. This surrendering is only logical, because Christ gave Himself, including His body, for us on the cross.

You surrender to God by giving Him your Mind as well—“And do not be conformed to his world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

The battle Christians face in surrendering their bodies to God, is first waged in their minds. Your body will only do what your mind commands. Paul said the world system wants Christians to be conformed to its way of life, deeds & actions. But God wants Christians to be transformed, or changed, by the renewing of their minds.

Howard Hendricks paraphrased it, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” Instead, our lives are to be transformed, changed, from within, by renewing our minds, as we hear, read, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word (2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 4:12).

Why not begin your day surrendering your body, mind and spirit to God? Spend some time in His Word, then pray for God’s leading through your day.

Second: Humble Yourself Individually (verse 3)

Don’t be haughty of your opinion or of your gifts—“I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3).

It is normal to think more of yourself than you ought. We often think we are better than others. But if you want to be your best for Jesus, you must think well of others and less often of yourself. True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It is putting others first.

Avoid pride as you exalt Christ and others. Remember: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

Third: Consider Yourself Corporately (verses 4-5)

As a Christian, you are one member among many—“For just as we have many members in one body, and all the members do not have the same function….” (Romans 12:4).

In your church family, find out where you fit, and how you can serve in the body, corporately. Prayerfully consider what God has gifted you to do in His service, and then fill that spot, ministry or service, using the gift or ability He has given you.

Though you are only one member, you are an important part of the body, and are necessary in making it function for God’s glory. Six strings on a guitar, tuned together and working, create a beautiful sound by the hand of a musician.

Fourth: Employ Your Gift Faithfully (verses 6-8)

God has given—“Gifts that differ” so “Each of us is to exercise them accordingly” (Romans 12:6).

If you do not exercise your gift, the church body will be lacking in some way. The perfect illustration is that if a body is missing a part, it cannot function as God intended. In fact, the whole body will be hindered. You need to faithfully use your gift, because “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1 Corinthians 12:18).

To be your Best for Jesus as a person, you need to surrender yourself, humble yourself, consider yourself as a part, and employ your gift for His glory! Be your best for Jesus!

We Need an Umpire

How-do-I-become-a-Little-League-Umpire.jpgYears ago I thought about volunteering to umpire Little League games. At least, until I saw Jimmy Crossett one night, in the middle of a huge dispute at home plate. Both opposing coaches were yelling at him as a rowdy crowd jeered and two teams of fourth graders looked on. I can still picture it today—Jimmy standing there in his black uniform, chest protector sagging, holding his face mask in one hand, trying to sort out and explain his call. Right then and there I decided God was not calling me to umpire Little League games.

The umpire is in a tough position. He must, in an instant, recall all the rules of the game, apply them to the play he just saw, and make a call. Rarely can he take his time, reverse a call, or waffle on a call—his call is law—and it can make or break a game. And if you say, “It’s just a game—It doesn’t matter,” then you have not watched many Little League games!

The Old Testament character, Job, found himself wishing for an umpire. For some reason, unknown to him, the wheels had fallen off of his life. Though he was a God-fearing, diligently prayerful, righteous man—his life and family were shattered by painful loss, and his supposed friends were pointing fingers of guilt at him.

It began like any other day. Job was at home and his children were together in his oldest son’s house (Job 1:13). Then in an instant, everything changed. All Job’s livestock was stolen and his servants were slain (verses 14-15). A second messenger told Job that fire fell out of heaven and burned up all his sheep and shepherds (verse 16). Immediately, another reported that his large herd of camels was stolen and their keepers killed (verse 17). Then, the saddest news—a great windstorm blew down the house of his oldest son—killing all of his children, seven sons and three daughters (verses 18, 19).

Through all this heartbreak, Job kept his integrity, did not blame God, but in fact, fell to the ground and worshiped Him (Job 1:20). He realized, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (verse 21).

As if Job had not faced enough tragedy, he was then smitten with incurable sores over his entire body (Job 2:7, 8). He was so affected by this condition that when three friends came to comfort him, he was unrecognizable. They broke into tears, weeping, and said not a word for seven days (verses 11-13).

No doubt Job later wished his friends had stayed silent. For when they did speak, they heaped on him words of condemnation, guilt and judgment. Job’s friends were convinced that all the evil befell him because of sins he had committed. Then, from chapter 3 through chapter 37, Job records the dialogue between him and his friends, as they accused, while he excused, his behavior. Job was convinced he didn’t deserve the tragic circumstances he received—while his friends tried to prove that he did. What none of them knew was that God was at work behind the scenes, in all the calamities, showing Satan that Job was a righteous, godly man (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6).

All this makes me wonder: Does God care about what we are going through? Sometimes it seems God is absent when things hurt us. Other times we notice our prayers are not answered according to our desires. Job must have thought similarly, because he spoke of God’s aloofness when he said about God, “He is not a man as I am that I may answer Him, that we may go to court together. There is no umpire between us, who may lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:32, 33). As Job felt helpless, with God seemingly out of touch, he cried out for an arbitrator, or umpire—someone who understood both God and man—and could bring them together in harmony.

The good news for Job, and for everyone of us, is that God has provided the perfect Umpire—the faultless Arbitrator, who understands both God and man and can bring us together—in the person of His Son, the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

It was for this reason Jesus “had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). It was Jesus who “was made for a little while lower than the angels … because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (verse 9). Jesus, the Son of God and Son of man shared “in flesh and blood” so that “through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (verses 14, 15).

When Job cried out for an umpire, one who could understand the sinless God and sinful men—one who could please God’s demands and forgive man’s sins—he was asking for Jesus. And God provided just such a mediator…just such a Savior! “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 1:5, 6). He alone can please God and save people!

 

 

 

 

Christ’s Resurrection—Our Hope of Life

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The benchmark for God’s prophets was demanding. They had to bat a thousand! That perfect standard was intended to discourage speculators and false prophets. God demanded that His spokesperson speak His word truthfully and accurately, without hesitation or alteration. Moses wrote: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

Over 300 Old Testament prophecies predicting the coming of the Messiah were completely fulfilled in the life of Christ. What are the odds of that happening by accident, chance, or by someone else? What are the mathematical probabilities of 300 prophecies being fulfilled by Jesus? In one word, it would require a miracle.

Peter Stoner, a professor of science at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, worked the mathematical probabilities of someone fulfilling the biblical prophecies about the Messiah. His findings were recorded in Science Speaks, published by Moody Press, in 1963. Stoner found that the odds of one man completely fulfilling only 8 Old Testament prophecies were 1 out of 100 quadrillion (1 of 100,000,000,000,000,000). Numbers that high are unimaginable, so to demonstrate the vastness of those odds, Stoner explained it this way: Imagine covering the entire state of Texas, two feet deep in silver dollars. Mark one silver dollar, then drop it from an airplane flying somewhere over Texas. Next: thoroughly stir up all the silver dollars from Texarkana to El Paso; from Amarillo to Laredo. Blindfold someone and let him travel anywhere in the state, stopping only once at a spot of his choice, so he can reach down and pick up one silver dollar. The probability of that person picking up the marked silver dollar is just as likely as one man fulfilling only eight Messianic prophecies. Yet, Christ fulfilled over 300 prophecies to the letter!

Long before Jesus was born, the Bible prophets predicted resurrection. The promise of life after death is not just a New Testament doctrine. In the 6th century BC, Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

Probably around 1500 BC, almost a thousand years before Daniel was born, Job also wrote about his Redeemer and future resurrection. He penned, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). Plainly, Job believed in a living God who would vindicate his life, even after his death. He expected his body, though decayed in the grave, to be raised to life and to stand before God again. His own eyes would behold God in the future.

But, the most intriguing prophecy of resurrection is found in Psalm 16. In these verses David confirms his faith in future resurrection, writing: “I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay” (Psalm 16:8-10). In addition to David’s belief in his own resurrection, he also predicted Christ’s resurrection. One thousand years after David wrote this, Peter quoted these very words on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28). As Peter applied this prophecy to Christ’s resurrection, he shared the powerful impact of it in verses 31 and 32. He said that David, “looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again to which we are all witnesses.”

The apostle Peter explained, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: The LORD said to my LORD, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (verses 33-35). The Messiah ascended and is now at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the subjugation of His enemies, at which time He will reign on the throne of David.

Then Peter shared the implication of Christ’s resurrection: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (verse 36). Christ’s resurrection means that, not only is He the Messiah (Christ), but He is also LORD, meaning God, or full deity.

One thousand years before His resurrection, God’s Word revealed that, not only would the Messiah die for our sins, but He would also come forth from the grave in power and great glory. In 1874, Robert Lowry put it like this:

Death cannot keep his prey, Jesus my Savior!

He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!

He arose a victor from the dark domain,

And He lives forever with His saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!

TRADITIONS: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Traditions make great servants, but terrible masters. Church traditions fall into two categories. Some are honorable, beneficial and timely. Others are outdated, unproductive and restrictive. Some traditions, like wings, allow you to soar. Other traditions, like anchors, drag you down.

By their nature, traditions are not Scriptural or doctrinal. For most of us, Scripture truth is orthodox, binding, and unchanging. Traditions, though, in the beginning, are convenient, helpful and designed to serve, never to rule. But when mere traditions are revered and elevated to the level of divine revelation, they become harsh masters indeed. Traditions then have the power to dictate actions and alter activities—even Bible-authorized events.

The enemies of Jesus continually attacked him over His disregard of human traditions. Their contentions with Him came to a boiling point as recorded in Mark chapter 7. The Pharisees accosted Jesus because His disciples failed to wash their hands before they ate. Hand washing before a meal is a healthy habit, but not a scriptural demand.

Over the years, hand washing, which had nothing to do with the spiritual man, had been elevated to religious significance. How did this occur? It came about because, over time, a tradition was raised to the level of Scripture authority, thus making it binding and necessary in order to please God, who, in His Word, had said nothing about it.

The Pharisees challenged Jesus, asking, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” (Mark 7:5). The Lord answered the question about tradition with Scripture: “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (verses 6-7). Jesus drove the point home when He said, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (verse 8). Think about what Jesus said. He rightly accused them of being more interested in keeping man’s traditions than in keeping God’s commandments.

In summing up His argument with the Pharisees, Jesus pointed out the greatest harm of which tradition-keepers were guilty: They were “invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down” (verse 13). Inflating the importance of traditions resulted in deflating the value of Holy Scriptures! As their allegiance to tradition rose, their commitment to the Word of God declined. And that is always the way it works.

The “traditions” Jesus condemned were rituals, sayings and teachings based on the Oral Law of men, not the written Law of God. According to Jewish historian, Josephus, the Oral Law illustrated and expanded God’s Written Law, and was given equal reverence and expected obedience, though it was the product of men, not of God. A whole system of law-keeping writings came during the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. The Oral Law was a giant superstructure overshadowing God’s inspired Word. During those years, books like the Halachoth, Mishna, Gemara, Midrashim, Hagada and Kabbala, were produced, which supposedly explained and applied teachings of Scripture. But in fact it minimized and replaced Scripture.

In the midst of the Oral Law, somewhere down there, God had spoken! But between the mystical interpretations of the reasonings on the Scriptures, and the sacred legends with decisions about technical questions of rituals—God’s Word got lost! So, when Jesus came on the scene and spoke God’s Words to God’s people in simple, understandable and applicable terms, they were viewed as strange.

So, what does this have to do with us? Simply this: We too, are prone to allow long-held traditions to become too demanding and authoritative, almost to the level of biblical directives. If we honestly evaluate our church practices, it may be that we too are guilty of exchanging our duty to obey God in order to keep man-made traditions.

It is unsettling when the new convert asks, “Why are we doing this?” and we hear ourselves answer, “Because we have always done this.” Paul warned the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). He urged them, and us, to make sure we are sold out to Christ and not side-tracked by lesser things, and not major on minor things.

Now, some traditions are good and serve a useful purpose. If a tradition in church is a good servant, let it serve. But if that mere tradition seeks mastery, becomes unalterable or unremoveable, beware! Traditions are good only as long as they help meet needs and serve a clear purpose in a church’s duty to Christ and obedience to the Word. Traditions should be changed or removed when they cease to help the true objective of the church.

We don’t want the message of Christ to be derailed by the method of delivery. We do not want to be so in love with traditions of the past that we miss reaching people of the present—More enamored by the way we do church than by the people who need Christ.

I think Ed Stetzer said it best: “Churches are to be biblically faithful, culturally relevant, counter-cultural communities that reflect God’s kingdom for His glory among the people around us at all times.”