Prison, Providence, And The Lesson Of John The Baptist

Our understanding of God’s Providence, His divine guidance and care to fulfill His purposes, often comes into question when we find ourselves in a dilemma where we can’t understand our circumstances. Said another way, there may be times where we find ourselves in senseless situations that are completely out of our control. Our need is dire, and we have no choice, but to throw ourselves at the mercy of a Sovereign God. (Which is where we all must get to eventually, some get there sooner than others.)

We often think of providence in a lighthearted, purely positive sense, where God’s supernatural care gets us out of jams. For instance, we’re late for work, but every redlight turns green, or in terms of near misses, such as the lightning strike was eight feet from my house, or that out of control car missed my bumper by inches. 

Looking at scripture, one recurring theme where we see God’s providence, turns out to be far from lighthearted. It’s found repeatedly in prison stories where His people are unjustly thrown, facing death, enduring awful conditions, and their faith is stretched in ways we can’t imagine. It’s exactly where God wants them, they’re in His hands. The outcome uncertain, but God… It’s through the furnace of affliction where we must learn to trust Him, and where He receives the most glory. 

By the way, prison can take many forms. We don’t have to be behind bars or facing execution to be trapped in a desperate place. Whatever form prison may take in our lives, it’s precisely where God’s people must learn to trust, wait, and depend on Him. It’s where we cast our burdens upon Him for He cares for us. And we have an Advocate interceding, the Man of Sorrows, who has been there. 

When we think of the many prison situations in the Bible, we often remember the positive outcomes. For example, Joseph (falsely accused and jailed, but God…), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (framed to a fiery furnace, but God…), Daniel (in the lion’s den, but God…), Paul in chains…

But what about the negative outcomes? What about all those martyred for their faith, like Stephen? What about John the Baptist – losing his head? 

God’s plans and purposes are not always positive from the standpoint of our desired outcome. God ultimately provides deliverance for His people through Christ and the cross, where the ultimate injustice, the ultimate mishandling of a trial, the ultimate wrongful death, brings total forgiveness and healing to prisoners of sin. Through his death and resurrection, Christ our Substitute, saves us from the eternal punishment and death we all deserve (mercy), while at the same time providing eternal life that we don’t deserve (grace). 

We may live through difficult and senseless times, we may be rescued from whatever prison we’re in, or we may die like John the Baptist, but God…through Christ, has provided eternal life to those who put their faith and trust in Him. Though we may die, yet shall we live in eternal joy. Life in the presence of the One we can worship and enjoy forever. That, my friends, is the ultimate providential care and guidance that He uses to accomplish His purpose. Christ is worth dying for. And on our journey to the Celestial City, we too must learn, to live is Christ, but all praise be to God, to die is gain. 

New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

“Lamentations” is a book of sorrow, pain, anguish, and judgment. But Jeremiah, despite his depression and being brought very low (v. 18), still exults in Jehovah’s faithful love and mercy. Are these contradictions? They seem to be, but of course are not. When we “recall to mind” (v. 21) the great faithfulness of our God, we see clearly that his mercies are “new every morning.” How encouraging this is! The Lord’s daily love and compassion call for daily praise and daily worship!

“Great is your faithfulness.” We must often repeat these four great words to ourselves and to others. Yes, men wrong us, and there is much evil in the world. But we must not allow sin and wrong to overcome us with such anxiety that we forget how indebted we are to the “rich mercy” of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Note verse 26:“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” This holy “salvation” is all wrapped up in the one, precious Savior of sinners, “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Those who know and love Christ are the recipients of abounding grace and measureless mercy. Believers can truly say with much rejoicing, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

God’s love is steadfast, and his love never ceases; Yahweh’s great mercies will never come to an end; every single morning we can be assured that God will be faithful to us. Is not this great cause for praise to Christ Jesus? Yes, and we are glad to read this: “It shall be well with them that fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). “Well” means no wrath, no judgment, no rejection, but acceptance, love, favor, and mercy through the finished work of Calvary’s bloody cross. When we camp around Calvary our personal depression seems so small and insignificant compared to the Lord of life dying as our Substitute. His death and resurrection assure us of real victory over all sin, all depression, and all the fretting of this life. Let’s praise our Savior anew every morning! “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (Romans 16:27).

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

Sing, Meditate, Be Glad

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“I will sing unto Yahweh as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet; I will be glad in Yahweh.” Psalm 104:33-34

Here is one of my favorite texts in all of the Bible. How precious are these words, and all of this psalm. Surely you can feel the exuberance of the psalmist in writing of our “very great” Creator (v. 1). Indeed, all creation loudly proclaims Yahweh’s praise (v. 24). Note in our text that we are to sing “to” the Lord, meditate “of” him, and be glad “in” him! Those little words describe experimental Christianity about as well as words possibly can. Correct? Surely, by the Holy Spirit’s blessing, you see this and feel its spiritual power!

The elect of God are not afraid to sing. They may not have great voices or have much harmony, but they still sing “to” the Redeemer (he’s our audience). We often “sing to the Lord” riding down the road, don’t we? We sing in our homes, we sing at work, as well as in church services with other believers. We humbly sing “as long as we live.” We cannot do otherwise.”Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God” (Isaac Watts). We cannot sing unless we truly know Christ! Without Christ we only sing the world’s ditties. But true children of God get excited about the songs of Zion, which bring joys, gladness, and holy rejoicing to God’s people beyond expression (1 Peter 1:8). Our meditation “of” the Savior is a daily delight, the psalmist calling it “sweet.” Holy meditation is never sour or boring, though some may think it is. For sure, John Newton was right when he wrote, “Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is known from quickened hearts!

“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). The psalms are full of Yahweh’s praise (like Psalm 104), so we gladly sing them. We regularly sing hymns like “How Great Thou Art,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.” What a wonderful spiritual song is “Amazing Grace,” one of the most beloved of God’s children. How precious are the “spiritual songs” of the Old Testament (Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32, 1 Samuel 2, etc.). All true hymns truly praise “HIM” who is the Savior!

Come, poor sinners, come away;
In meditation sweet,
Let us go to Golgotha,
And kiss our Savior’s feet.

Him, your fellow-sufferer see;
He was in all things like to you.
Are you tempted? So was He.
Deserted? He was too.
                   Joseph Hart

Jesus, before Thy face I fall,
My Lord, My Life, my Hope, my All;
For I have nowhere else to flee,
No sanctuary, Lord, but Thee.
                       Samuel Medley

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

The Attributes of God

book-1210030_1280A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet” (Psalm 18:9). “Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and justice are the habitation of his throne” (Psalm 97:2).
 

The greatest study one can ever make is to study the character of Almighty God as revealed in Scripture. We know that YHWH is the great four-letter “name” of the living God (with vowels supplied it is written Yahweh). God’s “attributes” and perfections are so glorious, no one can ever fathom them.

I began studying God’s attributes and compound names in 1972, and immediately began teaching them in various church meetings, not only here in Georgia, but in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. These were some of the most blessed, enriching times I have ever experienced in the gospel ministry. None of us can ever study “who God is” too much. No wonder A. W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Absolutely!

“Concerning the character of God,” Bro. Henry Mahan once said, “what gross mistakes men make. I believe it is a mistake about the person of God himself that is the root and foundation of all mistakes in theology.” How solemnly true! Yahweh is transcendent, infinite, eternal, immortal, invisible, wise, sovereign, holy, just, righteous, yet is longsuffering, kind, gracious, loving, and merciful.

David said Yahweh “bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet.” Darkness? Yes, but we also read, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). No darkness! “The darkness and the light are both alike to thee” (Psalm 139:12). Both alike? What mystery! How can we understand this unless we believe wholeheartedly in God’s absolute self-sufficiency? God’s ways and works are indeed “past finding out,” aren’t they? They can never be fully explained by any creature. This alone is pure sovereignty.

“Clouds and darkness are round about him.” Then we are told, “A fire goes before him, and burns up his enemies round about” (Psalm 97:3). “Darkness,” yet “fire.” The purpose for fire is “to consume and burn up,” and it is the exception when it does not, as in the case of Moses when he saw the burning bush “not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). Along with mystery, we note what glorious majesty and honor belong to the Lord our God! “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Do we really believe this? His holiness burns in splendor, his righteousness is like the great mountains, and his vengeance shall be known to all his enemies.

The Lord Jesus Christ was “God manifest in the flesh,” the God-Man wondrously concealing his attributes as needed. Yet, he was fully God and fully man. Christ is our Mediator, and no sinner could ever “approach” the living God apart from this one Advocate (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 2:1). Otherwise, the all-consuming holiness of Jehovah would burn up all sinners immediately! Sinners do not flippantly do business with a holy God. Is this what you believe?

Yet, in condescending mercy, our Lord Jesus Christ says to sinners, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Yes, by faith “go to Jesus,” for what rich grace, love, and mercy flows to poor sinners through the cross of Calvary. This is why we exclaim with Paul, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). “O the depth,” so let us all bow in holy wonder and holy worship of our thrice-holy God.

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Shipwreck and Apostasy

ship-wreck-1882087_1920A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“Wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

The two men named by Paul are sad examples to us. We are warned in Scripture not to judge or be critical of others (James 4:11), but we are also admonished to “judge ourselves.” “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be condemned” (1 Corinthians 11:31). What a word of warning not to “suffer shipwreck concerning the faith.” How seriously do we take this? “Wage the good warfare” implies constant diligence.

“Apostasy” means “rebellion, revolt, falling away, to depart from” (see Acts 21:21 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 for the two occurrences of the Greek word apostasia)The warnings and admonitions of Scripture are for our benefit. We are always, as true believers, to “rejoice in Christ” and his full and free salvation, yet we must never neglect those portions of God’s word relating to our obedience. Christians always, with Paul, “glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but we must also heed the warnings about “leaving our first love,” and becoming “lukewarm” (Revelation 2:4; 3:16). We are admonished clearly, “Walk worthy” and “Walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 4:1; 5:15).

We should all desire, by the grace of God, to finish our race faithfully, being well-pleasing to the Lord. Don’t we honestly want to hear Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), with no desire to be like Hymenaeus and Alexander? We are not saved by works, yet we know that we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Not “by works,” which are of the flesh, but certainly “unto good works,” which are of the Spirit. “Showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2:10). Yes, “adorn the doctrine,” proving our faith, never living a contradictory, unholy life. By both our belief and behavior, we thus avoid “shipwreck” and being an “apostate.” As Paul says, “Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

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January 22, 2018

Afflictions Are Limited

alone-boy-child-256658 (1)A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.” Nahum 1:12

The entire human family, including God’s elect, will at times suffer various afflictions; however, our great and wise God, “according to the multitude of his mercies,” assures us that they are limited (see Lamentations 3:31-33). The rod does not last forever. Just as the prophet Nahum (“comfort”) gave a message of comfort to the nation of Judah in the seventh century B. C., revealing that Jehovah would eventually remove the Assyrian rod from their land, so too we are assured that the trials and sorrows of God’s people will one day come to an end: “Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.” Thus we have this comforting promise to us in the New Testament:”Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Note, “receiving!” 

It was C. H. Spurgeon who once said, “Our Father in heaven takes away the rod when his design in using it is fully served.” Yes, whatever that “design” is, our merciful God will some day take it away. So, let us “be of good cheer,” looking to our Lord Jesus Christ alone, who knew all about afflictions of soul and body when hanging on the tree of Calvary as our Substitute. Dying for his people, “the just for the unjust,” he was identifying himself with us in all of our afflictions, according to 1 Peter 2:23-24; 3:18. What wondrous love, mercy, and condescension this was from our precious Savior!

Whatever trials we are facing today, let us learn anew that “in the faith” we must look beyond our present circumstances to a brighter day. Satan, our enemy and adversary, will not win in the end, so we are admonished: “Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:9-11).

“These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”
John Newton (Gadsby’s #295)

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Pour Out Your Heart

pray-2558490_1920A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62:8

As Christians, we must humbly desire to pray aright. Our text is the what, the how, and the why of true prayer. Note that we must “pour out” our hearts before God! This is essential if we pray correctly. Listen to Ambrose Serle (1742-1812) on this subject: “When the mind is truly touched by grace, it will and must pray. If the heart cannot find words to carry up its request, it will send them forth in earnest groans.

Prayer can no more be kept from ascending than flame from the fire. ‘Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’ (Romans 8:26).  The cries of a drowning man are above the formality of words, and forcibly pierce the ear for help; so the deep-felt anguish of a convinced heart is inexpressibly eager for mercy, and with moans and groans sues it out from God in right earnest.”

What powerful, searching words! Note the importance of the mind being touched by grace with heart-felt anguish, moans, and groans. We need more than “formality of words” or “florid oration” or “fine speech.” To truly pray there must be “grace” in the heart, which alone produces “earnest groans” and “tearful sighs.” The Greek text of Romans 8:26-27 further clarifies the doctrine of prayer: “groanings” is from stenazo, “to sigh,” and such “unutterable groans” are attributed to the Spirit of God making “intercession on behalf of” the saints. The work of the Holy Spirit is necessary in order “to rescue us” with “sighs that baffle words,” Paul picturing the Spirit “taking hold at our side” as our Paraclete “at the very time of our weakness” (A. T. Robertson).

Some think Jesus taught us to pray something like this: “But when you pray, tilt your head, close your eyes, and listen to the designated person leading in prayer.” Is this not sadly so? Is that the only kind of “praying” you know? But the Master taught us that true prayer is personal, spiritual, of the heart, spontaneous, done mostly in secret, and is not with “vain repetitions” or “many words” (Matthew 6:6-7). An unbeliever cannot pray! The world cannot pray (John 17:25). Bought by Christ’s blood at Calvary, the quickened children of God alone can and do truly pray.

Let us earnestly seek to know prayer’s spiritual power by “humbling ourselves” before the great and awesome Yahweh (Nehemiah 1:4-5; James 4:10). God indeed is the majestic Sovereign, before whom we must come in contrition and fear, being commanded, “Ye people, pour out your heart before Him.”  True prayer affects our hearts, often causing groans and sighs and tears, or just an “Abba, Father.” May we know this experimentally through our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A form of words may please
A sinner dead in sin;
But quickened sinners want to pray,
As prompted from within.
Gadsby’s Hymns #725

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What Does The Bible Say About Lying?

truth-2069843_1280We’ve all lied or we’re lying about never lying. And from experience we know that one lie can easily lead to many more. So I can confidently say you’ve been a liar liar pants on fire, but have to admit my jeans have burn marks too. But lying is a sin so severe it’s not something we should make fun of or take lightly is it? In fact, it’s awful and we should hate it.

If you’ve ever been deceived by a slick salesperson or misleading mechanic, led astray by a false teacher, had your identity stolen and used, your account hacked and fake messages sent, burned by a dishonest boss or employee, falsely accused or slandered, deceived by a seemingly trustworthy friend or family member, or one of the hardest – lied to by your spouse, child, or teenager, you know the damage, distrust, disruption, anger, frustration and anguish that can be generated by a single lie – no matter the perceived color of the lie.

So what does the Bible say about lying? 

1. A Liar Hates

Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart (Proverbs 26:24).

A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin (Proverbs 26:28).

2. There Are Consequences To Lying

Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit (Proverbs 12:17).

A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish (Proverbs 19:9).

An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue (Proverbs 17:4).

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy (Proverbs 12:19-20).

3. God Hates Lying

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16).

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:9-10). 

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight (Proverbs 12:22).

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Of the seven things God hates in Proverbs 6, notice how lying is mentioned twice, but it can be applied to all seven in the form of lying or believing a lie.

4. A Liar is a Liar Because of The Liar

It all goes back to Genesis:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:4-6).

When Jesus was speaking to the Jews who wouldn’t believe He said:

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).”

William Blake (1757-1827) references that infernal serpent lending his forked tongue in his poem The Liar. After reading it, I can’t help but wonder if the serpent’s tongue can be borrowed so often he eventually says, “you don’t need mine, you already own one.”

The Liar
Deceiver, dissembler
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Shall they dangle in the night?

When I asked of your career
Why did you have to kick my rear
With that stinking lie of thine
Proclaiming that you owned a mine?

When you asked to borrow my stallion
To visit a nearby-moored galleon
How could I ever know that you
Intended only to turn him into glue?

What red devil of mendacity
Grips your soul with such tenacity?
Will one you cruelly shower with lies
Put a pistol ball between your eyes?

What infernal serpent
Has lent you his forked tongue?
From what pit of foul deceit
Are all these whoppers sprung?

Deceiver, dissembler
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Do they dangle in the night?

5. The Truth Will Set You Free

With all the bad news regarding the consequences of lying, where is the remedy? The good news is the truth will set us free. The truth is Jesus came to save sinners like you and me.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”

If you place your hope and faith and trust in Him you will be set free, you will repent or turn away from lying and will no longer be a slave to sin and the deception of The Liar. Going back to same chapter in John (Chapter 8) where Satan is called the father of lies, Jesus speaks to the Jews who believed and says:

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-36).”

In this life we won’t have perfection, and you may struggle with lying, but if you are a disciple of Christ there is hope, forgiveness, and freedom. If you continue to struggle, seek accountability, be quick to repent, be quick to seek forgiveness, don’t lie and try to cover it up with more lies, but walk forward in the light of His victorious truth and freedom!

 

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