Last Lord's Day Pastor Daniel set before us the stark fact that God blesses and God curses. We are conditioned to hear about God's blessings. But God curses also, and as Pastor Daniel pointed out, the Word of God records far more of God's curses than God's blessings. If you go through the entire Bible and count them, curses outnumber blessings several-fold! Should not that fact be an enduring caution and warning to us? Read from the first book of the Old Testament: Genesis 12:1-3 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Read from the fifth book of the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 28:1-25 If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you. The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. The LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed. The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.” Many centuries later, still in the Old Testament: Jeremiah 17:5-8 “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” This all has to do with faith and the OBEDIENCE that comes from true faith. God blesses those whom he loves for their obedience, and He curses them for their disobedience. Notice how He must spend more detail on the latter: as already noted, there are more curses than blessings, by several-fold! That tells you something about us, no? In the New Covenant, Jesus is ultimately more demanding than the Father in the Old. It is not enough not to murder your brother; you must not curse him. It is not enough not to commit adultery; you must not have lustful adulterous thoughts. And, it is not enough that we believe; we must DO: Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And further, Matthew 25: 31-41: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The important thing here is that Jesus is talking exclusively to believers about believers. But he separates believers into those who obey His commands, and those who do not. Believers who do not obey will go to Hell! There is no biblical basis for “once saved, always saved.” That modernist notion is a great, damaging deception. To the contrary, the constant message we receive throughout the Word is “believe; keep on believing, and continually demonstrate our belief in our obedience.” Our complete obedience to the God who will judge us is seen both in not doing what we are told NOT to do, and in actively doing what we ARE told to do. Otherwise we each will be separated from Him for eternity in hellfire. We each have only this vanishing existence, a life that lasts like the morning dew on the grass, to conform to the likeness of the Christ in faith and obedience. As Pastor Daniel said, faith dictates everything for a Christian. ANYTHING other than faith is rebellion and sin. Faith is measured by actions. Spreading the Gospel fearlessly among all whom we have to do with, be they family members or folks in Kyrgyzstan, shows true faith and obedience.
Last Lord's Day Pastor Daniel boldly proclaimed to us that in matters of our faith, silence is arrogance! He set the tone for his sermon to us by reading from Paul's letter to the Romans chapter 14 verse 23 “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Pastor Daniel then underlined the point by quoting from Romans 1:17 “the righteous shall live by faith alone.”
Sin is not just a bad action. Everything that does not come from faith is sin. This is not just a matter of what we do but of what we don't do. All of our choices in life, even day-to-day banalities, must be done in faith, rooted in faith. Otherwise it is sin.
Pastor Daniel reminded us that not just pastors but all of us are called to live our lives daily in faith. Living is doing. He further emphasized the point from James brother of Jesus:
James 2:17 “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James 2:26 “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Stephen, whose example we followed closely last week, is held up as a man of faith because he exemplified his faith in not just what he said but what he did to his last breath under lethal persecution.
To enter the kingdom of heaven, we will each need to demonstrate our faith by what we do in difficult circumstances. God loves and cherishes not nominal Christians but rather, those who have demonstrated their faith under pressure.
We read from Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
In this faithless world we live in, God is seeking people who are bold like Daniel, Elijah, and Stephen in proclaiming faith. Pastor Daniel noted that today many are silent because they don't have real faith in the first place. These silent people are not fully devoted. What they do is out of their own desires not from faith and obedience. Such people are always learning but not convicted in faith enough to be interested in being doers.
So we read further from James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
In short, we are instructed not to merely receive the Word, but to share it!
We all know that our Bible is full of stories of John the Baptist, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and many others all preaching until they were violently cut off from doing so.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus, when he finally left his disciples forty days after the resurrection, told them to go out and boldly preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We read Mark 16:15 “He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.'”
Pastor Daniel reminded us that so many people – uncounted millions in America and far more around the world – are ignorantly living in sin, total darkness in this world. They are commonly addicted to alcohol, drugs, video games and much else - as we all know!. Sadly, they are not even a little inhabited by the Holy Spirit.
If we ARE the exception, and have received the gift of faith, have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is it not terribly arrogant of us – unforgivably selfish - not to share this with others?
We read from John 3:5 “Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.'”
if not we don't have salvation that way, what is the worth of all the rest there is in this world?
Worldly imperatives are far from God's way, as we read from Luke 16:15 “He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.'”
So then, our silence is arrogance and ignorance because frankly we don't really have faith. We are just like the lukewarm congregants Jesus criticized through the aged Apostle John in Revelation 3:16 “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Each of us will have his faith will be measured by God by his actions. Power of the Gospel in you must be shared – that is God's command. We must each of us, not just Pastor Daniel and Pastor John, fulfill the Great Commission to go out and spread the Good News to our little brothers, to our classmates, and to folks very unlike us at the other end of the world.
Five days ago Pastor Daniel confronted us with what the witness of the Christ and the telling of the Good News can mean, in the account of Stephen's last encounter with the orthodox religionists of his day. He died rather than swerve from the Truth.
Pastor Daniel read to us extensively from Acts to acquaint us with the whole story: Acts 6:8-15 “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, 'This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.' All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Acts 7: 54-60 “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
In his last breath Stephen forgave those who were stoning him, so that not only by his words but also by his attitude of forgiveness he set an example for all of us in imitating the Christ.
So then Pastor Daniel put it to himself, and to us: “Would I be able to die like Stephen?” All who live a proper Christian life will be hated by the world. In Scripture we are warned of this repeatedly:
2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. Pastor Daniel put it to us very directly: if we are not running into opposition we must be loving the world. He bid us to consider all of the martyrs written about in the Old Testament and in the New. Remember what those who would not listen to the Truth did to the prophet Isaiah – they put him inside a hollowed-out tree trunk and then sawed it in two. We must consider many places around the world today where the profession of our faith is downright dangerous. Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Finally, Pastor Daniel commended to us the example of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The Roman co-emperor Licinius by the year 320 saw Christians as people committed to his rival co-emperor Constantine, and so he ordered that they be persecuted. One of his loyal officers rounded up 40 Christians from among the soldiers in Licinius's army and ordered that they be exposed naked on a frozen pond near the town of Sebaste (in what is now Armenia) that they might freeze to death. One of the Christians fell from faith and sought the comfort of a nearby warm bath. On the other hand, one of the guards enforcing the persecution observed the supernatural light around the faithful naked Christians. This guard then threw off his clothes to join the naked, freezing Christians in their death for faith.
Pastor Daniel closed by urging that we pray for faith, that we pray for courage and boldness in our faith in the face of all kinds of adversity, even unto death.
I have here further a story of Korean people today in the witness of true faith. The story is entitled “Live like your mother!” It is told by a pastor who does much work in China's north-east, very near the border with north Korea, to minister to north Koreans. He helps train north Korean refugees in China who have accepted Christ to return to north Korea (secretly, of course) to minister the Word to faithful people in north Korea:
“In April of (2019), one of our trained evangelists in north Korea was martyred in north Korea's JS Prison. This prison camp has been known to be notoriously harsh on Christians. It is known that camp inmates die there every day; many attempt to escape but most are caught and returned. Many of those who are caught are thrown to hungry hounds. Many are beaten or lose flesh to dogs; many recaptured prisoners die. Prison officers want camp inmates to see what happens when they try to escape. Younghee came to our training facility in China and trained with us for five months in 2008. When she returned she planted an underground church. In three years, the number of secret believers increased to twelve. As her church grew her risk of exposure grew also. Finally she was exposed and sent to a political prison camp for an indefinite term. We had lost contact.
"None of her family knew what happened to Younghee. Some children thought her mother was in China. Through one of our workers, we were able to locate Younghee's prison camp. With her two children, our worker went to try to see Younghee on July 21, 2019. Upon their arrival at the prison, officers there told the children that Younghee had died in April 2019 and her body had been cremated. Upon hearing the news of their mother's death, her children began to weep inconsolably. One prison officer walked into the room and saw the older daughter of Younghee and said, 'you must be a daughter of Younghee. You just look like your mother.' He began to tell of his experience with Younghee. He continued, 'I have never seen such a strong and honest woman as your mother. When I told your mother, ‘I don’t understand why a person like you who is smart and lacks nothing believes in a God that we cannot see. If only you had denied your God, you would not have all this suffering. Don’t you regret being a Christian?’ Then your mother answered me back, ‘I have never regretted my faith and I do not regret it even now’. Eventually I assigned light work to her because she had become physically so weak. But she was strong in her faith. She was always helping other prisoners and she showed to all of us the essential dignity of being a God-believing person. The whole prison knew that she was a Christian as she shared her food and other basic necessities with other prisoners. She had the face of someone who lives in a different world. She was always comforting those who were lonely and in distress.'
"As the prison officer finished his testimony, he stood up and said, 'Even though it is hard to live in this world, you must live like your mother!.' As he was closing the door, he murmured, 'Younghee was a genuine believer.' As her children and our worker came out of JS Prison, they were wondering whether that prison officer became a believer in Jesus after knowing Younghee.”
New Year Twenty Twenty-one greetings to each and to everyone at Bethel Youth Ministry!
This last Lord's Day Pastor Daniel frankly acknowledged that none of us can know what is to come in 2021 despite our misgivings from 2020. But he affirmed to us that so long as we are FAITHFUL we are covered for our number-one goal, eternal salvation, come what may. Pastor Daniel then spent time illustrating for us just why this is so.
He first read to us from Proverbs 21 verses 30 and 31 “there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. The horse is made ready for battle.” This is by way of affirming that whatever the whiles and schemes of Satan, still our God is superior.
Then Pastor Daniel got right down to it: “Did Covid-ridden 2020 cause you to fall from faith?” It is a good question to ask, because the common assumption among human beings is that a good God should not cause bad things to happen, or even to allow them to happen. Yes, He does not cause bad things to happen, but from Romans 8:28 (“and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”) that He does allow good and bad things in life to happen together to bring about His purpose, which if we are His children, must be for our ultimate good, though we may not see it.
So, do we trust our God? Many, especially adults who believe that their own estimate of the good in life must also be the way God sees it, will lose faith, if they ever had it, when life does not go according to their own script. Hopefully in BYM we each have not become so old and forgetful that we have forgotten the love of a wise and loving parent and the trust that the mom or dad, who after all is just a human being, still inspires in us.
So then, do we trust our God?
Pastor Daniel read to us from Romans 8:35-39: “ Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By now we all understand that among the consequences of a fleshly body and its moral imperfection is that sin draws us to the opposite of truth. So then, how many times have we asked ourselves: “is God is really with me?” But consider that if He sacrificed is Son on the cross that we each might be redeemed from the imperfection and slavery of sin, how can He not be with us? As Pastor Daniel urged upon us: don't mix up Satan's doings with God.
Inescapably but truly, if we have doubts about God and His purposes it is because we believe in ourselves and our own intellectual and physical powers. This is something that the world all around us strongly encourages in us from our earliest consciousness. We are each to be our own little gods in the playbook of the powers that be in this world. This attitude makes us amenable to their Satanic purposes, glittering though they be.
Again from Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” This is another way of saying “man proposes, but God disposes”. Teacher Rand from many decades of experience will sheepishly confirm that when he has thought of himself as most discerning and clever is when Our Lord has shown him to be most mistaken!
So, Pastor Daniel asked us, the survivors of 2020: are we sick and tired of living in defeat? He urged us two-fold:
Firstly, that we pray continually. Prayer is what connects us to God.
Again: PRAYER IS WHAT CONNECTS US TO GOD. Pastor Daniel wasn't talking about some self-help meditation, but about humble, submissive prayer to our Lord and Maker. Secondly, that we walk by the Spirit. Pastor Daniel read to us Romans 8-1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. This means that we, each of us, must follow His lead, rather than “living MY life.” By way of example, Pastor Daniel brought up Israelite King David, who was a sinner like the rest of us, except that being in a position of power, he could commit bigger sins than we can, and more readily. Remember the story of Uriah the Hittite's wife Bathsheba and how King David basically murdered Uriah as well as committed adultery with his wife? (read 2 Samuel chapter 11) But what ultimately matters is that for his many large sins King David was also very painfully and humbly repentant before God. That is key. Pastor Daniel illustrated King David's true heart by reading from Psalm 51 verses 10-11: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” That is what our God wants to see in each of us. As victorious Chrstians we are not even remotely perfect but through the inevitable ups and downs of life in this world we are repentant and submissive – daily!
Hopefully by now we get the message, and we know that our fears from 2020 going into the new year 2021 can be mastered and overridden. We read from Romans 6:14: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” and we read from 1 Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If we imperfect creatures have victory through Christ over sin, then for sure the rest of it – whatever transpires in 2021 – is really just anticlimax.
In true faith we can breathe easily – the victory is already ours!