Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bible Reading Plan for the New Year

I first read the Bible through in 1952-1953. It was the King James Version. I read four chapters in the Old Testament and two chapters in the New Testament a day. This took me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament two and half times in nine months. In 1970 or 1971, I switched to the RSV, and then in 1980-81 I switched to the NIV. I do not remember what my reading schedule was in those years.

For about ten years, I followed a strict schedule with YWAM. For the last seven years, I have been using Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s More Precious than Gold schedule. This program allows you to read the Bible in one or two years. The one-year plan starts with Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Matthew 1, and Acts 1 on January 1. It goes through the Old Testament once, the book of Psalms twice, and the New Testament twice during the year. I have used it with the NIV, with a Jewish Old Testament, the New English Bible New Testament, the Ronald Knox Roman Catholic translation, the New English Bible Old Testament, and the Twentieth Century New Testament.

You can download Robert Murray M’Cheyne's Bible reading plan here.

I encourage you to use some sort of schedule. There are several other plans for 2017 here.

In the Lord Jesus Christ,

Jim Wilson

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Love Your Neighbor

"Jesus replied: '"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself."'" (Matt. 22:37-39)

In these two commandments there are two objects of love: "the Lord your God" and "your neighbor." You are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. That is the means.

In what way should you love your neighbor? The same way you love yourself. "Yourself" is an object already greatly loved by you and therefore is the standard by which you are to love your neighbor. Even those who have a low "self-worth" have great love for themselves. They are more concerned for themselves than they are for others; therefore, they are commanded to love their neighbors as they love themselves.

How can we obey the command to love? For a start, calculate how much time you think about yourself. Second, list all the things you do for yourself and the time you spend on yourself, including showering, dressing, brushing your hair, eating, sleeping, and studying. Third, admit that these are expressions of love for yourself. Fourth, admit that you do not love your neighbor (even your best friend) as yourself. Fifth, admit that this is a violation of the second commandment and a sin that needs God's forgiveness. Turn to Him for this forgiveness for all the past unlove you have had. (This will not make you suddenly loving, but it will make you clean and bring you into a position from which you can love your neighbor.)

Now for the positive. Decide to love your neighbor. This is an act of the will; it is not an emotional feeling at first. After we choose to obey God, He will provide the emotion and the means of expressing that emotion so that it is not phony. He is the source of all love, but love is put into effect by an act of the will. When I say an "act of the will," I do not mean willpower. I mean will as in choosing or deciding only. The power is God's. The choice is ours.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Clean on the Inside

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them." (Luke 6:32)

This kind of love is not a distinctively Christian trait. In fact, Jesus said that "even 'sinners' love those who love them." Many Christians love those who love them or love lovely people and think that they are showing Christian love by doing this, when, in fact, they are loving in a humanistic fashion. In other words, they love the same way every other human being loves.

There is a distinct love that only Christians have. They have it because they received it when it was given to them by the Lord.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) His love for us had nothing to do with our loveliness or our love for Him. It had to do with His nature and our need. When we share this love with others, it should have nothing to do with others' love for us or with their loveliness. Jesus said, "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back." (Luke 6:35a)

If you are not loving as Christ loved, you are either a disobedient Christian or you are not a Christian.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and
dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt. 23:25-28)

One of the first things I notice in this paragraph is that Jesus said this to the hypocrites, not about them. For many decades years (and it probably has been going on for hundreds of years), I have heard people talk about the hypocrites, saying that churches were full of hypocrites and that is why they do not go to church. Jesus said earlier in Matthew, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach but do not practice." There is no virtue in avoiding church because of hypocrites.

Second, a hypocrite is someone who is pretending to be cleaner on the outside than he is on the inside. He spends more effort in appearing clean than he does in being clean. Most people do this. Hypocrites are everywhere. Churches may be full of them, but so are prisons, and so are homes. Very few people want to be known as they are on the inside. Wicked people do not want to be known as wicked. There are a few who say, "At least I'm not a hypocrite." What they are saying is, "I'm dirty on the inside and the outside." True, they are not hypocrites, but they are no cleaner than the hypocrites. Jesus said that the way to avoid hypocrisy is to “...first clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Many of us know the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke. This Christmas season, read the Christmas story to your children from the Bible. You will find the story of the wise men and the star in Matthew 1:18-2:23 and the story of the shepherds and the angel in Luke 2:1-39. However, there are several other short accounts of this event. They are Colossians 1:13-20, Hebrews 1:1-4, Galatians 4:4-5, and Philippians 2:5-11.

Here is the seventh account:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.... He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5 and 10-14)

Merry Christmas!

Jim Wilson

Friday, December 23, 2016

Keeping Fellowship

"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him." (Rom. 14:1-3)

Romans 14 is a chapter about attitudes towards other believers. The basic premise is that a believer belongs to God, and God receives him without looking down on him or condemning him, and, therefore, we should also receive him in the same way. This is saying that there is something more important than "being right."

God allows us to think we are right; verse 5 says, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." He allows us to think differently, but He does not allow us to break fellowship because we think differently.

Please read the rest of Romans 14. You will notice that the "kingdom of God does not mean food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." God is more interested in the quality of our life than in the physical things we participate in. The first half of this chapter tells us not to dispute with those with whom we disagree. We are not to try to convince him that he is wrong and that we are right. The second half of the chapter suggests that, without giving up our position, we do not participate in anything when that participation would cause a believer to stumble.

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 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. (Romans 14)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Giving

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2 Cor. 8:1-5)

“For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12)

We do not normally think of “severe tests of affliction” and “abundance of joy” going together. Nor do we think that “extreme poverty” normally “overflows in a wealth of liberality.” There are other unusual expressions in this passage, like “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” This is refreshing to read after getting so many letters in the mail begging us to give. Paul was teaching the Corinthians the importance of giving from the heart. He was also collecting money, but he was doing it for the needs of others, not for his own needs. He was teaching people to give for their own good, and he was teaching people to give for the good of the people to whom they gave.

Love requires expression, and the primary expression of love is giving for the needs of others. “For God so loved the world that He gave...” (John 3:16). In 2 Corinthians 8, we find that giving is a “gracious work” and evidence “that your love is genuine.” “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Giving is primary. Do you give your time? Do you give your home in hospitality? Do you give your possessions? Do you give your resources? Would you give your life? If your answer is, “I do not have the time to give, or a home, or possessions, or resources,” that is not important, “for if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not” (verse 12). If the readiness is there, you might find yourself in your poverty overflowing in a wealth of liberality.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Christmas!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 9-14)
This is the Christmas story according to John. This is the reason for all of my descendants and many other relatives being Christian today.

Bessie received Christ in 1935 at the age of 15 at a revival meeting in Edmonton, Alberta. I received Christ on October 18, 1947, at a Youth for Christ meeting in a Presbyterian church at the corner of North Avenue and St. Paul Street in Baltimore, Maryland. It was after a football game my second year at the Naval Academy. I had turned 20 on October 6.

The message preached that evening was by a Filipino evangelist, Gregorio Tingson. His text was Psalm 40:1-4: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.”

After the meeting was over, Willard Peterson (class of ’49) took me to another room and introduced me to the Father through Jesus Christ. I wanted to sing for joy! If you do not know the Father, please read the next five chapters of the Gospel of John.

2016 was an exciting year for the U.S., with much joy and much dismay. The first instance was Chicago winning the World Series in an extra inning. There was more joy than dismay. On November 6, there was joy and dismay. Both were intense. I think the “dismay” side had it more; they were dismayed more than the Trump followers were joyful.

My favorite Christian carol is Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.” Watts did not write this for Christmas day. He did not believe in celebrating Christmas. Let’s look at it. Verse 3:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
It sounds like the Second Coming when there will be great joy.

Look at Luke 10:17-21: "The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.' At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.'”

Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” … “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” … “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:2, 10, 21-24)
God is into parties when sinners are saved.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Forgiveness

“The LORD said to Moses: ‘If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do—when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering.’” (Lev. 6:1-5)

The quotation is followed by the requirement of the guilt offering and then this wonderful promise: “In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty” (Lev. 6:7).

Two things were necessary for forgiveness to be given and received: 1) restitution and 2) a sacrifice for the sins committed. We know from the New Testament that the guilt offering is still necessary, but has been provided by God in the death of Jesus Christ. “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).

Yes, Jesus Christ is our guilt offering, but what about the other condition, restitution? We have been conned into thinking that because we have received Jesus, restitution is not necessary. However, repentance includes action (restitution), and if restitution has not taken place, our conscience still hurts. It may be shoplifting; plagiarism on a term paper or a thesis; lying on income tax returns; or some other form of cheating and lying.

There are reasons we do not want to make restitution. “The disgrace would be great,” “I do not have the money,” “I would flunk the class,” “I would lose my Ph.D.” Even if these things happen, it is worth it to be clean. Make restitution! Restitution is not a “work” as opposed to “faith.” It is part of repentance.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Restitution

One way to may "payments" on our debt of love is through restitution.

In 1932 when I was in kindergarten, I was walking home with a friend after school one day, and he told me that he would teach me how to steal a cookie. He was to stop at the corner store on the way home to buy a pound of hamburger. When he ordered the hamburger, the owner of the store would go to the back room to grind and wrap it. While the owner was doing that, my friend would go to the cookie display and open a small glass door over a bin of cookies. He would remove two chocolate marshmallow cookies, give one to me, and put the other in his own pocket. He would pay the merchant for the hamburger, and we would leave the store. Sure enough, it went just as planned.

The corner store was two blocks from my home. In the first block, each of us ate our cookie. In the second block, I could feel the chocolate and marshmallow around my mouth. I licked my lips and rubbed my face. I knew my mother would see my mouth and ask where I got the chocolate. Well, she did not ask.

Fifteen years later during my second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, I received Christ. My sins were forgiven. I had new life in Christ. Sometime later while on leave, I stopped by the corner store at 24th and Oak Street in South Omaha to make restitution for that stolen cookie. The store was no longer there. I gave the money to the Lord.

All sins require repentance. Some of those sins also require restitution. The most common kind of sin that requires restitution is theft. Leviticus 6:1-7 lists the forms of stealing:
The LORD said to Moses: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do—when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”
After giving the different kinds of stealing, the passage tells the solution, the means of forgiveness for the one who stole:

1) Return what he stole.
2) Add 20% of the value and give that also to the person he stole from.
3) Bring a guilt offering to the Lord.

When these are done, the thief receives atonement and forgiveness for his guilt.

That is Old Testament. What about in the New Testament? First, Jesus’ death on the cross is the fulfillment of all Old Testament sacrifices: “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb. 7:27). Jesus’ death paid for the sins, the guilt, the death, and the punishment.

Jesus does not repay the man who got ripped off. The person who comes to the Lord in repentance is to pay the one he stole from the value of the stolen goods plus one fifth (20%).

There are other cases where the percentage is 300 or 400%. “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for
the sheep” (Ex. 22:1). Here God is telling Moses detailed instructions to give the people. This is one of them. The restitution for live animals is much different from the 20% instructed in Leviticus.

Why is this? An ox is a mammal which first reproduces, then gives milk, cheese, butter, meat, and leather. A castrated male pulls the plow to produce crops. The ox is its owner’s means of income. Therefore, it is to be returned plus four more (400%) to make up for the income which was lost when it was stolen. A sheep is a ruminous mammal that produces more sheep, wool, and meat. It is also a means of income and must be returned plus three more sheep (300%).

Is this restitution true for the New Testament? Yes. Zacchaeus returned fourfold to the people he had cheated. Restitution is repentance in action. Repentance is more than just a word. “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’” (Luke 19:9-10).

David knew this truth when he responded to Nathan’s story of the rich man who stole his poor neighbor’s pet lamb to feed his guest: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity’” (2 Sam. 12:5-6).

What if we cannot find the person we stole from?
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the LORD and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for him. (Num. 5:5-8)
If the original owner or his relatives cannot be found, make restitution to the Lord.

One Sunday after teaching this, I was approached by a student and his wife. They wanted to see me urgently, so I made an appointment to see them at my home that afternoon. When they arrived, I asked what the problem was. The conversation went something like this:

Student: “It is what you talked about this morning.”
Me: “Wasn’t it clear? Didn’t you understand?”
Student: “Yes.”
Me: “Then why do you need to see me? You know what to do.”
Student: “Let me tell you anyway. I stole seventy rock music tapes that cost $6.99 each. I do not like that kind of music anymore, so I threw them away. I’ve got a leather fringe coat that I don’t wear anymore because it bothers my conscience to wear it. I have a pair of gym shoes I found at the boat races in the Tri-Cities; I have a basketball that I got from the men’s gym; I stole a bicycle ten years ago in Spokane.”
Me: “What is your problem? You know what to do.”
Student: “I don’t have any money.”
Me: “What are you and your wife living on if you do not have any money?”
Student: “The money I earned last summer. I have it budgeted for the rest of the school year.”
Me: “Oh. You do have money, but it is not your money. It belongs to the people you stole it from.”

Later he told me the success of the restitution.

Another student had been a heavy-equipment driver for a construction company. At the beginning of the summer, he had told his boss that he planned on going back to college in the fall. When he came to work the next day, the boss told him, “Since you are leaving in the fall, just don’t come back tomorrow.”

The student was angry that the boss had only given him one day’s notice when he had given the boss three months’ notice. He figured that the company owed him something, so he took a few tools with him.

In the fall, he heard the message on restitution and realized he had to return the tools. At Christmas, he put the tools in his car. While driving to the construction company, he was listening to Christian radio. The Bible teacher on the radio said that restitution was an Old Testament concept and that people under grace did not have to return things.

He was so glad! He turned around and went home. Then he put his initials on the tools. Later he was again convicted by the Holy Spirit. This time he had to take the tools back with his initials on them.

Restitution is for people under grace. Here’s why. Suppose I am not a Christian and am short of money. So I go into the First National Bank and hold it up. I put $100,000 in my bag and walk down the street. I come to a park where there is open-air preaching going on. There is
singing, testifying, and preaching, and a crowd of people listening. I join the crowd. I am convicted of sin and call on the Lord.

After the meeting, I go up to the preacher and say, “I did what you said. I prayed to God. I feel wonderful! What does that mean?”
The preacher says, “That means you have been born again.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means your sins have been forgiven.”
“Oh,” I say. “How many?”
“All of them!”
“All of them?”
“Yes, all of them.”
“Oh boy,” I reply. “Now I can enjoy this $100,000.”
“What $100,000?”
“In my bag. I just relieved the bank of some extra money.”
The preacher looks at me. “Let’s take it back.”
“What do you mean, ‘Take it back’? You just told me I’ve been forgiven.”
“Yes, but it is not your money. You were forgiven for stealing it, but when you decided to keep it, you just stole it again.”

You may think that needing to return it is obvious. Yes—because it is $100,000, and the theft happened less than an hour before the repentance. But what if it is a candy bar you took twenty years ago? The amount stolen and the time since the theft do not make it yours. Take it back!

There are many Christians who are living subnormal Christian lives because they are too proud or too afraid to make restitution. They are like people with low-grade fevers; they are not sick enough to be in bed, but too sick to do anything worthwhile. Even if no one knows about the thefts, these Christians are poor witnesses for Jesus Christ.

They may have confessed and repented in words, but if they do not make restitution, it is not true repentance, and they are not forgiven.

When Christians act on this truth, there will be a revival in their own lives. When many Christians do it, there will be revival in the city, the state, and the country.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

From the Editor: Debt

From The Hammer magazine, Vol. III No. III

“Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.” (Rom. 13:8)

We all know what it is to have bills. Bills, bills, bills coming persistently in the mail is part of life. Scripture tells us to take care of these debts promptly. When one comes due, it should be paid in full.

But there is one debt that we can never properly pay off, one debt that is incessantly overdue and underpaid. We cannot save up for it. We must pay more than our tight budget allows each month, each week, each day. That debt is the continuing love due to our fellow creatures. It is the debt that remains outstanding day after day, month after month, year after year.

In and of ourselves we lack the resources to pay this continuous debt. But if we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:8), we have access to all the riches of God’s grace and love.

Perhaps we wish the Holy Spirit would send us an itemized statement of our debt each month. Then we would know how to begin. But God has given us His instructions and made provision in Christ for our weakness. We can, in Christ, put aside all anger, rage, malice, and slander (Col. 3:8) and put on love (Col. 3:14).

Although we may feel we will overload and short-circuit if we are faced with one more situation demanding our love, God can enlarge our capacity to pay this outstanding debt. If only we would give this debt the same attention we give to all our other monthly debts!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

From the Editor: Practical Christianity

From The Hammer magazine, Vol. III No. II.

Christianity is intensely practical. We must live it out in our relationships with people and our response to God. We must not be merely hearers and talkers but doers (James 1:22).

Often it seems that the eager new Christian is anxious to make his Christianity practical by allowing God to revamp the old attitudes and behaviors, but later he begins to get complacent and looks for something “more.” It is as though the old, simple truths that changed his life aren’t good enough anymore. We look for something more complicated, something “deeper.” We fail to apply what we knew at the beginning.

A child learns to walk by putting one foot in front of the other. As adults, we are still applying the same principle. We still put one foot in front of the other. We didn’t have to learn more complicated methods of getting where we wanted to go. It is the same with Christianity. As we mature, we must continue to apply the same truths that we began with, not look for new “revelation” for our “special” problems. We must not let pride tell us that we need something new, something more complex. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 1:6-7).

Not only must we keep applying the same truths, we probably have not fully applied them in our lives yet anyway! Mark Twain said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts that I do understand!” Why should we expect God to give us more knowledge when we have not applied what He has already shown us?

Friday, December 09, 2016

Witness in the Spirit

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness." (Gal. 5:22)

"He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord." (Acts 11:24)

Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. He was also a good man. This not surprising, since the fruit of the Spirit is goodness. The text says that a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Barnabas was in a witnessing, evangelizing situation. Goodness is a necessary characteristic of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It is also a necessary characteristic of effective witnessing.

To witness the content of the good news without being good is to contradict with our life what we are saying with our mouth.

"Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:6)

If we are going to talk good news, we must walk good news. Witnessing in the Holy Spirit is assurance that there will be no contradiction between our walk and our talk.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

From the Editor: Compassion

Letter from the Editor, Hammer Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 1, 1984

Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. (Matt. 24:17-20)

Although I have always noticed this passage and Christ’s reference to pregnant women and nursing mothers, I never stopped to think much about it. Only recently did I see something of the gracious character of our Lord in this statement.

How many of us, in the midst of a discourse such as this, would mention the difficulty of pregnant women and nursing mothers? Especially, how many men would refer to it while addressing a group of men (Jesus was addressing His disciples)?

Jesus shows a great deal of empathy and compassion in this brief statement. A pregnant or nursing mother can relate to the difficulty and stress of the moment Jesus described. And yet Christ knows what sort of distress this particular group would endure. Not only does Christ know what the hardship would be like, He takes the time to refer to it.

How many of us have this sort of compassion for people who are in difficult situations? Do we ever stop to think what it would be like to handle daily life if we were in someone else’s situation? Christ was understanding, compassionate, and tender. We should cultivate this type of empathy. How many women stop to think about the difficulties husbands and fathers have in shouldering the responsibilities they have? We all tend to be too distracted with our own problems.

Finally, our recognition of the boundless compassion of Christ should make us realize that our Lord can identify with our situation no matter what it is. He is not bound by our limits. Though male, Christ knew what women could suffer. There is no situation that He is unable to understand.

Let us remember when we draw near to God that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

Monday, December 05, 2016

Fixed

This was written by my wife Bessie.

“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” (Psalm 57:7)

Sometimes when I hear or read a great truth from the Scriptures, my first reaction is “Oh, I want that to be true in my life!” The second reaction is, “But how?” I will deal here with this second reaction.

The quotation above is from the King James Version but is rendered my heart is steadfast both in the RSV and NIV. I like the strength of the KJV because “fixed” suggests a locked-in position, a trusting regardless of circumstances. We read in the caption that David had written this psalm when he fled from Saul into the cave.

A “fixed heart” assumes a confidence in the Lord. It assumes a mind that disregards the circumstances. The impossibility of the situation only drove David to reliance on the Lord to the extent that he said, “I will sing and make music” (Psalm 57:7b).

In Psalm 25:15, David expressed this in different words: “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.”

It is one thing to declare that our heart is fixed but another to demonstrate it by a restful mind when thoughts distract and emotions run wild over the situation with which we are faced. To maintain a fixed heart, we need to bring our minds to a spiritual conclusion. By that I mean we reason with ourselves; we conduct a conversation that may run like this:

“Is this situation beyond my capability?”

“It certainly is.”

“Do I see any human solution by my effort or some other person’s effort?”

“No, I don’t!”

“Has the Lord allowed this situation to occur?”

“Obviously.”

In some cases, at this point we need to confess that some sin or neglect on our part brought the situation to pass.

“Does He love me?”

“Oh yes, I know He does.”

When the waves are high, you may be tempted to doubt His love. Remember Peter walked on the water until when distracted by the wind, he began to sink. He had forgotten that Jesus had said, “Come” (Matt. 14:30). Peter was not “locked in” to the word of the Master.

“Is He faithful?”

At this point the mind recollects the many deliverances of the past.

“Oh yes, He is faithful.”

“Am I ready now to turn in faith to Him, trusting the situation to Him, and with a glad heart waiting to see Him act on my behalf?”

“I am ready.”

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast [fixed] because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Our Hope in Adversity

A post for the Christmas season written by Chris Vlachos, who ran CCM's bookstore in Provo, UT.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manager, because there was no room in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

In this passage, we see a simple but striking account of God’s hand providentially working in the affairs of men to bring to pass His ultimate and glorious purposes. The emperor, Augustus, just prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, sent forth a decree requiring that all Roman subjects be registered in a census. This census was for tax purposes. It was necessary for each person to return to his hometown to be enrolled. Joseph, a native of Bethlehem, travelled with his pregnant wife back to his home city, and while they were there, Mary gave birth to her son, Jesus.

In the Old Testament book of Micah, it was foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. In order to bring this to pass, God moved the heart of the emperor to issue the census decree. What seemed to be a routine affair in the governmental workings of the Roman empire was in reality God sovereignly steering history’s course of events to bring His plans to pass. In reality, it was not Caesar, but God who issued the decree.

Can anything be drawn from this event? Is there anything that can be applied to our lives as we think about this incident during this coming Christmas season? Yes, there is, and it is this: if God sovereignly rules all events according to His purposes, then those of us who are His people can take comfort when seemingly unfortunate events come our way. Joseph and Mary had to make a 70-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Times couldn’t have been worse for the couple. Mary was due to give birth. Joseph would have to miss valuable days from work at a time when he would soon be supporting a child. We do not know if it was with bitterness that they made their trip; however, most of us would have to admit that there would be seeds of resentment within us if we found ourselves in similar circumstances.

But what seemed to be “hard knocks” turned out to be for good! What seemed to have served no purpose had a great purpose. How much time and energy we spend moaning about the events that we later see had a beneficial purpose.

As we are reminded this season of the birth of Christ, may we recall that God has a plan for the lives of His people, a plan that He brings to pass through His sovereign ruling of events. Next time, rather than grumble at our circumstances, let us thank Him and trust Him!

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)