Seeking A Better Country

The old spiritual song “Roll Jordon, Roll” states, “I want to go to heaven when I die.” This phrase epitomizes each and every Christian’s longing and desire for eternal life. It was stated concerning Abraham in the book of Hebrews 11:13-16:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
In his sermon on faith, J.W. McGarvey says concerning Abraham,

. . . Abraham, by faith, lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promises, because he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The Sodomites had built a city. Melchizedek, the high priest of God, was living in the city of Salem, close by. The Shechemites and others round about, had cities; and his friends, the Hittites, were living in the City of Hebron. He was a man of great wealth, and he could have built a palace in which to live, but he chose to live in a tent all his life. He was seventy-five years old when he left his native land, and one-hundred and seventy-five when he died; and through a round hundred years, he lived in a tent, by faith, because yonder was the city he was looking for, that had foundations sure enough, whose builder and maker is God, and he was so well pleased and satisfied with that, that he did not want anything better than a tent to live in here on earth. Sometimes I have thought that this was a greater evidence of Abraham’s faith than offering Isaac on the altar. It was a long strain, that one hundred years living in a tent and looking for that distant city. Conviction as to that unseen city which God hath built; confident expectation that after a long, weary journey, his life over, he would live in it with his children after him-this was his faith.
What a tremendous desire to go to heaven on the part of Abraham so that he would eschew life in a permanent earthly dwelling to remind him of his true home! This land in which we live today, this earthly tabernacle in which we are dwelling is only a fa�ade of that which is truly real. The earthly tabernacle in which we groan is illusory, temporal, and fleeting. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4:

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
The “Better Country” is that country to which we can go eternally. That “Better Country” is that country in which there will be no dissolution of our bodies. That “Better Country” is the place where we will live in ultimate fellowship with God and Christ forever. Everything that we desire is laid up for us in that country. All of our aspirations and eternal blessing awaits those who lay up their treasures in that country. Can we see beyond the immediate affairs of this life, opening the heavenly visage and peering into the wonders of eternity? Can we, with the eyes of faith, gape at that grand and glorious Gibraltar?

And yet today, there are Christians who are binding themselves to this earth and stockpiling corruptible earthly treasures in place of eternal spiritual wonders. Oh Christian who doth so gaze, remember the words of Peter, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (2 Peter 2:11). Remember the exhortation of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Must we not confess that we are but strangers and pilgrims on our journey through this illusory life?

Let us then, seek for that “Better Country,” that “Heavenly Country”-the place where all hopes are fulfilled, where all dreams are realized, where all spiritual needs are satisfied, where there is no more sorrow or crying, no pain nor death, no heartache, no sighing, no loneliness, no fear. There is our home, our city, and our country! We are citizens of that great nation which exists in the presence of God. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20,21).

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. (Revelation 21:23-26)
Abraham’s country can be your country as well. Lift up your eyes and behold that wondrous place around which all hope hangs. Lift up your eyes to heaven and to The One who dwells therein (Psalm 123:1). With all the powers and might of our life, let us seek that better, heavenly, country.

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The Carroll County Augurers Society

Every week is an adventure of the mind here in Berryville. Just when you think that you have “seen it all” something happens to make you realize that there are no bounds to which people will go in their minds to justify their own preconceived notions about how they think God works in their lives. What was so shocking about my most recent encounter with one of these minds is that the very thing which was called upon to prove God’s working in one’s life was exactly the kind of thing that has been used in the past by pagans and which the Bible specifically condemns. To what am I referring, you might ask. I am speaking of nothing less than the practice of augury.

I was taken by surprise this past week when a person from the community told me a story regarding the conception of her son. She said that she and her husband had tried for many years to have a child, but without success. When they finally decided to adopt, they conceived. I have heard many stories like this, but never in the context of what I was about to be told. The woman proceeded to tell me that she believed that the conception of her child was a miracle. The evidence that she put forth in regard to proof was that at the time of her conception she saw eagles in the sky. In other words, the eagles were an omen or portent that she was going to be the recipient of a miracle from God. This kind of thinking is no less than what the Bible describes as augury.

Among the ancient pagans, augury was practiced very prominently. The International Bible Encyclopedia entry states that this practice was commonly observed by the Romans and Greeks. Augurers of that day looked at celestial signs, lighting, signs from the flights of birds, movement of animals and snakes, signs from the examination of animal intestines, and the flight of arrows. Often times a sacrifice was made before the omens were examined. This was to propitiate the gods. However, in Leviticus 19:26 God specifically condemns such practices. We read in the ASV, “Ye shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantments, nor practise augury.” This prohibition is also mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:10,14; 2 Kings 21:6; and 2 Chronicles 33:6. Revelation 21:8 also condemns this practice under the category of sorcery.

How someone who claims to be a Christian can think that God’s approval comes through some ancient pagan practice mystifies me greatly. It just goes to show the extent to which people are willing to believe whatever they want to believe as a justification for their own thoughts and concepts. The Bible still says that faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). It does not say that faith comes by watching the birds fly in the sky. Herein lies the problem with all such types of thought. It causes an individual to trust something other than the word of God and when we start to put our faith and trust in things other than God’s word, we have already given Satan the green light to control our lives. This is why the practice of sorcery is wrong; this is why the organization WICCA is wrong and sinful; this is why those who claim modern day miracles are wrong as well–because each of these are attempts to replace God’s word with the word of mere men.

Let us keep our mind centered on God’s thoughts as we know them to be revealed through the scriptures. Studying God’s word is the only way to produce faith in our life today. Let us learn it, love it, and live it each and every day of our life.

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The Oxymoronic Nature of Alcohol

With the passing of Thanksgiving weekend our holiday season has begun. Times of food, fun, and fellowship with friends and family await. It should be a time to exchange gifts and make long lasting and joyous memories. However for some it will be a time of sorrow because in addition to the expectation of many to enjoy the season will also come the dreaded news of the inevitable fatalities that result from the recreational consumption of alcohol.

Consumption of alcohol increases during this time of the year EVERY year and some will die as a result of this plague. Some of these deaths will be related to auto collisions. Some the result of a drunk and abusive spouse. Some of a drunk and abusive parent. All will be tragic and when we hear the statistic on the evening news we will wag our heads and feel sorry for the families that were destroyed by this evil. Even if we exclude the actual deaths involved, there will still be families go hungry because their provider chooses to waste income on alcohol. Violence, abuses, and neglect–all because of alcohol.

When it all boils down to it, the consumption of alcohol is merely a recreational activity. What other part of our society do we deem it acceptable for mere entertainment to justify such tragic consequences? If any other entertainment product were to cause the same number of deaths that alcohol causes each year warnings would be heralded, dangers exposed and recalls issued. We would demand that the problem be fixed, the manufacturer punished and the victims reimbursed. Do we remember the national outrage over faulty automobile tires a year and a half ago? Far fewer died, but far more concern was levied than is brought to bear against the industry of alcohol.

Why do we allow this national tragedy to continue? Pride? Ignorance? Apathy? Perhaps these are some of the reasons. But I suspect that the biggest reason is the most disturbing. We value personal pleasure more than we value individual life. The alcohol manufacturers know this. They frequently depict the association of alcohol with pleasurable activities. Pleasure is the god of wine. This god, however, rewards its servants not with lasting joy, but with pain, regret and personal tragedy.

The solution to this problem is simple. Take away the very thing from the alcohol manufacturers that they value the most–your money! These manufacturers are wary of the potential loss of revenue that they will suffer if we, as a society, wake up. So they couch this concern in slogans such as “drink responsibly” and “think when you drink” consciously oblivious to the oxymoronic nature of these statements. This holiday season, start sending a message to these deliverers of death. Refuse to purchase their products. Refuse to participate in the deception of temporary pleasure. Refuse to engage in the senseless folly of the recreational consumption of alcohol. Don’t drink (period).

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The Sin of Absenteeism

Of the many different characteristics of the church there is that of being the body of Christ. Perhaps this metaphor is most illustrative in one of Paul’s letters to Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 12:14-16, Paul writes, “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” In verse 27 of the same chapter we read, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” We are all members of a great body–Christ’s body–the church. Each one of us has a special role to play within the body of Christ. Every single one of us is important. Every single one of us is necessary.

The illustration Paul uses is this: think about the church as if it were your own personal body. Are there any parts of your body that are not necessary? One time I had an ingrown toenail on my big toe. I tried to fix the problem myself with a pocketknife, but ended up making things worse. I finally decided that I needed to go to the doctor and have something done about it because it was starting to change colors. That doctor cut off half of my toenail just to fix that one little problem and it affected my entire body for several weeks. Who would have thought that half of a toenail was that important? When we look through the eyes of the Spirit, we see that every single member of the church is important and that for us to remove ourselves from that body causes harm to the body. Spiritually we may be no more than half a toenail, but when we leave the body, we hurt the entire body.

With these thoughts in mind, let us consider Hebrews 10:24-26. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins�.” The writer of the book of Hebrews is writing to Christians who are being tempted to leave the church. His message to these is, “Don’t you realize what you are doing to the body of Christ?” When you leave the church, you discourage the church. However, when you attend the services, you encourage the church. The very presence of our members exhorts us to do at least two things: 1) Love one another, and 2) Encourage one another toward good works. When we commit the sin of absenteeism, we say two things to our brethren: 1) I don’t love you and 2) I don’t want you to do good works. How can this not hurt our brethren? How can this not hurt the church? How can this not hinder the progress of the gospel? Absenteeism is a sin and it is a sin that hurts the church.

This passage. however, says that absenteeism not only hurts the church, it hurts the individual Christian who is absent. Notice that the writer says immediately following the exhortation not to practice absenteeism, that those who sin willfully have no more sacrifice for sin. In other words, the sin of absenteeism causes us to lose our salvation. Really, the choice to attend the assembling of the saints is a choice that is either something we are going to do because we want to do it or because we don’t want to do it. I am not talking about being sick or taking care of another who is sick. I am speaking of the situation when there are no hindrances to our being with our fellow Christians to worship God and we deliberately choose not to go. The Holy Spirit says that this is willful sin and that as a result of that we can expect 1) our sins to remain with us and 2) Christ’s sacrifice to be ineffectual for us. The result is that it not only hurts the church, it hurts us.

There is a story about a man who wrote a letter to the editor complaining of attending services. He stated, “I have been to some 3000 worship services and can hardly remember what the preacher preached on last week.” Another reader responded to this criticism by stating the following, “I have eaten some 32,000 meals in my lifetime and cannot remember what I ate last week.” The point is this, just as those 32,000 meals sustained that individual over a period of time, so also the regular feasting upon God’s word will sustain an individual. What would quickly happen were one to give up eating regular meals? One would grow sick and eventually die. So too when one practices absenteeism, one will grow sick spiritually and ultimately die spiritually. And if every individual in the Lord’s church decided upon this course of action, there would be no church left to attend. Let us resolve not to allow the sin of absenteeism to mar our spiritual lives and damage the church of our Lord.

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On Being Imitators

He said, “Are you an inspired apostle?” To ask the question is to get the answer. There are no inspired apostles living today. So why was the question asked? All who find themselves on the wrong end of the sword of the Spirit ask this question. They reason, “I am not wrong; I can’t be wrong. You must be wrong, but you have shown me the example of the apostles and they are not wrong, so you must be wrong in following their example.” Such reasoning is dishonest and deceitful because it ignores the very facts of the scripture wherein the apostles command their example be imitated.

Paul, the apostle, wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The American Standard Version says, “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.” The New King James Version translates the passage thus, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” The word “imitator” in our English language is derived directly from the Greek word in this passage, “mimetai.” The word means to follow a pattern of behavior set forth by another, to mimic that behavior. It means to behave exactly as the one who sets the example behaves. In so following their example–their pattern of behavior–we can be like them in our behavior.

To suggest that because one is not an inspired apostle means that one cannot follow the example of the apostles is to repudiate most New Testament scripture because that scripture largely deals with the example of the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me.” In Philippians 3:17 Paul writes, “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:7 Paul states, “For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you.” Again and again Paul tells those whom he taught to be imitators of him. To fail to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ is to fail to live the way that Christ would want us to live.

“Oh, but Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit,” comes the reply. Paul’s message was inspired, that is true, but Paul’s behavior was his own. God did not take away Paul’s free will because he was an inspired apostle. Paul’s life was a reflection of how the Holy Spirit taught Paul to live and we have the inspired command to imitate that life as it imitated Christ. To what degree, then, should we imitate Paul’s life? We should imitate it to the fullest possible degree, as he imitated Christ. But does this mean we can do miracles? Not in the least. Miracles had a very specific purpose-to confirm the word (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3, 4; John 20:30, 31). The word has been confirmed, so there is no more need for God to confirm it again today. However, there is no other aspect of apostolic example that we may not imitate.

Moreover, the very suggestion that the apostles were inspired and they were somehow “above” the normal practice of Christianity as God would have it to be practiced is ludicrous. The apostles were men, just like we are men. They were subject to heaven’s decree just as we today are subject to heaven’s decree. They had no authority to go about on their own making up just whatever doctrine pleased them (Galatians 1:11, 12). They had no authority to just behave in any old way that it suited them. They were just as much subject to the laws of Christ as any other human being is subject. This is why Paul could rebuke Peter for being a hypocrite (Galatians 2:11-14). This is why Barnabus could disagree with Paul about taking John Mark with them on their second journey (Acts 15:36-41). This is why Agabus the prophet could prophesy that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10, 11). The apostles were subject to the same temptations, frailties, and weaknesses to which we are subject as well and as such, they were subject to the Holy Spirit’s message.

Jesus said in John 16:13 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come.” The apostles’ behavior was subject to the dictates of Christ through the Spirit. Their behavior, therefore, serves as our example as they imitated Christ. There is no particular behavior in which the apostles engaged, short of their work in confirming the word, which we have right NOT to imitate. The Holy Spirit’s command is that we must imitate their example as they imitated Christ.

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