Yes! There Is Good News!
Bill Rollins has been publishing each week a column in the local Elk Horn, Iowa paper for the past several years.
Note the original publication date on each blog post
Note the original publication date on each blog post
There is a short quip that makes its way around sports teams: “All in!” I have seen it on the back of t-shirts and warm up jerseys of some athletes. It is a nice sentiment to remind teammates that they should take the game and the season seriously. Whether it’s in the weight room, the gym or the field, the team has a goal and each individual must be “all in.”
I have played many sports throughout my life and I have always tried to give my all, so I can appreciate the idea. Why take on something and do it halfheartedly?
In the book of Acts, chapter 2, where Peter gave his most beautiful message to the gathered crowd on the day of Pentecost, it says that “they were cut to the heart” and wondered what they should do. Peter told them to repent of their sins and be baptized, “every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This scripture continues in verse 40, “And with many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Wow, there were about three thousand who understood that they were living in a corrupt generation and they understood that Peter was showing them a way out.
Was it any better or any worse than the generation we are living in today? I suppose it is hard to say. They were under the control of a corrupt Roman government and their society was decadent and perverse – hmmm, I don’t think I need to comment here! But on that particular day three thousand people were cut to the heart when they heard what Peter had to say.
Do you suppose these people were “all in”? Let’s read on: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe …” I counted four things that pointed to their commitment. First, they were devoted to the apostles teaching. Today we call that the “The New Testament.” The other name for the New Testament is “the Apostolic Writings.” Is that where you are? Are you “all in” on that agenda? How often do you read the word of God? Secondly, they were devoted to “the fellowship.” Do you enjoy visiting with like-minded godly people, sharing in bible studies with comments and questions?
Third, how do you feel about the breaking of bread? The concept here is not really about communion but more about sharing meals together with brethren so as to join in with fellowship and perhaps spiritual conversation. Are you “all in” on these first three things? Think about it my friends, we also live in a corrupt generation and many are wondering where it is all heading. The fourth item mentioned above is prayer. We will talk about that very important subject in the near future – God willing. Remember, the definition of the word “gospel” is “good news.”
Paul tells us that “the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” And then goes on to tell us, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Why do we not want to do the things that are good for us? We humans are a strange lot! We want God but we want Him on our own terms and yet He is the creator and the giver of all good gifts. As James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Did you catch that? “He does not change like shifting shadows.” In other words He does not play “good cop / bad cop” with us. He is not a good God today but tomorrow He is not so good. (James 1:17) Elsewhere in the bible it says that He is the same yesterday, today and forever ... Hmmmm? Why is it that many of us think He has changed?
Do you like the Psalms? There are so many beautiful thoughts and tremendous bits of wisdom in the Book of Psalms. Might we take a quick walk through the 119th Psalm together? Verse 1: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.” Right off the bat, we have two beatitudes that tell us it is a blessing to keep His laws. Verse 11: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Verse 20: “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” Verse 46: “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands.” Verse 174: “I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.”
This Psalm is the longest in the Psalter - 176 verses – and in each one we find words that lift up the law of God!! Did you know that Moses was not the first to receive these commands and laws? I have heard some say that these laws were just for the Israelites. But long before there was an Israelite, we are told that Abraham kept the laws of our God (who changes not!). And by the way, Abraham was not an Israelite; he was not a Jew. Judah, from whom the Jews get their name, was the great-grand-son of Abraham. When Isaac (Abraham’s son) was being blessed by God, we read this: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” (Genesis 26:4&5)
It was four articles ago that I mentioned how huge a subject is the topic of “law,” and we have only touched the surface. God’s law is good and keeping it is good news! And yet somehow we tend to see this world’s empty glory and run after it. The only way we humans can be filled and fulfilled is by allowing the God of the universe to guide us, to direct our paths and to fill us with His loving kindness. He has a plan and He is working it out. Perhaps I have said it before but in any text book all the answers are found at the end and so it is with the bible; in the end of the book of Revelation we find that God wins. Satan is defeated and destroyed; the righteous are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. God is good – amen.
No more locks, no more security cameras, no longer any need to keep your eye on your baggage or laptop at the airport, for everyone has come to see the benefit of obeying the eighth commandment of God! I know; that is a fantasy scenario in today’s world. But is there anything wrong with it? It is good to see the ramifications of “Thou shall not steal.”
Last week we began looking at the law of God and maybe trying to understand that it is we who have gone astray from our God and Creator and not the other way around. And so if this is true, then we must place the blame squarely upon our shoulders for the chaos we see around us. God gave us the law as a gift and He tells His people, “I have taught you decrees and laws … that you may follow them in the land … Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations around you, who will hear about these decrees and say. ‘What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?’ ” (Deut. 4:6) By the way, did you know that the original colonies of the 17 and 18th centuries, used these very laws of God to set up their own laws and judicial systems!
I mentioned in the previous article, that Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law. And to this Paul agrees when he tells the Roman church, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” (Rom. 7:7) And then he goes on to say, in this discussion on sin, that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” What should we twentieth century dwellers, make of this?
You know what? We all break the law. The scripture teaches us that, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) So the law of the state of Iowa tells us that the speed limit is 70 MPH on the interstate. Have you ever exceeded that? I have. And so I am a law breaker. This is a law of man, but Paul tells us later on in the book of Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” So where do we go with this whole concept of sin?
Allow me to cite a very recent example: I am a school bus driver. There are rules for the safety of the students, one of which is that the aisle must be clear at all times. This is actually a state law. On the last day of school, one of the pupils asked if we could forgo this rule because it was the last day. Hmmm. My answer was to ask her if it would be OK, because it was the last day, to ignore the stop sign at Hwy. 71 and just continue at 55 MPH on into Exira. Laws have reasons and laws have consequences.
God has blessed us with a beautiful set of laws. They are laws that will protect us and bring us security. And His laws are for our own good. A loving heavenly Father has told us what it is that we should do to stay out of trouble and, oh yes, He has told us just how it is that we should honor Him. The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” We perhaps chuckle at the ancient pagans and their idols; statues of wood, stone and precious metals. But if we are not somehow capable of keeping the simplest of laws made by man, can we really think that we do not break this first of the 10 commandments? “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalms119:97)
Last week we considered how it is not God who has abandoned His creation; but it is we, the people of His creation, who have abandoned Him. There are many gifts that God has given to man and one that has been extremely overlooked is His law. So let me give you a quote here, “Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees He has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you …” (Deut. 6:17-18). I, for one, want it to go well with me and so perhaps I should read the word of God and see what these laws are.
The whole concept of law is very deep and quite vast. You tell someone that you keep the law of God and they may try to label you as a legalist. I have even heard people say that “we have been freed from the law.” One of the problems here is that perhaps we have not settled upon a real understanding of just what the law really is!
Someone may say, “You have quoted from the book of Deuteronomy, Bill, and that is a part of the Old Testament.” So let us set that part of God’s word aside for a second and see what the New Testament has to say about the law of God. Let us begin at the very beginning. Jesus, in the first recorded message He gave, (usually called the Sermon on the Mount) tells us this, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17) Twice in this verse, Jesus warns us who read it, that He is not going to abolish the Law!! In other words, “Let’s get this straight, right off the bat!” In the next verse He says this, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” It is of interest here that Jesus tells us that it is the written law He is talking about. He mentions a pen stroke and a letter. This is because, at that time, the Jews also had what they called the oral law. The oral law was not codified in the scripture but consisted of the traditions and rules that the Scribes and Pharisees had made up. These Scribes and Pharisees were soundly rebuked by Jesus for their traditions when in Matt. 15:3 He said, “Why do you break the commands of God for the sake of your traditions?”
When Jesus tells us He has come to “fulfill” the law, He uses a specific Greek word that means “to cram full; to make full.” He then goes on in the rest of chapter 5 telling us that “You have heard it said … But I tell you ...” In these statements, concerning murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, etc., He is making the law more complete than the Jews of His day taught; in other words, He was cramming it full. Jesus railed at the Scribes and Pharisees of His day for their treatment of God’s law.
Which of God’s laws would you want to do away with? Or better, wouldn’t it feel good to live in a community where all of God’s laws were fully kept. Think for a moment what it would be like to know unequivocally, that everyone kept the command to not steal. I see that as true freedom and indeed good news. But as I said above, this topic is very deep and so we shall talk more about it in the future.
And so we continue to see things happening in this world and in our society that could, if dwelt upon, begin to bring us down. It is not my desire to do that in this column, for in my heart of hearts I know that our God is in charge and He has a plan that is being worked out for good. But, some may say, where is God who will bring this “good” to fruition?
Imagine if you can, that you are in charge of a group of young people – let’s say they are boys and girls somewhere around the age of 12. You have a very important task to complete; it may even be a matter of life and death. The steps needed to achieve the goal are all in your possession, you only need to get these kids on board with your solution. A couple of these youths do not think you know anything (typical 12 year olds!!), and they proceed to infect the group with doubts as to your wisdom. You take them through several steps and show them that you do indeed have the answers and several of them begin to listen to you. So far so good!! But the rest begin to moan and groan and pursue their own ideas. It does not take long to see that their solutions are leading them down a dangerous path. You try again and again to convince them. You even send the other kids (the wise ones) to show them their errors. Things get pretty bad on their side of the project; you know it is leading to disaster, but they just will not listen. It could end in tragedy. At some point you realize that you must take a “hands off” approach and come up with a plan to save this project and perhaps jump in at the last moment to achieve the goal.
God has a goal! God has a plan! God has the solution safely in His hands. This plan has been in place since the foundation of the world. God created a world and all that is in it. He placed a man and a woman in a most beautiful garden the likes of which have never been seen since. He gave them the key to enjoying, not only the garden, but also His presence with them. “Of the two trees in the middle of the garden,” He said, “you may only eat the fruit of one of them.” I believe we know the rest of the story. (Genesis 3)
The bible is filled with stories of God’s people rebelling against Him. Again and again He sent His servants the prophets to warn them of the error of their ways – they did not listen. And so He even sent His Son, His only Son, whom He loved; perhaps they will listen to Him. They didn’t. (See the parable in Matthew 21:33-40)
It is not a question of “Where is this God who is supposed to be so good?” God knows His plan and will bring it to fruition. The question really is, “Why do we, His creation, think we know better than He does?” This has been our reaction all along. We think we know better and will strive to do things our way even when we see what a mess we have made of His creation.
Friends and brethren, can we take a look at His plan and His will and then walk accordingly?
In the previous article I wrote about how effective it can be to quote a scripture when confronted with some dilemma. I am sure you know that in Jesus’ day one could not run down to the local bookstore and purchase a set of the scriptures. Jesus quoted the scriptures when confronting Satan’s temptation because He had them memorized! In Jesus’ day they did not have books (as we know them). All the scriptures were written on scrolls usually made of animal skins and handwritten – in other words, they were expensive! The scrolls were rolled up and had to be unrolled in order to read them. Only the local synagogue would own them and even then many would have just a portion of the scriptures.
Ancient languages – Hebrew included – did not use punctuation as we have it today. They did not even have spaces between the words (yes, that is hard to believe but it is true!). Today we have it easy in that we do have punctuation, we can know when a word begins and ends, and we can easily communicate with each other concerning the scripture because they have been codified with chapters and verses.
Today we can go to a book store or get online and purchase the word of God for very little money. And not only that, if we think the King James Version is too difficult to read, we can purchase the New International Version. Do you think the NIV is too loose with the translation? Then go and buy the New American Standard or the English Standard Version or one of several dozen other translations.
“To whom much has been given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) When we stand before the judgment seat, will we be able to claim ignorance? “I just didn’t know!” Many today claim that God is not interested in our hurts, our failures, our sicknesses, our financial situations, or our ... You fill in the blank. But the truth is that He is interested and He did not leave us without help. He gave us everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3) The one who created us made sure that we have the things needed for physical life: He gave us water, air, food and a brain. That brain of ours is the most advanced computer on the planet. Some might say that they do not have enough of these things, but they do not understand that God promises to bless us abundantly if we would only follow His ways! And beyond the physical, He has given us so much more by making sure that we have His “manual for life and godliness” – the bible! But that’s not all (I’m starting to sound like one of those infomercials on TV) He sent His Son, His only Son whom He loves, to be a propitiation for us to bring us a righteousness that we cannot work to earn. But wait folks, there’s more; if we accept His Son and His shed blood for our sins and turn from our fleshly ways, then we can repent and be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will bring us into all truth.
Yes Jesus did have the scriptures memorized. They were quite precious to Him. Here is one scripture for us to memorize: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Now that is Good News.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) What is trouble? This word “trouble” is from a Greek word that literally means “pressure – that which burdens the human spirit.” There are many things which, in this world, burden our spirits. There are a lot of things that can get us down. And yet we are living in what is arguably the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind. Even the poorest of us have more than 80% of the people in this world.
Having said that, I do not remember anyone that I have talked to, who is going through a trial, quote that scripture. The first step in relieving a pressure, turning from a sin, relinquishing an evil thought or finding peace in one’s strife-filled life, is to quote the Word of God. How do I know this? Let’s look at Matthew 4:1-11; this is the episode where Jesus, having been led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, went without food for forty days and nights. I believe we are familiar with the story; Satan came to tempt Him. “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.” What was Jesus response? “It is written: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” End of discussion!
Second temptation: Satan took Him to the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Ah ha!! Satan can quote scripture too! But Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the LORD your God to the test.’”
Let us stop here for a second. Concerning the stones into bread, Jesus quoted from Deut. 8:3. In the second temptation, Satan quote from Psalm 91:11, 12 – but he did not quote it in its entirety; Satan left out an important part, the angels are “to guard you in all your ways … you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” And so Jesus answers him from Deut. 6:16. Sometimes Satan is straight forward and sometimes he is deceptive. But Jesus knew what He had to do.
In the third temptation, Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain to show Him the kingdoms of the world and then says to Jesus, “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus did not argue with Satan as to who had ownership of all things, but immediately, He said to him, “Away from me Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the LORD your God and serve Him alone.’” And so the Devil left Jesus and we are told that the angels came and attended Him.
Isn’t it interesting what quoting scripture will do? The temptations and trials that our Savior endured just melted away in the face of Him quoting from the Book of Life, God’s word! And He has left for us an example that we might do as He has done.
More on this in the next article!
What is your take on the Word of God? And by that I mean the entirety of the bible, from Genesis to Revelation. This book is the essential reference work for our lives – and by that I mean every one of us in every aspect of our lives! It is the book of life!
Can you imagine a scientist - say a chemist- trying to formulate some new product in the lab and not having access to any reference works? From carpenters, plumbers and mechanics; to chemists, engineers and doctors, we need to learn our trades and specialties from the works of those whose knowledge has preceded us.
God has not only preceded us, He is from eternity and He is the One who created us. And just as the automotive engineer has written a manual to let us know how the car should be maintained, God has a “manual” to let us know how our lives should be maintained.
So, what is your take on the Word of God? I had an individual once tell me “it’s just a book of one’s own interpretation – you think it means one thing and I think it means something else.” My answer to him was a question: “Have you read the bible?” No, he hadn’t. Well, my friend (he was my nephew), until you read the bible and then tell me that you still believe the way you do, I must consider your view as one that lacks wisdom. And so I must say the same to anyone who has never read the Word of God.
Shall we just pay lip service to our Creator? What did Jesus say concerning this? “You hypocrites, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men’” (Matthew 15:7-9).
The bible is not an easy read. But one thing I tried to teach my children is that the most worthwhile things in life take the most work; there really are few easy answers. And that is a hard lesson to learn. We live in a culture that teaches us that our comfort and happiness are the most important things to us today. And yet we, who call ourselves Christians, must understand that this world is just a temporary existence to train us and get us ready for an existence that is beyond our comprehension, an eternal existence of glory. What does the Word of God say? “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). “Our light and momentary troubles are preparing us for an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
I leave you with one final scripture, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints and His incomparable great power for us who believe.” Your homework assignment is to find the whereabouts of that scripture!!
“They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” There is much to be said about this scripture for it is, in essence, the over-riding covenant of God with man!
In the past two articles, we have been looking at a scripture at the end of the book of Revelation, chapter 21:1-4, and considering the good news therein. We now come to the scripture quoted above which is in many ways the crux of the gospel – the good news of the Kingdom of God!!
This statement, “They will be My people and I will be their God,” is found as a thread that runs throughout the entirety of the bible. We see it as God’s everlasting covenant made with Abraham in the book of Genesis 17:7-8. We see it in Exodus 6:7 where God reiterates to Moses His everlasting promise to His people Israel. And again in Exodus 29:45-46 we see this statement as it will be written in Revelation 21. It is spelled out in detail in Deuteronomy 26:16-19. And Jeremiah points out the words of this everlasting covenant seven times in his book of prophecy. And to show its future application unto the end time, Zechariah tells us this: “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (Note the future tense used here.)
Paul picks up this thread in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “… For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.’ ” The writer of Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah in connection with this everlasting covenant, “I will be their God and they will be My people” (Heb. 8:10). There are many more instances of this most important statement throughout the bible. Would that we had the time and the room to explore each and every time this covenant statement appears in scripture.
Some may ask the very good question, “Is this a statement of the old or the new covenant?” In short, allow me to be somewhat glib, and answer, yes! This statement of covenant is an everlasting one and embodies the entirety of the bible. Our God is an awesome God and He, himself, tells us that He does not change (Malachi 3:6). In Hebrews 13:8 He tells us that He is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” In James 1:17 we read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
The great God of the universe wants to be our God. He wants us to choose Him as our God. He wants us to live our lives as though we were His people. He tells us this in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Really, what could be more beautiful than to have such a relationship with our God who tells us that He is “abounding in loving kindness?”
The apostle John is banished to the island of Patmos and, while there, receives several visions from God. He is told to write down the things he has seen, and we know these writings as the book of Revelation. In our previous article I picked up on the very last vision that John saw and quoted from chapter 21concerning a new heaven and a new earth and how the Holy City, New Jerusalem, came down to this new earth from God. As a side note I might mention that the word for “new” has the connotation of renewed or refreshed; i.e. new in quality.
We are told that this New Jerusalem has been “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” With this in mind let’s go to Ephesians 5:32; Paul is discussing the duties of a husband and wife just prior to this scripture and tells us that “This (the idea of a marriage) is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Ah! So this beautifully dressed bride is an analogy of the church and her relationship to the Savior! A little earlier in Ephesians 5 Paul writes this, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word and to present her to Himself, the church in splendor, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Isn’t this a beautiful analogy? Those who have committed themselves to Christ (i.e. the church) have a future free of guilt and filled with splendor and holiness. They are the bride “beautifully dressed for her husband.” And as we perhaps contemplate this, we are told by John, “Now the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them.”
Let’s take a moment here to consider this. I know that there are some who disdain the bible. They think it is just a bunch of tales told by men. Really?? Has a man ever told a tale quite like the one told in the book of Revelation? Has any man ever proclaimed that there was a new heaven and earth and that a new city would be brought forth as a bride? If God is not the builder of all things, certainly one could not believe that a man was. If indeed the universe exists, certainly it did not build itself. I, for one, do not have enough faith to believe that kind of a fairy tale. This is an issue that must be dealt with. And we are left with the task of dealing with it. It really is life or death and I, for one, chose life.
“Now the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” As I read these words, I see that there is power in them. This statement is something to behold. God wants to dwell with His people - the One that I instinctively know created the universe and gives life to mankind has a mind and a will to desire a dwelling with His creatures. And what else? John then says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I get goose bumps contemplating the things of my God!!
Bill Rollins resides in Elk Horn, IA, with his wife, Sally, and has pastored the Church of God of Omaha, NE for more than 35 years.