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Thursday, June 14, 2018

LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS - PARTS 14 & 15



The following two chapters concludes this series, 

Living in the Last Days!



May we keep a continual posture of dependence upon God and maintain a humble and contrite spirit throughout our pilgrim journey on this earth. May the Lord God cause His face to shine upon us and enable us to persevere until the end. 



CHAPTER 14

HEALTHY CHURCHLIFE - THE PRACTICAL OUTWORKING

Healthy church-life is not something that develops spontaneously. It does not mean that whenever a group of Christians come together as a congregation, even though they may be sincere, that healthy church-life will develop. What are some characteristics and features that contribute to and constitute healthy church-life? Let us now ponder over some features which make up healthy church-life in practical outworking.           

It is fundamentally the people of God who contribute to healthy church-life. The children of God, in one sense, can make or break healthy church-life. It is not something static but rather, it is dynamic, either growing in quality with the passing of time or degenerating, as the case may be. It would very much depend on the response and cooperation of the believers involved in that context. Knowing this, we must ensure that we fulfil our roles and responsibilities in church-life, and we must guard against just being mere "spectators" looking in, as it were, at church-life and giving critical comments rather than being part and parcel of church-life itself and seeking to contribute positively in any way that is fitting in the eyes of God.

          

Having said this, there is still the pattern and structure that need to be observed for church-life to be healthy. Even though various believers may be sincere and may strive hard to fulfil their responsibilities as best as they can understand, without the healthy pattern and structure, there can be no definite headway made.          

In Exodus 25:8, 9, 40 and 26:30, we see how Moses was clearly instructed to follow the pattern according to the plan God had shown him on the mountain, in his building and erecting of the tabernacle. Obviously, the following of this pattern is something very important, as God reiterated it to Moses again and again throughout the book of Exodus. Although we are not specifically told why the pattern is so important, we can reasonably form several conclusions. The tabernacle was to be a dwelling place for God and it is therefore imperative that it should be built and constructed in a manner that would be suitable for the Holy God to dwell in. Hence, the material used, the anointing of the tabernacle and so on must not violate the standards of the holiness of God. The various measurements and the various designs probably connote certain spiritual meaning which is relevant in the spiritual realm both in the Old Testament context and the New Testament contexts. Some aspects of the meaning may not even be obvious to Moses and the Israelites. However, they were told to follow God's instructions accordingly.         

In Hebrews 8:5-6, we are clearly shown that the tabernacle and its pattern serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. Hence, as a copy and a shadow, it is significant that various aspects of the tabernacle should point to certain heavenly aspects and meaning. Here, we have an inkling as to why the pattern for the tabernacle and its erection is so relevant and significant. But in this passage, we also see the Lord Jesus as the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. The Lord Jesus did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.         

In 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 2:19-22, we see that in the new covenant, those who believe in the Lord Jesus collectively form the temple of God. Just as God chose to dwell in the tabernacle of old in the Old Testament context, He chose to dwell in His people in the new covenant, the temple of God. This temple of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and the cornerstone itself is the Lord Jesus Himself. We see how the church is so central as the temple of the Lord, a dwelling place for God.            

If the pattern is so important for the tabernacle of God in the Old Testament, the structure and pattern is equally important for the temple of God in the New Testament. The pattern and structure must be such that God's holiness is not in any way compromised. It must also be such that the heavenly meaning and the spiritual meaning in the spiritual realm are illustrated and demonstrated in church-life. The church of God and church-life must be such that it prepares God's people to dwell in the New Jerusalem, in the new heavens and a new earth. If church-life is such that God is not pleased to dwell in and among His people, then the essential pattern of God's temple has been compromised and violated.          

Looking at Exodus 40:16-35, we see a picture of how Moses followed closely all that God had commanded him. The phrase "just as the Lord had commanded Moses" was repeated again and again. Finally, verses 33-34 reveal the glory of God filling the tabernacle. After Moses had followed closely God's instructions in the building and erection of the tabernacle, God was pleased to fill the tabernacle with His glory. Similarly, we can look forward to God filling His temple with His glory in the New Testament context if God's people follow closely God's instructions and the pattern He desires for His people. In other words, if we take pains to build and nurture healthy church-life according to God's instructions, we can expect the Lord to release His power and manifest His glory among His people. A group of believers coming together and ignoring all that God desires for His temple cannot look towards God for His blessings and enabling. The temple of God must be suitable for God to dwell in. We cannot therefore take lightly this task and responsibility of nurturing and upholding healthy church-life.           

With the proper structure and pattern, the life of God is poured forth and the glory of God manifested in His dwelling place. We see these two principles so closely intertwined. Without the proper structure, we cannot expect the outpouring of God's life and glory, and without God's life and enabling, the structure becomes dead and useless spiritually. Why are we spending so much time in establishing these truths? It is basically because we must understand that for healthy church-life to be established and to continue, we must ensure that the proper pattern and structure is maintained and that the life of God continues to flow. Otherwise, church-life will slowly diminish and what we will be left with are just activities, schedules and traditions which may externally look impressive but, in reality, there is no true life and spiritual meaning. If we understand these issues well, then certain implications would follow.            

We would not conclude that any kind of church-life will do. It has to be healthy church-life; for God would dwell in all His glory only within such a healthy context. If such a healthy situation is missing, then the life and power of God would be lacking. To the degree that the life and power of God is lacking, to that degree the children of God would find it more difficult to triumph in the last days.          

God's temple must be holy and conducive for the almighty God to dwell in. For the life of God to flow, it then becomes the responsibility of each and every member to ensure that the temple remains holy and true to God's expectation. The maintenance of a life that is right and pure before God, the spiritual exercise in participation, contribution and prayer - all these are important for church-life to be alive and well.            

We see a parallel in the tabernacle in the Old Testament. If any Israelite were to contaminate the tabernacle, then there would be spiritual consequences. If the Israelites did not maintain a holy environment in their camp, then God would not dwell in their midst. Each and every Israelite was to follow closely the Lord's instructions so that Israel will continue to be a people among whom God was pleased to dwell with and to manifest His life and glory. Similarly, every child of God must order his life in a way that will ensure that God is pleased to continue to dwell among His people, the church.          

In our context today, it would mean that each and every member has a responsibility to live his life well before God - otherwise we can expect the quality of church-life to be affected negatively, according to  the seriousness of the failures of God's people. This principle does not only apply when we fail God in the way we live our lives in terms of devotion and holiness; it also applies when we fail to exercise the gifts and responsibilities God has entrusted to us. As church-life is a manifestation of the lives of all the members of the body, it would invariably suffer  
if any part of the body  refuses to function for whatever reason. Hence we  see how the lives of various ones are closely intertwined with the quality of body life and church-life.           

Take the issue of the headship and leadership in church-life and also the authority of the Scriptures. If these areas go wrong, many other areas would follow and healthy church-life will no longer be possible. Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22, 23 show us clearly that the Lord Jesus is the head of the body. Yet, in practice, we see the people of God putting church traditions or the traditions of organizations and denominations as more important than what the Lord has to say in the Scriptures. Some may not openly say that they are doing this. In reality however, they have ignored the instructions and desires of the Lord in preference to upholding the traditions of the group they belong to. It is very important that God's people not only subscribe to the headship of the Lord Jesus in words but also in practice. They should not allow traditions or the teachings of organizations or groups to cause them to compromise the leadership of the Lord Jesus. All such teachings and so-called traditions need to be evaluated in the light of what the Lord truly taught and revealed.          

The thrust and truth in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 are compromised by many who claim to be open-minded and modern in their views of the Scriptures. Healthy church-life can only be maintained and sustained if God's people appreciate and comprehend the teachings of the Scriptures wholesomely. They must also grow to a point when they can healthily evaluate many new claims and teachings that may be introduced especially in the last days, and be able to be positively critical in distinguishing what is of the Lord and consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures and what is false and unbalanced.           

In some contexts, it may not be organizations but individuals who are responsible for distortion of the truth. Individuals with charisma who make claims that they are specially anointed and commissioned by God may lead many of God's people astray. Many who follow them may be sincere Christians too. For healthy church-life to prevail, God's people must continually go back to the Scriptures and they must ensure that the headship of the Lord Jesus be preserved in His body. No man, no matter how impressive he is, should take the place of the Lord Jesus as head of His body.           

Enough is said to help us realize that it is very easy for many things to go wrong in many areas in church-life. What then is the guarantee that we can have to ensure that nothing major go wrong in church-life? The Lord God is always faithful and He never fails. But the people of God do fail and the ways of God can be abandoned. So, we can say that from man's point of view, there is no guarantee. It will depend on how we choose; it will depend also on how we live our lives and how convicted we are regarding God's desire and purpose.         

"But why the detailed emphasis on the centrality of the church and healthy church-life?" - one may ask. A quotation from the writings of A.W. Tozer, from "Of God and Men", at this point may be enlightening. He wrote, "Christianity will always reproduce itself after its kind. A worldly minded, unspiritual church, when she crosses the ocean to give her witness to peoples of other tongues and other cultures, is sure to bring forth on other shores a Christianity much like her own. Not the naked word only but the character of the witness determines the quality of the convert. The church can do no more than transplant herself. What she is in one land she will be in another. A crab tree does not become a Grimes golden by being carried from one country to another…The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to preach the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. The church's first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it. Our Lord said 'Go ye', but He also said 'Tarry ye', and the tarrying had to come before the going…."            

We note that the quality of the church is important in fulfilling God's commission to make disciples of all nations. Healthy church-life is part and parcel of this quality. It is interesting to note that Tozer highlighted that the first obligation of the church is to be spiritually worthy to spread the gospel. A church does not become spiritually worthy because of activities, programs, methods and marketing principles. And yet, many congregations employ these to increase their membership and to bolster church growth. They form an integral part of their strategy for church growth and expansion. Charles Colson pinpointed this problem in his book, "The Body - being light in darkness". He emphasized that the primary role of the church is to make believers holy and not to make them feel good. He lamented the use of marketing strategy to promote church growth. To him, true growth of the church has to be spiritual growth and not growth in numbers or statistics; it is the spiritual quality of the character of the church that truly matters.          

We need to have our priorities right. We need to start measuring and evaluating quality of church-life from God's point of view and scale of measurement, as well as upon God's values and assessments. All other measurements only give a false assurance and may lull us into spiritual complacency and myopia.


CHAPTER 15

CONCLUSION - OVERALL RESPONSE AND POSTURE

We have been considering how the people of God should respond in the last days. We have pondered over many relevant questions and thought through the answers and implications. We have looked at what we ought to look for in life. We saw the basis upon which we should respond in life and what we transmit and communicate in our lives. We pondered also over the various problem areas we will encounter in the last days and finally on what we can do to ensure that we stand in the final days.           

In conclusion, we would be looking at some general exhortations from the Scriptures with regard to our overall response and as we do this, may the Lord enable us to consolidate the many truths we have pondered upon.          

"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were, as it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.' Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall" (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).             

Note first of all that all the Israelites in the time of  Moses went through the same experiences and had similar privileges. They experienced the Lord's deliverance at the Red Sea and also the Lord's provision and sustenance in the wilderness. Nevertheless, the Lord was not pleased with many of them and judgment fell on them. As we live in the last days, let us be very mindful of this point. God's provision for us and our privileges and opportunities as a people of God do not mean that our lives and responses would invariably be pleasing to Him. We must never take our privileges for granted and think that all is well because we are God's people. Do not assume that we can fall back on our privileges to see us through even though our lives and outworking are far from what is expected. What happened to Israel in the wilderness must remain as a constant reminder to us of what can go wrong when God's people choose to go their own way.          

We see a similar warning in Luke 3:7-9. The words of John the Baptist were rather harsh as he called the people to repentance. There is no place for the Israelites to think that all was well just because they were children of Abraham. In fact, from the way John warned the multitude, it was likely that many of the Israelites, including the religious teachers, were heading towards severe judgment unless there was true repentance in their lives. There is a need therefore to evaluate our lives and to recognize that our response to God must be consistent with what we profess to believe. Otherwise, we may end up in the same way as many of the Israelites and Pharisees who were lulled into believing that the keeping of the external laws and ceremony was sufficient to make them right before God. So, we may continue to be regular at prayer meetings and at worship services; we may continue to give faithfully our offerings and we may continue to maintain an outward form of decency and properness in our religious life; nevertheless, with many of us, God may not be pleased and serious judgment may be impending. Are we objective and honest enough to see the truth and realize the consequences for the way we live our lives?

In 1 Corinthians 10, we notice that the Israelites craved evil things. We see the background in Numbers 11:4-6. The Israelites in that context were craving for meat and for all the food they partook in Egypt. The people were not satisfied with the manna God provided, although God's provision for them was miraculous and they were sustained by the manna God gave them from heaven. Their greedy desires were accompanied by a sense of discontentment with God's provision and goodness. At the same time, the people were looking back to Egypt. They forgot that they were slaves in Egypt, in bondage and under torment by their Egyptian masters. All they could think of was the variety of food they could get in Egypt and they conveniently forgot all the sufferings and pain and how they cried out to God for deliverance. Egypt in that context, is a type of the world. For the people of God today, although the Lord Jesus has provided the way for us to be delivered from the bondage of sin and the world, yet, many still long for the things of  the world, forgetting that in these very things are bondage and spiritual death. There is that same sense of discontentment with what God has provided, and there is that looking back to the world just like the Israelites who looked back to Egypt.           

In the context of the last days, with all the influences and false promises of the world and the evil one, God's people are especially in real danger of failing in the same manner as the Israelites did many years ago. Have we really learned from the example written in the Scriptures for our instruction or will we go the same way as the Israelites?           

As we ponder on 1 Corinthians 10, we are told not to be idolaters, as some of the Israelites were. In the case of Israel, they fashioned a molten calf and worshipped it as God. In our context  today, we may not be worshipping a molten calf, but the principle of idolatry may still live on in our hearts. When God's people allow any thing or any person to displace God in their lives, they are essentially holding on to idols in their lives. The evil one seeks to introduce many idols into the lives of God's children. He himself has always longed to be worshipped as God and even when the Lord Jesus was on earth as the perfect man, the evil one sought to tempt the Lord to worship him. Let us be careful not to allow any thing or any being to displace God from the first place in our hearts.          

In 1 Corinthians 10, we saw how some of the Israelites acted immorally and some twenty three thousand were destroyed by a plague. The daughters of Moab, instigated by Balaam, caused Israel to sin against God in the area of immorality. As God's people, we must remember the injunction to be holy just as God is holy. The lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh are perpetual snares for the people of God; we must tread carefully on the narrow path of purity of life.           

"Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather that the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen" (Romans 1:24-25). What the apostle Paul described here is not something far-fetched; in fact, it is happening now in many contexts in the present world. Various forms of unrighteousness and immorality are not only present today in many societies, but they are rampant and on the rise. We are aware of how various public figures are involved and accused of various forms of immorality and even individuals in the religious circle are not exempted. This may seem rather shocking and unbelievable initially; nevertheless, they remind us how sin and corruption can affect various strata of society, to a point that the community may apparently become oblivious of it. Some who are involved may even be looked upon as being courageous enough to speak up or even hailed as heroes by some quarters. Whatever it is, let us not forget how God looks at the issue and the people involved. The fact that some others are also doing it does not make it all right before God. The fact that various quarters may even applaud those who failed in this area does not make it any less serious in the eyes of God.              

It is before God that we will have to stand on judgement day to give an account. Will we grieve the heart of God by our lives? Will we, who are called to be a holy priesthood, a royal nation, put to shame the name of our God and Lord, by stooping so low in our private lives and in our values? When the Lord God looks at us, does He see a people who long for holiness and purity of life or does He see a group of people who are desperately putting up a front of appearing religious and yet in reality, are living in sin and unrighteousness?           

Israel was recorded as sinning against God in the very heart of Jerusalem itself (see Ezekiel 8:7-18). Ezekiel's vision clearly revealed that nothing was hidden from the Lord. The people might be thinking that God did not see and they continued to carry on living in sin in the dark and privately. God does see and He knows exactly what is going on in the heart of every man and woman. With regard to Israel, the Lord told Ezekiel, "Therefore, I indeed shall deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare, and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I shall not listen to them".           

It is helpful to note that the Lord will deal differently with those who long to follow Him and His ways, but fail because of weaknesses. For such ones who repent and continue to persevere in the right direction, the Lord's mercy and grace will still be available. Nevertheless, we must not treat lightly the area of sin and immorality; the Lord is a holy God and He will not condone immorality in the lives of His people. "Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did and were destroyed by the serpent. Nor grumble as some of them did, and was destroyed by the destroyer" (1 Corinthians 10:9-10). Here the people of Israel were guilty of speaking against the Lord God as well as grumbling against Him (See Numbers 21:4-6 and Numbers 16:41-49 as the background). They became impatient because of the long journey and they complained about the lack of food and water and they referred to the manna provided by God as miserable food. We see how judgement fell on the Israelites and many were destroyed by the serpents and the plagues. The people might feel that they had grounds to complain but they were in fact spiritually arrogant and rebellious; they allowed rationalization and their own shortcomings to blur the issue. In the process, they lost sight of God's goodness and grace. Let us also prayerfully take note of our spirits within - whether what we say or do are consistent with a humble and contrite spirit which is precious in the eyes of God.           

If we study the Book of Judges after Joshua passed away, we would notice that Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel. Subsequent to that, Israel very quickly degenerated spiritually and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. It is very sad to see how far Israel had degenerated following the days of Joshua. Somehow, the knowledge of God and the reality of serving Him and worshiping Him were lost to subsequent generations. What was left was a shell and some traditions. Yes, the people could still use some familiar phrases and clichés; they could still remember vaguely some religious practices and observances but all these bordered on the superficial, without true spiritual reality.

Before Joshua died, he did however communicate sternly the warnings for the people of Israel to pay heed to (See Joshua 23:6-8, 11-16 and 24:14-25). Nevertheless, all these were of no avail. Israel forsook God and abandoned all that were taught in the book of the Law. What about us in our own context; will we also forget all that God has communicated to us as His people?           

The knowledge of God, the ways and teachings of God must be taught and transmitted. We must choose positively to know the Lord and walk in all His ways. What is written for our instructions must be studied and assimilated. We know that our choices and the condition of our hearts are our responsibility. The Lord might have communicated to us many truths and principles. Ultimately, it is still we who must choose, and it is we who must respond wholesomely to the call of the Lord. How we do it and how we transmit this to subsequent generations would be a main determining factor in ensuring that all is not lost with the passing of time. We have a role to fulfil in kingdom building. We have a part to contribute to eternity and to the kingdom of God, which is eternal. Let us weigh seriously the warnings of God in the Scriptures and not go the same way as the nation of Israel. Israel failed God in the wilderness, even under the leadership of a godly man like Moses; a subsequent generation followed the Lord during the time of Joshua but the  generation after Joshua quickly turned away from the ways of the Lord God.           

One aspect of the proper response is to continue in the things we have learned and become convinced of (see 2 Timothy 3:14-15). Many believers began well in their Christian life but somewhere along the way, they stopped, faltered and failed to continue in the things they had learned and understood. In the context of the last days, there are many influences, attractions and distractions which can lead a child of God to fail to continue. Let us not take a wrong turn and be drawn to the wayside. Instead, fixing our eyes upon the Lord Jesus, let us continue to run the race and finish the course.           

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to be mindful of certain areas (see 1 Timothy 6:11-14, 20-21). For the man of God, there are definite areas we ought to pursue - righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. We need to grow in spiritual excellence in these areas. There are also definite areas we must flee from - the love of money, the desires and lust of the flesh, the pride of life and all that the world can offer. We must be clear with regard to our stand, choice and commitment. There is no place for fidgeting and being undecided. He who is a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.           

The apostle Paul also told Timothy to fight the good fight of faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which he was called. We know that the road is long and difficult. We have an enemy who seeks to destroy us. There are many battles ahead in the last days. We must do battle and we must learn to fight well this fight of faith. At the end of it all, by God's grace, we shall stand with all the saints and with all those who overcome.           

However, we must not be presumptuous about the prospect of being victorious in the end. We must cling to God and look to Him for grace to be among those who overcome. Sincerity alone is not enough. Notice what the apostle Peter declared in Matthew 26:31-35. He said, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away…Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You." In that context, all the other disciples also said the same thing. Certainly, the disciples and Peter were not insincere people. They were not hypocrites. The basic problem is that they did not know themselves well enough; they did not realize their true spiritual state. Perhaps it may not be inaccurate to say that they were overconfident and too sure of themselves in an unhealthy sense.           

Even when the Lord Jesus told Peter, "Truly, I say to you, this very night before a cock crows, you shall deny Me three times", Peter did not pause and give due consideration to the Lord's warning. Subsequently, when Peter did deny the Master three times and he remembered what the Lord told him, he wept bitterly. Peter not only denied the Lord; he also cursed and swore in his denial of any association with the Master.           

Let us realize that Peter was no ordinary Christian. He was among the twelve, closest to the Lord Jesus, and he was trained by the Lord and had a certain measure of spiritual maturity and knowledge. If Peter, though he was sincere, could falter so badly, let us not assume that we would not fall. We need to keep a continual posture of dependence upon God and maintain a humble and contrite spirit throughout our pilgrim journey on this earth. May the Lord God cause His face to shine upon us and enable us to persevere until the end.

      
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for permission to reprint material copyrighted:

1. Eagle Publishing for excerpts from Blessing The Church by Clifford Hill, Peter Fenwick, David Forbes and David Noakes. Copyright © 1995.

2. Christian Publications for quotation from the book, Of God and Man, by A.W. Tozer. Copyright © 1995 by Christian Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

3. Whitaker House, 30 Hunt Valley Circle, New Kensington, PA 15068 for quote from Power Through Prayer by E.M. Bounds. Copyright © 1982.

4. Zondervan Publishing House for selection taken from Keys to the Deeper Life by A.W. Tozer. Copyright © 1957 by Sunday Magazine. Copyright © 1987 by Zondervan Publishing Corporation. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.


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