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Truth in Palmyra

By Wally Fry

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Bible

Now May Be Such a Time As This

 

Esther 4.14.JPG

 

Esther 4:14

For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Most of us are familiar with the story of Esther, but we will recap just briefly here to provide some background for our Devotion. Our text for today’s Devotion is Esther Chapter 4. 

Due to circumstances in the Palace, Esther had managed to get herself married to the King of Persia, Ahasuerus. Readers may recall that at this time, the Jews were in bondage to the Persian Empire.  This story takes place towards the end of the bondage when a large number of Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the Temple there. It takes place around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Esther was a Jewish woman. She also had a cousin Mordecai who had basically raised her into adulthood. Mordecai was obviously Jewish and an official in the King’s government. During the course of time, Mordecai had managed to offend the most powerful man in the Kingdom other than the King himself, a man named Haaman. Haaman was so deeply offended and angry that he tricked King Ahasuerus into issuing a decree ordering all of the Jews in the kingdom to be killed.

Of course, Mordecai was alarmed when he heard of the decree and he right away sent a message to his cousin Queen Esther pleading with her to go see the King and get this order stopped.  Esther had a problem, however; people just could not drop in uninvited to see the King. Doing so was very likely to result in the death of the visitor; the king was entitled by law to have anyone approaching him whom he did not call put to death. Needless to say, this concerned Esther greatly; she sent a message back to Mordecai saying basically: “Hey I can’t do that! I might get killed!”

Mordecai pointed out some important things in his answer to Esther.

  • She and her family would be killed anyway. The death order was for all of the Jews
  • If you don’t do it, God will find somebody else to do it if that is His plan; God will accomplish His plan
  • What if you specifically were put into the palace just to be ready and standing by “for such a time as this?”

Now we get to the meaning of this in our own lives. Few would doubt that today we are living in “such a time as this.” Nobody, at least in this country, is ordering that all Christians be killed. Sadly, that is not the case everywhere. Even in our own country, the environment in which we live is growing dangerous. Our society is degenerating around us. Sin and immorality are running rampant. The family as we know it is under assault from everything to no-fault divorce to the legalization of gay marriage. In some of our schools, our children are not even allowed to pray or read their Bibles.

To speak the truth about certain issues is considered hate speech; if one speaks in support of Biblical marriage it is considered hateful and bigoted. To even share the gospel with a person and tell them Jesus is the only way to God is considered hateful and exclusionary of other “religions.”

It is a dangerous time. People can be publicly admonished and humiliated. Christian activities are sued and threatened with legal action. People have even lost their jobs simply for expressing what they believe the Bible teaches.

Many Christians are remaining silent, and are not willing to speak the truth in this culture we live in. We look around us, see what has happened to others, and become unwilling to speak out with the truth.  We fear what will happen to us; we fear the repercussions of our actions. Does that sound familiar? Esther faced a similar dilemma in our Bible story. In her case it all ended well, as Haaman’s terrible plan was stopped; Esther became willing to step out on faith and speak up in a dangerous environment.  What about us?

  • The decay of society is going to affect us all, whether we speak up or not. Remaining silent certainly will not stop it. Speaking the truth in love is the only way to stop it. If we do not speak, the changes will still affect us in the end.
  • If it is God’s plan for a certain thing to stop, it will stop through us or someone else.
  • What if we have been specifically called and placed in a particular situation? What if we are the person God has placed in a certain time or place for “Such a time as this?”

We can learn much from Esther’s actions in the situation she faced. What we face today in our society is quite similar. If we face such a situation, perhaps we need to consider that we are God’s chosen way to deal with it. Perhaps we are His planned agent for change. We may or may not know if we are or not. God will, however, protect us and keep us safe if we step out and speak the truth in love to a world that is dying around us.

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Why are You Standing There Staring?

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Acts 1:11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven

In Acts 1:9-11 we see the story of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven after 40 days ministering on Earth after His Resurrection.  Jesus and His disciples had gone to The Mount of Olives, where they spent one last time together, talking and teaching. Here, the disciples had asked Jesus if this was the time when He would restore the Kingdom to Israel. His answer was interesting.

He simply replied that it was really not something they needed to worry about. It was not for them to “know the times or the seasons.” Then in Verse 8 of the passage, He made the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit to them and that they would later be His witnesses to the world.

Then they observed Jesus ascending physically, bodily into the skies until He was finally obscured by some clouds. As the disciples stood there staring(likely with their mouths hanging open), two angels appeared and issued the statement we see in Verse 11 of the text.

The question the angels asked seems important; they asked the disciples why they were just standing there gazing. Jesus had already told them what was coming. They were to return to and stay in Jerusalem. They were to await the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Finally, they were to go into the world and be His witnesses throughout their community and the world itself. They disciples had their marching orders, and those orders were not to stand there doing nothing and debating about His return.

The angels informed them that Jesus would return someday just as He left. Jesus himself had told them already the when of His return was of no importance to them.

There are takeaways for us here as well. Are we standing there staring up into heaven, so to speak? Are we so preoccupied with that and when it will be that we have forgotten we still have a mission to carry out here? We, too are to be His witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

So, let’s quit staring into heaven and get busy!

 

Have We Wiped Out Our Caananites?

Deuteronomy 7 4.5.JPG

Deuteronomy 7:4-5 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire

Reading Deuteronomy Chapter 7, we can see that The Lord gave pretty clear instruction to the Israelites as to how they were to deal with the people in the lands they were about to be given. Some of what we read may seem disturbing and harsh to us today, but God had very clear reasons for His instructions. He knew what would happen if any remnants of the inhabitants of the conquered land or their ways remained when His people occupied the land. He knows that any influence from the Canaanites would cause the people to turn from the one true God to the idols and ways of the Canaanites.

Of course, God was right. The Israelites failed to eradicate all of the inhabitants of the land and their ways, and time and time again this caused them to fall away from God and incur His wrath and anger. And the reason all the inhabitants of the land were not destroyed is that the people made conscious decisions to allow them to remain.

When we are saved, we need to follow a similar pattern in our lives as we eradicate the sin in our lives. The Canaanites are somewhat a picture of our sinful lifestyles; we have to make a conscious decision to blot them from our lives. Will we wake up the day after we are saved and be sinless? Of course not! God didn’t expect His people to deal with the people of Canaan all at once either. They were to deal with them town by town, piece by piece. But the important thing was that they were to not allow remnants to stay in their midst.

We, just like the Israelites, choose to leave little pockets of bad behavior in our lives. We do this for many reasons; we do it because we think we can manage it, and we do it because we like it.

We have to wipe out the things from our past that are our problem sin; if we allow them to remain, they will return and haunt us. If drinking was your problem, why are you hanging out with your old friends at the bar? If sexual temptation was your problem, why are you watching that show or reading that magazine? If laziness and sloth was your problem, why are you laying on the couch watching TV? The list of possible questions goes on and on.

We have to wipe our Canaanites; if we do not, then they will certainly emerge from the tiny pockets we left them in and turn us away from our God.

Faith In Action-Righteous Prayers

faith in action

James 5:15-20

And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Here things seemingly get complicated. What does sin, faith, and Elijah all have to do with any of this? Well, here go my thoughts for what they are worth.

Why are they praying about this man’s sin? Maybe he is sick because he sinned. I don’t know. Even if this man’s sin had not made him sick, we all know one important thing: sin is an impediment to our prayers to God. Even if our malady is not caused by sin, it is simply a good practice to seek forgiveness for our sins before talking to God. Even though we may be forgiven the penalty for our sin, the presence of unresolved sins in our lives still hinders our fellowship with God.

It is important that we pray with the full faith that God will, in fact, answer our prayer. If we pray without granting God ultimate power to accomplish anything He wants to, we should not expect answers.

We have to pray in God’ will. This may be an illustration again of the presence of the Elders in the life of this ailing person. How do we learn God’s will? A knowledge of God’s will is a learned thing. We come to understand it through prayer, study, and meditation. Certainly a case could be made that the prayers of the Elders, while not necessarily more effective than the prayers of other believers, might be grounded in a better understanding of what God’s will might be in a situation.

If there was ever a many tuned into the will of God, Elijah would have been one. I can only imagine this great man of God, praying for the rain with great faith and great understanding of what God was trying to accomplish. Elijah prayed that a drought be ended and the rains given, and it happened! Clearly, Elijah was both fervent and effectual in his prayer, and his prayer was answered.


Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

Finally, James closes his Epistle in a way we would certainly expect. The entire theme of James’ writing has been about the demonstration of true, saving faith. James has attempted to teach us that while what we do never saves us, what we do certainly provides the evidence and reality of our salvation. Who is the warning in the last few verses intended for? Given the overall tone of James’ writing, I think this is a warning to those who may be backsliding into a life of sin. He has spent an entire book warning what true faith looks like, so this seems to fit.

We certainly have a responsibility to an erring brother or sister, and it may be as important as our responsibility to win the lost.

Blessings and hope that you have enjoyed our trip through the Book of James.

Faith In Action-Who’s Doing the Healing? And What’s With the Oil?

faith in action

James 5:14-16

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

Given the likely timing of this Epistle, it is very possible that the gifts of healing were still widespread and common at the time of its writing. That would make it possible that the Elders were to be called for the simple reason that they had been gifted with special powers to heal on The Lord’s behalf. Given that the sign gifts were primarily designed to establish the authority of the representatives of Jesus on the Earth and not simply for the sheer sake of healing itself, I don’t see that to be the case here; however, I certainly don’t dismiss it either.

Let us have a look at some issues and questions. Is this person sick because they don’t have enough faith in their prayers to have an effect? I would disagree totally with that and further say the telling anyone they are not healed because of their lack of faith is quite damaging. Is the healing discussed because of the extraordinary faith of the elders? I say no on that one as well.

We discussed earlier the fact that God has never stopped being God. He can do anything, at any time, and that would include things which might be considered miracles to us. But the key point is: Who did it? Well, God of course. That has always been the case and is the case even if He uses a representative to do it. It has always been, and always will be, God doing the healing and not man.

So, what is with the oil anyway? Some things to quickly note here. The anointing is being done in the ailing person’s home, and not with the congregation. So James is not trying to teach us that anointing with oil is some rite or ritual we are to practice. Really, it seems far simpler than all of that. Applying oil to the sick was simply part of what was, at the time, modern medical treatment. It is more or less what we should do today if we are sick: see a doctor and pray for God to heal!

Faith In Action-Sick? Call for Help

faith in action

James 5:14

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

Have you ever noticed that your pastor is a very busy man? Most are. Have you ever seen or heard a situation where a person got their feelings hurt because they felt ignored when a need presented itself?

We don’t necessarily see just why the person in this passage is sick. As with most of this passage, there is more than a substantial discussion about it. He may be simply sick. It may be that the trials and persecutions discussed previously have worn the person down to the point that they have become sick. They may even be sick as a result of sin.

The whys of the sickness don’t really matter as much as the reaction. Note here one very important thought, and the answer to this question: Who called for the elders? Correct, the person suffering the illness called. Why does that matter?

It matters because our Pastors, Elders/Deacons, cannot be all places at all times, nor are they all knowing. We certainly bear some responsibility to communicate our needs to our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a shame to be suffering from some great need and it not be met simply because nobody knew

Additionally, look at the reaction once a summons is made. The elders come; they respond to this expressed need. People gather to meet the need once it has been expressed.

This may not be the primary point of this passage, but it is certainly one we can make. We are to be there for each other. We should communicate our needs to those who can help us. If we are not the suffering ones, we should pray for, assist, and uplift those among us who are in need, whether physical or emotional.

Faith In Action-Ups and Downs

faith in action

James 5:13

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

During most of James Chapter 5, we have been dealing with some issues involving how we deal with and react in particular situations. We have discussed how we react to being rich and how we react to being poor. We have discussed reaction in terms of patience when confronted with the various trials and tribulations we may face to include interpersonal conflicts.

Even though there is some discussion about illness, faith, anointing and prayer in the section that follows I have, after substantial study and reflection, come to the opinion that this section is probably not about healing per se, but guidance on practical ways to deal with the issues of life. I am not saying healing does not occur, just that I don’t think that is what is being covered here as the main point. Overall, I think this fits with the practical nature of James’ Epistle.

Actually, the word affliction as used here has nothing to do with physical sickness at all, but more along the lines of. “suffering in difficult circumstances, ” or “in trouble.”  This ties our verse in quite nicely with the passages before and in my thoughts, ties it in with the ones to follow as well.

This seems to be a clear lesson. God wants to communicate with us; specifically,  He wants us to communicate with Him! Life will have its ups and downs; sometimes things will go our way, and sometimes we will be troubled, or afflicted. When we are in trouble God wants us to turn to Him in prayer. When life is great, God wants us to thank Him for it.

Do we do that? Is God our first resort when things head in a direction we don’t like or is He our last resort after we have exhausted all or our human resources? When life is great, who gets the credit? Do we pat ourselves in the back for a job well done or do we thank the true source of our many blessings?

David Jeremiah captures the essence of this well by saying, “We have a God for all seasons “(from What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do) He then goes on to quote the following from his own readings (from Alec Motyer, The Message of James.)

“Both in periods of suffering and trouble and in times of joy, prayer and praise alike acknowledge that He is sufficient. To pray to Him is to acknowledge His sovereign power in appointing our circumstances. Whether as the source of supply in need, or the source of gladness or our joy, God is our sufficiency.”

And finally, the chorus from a favorite song of mine really captures the essence very well. From the song, God On the Mountain.

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

Faith In Action-Prayers For The Sick

faith in action

James 5:14,15

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

Wow. Here we have what might be considered a pretty complicated passage of scripture and also one that is considered controversial by some. My hope and my desire are to nail down some clear lessons, while not getting bogged down in the controversy. Just some quick thoughts and questions to start with. Comments and thoughts are welcome, fighting and arguing are not!

Is God still God and can He, at any time, do anything He wants to do? Yes

Can God, through His sovereign power do anything he desires, even alter the “natural” course of events? Yes

Does God answer prayer the way we want? Yes

Does God sometimes not answer prayer in the way we want? Yes

Does God promise special healing based on the amount of faith we have or the special relationship the person praying might have with Him? No, but.

Can sin make us sick? Does our sin sometimes result in real physical maladies? Without a doubt.

Is illness always caused by sin in our lives or lack of faith? Absolutely not.

So, you see there are many questions raised by this particular passage, and I hope all will take the time to study for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Do that, and let’s talk again in a few decades when we all have it figured out. In the meantime, some things do seem fairly clear as we read through this passage in God’s Word.

One thing that is somewhat unclear and debated is whether this particular passage actually refers to physical illness in the first place. Some writers would say it does, while others would say it does not. Some think it means one thing in on usage and another thing in yet another usage. I’ll leave the linguistic debates for the experts.

What we can see clearly in this passage is one thing. God expects us to pray. And that, no matter who one interprets the particulars of this passage, is a clear lesson we see here.

Think on all of those things, and over the course of the next few days we will explore around some of the things we see here.

Faith In Action-Happy? Then Sing Praises!

faith in action

James 5:13

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.


Read all of James Chapter 5 here

This is pretty simple. If we are afflicted, under fire, and set upon, we should pray. If we are not suffering any of these things, we should rejoice! We can’t really minimize the importance of these two directives standing side by side. The fact that they are side by side tells us one thing; to sing praises when things are good is just as important as prayer when things are bad.

There are several ideas we could toss around here regarding these thought being placed together. No matter how we might see these statements, the lesson remains the same. Prayer matters and praise matters. Prayer and joyful praise are both vital and important parts of the life of a believer, and the life of the church.

James may be using this as an example to us that our lives will be a mixture of ups and downs, and valleys and mountaintops. Even as likely is the idea, based on the earlier discourse on patience during trials, that there is a completely different idea being taught here. Perhaps James is not illustrating the idea that these are two separate events, the affliction, and the merriness. Wait, is it possible the two can coexist together?

Perhaps what is being taught here is that even through the affliction we may be under, that we are to maintain our joy, even in the face of it. What could we possibly find to praise God for during the tough times?

How about we praise Him for the grace to make it through the trial? How about we praise Him for the comfort He will provide through the trial? How about we praise Him for the fact that He will resolve the issue, in the way that most honors Him and is ultimately best for us?

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