“1” is a lonely number

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We live in a world where oppression seems to be a norm. The oppression comes in many different forms. There are those who oppress physically, there are those who oppress emotionally, there are those who oppress others mentally, even spiritually. The fact there are people guilty of oppression will not change. For some people, the experiences of life, well…it is just the way of life!

Those who oppress will met God one day.

Those guilty of oppressing others may be an ambitious person with the feeling of power and a recognition that there is not another person to come to the aid or relief of the oppressed. Ambition is that characteristic in life that can be both good and/or bad. It is good when a person is ambitious in trying to improve circumstances for himself and his family. It is bad when that same person does so and the expense of others. An ambitious person may not be oppressive, but if the goal is achieving the highest end without regard to an ethical standard greater than man, then the ambitious person is oppressive because those in the way must be thrust to the side.

If you played in any athletic sport, you know something about the competitive spirit. Perhaps you have not played in any sport, still the competitive spirit may reign in you also. I may be better than you or you me. If the one is better, is the better one a team player or an individual seeking his own glory and attention? On a team there are going to be players that are better at the activity than others; if the team, however, is not a unified whole, the better players will not overcome in all the contests in which the team is involved.

Some try to overcome a pain in life by working incessantly. Is this a team player? That person works and works, but at the end of the day, what did the workaholic gain for himself? He gained nothing but missed more than he can remember passing by him. As his life comes to an end, there are few who are near him because the workaholic gave little (or no) time to others, so they feel no compassion or empathy in giving any time to him, especially when he is in need of it. The strength in numbers is gone, because the only number he know is the number “1”, and “1” is such a lonely number.

Life Imposed by Man’s Will

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When life is over do you know what will occur? Without the Lord’s revelation there is no chance you would know a single thing about what occurs when life is over. No chance!

While we are on earth, there is time for a great many things to enjoy and also to avoid. You may not understand why this occurs or that occurs, but you understand there is a place for the occurrence. As you process all of this you spend time trying to “wrap your mind around it all” (so to speak). You wonder aloud, “Is there any point to that which I am doing?”

One man said it is the wisdom of life to catch understanding of the events in life. This is certainly true. Yet, though a person tries to understand many things in life, there are some things that cannot be understood “under the sun”, that is, exclusively from the vantage point of man’s wisdom. What things cannot be understood? For one, many of us ask “Why is there so much injustice?” For another, “What happens when physical life is over?”  

You take all your life’s experiences and mold them into a moral and political philosophy that is a guide to life. Yet, as you consider these two philosophies, for all you know, they are as full of substance as a submarine staying submerged with the hatch open (it sinks to the bottom!).

From the vantage point of “under the sun”, for all one knows, life is pointless (a sunken submarine!). Yet, that hardly seems reasonable. Solomon understood this better than our academics in the universities. We live in a world wherein God placed man in His perfect environment, but since that time it has been fouled it up with our imposed will. Thus, in one’s freedom of will, “we live and move and have our being” in a God-created world, but as we look about us, as we look at this world of our own making, what’s the point! The wisdom of man comes and goes; with the wisdom man generates, all end of in the ash heaps of other countless philosophies of wisdom. On the other hand, the beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord. “I thought to myself, ‘God will judge both the righteous and the wicked; for there is an appropriate time for every activity, and there is a time of judgment for every deed’” (Ecclesiastes 3:17, NET).

FUTILITY IN LIFE

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The psalmist asked the same question that is asked by man in each generation. “For what futility have you created all the children of men?” (Psalm 89:47, NKJV). In different translations it reads: “Why do you make all people so mortal?” (New English Translation). “Remember how short my life is, how empty and futile this human existence!” (New Living Translation).

There are circumstances in life that drive people to express such sentiments, but in their expressive frustrations, many choose different answers. The psalmist never lost sight of rationality; he knew well the Lord God brought man into existence. He was not of the irrational mindset that said the material universe came into existence from nothing, absolutely nothing. Neither was he of the silly notion that the material universe has always existed.

He may not have known much, but he knew that he was brought into existence by a power, force, and mind greater than anything of human creation. No, the psalmist was clear thinking, but his frustrations on this occasion were great. “What is the point of life!” he yells out.

If he was so rational and concluded that God brought it into existence, why is it that others who are equally rational conclude that God does not exist? Two reasons, I suppose. First, there is a strong desire and inclination to reject anything that is religious. Is it a matter of evidence? Not really. Evidence abounds. It is a matter of one’s desire to not be constrained or required to think there is One to whom we all must give an account (Heb. 4:12-13). A second reason is related to morality. If there is no God, then there is no moral code higher or greater than the one who made up the code he lives by. Strangely, for some, this is a liberating way of thinking. It is liberating until the moral code of another directly and adversely affects the one who made up his own code, thereby rejecting the Lord’s standard of right conduct. To reject the Lord’s standard of right conduct is to reject the Lord’s standard of righteousness (cf. 1 John 5:10).

The psalmist understood all these things. Earlier in the Psalm, he wrote, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (89:14, ESV). What does man know about righteousness or justice? If he is wise, he knows that with the Lord both exist, but without the Lord he knows that both are arbitrary, based on the whim of man’s thinking. With the Lord there is no futility.

Ron Thomas (updated, 6.22.2020 from an earlier writing)

Point of being wise

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What is the point of being wise?

One looks about the natural world and wonders at the wondrous things he or she sees. The streams flow into a basin, but the basin never fills and overflows. The wind blows with wicked violence, but in the proximity to the wind, one structure is destroyed, while another stands undamaged. How does the rock balance on such a small precipice? When typhoons (hurricanes) rampage over the water, does anything in the water suffer because of it?

You can set your mind to gain wisdom, but the wisdom gained, while it answers some questions, generates different questions that seem to have no answer. Solomon was a wise man; none wiser before him or since him (the Lord excepted). He looked out over the natural world and wondered aloud (and in print) the point of it all. What gain did he have in the wisdom the Lord gave him long ago (cf. 1 Kings 3)? When one looks at life “under the sun” – is there any point to this gain or that loss?

He set himself to understand the value of wisdom is not in what a person enjoys or avoids; neither is it found in what he builds. That which is built gives satisfaction, but the satisfaction that came from building deteriorates as the building deteriorates when it is left untended. The structures built are left for others that come after; will there exist the same motivation and respect with the original intentions? Who knows whether it will be cared for or left abandoned? Even if that which is built is perpetuated for generations, with the satisfaction once gained, is it now lost with time and maturity? With the satisfaction gone, what then?

The value of wisdom is when the mind is directed toward Him who is the Author of life, not toward things that break down. Wisdom brings a person to a point when he sees life is more than the material realm in which one lives; it is more than building things and enjoying the pleasures of life. If all one did is evaluate life from strictly an “under the sun” perspective, then life is pointless. On the other hand, with the mind’s eye, one sees more; life is seen as a gift from God.

History is past

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History is past and whatever I learn from it I learn about it in books. History is past and whatever some might think I should learn from it, I won’t. I won’t because the past mistakes are not necessarily those of the future; in fact, they are NOT those of the future. We are in better position to know what to do, how to do it, and why. Science is king. Liberalism and a progressive spirit mean one is not tied down to yesteryear.

Why is it that so many think blindly in this direction? It is because those of today (generally speaking) don’t see themselves as inferior intellectually to those of yesterday. In fact, they see themselves as superior and “We know better now!”

After WW-1 the League of Nations was set up (1920); it did not prevent WW-2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, The Gulf War (1 and 2) and many other tragic occurrences in the life of nations. They saw themselves as in better position to prevent the mistakes of the past. Yet, they prevented nothing, but have given rise to rogue nations, muscle to thuggish nations, and, it seems, to hamstring the host nation.

People seeking understanding will not attain that mutual understanding when the moral and/or political philosophy is radically different. Perhaps there is some assuaging, but it is a matter of time before the bandage deteriorates.

Solomon set his mind to understand why things happen on earth as they do (or did). He was a man in the best position of any man before or after him to do such a thing. In an exclusively naturalistic world, a world wherein God plays no factor – there is no point to existence that is greater than the individual. Once a person dies, the point of that person’s existence is gone! Life for that person was, ultimately, meaningless.

Solomon, however, was not so short-sighted, not so unwise. He knew, was convinced and had experience with the fact of God’s existence. To live life without God is to live a life of vanity.

God’s Protective Hedge

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Satan accused the Lord of putting a protective hedge around a man named Job. A protective hedge? Wouldn’t that be nice? It is easy to think that some might have a protective hedge about them; it appears they never fail or struggle with various issues in life. We even think to ourselves, occasionally, “I would like to have that ‘protective hedge’ so I would not have to look behind me to see all the debris of a wrecked life!”

What was this protective hedge?

The Lord said to man’s great adversary (Satan), “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Consider an imagined conversation below).

Satan: “Yes, I have considered him and have made many efforts to get to him, but You prevent me from getting to him because You protect him. I can’t penetrate Your protective wall.”

Lord: “Fine, for a little while I will let you afflict him, but I will only let you go so far.”

Satan: “Fine! I will take it. He should turn on you after my afflicting efforts.”

Satan goes after him with force, destroying all that he has in the way of possessions; he gets to the heart of that which is, generally, most precious to people, family. Satan fails, however, to get Job to turn against the Lord. Another effort is made by the great adversary, Satan fails in this effort also.

Job, by this time, has lost everything and is beaten down to a point of non-recognition. People look at him and turn away, interpreting his experiences as “God is against him; therefore, I don’t want any association, lest the Lord be against me also.”

As Satan tried to get Job to turn away from the Lord (but failed), he was successful in getting people to turn away from Job, making him the loneliest man among men in the midst of physical and emotional anguish.

What about this protective wall, what was (is) it? I have reflected on that many times. Does the Lord put a physical barrier around His saints? If so, why do so many of His saints seem to fail? What happened to their protective wall?

In my view, the New Testament gives an answer to the protective wall for those who belong to Him. Before that protective wall can be put in place, one must start with the proper response to the Lord. This starts with being a Christian (Acts 2:36-38; 16:31-33; Mark 16:15-16). At this point, the Lord’s protective barrier is in place; the protective wall is strengthened when one’s faith (trust, conviction and commitment) is tied directly to knowing the Lord’s way.

The words of God’s prophet, Hosea, rings loudly about now. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…” It was the Lord’s apostle who said we are to walk by faith and faith comes by hearing and obeying the will of God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7; Rom. 10:17).

With these thoughts in place, hear what Peter wrote to Christians: Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge self-control; and in your self-control patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness brotherly kindness; and in your brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins. Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: (2 Peter 1:5-10, ASV).

There are a number of words to be underscored in the above biblical reference. This is to emphasize the point of knowledge in association with the Lord’s protective barrier for the Christian. There is a correlation that one shouldn’t miss. Paul wrote, that if God is for us, who can be against us (cf. Romans 8:31ff)? One might reply, “Many are against us!” Yes, that is true, just as Satan was against Job and Satan was against the Lord. It was Jesus who said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In the end, who won those contests?

If you know the value of a food supply for your body, you also know the value of the Lord’s word for you soul, your spiritual health. Heartache, discouragement and confusion come because one takes the Lord’s barrier and sets it to the side, exposing weakness and vulnerabilities. Do yourself a favor and allow the Lord to take control and given you a protective hedge.

What is Justice?

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Plato/Socrates asked: “What is justice?” For some, it appears to be an easy question to answer, but for others not so easy. Plato took the answers given him and dismantled the answers given in such a way that others wondered if they knew. In Acts 28, the question Plato/Socrates asked was not far removed from a primitive people living on the island of Malta.

Paul arrives on the island as the result of a shipwreck; by this time the people of Malta knew that many on board the ship the wrecked ship were prisoners (however many there might have been). As Paul was tending to a fire, a viper came and struck him in such a way the locals knew he was guilty of violence and concluded that “justice does not allow [him] to live” (28:4).

Justice is personified; it has a mind of its own, but how can a word that is a noun have a mind? The word conveys an idea, a concept that is greater than the individual. Justice is more than just an idea, it is a way of thinking and adjudication that is far greater than anything of man.

Justice resides with Him that is the Creator of man. Justice can only be understood in a limited way if it originates with man. With Him who is the creator of morality, the essence of perfection, justice is far more than what man can render in understanding.

With man, he renders a thoughtful guess, even perhaps by experience he is able to do this or that in a reasonable way. Still, on occasion, he gets it wrong. Not with God. Nothing He does is wrong, and for the arrogant person who thinks God is wrong, on what basis do they judge?

Impressions

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IT HAS BEEN SAID that children will imitate their parents in their vices, perhaps in their virtues, but seldom in their repentance. This is certainly the case (though not absolutely so) because we see it often. Parents turns away from the Lord, come to their senses, turn back to the Lord for salvation, but the children are not that much interested. The children, already following the poor pattern of the parents, refused to do so because they think of themselves as wiser and sure of themselves. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, we are told. Because of this, the challenge each of us face is to be sure that which the children (our own, others looking) is that which we desire to present. To not do so is to leave a bad impression, one that is stamped on the brain. RT

MASQUERADE

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Some years ago, the singer George Benson had a hit song called “This Masquerade” (1976). I always thought the song was okay, but never smitten by it. The other day I heard it again for the first time. “Are we really happy here with this lonely game we play?” These are the words that open the song. It’s about a love-relationship empty of substance, but can’t it apply in other areas of life also? Surely it can. There are many Christians around you with a masquerade, presenting themselves in one way, but hoping even their best friends don’t see them as they truly are. Does this apply to you? Do you talk about the neatness of your home only to let no one in lest they see a messy place? If this apply to you, even if only a little bit, then you’re no different than others, and you can certainly relate with those who struggle with the same. The position in life one hold matters not. The weight that is carried, however, matters a whole lot.

Here is what you should do: (1) Be there to share the burden. It won’t be long before they want to help you carry your own burden, even if they can’t share it by personal experience. In helping them to carry their burden, don’t be judgmental, but understanding. You surely don’t want them to be judgmental of you, but you would like them to be charitable! (2) Remind them the Lord carried our “dirty rags” burden, calling on each of us to change our minds (repent) about the way we lives our lives. With time, patience, and learning from the Lord life-changes are made.

The masquerade then becomes transparent. RT

EMBARRASSED?

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“Once Smith was asked if he was not embarrassed by speaking before judges and lawyers in Sparta, Tennessee. ‘Not in the least,’ said he, ‘for I have learned that judges and lawyers, so far as the Bible is concerned, are the most ignorant class of people in the world – except for Doctors of Divinity” (Dabney Phillips: “Raccoon” John Smith, RESTORATION: THEN and NOW, 9th annual East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions Lectureship, p. 139).

Wow! A person might think that was a harsh remark. Granted that it can be interpreted that way, I would say that it is not really. Many of our learned community members stand in judgment of the Lord and His word frequently. John Smith simply took note of those who did the same in his day and concluded they are just as uninformed as many in our day—feigning knowledge when they have little to none.

Is this how a preacher is to carry himself, speaking boldly and harshly?Consider what makes a Gospel Preacher: first, he must be a Christian man; second, he must be loyal to the Lord above all loyalties to people; third, he must be a man who desires to know the Lord’s will; fourth, he must know the Lord’s will well enough that he can teach it.

Some preachers, however, fail in one or more of the above. They are preachers, but not Gospel Preachers. They are recognized by many in the community as people of good standing, but the Lord does not recognize them. To be a preacher of the Gospel, one must count the cost, because it can be high. As I read what was said by “Raccoon” John Smith, I could not help but be reminded that not every preacher is motivated by the virtue of teaching the Lord’s way faithfully (cf. Gal. 4:16), that is, helping others learn His way, calling upon them to live holy lives.

Our society puts a great deal of emphasis upon formal education after the high school years – but for what spiritual purpose? Formal education is a good thing, but it’s not an end to itself. Broadly speaking, for some in our community, without a formal, post high school education, you are considered less informed than those who went to school and received that formal education.

Fortunately, the Lord does not look on these mundane matters in a similar way.

“Raccoon” John Smith was not a man who received a formal education after high school; in fact, during his day, “What was high school?” He was a self-taught man, a Baptist preacher who learned the Book of God; he took what he learned and taught others. He was devoted to the Lord, and when he could not harmonize his Baptist-Calvinistic learning with the Bible he made it clear to the congregation to whom he was speaking that he was in the dark and knew not how to lead them out of the darkness. This honesty served him well through the years.

So consumed was he with the Lord and His way, he took advantage of an opportunity to hear and learn from another preacher, one who was speaking some distance away. He made plans to go hear him, but after hearing him he expressed to one sitting by him that he was disappointed he only got thirty-minutes from the preacher in his preaching when he came such a long distance to hear him. His companion said, “Look at your watch. What you think to have been thirty-minutes was actually two hours and thirty minutes.”

John Smith devoured the Lord’s teaching when he heard another share it, and he devoured the Lord’s teaching when he read the Scriptures. Occasionally, it has been said, when he ate his meals, he would also memorize Scripture.

Learning from the Lord made all the difference in the world to John Smith. When he stood in the presence of great people of the community, those with formal education—he was not embarrassed or intimidated by their great learning because he had the greatest education any person could or can receive—he had the Lord’s learning. One’s formal education will be of great benefit in this life, but once life is over, without the Lord’s learning, that formal education goes to the grave with the deceased, and it certainly will be of no benefit then. On the other hand, the one who learns from the Lord not only benefits in this life, the Lord’s education graduates him and her to that Glorious Home of a “diploma” gained by the Lord’s grace and mercy.

I long for graduation, do you?