Monthly Archives: June 2016

Some Have Entertained Angels

GLEANINGS — June 29, A.D. 2014

So the Bible says, in exhorting us not to forget to entertain strangers, Hebrews 13:2. It is likely that when he wrote those words, the inspired writer of the epistle to the Hebrews had in mind the occasion when Abraham received three visitors, recorded in Genesis 18. Jesus said “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward (Mark 9:41). Surely, if a small act of kindness such as giving someone a cup of water will be rewarded, then the diligent, unsparing, and comprehensive hospitality which Abraham and Sarah showed in that passage was worthy of a great reward! The Lord Jesus and the writer to the Hebrews are encouraging us to show hospitality by assuring us that it will be rewarded. Make no mistake, the Bible is clear that there are greater or lesser rewards in Heaven (Matthew 16:27, 1 Corinthians 3:8ff).

It is noteworthy that the LORD’s promise about the birth of Isaac, through whom the Covenant family would continue, was given during this visit by heavenly guests to Abraham. Although God’s eternally settled purposes will be accomplished infallibly, who can say how they would have been accomplished, if Abraham and Sarah were not devoted to hospitality? Abraham knew himself what it was like to be a stranger away from home, Genesis 23:4. Witness his spirit of hospitality toward Lot, Genesis 12:4ff. Abraham lived a lifestyle of hospitality, and the promise of Isaac’s birth was given to him in that context. God’s Covenant would have continued had Abraham NOT been habitually hospitable. Yet it is also clear that Abraham received the blessing of the promise of Isaac’s birth while he was being so!

As is so often the case with that inexhaustible treasure house of wisdom which we call the holy Bible, Genesis 18 has more gems beside the godly example of Abraham’s and Sarah’s open home. Recently in another evening meditation, we considered that glorious and incomprehensible mystery about the being of God, the Trinity. Some have been quick to find a foreshadowing of the Trinity in the Genesis 18 account. Let’s consider the passage carefully with its context, and in light of other Scripture.

Something happens in the dialog between Abraham and his three visitors between verses 9 and 10 of Genesis 18. In verse 9, “THEY” ask Abraham “where is your wife?” In verse 10, only “HE”, that is, the LORD, continues to speak with Abraham. Later, in verse 22, we read that “…the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.” As we go to the first verse of chapter 19, we see that “two angels” have gone to the city of Sodom. Evidently, one of Abraham’s original three visitors was a theophany (God revealed in a visible form) and the other two were angelic beings, who also had become tangible to their human host. This writer holds that Abraham was visited by God and two angels, not God triune represented by three men.

This becomes quite intriguing when we turn to the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection. According to John 20:11ff, weeping Mary sees two angels, evidently in a human form, who speak to her at the grave. According to Luke 24:4ff, “two men in shining garments“, clearly angelic beings, speak to the women. Perhaps it is better to emphasize the Christ exalting similarity between the visit to Abraham by the LORD with His two angelic attendants, and the resurrection of the LORD incarnate attended on by two angels, than to suggest that Genesis 18 alludes to the Trinity. For our Lord Jesus IS the LORD, Jehovah, the Shepherd of Israel Who is enthroned above the mercy seat between the two cherubim! (“Cherub” is the singular form of cherubim, angelic beings. Cf. Exodus 25:18ff, Numbers 7:89, and Psalm 80:1.)

 

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Progress

GLEANINGS — June 22, A.D. 2014

A man and wife pulled into a gas station, and the man began to fill up their car’s tank. They did not live in New Jersey or Oregon, the two states in which it is illegal to pump one’s own gas.
“What’s taking so long?” asked the impatient wife.

“It’s pumping slowly for some reason, dear, but…we’re making progress. There! All done.”

Late that night, two boys wearing black ski masks snuck onto the couple’s property. While one watched for pesky neighbors or the fuzz, the other began siphoning gas from the newly filled tank of their car.

“What’s taking so long?” hissed the lookout.

“These tubes are pretty skinny…I told you this would take a few minutes”, he whispered back. “But…we’re making progress. There! All done!”

In this mini play, both the married couple paying hard earned money for gas and the two partners in crime stealing it considered themselves as making progress in their respective scenarios. I have no argument with some one who asserts that they do not want progress, only incredulity. Everyone is a progress-ive.

But the question which must be asked about the progress of civilization in this nation (or anywhere) is: BY WHAT STANDARD? By what standard, that is, do we determine that which is progress and that which is regress…deteriortation…retrogression.

Citizen Jones wants to see his beloved country make progress as he understands it. Citizen Smith wants to see his beloved country makes progress as he understands it, namely exactly contrary to Jones in diverse ways. Whose ideas are comparable to cash customers, and whose ideas are comparable to petty thugs? By what standard do we determine whether or not America is making progress?

Two states in America have determined that its residents cannot pump their own gas. Is this avant-garde wisdom which should be adopted at once by the other 48, or an oppressive, nanny-state regulation that should be discarded by the minority of two?

Several states in America recently have enacted laws that seek to radically redefine marriage, an institution which not only predates the existence of those states and our nation itself, but has been the basic building block of civilation for millenia. Is this progress? Is this avant-garde wisdom which should be adopted at once by all the states, or is it absurd, self destructive folly, tantamount to dousing one’s society in petroleum and tossing in a lighted match?

 

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The Blessed Dad

GLEANINGS — June 15, A.D.

Today’s Gleaning condenses into text form a sermon last preached in June A.D. 2006…

Not all of us are fathers, but we all have shared in the parent and child relationship, for well or woe. If you think your parent to child or child to parent relationship was or is peculiar, special, and unlike any other, think about Joseph the husband of the mother of Christ. Mary is often called the blessed mother, as per Luke 1:48. We might call Joseph the blessed father.

Let’s be diligent to first affirm that our Lord Jesus Christ is the eternally pre-existent, only begotten Son of God, and that as to His humanity he was born of a virgin. Joeph is NOT Jesus’ father biologically. Yet, in Luke 2, Joseph and Mary are called Jesus’ parents; in verse 48 Mary herself refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father.

As certainly as Mary’s motherhood was real, Joseph was an earthly parent to Jesus. Surely, Joseph showed Him the carpenter trade. Surely they had special times together. Surely they had in common family affections for Mary and Jesus’ siblings (cf. Mark 6:3.) Surely Joseph was a dad who had a very unique Son!

Dads and granddads, are you serving God in how you recognize and show consideration for the peculiar character and personality of your children and children’s children? How does your stewardship of the life or lives God has given you to nourish compare to Joseph’s divinely given stewardship as Jesus’ dad? As fathers and men who occupy positions and have callings that are similar to fatherhood, what can we see in Joseph to imitate?

Joseph’s consideration of Mary’s welfare earns him the title of “a just man”, Matthew 1:19ff. In Matthew 2 and Luke 2 we see Joseph not abdicating and absent, but leading and guiding his family through difficult times. Joseph obeys God even when its difficult. It was probably not good for his carpentry business to take a young wife and Infant to a strange land (Egypt) for an indefinite period of time!

Most importantly, Joseph was his family’s spiritual leader and guide in spiritual matters. He observed the Law of the LORD regarding Christ’s circumcision. This covenant obedience on Joseph’s part implies that ceaseless, godly instruction followed the sign of circumcision, in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7.

In other words, God’s kingdom and righteousness are to be the subject matter of discussion, the passion, the absorption of covenant families – with dad as the one who makes it happen! It was in the spiritual environment which Joseph the godly dad established for his home that even the eternal Son of God, in the humility of His incarnation, matured and thrived!

Let’s also learn from this special relationship about how children should relate to their dads.

Consider what is said after the Boy Jesus is found in the temple (again, Luke 2) and the family’s caravan is returning from its yearly Passover visit to Jersusalem. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke writes that Jesus CONTINUED IN SUBJECTION to Joseph and Mary!

Young person, if the Son of God was subject to His earthly parents, even when He was incapable of doing anything wrong, how much more just, fit, and reasonable is it for you to do so? “Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”

The greatest fatherhood is the fatherhood of God through His only begotten Son. The eternal Father has made known His will: that we come in repentance and faith for forgiveness, justification, and newness of life to the eternal Son Who offered Himself through the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:14). This is the only way we can enter the Father’s family, enjoy His protection from His just wrath which is coming on the world, and be guided by Him to heavenly pastures and the ever-flowing, crystal clear river of life.

 

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What About Dermatoglyphics?

GLEANINGS — June 8, A.D. 2014

That is the technical term for the study of fingerprints. As most folks know, each human being’s fingerprints are unique. Even those of identical twins differ. From that common observation, today’s gleaning will move on to discuss a popular notion from a Biblical perspective. That notion, enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence, is that “all men are created equal.” Not as to their fingerprints! So…are all men equal in some way?

Many evolutionists espouse the noble idea of the equality of all men, but their belief system makes them inconsistent in doing so. Evolution asserts that “modern man” appeared about 200,000 years ago, after several million years of previous, slo-o-o-wly advancing change via natural selection. (The absence of a standard by which “advancing” is defined makes a monkey out of evolutionary dogma in its own right, but that’s a consideration for another day.)

Since evolution is allegedly a process that is ever underway in tiny increments, how can an evolution believer know for certain that ethnic group X is not actually more “evolved” than ethnic group Y? They can’t have their equality cake baked with Darwin’s doctrine and eat it, too! Evolutionism does not offer and cannot offer an ethical mandate that would require every man to regard every other man as his equal, in some way. Biblical creationism DOES!

The truth about human origins is that our Creator made us, male and female, in His image. We were made to be like God in our relationships with one another, in our vocations, in our recreations, and in all things – through them all rendering worshipful, thankful service to the One Who gave us this privileged place in His universe and this exalted role in His eternal purpose. And on the negative side, murderous attacks such as abortion and slander are horribly wicked because they are assaults on the likeness of the Creator. The cost to a society that loses its connection to this taproot of sound anthropology (the study of mankind) is incalculable…

This foundational truth about human nature is the great and only real equalizer, and that which makes each one of your fellow humans a being of incalculable value. Each person, in the womb or outside of the womb, is a living soul transcendantly superior to every animal, and your neighbor whom God commands you to love as you love yourself.

Although individual humans and their respective ethnic groups (generally speaking) are NOT equal in stature, skin color, hair texture, eye shape, dermatoglyphs, and other characterisics, we ALL bear that holy image of God. As long as our society despises that truth and clings to the absurd mythology that has held sway for a century and a half, wicked men will continue to appeal to evolution as their basis for their belief in the supremacy of one nation over others. Evolution provides a pseudo-wisdom in support of their arrogant foolishness.

 

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A Verse for All Seasons

GLEANINGS — June 1st, A.D. 2014

And, looking two days ahead to an election, let’s remember that like the whole Bible, it is a verse for all candidates and for all other citizens of all political and economic persuasions. Here’s the verse:

” ‘…I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien – because they do not fear Me,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5)

Scripture declares that God made all the nations of mankind, and established the boundaries of their habitations (Gen 10, Deuteronomy 32:8, Acts 17:26). Jesus, God incarnate and Messianic King, will be the heir of all nations (Psalm 2:8, 82:8). He also is and will be the Judge of all nations (Psalm 110:6, Micah 4:3, Matthew 25:32).

God’s declaration through Malachi underscores various public and private sins for which He comes in judgment – not only the final judgment, but in His comings throughout history to judge the nations and their rulers.

Sorcery conjures up (pun intended) images of spells and old crones with bubbling cauldrons. God’s words to king Saul through Samuel (1 Samuel 15:23) reveal its core nature: rebellion. A sorcerer proudly seeks to work his own will to the hurt of others by deceptive, occult (dark) ways. Adulterers and others who desecrate marriage as God ordained it are doing this, and God will judge leaders who try to work their will in “normalizing” or even encouraging sinful behavior such as homosexuality and cohabitation in society. When Christians fail to stand for righteousness in such matters, we are complicit with those who approve and practice such things.

But so called “values voters” and others who might have a right (Biblical) view about what the world calls social issues might be involved in various kinds of exploitation, failing to see the adverse effects which all sin has on society. As we see throughout Scripture and highlighted in our verse, the righteous are to take special care for widows, orphans, and aliens – not overlook or despise them. The law of Moses makes provision against the callous exploitation of the poor, of employees, and of those who must borrow (Deuteronomy 24:10-15; cf. Leviticus 25:35,36; James 5:4).

So concern for the habits of a nation and its leaders concerning marriage, human sexuality, the family, uprightness in all relations, and care for the needy and the alien is the business of the believer. Those habits make manifest whether or not a nation can expect blessing or cursing from the God Who is just as much the temporal and eternal Judge of nations as He is of each soul. And He certainly will do right(Genesis 18:25)! Our nation’s ways inform our intercession and provide a context for our witness.

When you vote on Tuesday, vote according to a Biblically enlightened conscience. By voting, by prayer, and by other means support rulers who fear God and who will labor to restrain rebellion against His ethical standards, fight the redefinition of marriage and the family, and be mindful of those in need.

Such leaders and citizens of nations only exist when the Gospel – the power of God unto salvation – is going forth, changing their hearts, and making them disciples. Are we involved with that? Let judgment begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

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That Final Appointment

GLEANINGS – May 25th,  A.D. 2014

Within a recent period of about forty-eight hours duration, the brother of a friend collapsed, was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment, and died at twenty-three years of age. There had been no warning, no previous knowledge of the hidden heart condition which an autopsy revealed. Tragic incidents such as this one are, sadly, all too familiar to many of us.

All of the living are inexorably moving toward death. We do well to consciously consider its inevitability, that we may be prepared. There is no reason for this to envenom us with undue gloom. A perpetually funereal countenance is as unproductive as ignoring death is foolish. There is a brooding, unhealthy preoccupation with death that steals the present joy of God’s wonderful gift of life. How, then, can we be ready to meet “the grim reaper” with peace and hope?

Most often we check ourselves if we begin to contemplate our own demise. We quickly put aside the “what if…” thoughts as they present us with prospects of incurable disease, sudden accidents, or scenarios wherein we become the victim of any one of an assortment of human cruelties. Dismissing the idea, we let ourselves expect a quiet departure, asleep in our own beds. Does the end of earthly life ever come in quite that fashion?

When we dream, the fantastic sequences of events can seem to take any amount of time. The common dream of trying to walk or run and finding one’s legs uncooperative, or stuck in frustrating id-mire, can seem interminable. On the other hand, illusory dream conversations seem to consume several minutes as would a coherent waking discussion. We use “hallucinogenic license” to skip through days, months, and years, compressing or expanding time to suit the play our minds are enacting. In reality, dreams transpire in minuscule amounts of time. The waking mind, wanting to remember, grasps in vain as the psychological content of the dream retreats at the speed of thought.

So it would seem likely to be at the moment of death. Witness the near drowning victim who says he “saw his life pass before his eyes”. Perhaps those fractions of a second before the head on collision crushes the skull or severs the spine are like dream time. When cardiac arrest occurs, perhaps the mind survives the stilled heart muscle for a few moments. Are those moments filled with seeming hours of mental activity? What of patients awaiting death on a bed of terminal illness? First, there is the conscious expectation of the end, surrounded by family and friends. Is that eclipsed by a complex personal psychodrama materializing during the apparently “semi-conscious” last breath, the death rattle?

Here is another element to this hypothesis about how we experience the passage of time at the moment of death. In one respect, “death time” may radically differ from “dream time”. In dream time, the bizarre and surreal reign. By contrast, perhaps a startling clarity of thought is present as the soul realizes that death has arrived; not only super speed, but super accuracy suddenly courses through the mind. The point is that what we believe in, value, and meditate upon now will fill our hearts immediately preceding our entry into eternal bliss or eternal agony. It is those beliefs, values, and habitual meditations which will determine if we face the moment of death with horrified terror or calm courage.

Let us then, in seeking to be prepared to die, first abandon the method of the ostrich with her head in the sand. The idea of quietly slipping away into oblivion is a lie. The going may be only physically quiet, and our conscious personality, our spirit or soul, will never be annihilated. Squarely facing this is step number one.

It is Jesus Christ who offers the solid truth which we can believe in, value, and meditate upon. He has great news! The forgiveness of all the wrong we have done is possible through His sacrifice of Himself in death. His coming back from the grave shows that He conquered death, which we suffer as the just penalty for the wrong we have done. He lives now, never more to die, to bring those who trust Him to eternal life. If you have never sought Him, now is the time to do so; this is step number two.

For those who have this Christian hope, step number three is to apply its reality to our thoughts, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. In this way it is truly possible to be unterrified by death. Here are a few concrete ways to accomplish this.

Cultivate the habit of thinking about eternity, and relate this life’s transitory brevity to the unending glory of the redeemed. Far from producing eccentric, out of touch persons hoping for “pie- in-the-sky”, this spiritual exercise yields a realistic outlook on life. It gives to those who practice it a true perspective on their existence, and real peace of mind. The apostle Paul, whose New Testament letters evidence a mind much occupied with eternity, was able to say that “to depart and be with Christ is far better…to die is gain.”

Consider how death has come to others; Christ Himself and those who have had faith. The first century Christian, Steven, experienced death by stoning. His last words were a prayer for forgiveness for those hurling his death at him, and asking that God “receive his spirit”. The words which Jesus spoke during His very execution, as He actually hung on the barbaric cross, are well known throughout the world. These words are not those of a frightened criminal, but of a Man who had a confidence which saw beyond the grave. Accounts of Christian martyrs are unrivaled for the supernatural bravery they exude.

Nothing is easier or more natural than to avoid talking about death, to put off thinking about it until “tomorrow”, to shield children from even the mention of the king of terrors. Nothing is ultimately more foolish or dangerous, either. Jesus came that He might rescue those who were subject to an emotional and mental bondage, the fear of death, all their lives. He lived, died, and rose from the dead…And He is gloriously alive forevermore!

(written July A.D. 1990 and previously posted on Pastor Graham’s archived teachings page)

 

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“Are Holidays Holy Days?”

GLEANINGS — May 18, A.D. 2014

The word HOLIDAY, like much else in our society, has been secularized. The word derives from holy day: a day considered special or more important than other days for spiritual reasons. Along with godly civil observances such as Memorial Day, the world around us now counts days once filled with religious significance as no more than days for being off work and partying…or for waiters, waitresses, and others as days of more work and being the servants and providers for the party goers!

In His Law which He gave through Moses, God established various annual holy days such as the Day of Atonement. (He ordained the weekly sabbath at the end of creation, and in the Mosaic Law commands us to remember it). As were the animal sacrifices and other elements of worship which God then commanded, those yearly observances and their rituals were abolished by way of their fulfillment in Christ our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).

What about New Covenant believers in Christ? The former holy days having passed away, has God ordained new ones for us? Other than the first day of every week, i.e. the Lord’s day or the New Covenant, resurrection-observing sabbath which we see exampled in the book of Acts (see also Revelation 1:10), one will search the New Testament in vain for the establishment of any new holy days at all. Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Christmas, and the customs associated with them all originated by human tradition, not in the God-breathed Bible.

The chronic problem the Church has found with such extra-Biblical traditions is that they can be like big government. They grow and grow; they lose their simplicity. What was intended to adorn eventually obscures. For example, the imaginary coming of a fictional being called Santa Claus (apparently based on a real person) overshadows what Christmas was intended to memorialize: the real, historical, first coming of Jesus.

Does this mean that we should not regard as special in any way any days besides the weekly Lord’s day? Let’s look at Jesus’ words and behavior to be enlightened about how to think and act Biblically about such observances as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day (which both take place annually on the Lord’s day) and other modern holidays.

As we see in Mark 7, Christ was righteously angry over man-made traditions of that time that overthrew God’s commandments. Yet, He also attended the Feast of the Dedication (now known as Chanukah or Hanukkah), which was not established by God, but by human tradition.

In both preaching against some traditions and participating in others, His focus was the glory of God. Whatever others might have been doing at the Feast of the Dedication, Jesus was walking (cf. John 10:22,23) in the temple that was the reason for the feast! And He was not casting aside the commandment to honor father and mother when He upbraided the Pharisees for using their traditions as excuses for not doing so. So just as God is not opposed to all repetition in prayer but to vain repetition, so He is not opposed to all tradition but only to corrupting tradition.

Let’s apply this to Mother’s Day which most observed in some way just last week. God’s word commands us to honor father and mother. Mother’s day is probably one of the few vestiges of our nation’s once prevalent Christian world view: on that day, people deliberately seek to honor their mothers. That’s good!

At the same time, Mother’s Day always falls on a Lord’s day. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). If we put parents or other close relations above God…if we honor them more than we honor Him, that’s bad. And using Mother’s Day as a cloak for that sin only makes it worse. Yet the perpetual obligation to honor one’s mother does not vanish once per week, nor on that one Lord’s day that comes along each May.

Here is the application of the reasoning above: as this year’s remaining holidays come around: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween (only recently elevated in our society to “holiday” status!), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and others, let’s think Biblically about them, and determine that we will handle them with deliberation and in a way that will make manifest that we are not just like the world in this arena of life.

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