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Simon Says

GLEANINGS — March 15, A.D. 2015

This writer hasn’t played it in a while. You know, the group game in which a leader pats his head, and cries out to those facing him “Simon says do this!” Then he swings his arm in a circle and calls out “Simon says do this!” Then he hops on one foot, “Simon says do this!” Finally he rubs his belly and says, “Do this!” Whoever fails to recognize that it wasn’t Simon who commanded the abdominal rub is OUT! Lots of fun for kids up to age 90 plus, no electrical outlet or batteries required…

Some Christians think of keeping the Law of God as a twisted version of that game. They see God as a cruel and capricious “Simon,” telling people to do this or do that; forbidding this and banning that, for no evident reason.

What a black sighted view of God! Is He the One Who so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that others might have eternal life? Or is His secret agenda to make sure His people are perpetually miserable? Perhaps those who think of God and the purpose of His law in this way have forgotten that Jesus said He came to give His sheep abundant life, John 10:10.

How different is the view of the Law taken by the godly Psalmist! “I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love…oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day…I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold…Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.” (Psalm 119:47, 97, 127, 165)

“…We know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,” wrote the inspired apostle, (1 Timothy 1:8). This necessarily implies that it is possible to MISUSE the law. Legalism, the equally erroneous opposite of antinomianism, believes that by works of the law one can be justified before the thrice holy God. This flies in the face of Galatians 2:16, where the Holy Spirit tells us that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. He goes on to instruct us that we who believe are justified by faith in Him (Christ) and not by the works of the law, and He ends with the emphatic pronouncement, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Often going hand in hand with legalism is the stifling hypocrisy with which Jesus charged the scribes and Pharisees: “…You pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23,24).

This mockery of a holy and blessed life reduces it to external acts. It ignores that there is as much imperative force in Biblical expressions such as “Don’t be afraid!” or “Rejoice!” or “…Be filled with the Spirit…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord!” as there is in the Ten Commandments. It forgets that Jesus summed up the whole Law in two commandments: Love God supremely and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

The corruption of sin makes us despise God’s law, and leads us into wrongful ideas of what love is. Rightly keeping the law and expressing love are actually identical. Notice how in the Matthew 23 passage, Jesus identifies justice, mercy, and faith as “matters of the law.” Romans 13:10 puts is succinctly: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Bible says: “Do this!”

Originally published elsewhere, March 15, A.D. 2015

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Simon Says

GLEANINGS — March 15, A.D. 2015

This writer hasn’t played it in a while. You know, the group game in which a leader pats his head, and cries out to those facing him “Simon says do this!” Then he swings his arm in a circle and calls out “Simon says do this!” Then he hops on one foot…”Simon says do this!” Finally he rubs his belly and says, “Do this!” Whoever fails to recognize that it wasn’t Simon who commanded the abdominal rub is OUT! Lots of fun for kids up to age 90 plus, no electrical outlet or batteries required…

Some Christians think of keeping the Law of God as a twisted version of that game. They see God as a cruel and capricious “Simon,” telling people to do this or do that; forbidding this and banning that, for no evident reason.

What a black sighted view of God! Is He the One Who so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that others might have eternal life? Or is His secret agenda to make sure His people are perpetually miserable? Perhaps those who think of God and the purpose of His law in this way have forgotten that Jesus said He came to give His sheep abundant life, John 10:10.

How different is the view of the Law taken by the godly Psalmist! “I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love…oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day…I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold…Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.” (Psalm 119:47, 97, 127, 165)

“…We know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,” wrote the inspired apostle, (1 Timothy 1:8). This necessarily implies that it is possible to MISUSE the law. Legalism, the equally erroneous opposite of antinomianism, believes that by works of the law one can be justified before the thrice holy God. This flies in the face of Galatians 2:16, where the Holy Spirit tells us that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. He goes on to instruct us that we who believe are justified by faith in Him (Christ) and not by the works of the law, and He ends with the emphatic pronouncement, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Often going hand in hand with legalism is the stifling hypocrisy with which Jesus charged the scribes and Pharisees: “…You pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23,24).

This mockery of a holy and blessed life reduces it to external acts. It ignores that there is as much imperative force in Biblical expressions such as “Don’t be afraid!” or “Rejoice!” or “…Be filled with the Spirit…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord!” as there is in the Ten Commandments. It forgets that Jesus summed up the whole Law in two commandments: Love God supremely and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

The corruption of sin makes us despise God’s law, and leads us into wrongful ideas of what love is. Rightly keeping the law and expressing love are actually identical. Notice how in the Matthew 23 passage, Jesus identifies justice, mercy, and faith as “matters of the law.” Romans 13:10 puts is succinctly: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Bible says: “Do this!”

Originally published elsewhere, March 15, A.D. 2015

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Clothed with Humility

GLEANINGS — March 8, A.D. 2015

A girl who was born in Senegal, west Africa c. A.D. 1753 was sold into slavery at the age of about seven years and transported to North America. The Wheatleys, residents of Boston, purchased her. They named her Phillis and educated her. She soon mastered Latin and Greek, and began writing poetry, eventually becoming celebrated internationally for her literary achievements. This is one of her poems…

On Being Brought from Africa to America

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

In our society there is no end of people talking about how PROUD they are about this, how PROUD they are about their ethnic heritage, how PROUD they are about that. Some are bursting with PRIDE in their own achievements or those of their children and grandchildren.

Some use the expression “I’M PROUD OF _____ ” when they really mean something like, “I’m pleased that God to Whom alone all glory is due has given these blessings and talents to me or my loved ones.”

Some glory in their shame, literally parading their hideous PRIDE. Others in more private ways bring great harm to themselves and others because of their unyielding, unreasonable, intractable PRIDE.

In sweet Phillis’ poem we have something far better exemplified. And that is…drum roll…HUMILITY!

She was evidently familiar with the inspired testimonies of the wisest earthly king and that of two apostles who had been taught directly by One wiser than that king:

“Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (from James 4:6)

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Phillis Wheatley’s God is the sovereign God of Joseph son of Jacob, that young man who was sold INTO Africa (specifically Egypt) as a slave, was educated in an alien culture, and went on to do great things under the all-guiding hand of El Shaddai Who ever brings good out of evil.

One of Wheatley’s earliest works (A.D. 1770) was titled: An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield

Originally published elsewhere,March 8, A.D. 2015

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Who is to Blame?

GLEANINGS — March 1, A.D. 2015

Psalm 119:130 reads, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Who extinguished the light of divine knowledge in America, leaving us a nation groping in the dark, confused and bewildered? Who allowed this people to sink into such profound depths of moral depravity?

A comedian of bygone years had a one line, catch-all excuse for his sins and foibles: “The devil made me do it!” Wrong answer. The devil’s due is very little. The lion’s share of responsibility for our decline is upon other shoulders. We Christians, especially those of us who are teachers in the Church (parents, pastors, college and seminary professors, et. al.) do not have to look beyond the mirror to find the chief culprits.

Recently this blogger heard a professional engineer, a devout disciple of Jesus, tell of an encounter he had with a peer who expressed utter astonishment that the Christian engineer “believed in the ark” (of Noah).

Let’s think about that. What was likely the unbeliever’s mental picture of Noah’s ark, and where did he get it? Was he astonished at his friend’s faith because he thought of a small tug boat style vessel, bursting at the seams with cartoon animals (giraffe neck and head protruding), and an old man with a beard on deck?

And did he imagine Noah on safari, hunting down animals for the ark? Did he know of the dual source of the water that caused the never to be repeated flood (Genesis 7:11)? Or did his jaw go slack at the thought that his friend believed in a thunderstorm capable of inundating the whole earth? What other faulty conceptualizations did he hold concerning that global, divinely orchestrated cataclysm, and its purpose?

Was holy Scripture related to him as a “story” or a moralistic fable? Did Christian teachers present this foundational Biblical narrative as a myth or fairy tale, instead of as God’s mightiest temporal judgment to date, and history’s greatest catastrophe – an event of crucial importance to understanding God’s righteous nature, His covenant purposes, and what we observe in today’s world and its inhabitants?

Per Genesis 6:14-16, the Biblical ark was a huge, rectangular, roofed vessel with three decks – all designed by God. Noah didn’t capture the animals, their Creator brought them to Noah (verse 20). Animal kinds are not identical with the millions of “species” categorized by modern taxonomy. In the case of larger animals, God likely sent specimens that were younger, hence smaller and more fit for future procreation.

Even admitting that last statement to be speculative (none of us were there!), it stands that from the small shrew and the little lizard up to the monstrous mammoth and the amazing apatosaurus (yes, dinos were on the ark!), the median size of an ark animal was equivalent to that of a sheep. In short, there is nothing about the Great Flood narrative constraining us to assign it to the realm of myth or even godly parable. It is history, and some record of it has been preserved by virtually all the nations of the world.

The point is, we who Christ declared to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth have let our lamps go out. We have lost our saltiness. In the case of Genesis 6 – 9 and other passages, we allowed unbelief to twist the truth and brainwash our neighbors with error. Many of our young have not been well equipped with a pervasive, thorough, and comprehensive Biblical world view, nor given the skills to defend their faith in any vocation. Instead their minds have been formed by those who deem that faith – and all of God’s law, testimonies, precepts, and judgments – to be irrelevant, archaic, and absurd.

“For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.” (2 Peter 3:5,6)

Originally published elsewhere, March 1, A.D. 2015

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His Truth is Marching On

During the White House Summit on Global Development on July 20, A.D. 2016 President Obama said “we are living in the most peaceful” era in human history and that “the world has never been less violent.”

While many are lampooning the president for this comment, yours truly – who agrees with him on exceedingly little – believes he is right on this one, taking all of true human history into consideration. And that true history, free of any re-writer’s pen, includes the antediluvian age when “…the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) The great Flood of Noah’s time put a decisive punctuation mark on all that.

Approximately 4,500 years later in this early 21st century of the grace of our Lord, the world being figuratively a tiny place and one in which information and disinformation travels at electronic speed, we are indeed witnessing much horror. But today’s world is one in which Christ’s kingdom is steadily advancing. Unshakably enthroned over all, He is inexorably putting all enemies beneath His feet until that glorious day when death itself, the last enemy, is destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).

There is a lot of “good stuff” going on today in many arenas of human endeavor. But it does not get the sensationalistic press given to terror attacks. Who cares that there is at least one country on Earth which has seen to date an unprecedented 44 peaceful transfers of power between presidential administrations? Who cares about the amazing progress that has been made toward the goal of eliminating human hunger? Who cares if pestilences that once killed millions have been eradicated? A guy who killed dozens (not at all minimizing the great pain he inflicted on victims and their survivors) makes for a much more mesmerizing story on the 24 hour news cycle.

King Jesus is winning the long war against God* despite what appears to us as the loss of some battles. He is always causing the enemy’s plans to backfire in his face, always making his victories Pyrrhic, always bringing good out of evil. I call that “the Joseph principle.” Discover that by reading the gripping account given to us in Genesis chapters 37 -50. Of the increase of Christ’s government and of peace there will be no end, as Isaiah predicted (9:6,7). The world is not yet an excellent place, but compared to what has been, it is a better place, and in centuries to come it will be even better.

And when the already reigning King returns at last to put the final punctuation mark on history, things will get really, really good for those on His side, and really, really bad for those who despised Him and set Him at nought.

* The Long War Against God is the title of a book by Dr. Henry Morris, A.D. 1918 – 2006. He was one of the founders of the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research.

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Textual Criticism, Part Five

This is the fifth of a five part series in which the writer aims to make the basics of a scholarly discipline accessible to his fellow non-experts…

GLEANINGS — February 22, A.D. 2015

This topic was taken up in conjunction with a series of sermons in the Gospel of Mark. As many English Bibles indicate via footnoting, some ancient MSS (manuscripts; hand written copies of Scripture) omit the concluding verses of the Gospel, namely Mark 16:9-20.

To defend the canonicity – that is the legitimacy of the passage as part of God’s infallible and fully authoritative word – we have considered several issues:

1. The Bible’s many human authors were overshadowed and inspired by its one divine Author, Who has promised to preserve His word. We self-consciously START all our consideration trusting God about that. We believe 2 Timothy 3:16!

2. We do not deny that there are variants – i.e. MSS that omit the passage. In other words, our defense is not ignoring them like the proverbial ostrich. Yet based on our trust in divine preservation, we insist that this and all passages with variant readings present us with an “either/or” circumstance, not a “we-have-no-idea-how-the-original-read” circumstance.

3. In and of itself, the fact that some of the MSS which omit Mark 16:9-20 are very old does not prove their greater faithfulness to the God-breathed, inerrant AUTOGRAPHS (original documents of Scripture).

4. A passage cannot be rejected merely because it contains statements that are lacking in parallel passages. For example Acts 20:35 gives us a precious saying of Christ found nowhere in the four canonical Gospels: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” John 1:1-18 is unparalleled in any of the other three Gospels.

Honoring Scripture above any uninspired human writing, we appeal finally to some vital witnesses of the canonicity of the last verses of Mark 16. They are known as the Church Fathers. They do not have the authority of the apostles, but they were disciples possessed of great wisdom and knowledge. Let us not be infected with the proud spirit that exalts modern men above the men of old!

We know that the Bible writers themselves cite passages of Scripture that came before them. Our Lord perhaps more than any other repeatedly refers to what is written in the Law of Moses…invokes the words of the prophets…questions His opponents based on what David wrote in Psalm 110.

Likewise, patristic writers (church fathers) refer to Mark 16:9-20 AS SCRIPTURE! And many of those fathers predate the MSS which supposedly cast aspersions on the passage. In other words, they quote Mark 16:9-20 BEFORE the MSS which omit the passage were produced! Therein lies powerful evidence that the passage was recognized as such by the ancient church. Remember, the church does not DETERMINE what is Scripture and what is not, it only RECOGNIZES Scripture…

A book recommendation will conclude this series of “Gleanings” on textual criticism. It is titled The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to Saint Mark, by John William Burgon (originally published A.D. 1871 and now in the public domain; a FREE Kindle version is available from Amazon)

Familiarly known according to his academic post, Dean Burgon was a contemporary of the scholars Westcott and Hort, who argued against the canonicity of the closing verses of Mark’s Gospel. In this masterful work, Burgon examines the legacies of many patristic writers and argues very powerfully and cogently as a believing scholar that Mark 16:9-20 is surely a portion of the whole counsel of God. Amen.

Originally published elsewhere, February 22, A.D. 2015

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Textual Criticism, Part Four

This is the fourth of a five part series in which the writer aims to make the basics of a scholarly discipline accessible to his fellow non-experts…

GLEANINGS — February 8, A.D. 2015

CANONICITY deals with the issue of whether or not a book, passage, or verse rightly belongs in the Bible. The four Gospels are CANONICAL, the four books of Maccabees are not. Moving toward a solid defense of the canonicity of verses 9 – 20 of the Gospel of Mark chapter 16 (denied by some), we have dealt with several considerations: The Bible’s own claims about itself, a proper view of variants, and the antiquity of MSS (handwritten copies).

In Part Three we also brought this to the table: There is but ONE divine Author of the entire Bible, as verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 plainly proclaim. Even though God spoke at “various times and in various ways” through prophets and apostles of old, it was ultimately God Who spoke! Because of this truth, comparing one passage of Scripture with others is a vital tool for anyone who wants to rightly divide God’s word. A simple example follows.

In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul is speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Reading this passage, the skeptic imagines that he has an occasion to assert that “Jesus did not really say that.” Why? Because no such words are recorded in any one of the four Gospels. So is this an AHA! moment of triumph for those who despise our precious holy Bible?

Hardly. The believer compares Paul’s words…quoting Christ…recorded by Luke in Acts 20 with an inspired comment written by John: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)

And he also considers Mark 4:33 – “And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it,” and Matthew 4:23 – “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

In other words, neither ALL the words Christ spoke nor ALL the deeds He did during the days of His humiliation are recorded in the Gospels! Many are not recorded at all. And what of that pearl of wisdom spoken by Him Who spoke as no other man spoke, “It is more blessed to give than to receive?” The faith that is ever zealous to vindicate God (Romans 3:4) concludes that the one divine Author saw fit to include in the book of Acts a saying of Jesus not recorded elsewhere. Simple. No problem.

Textual criticism – a valid scholarly discipline – has a “black eye” only because unbelievers have abused it, as unbelief abuses everything. Rightly used, it provides evidences for the divine nature and preservation of the Bible. For instance, the quantity alone of ancient MSS of the 27 canonical New Testament writings (about 5,700) testifies to the unique preservation of Scripture. It is vastly larger than the quantity of MSS for ALL other ancient writings. For example there are only 7 – yes SEVEN – MSS of the works of Plato! Hmm…why are there not hosts of Plato scholars vying to prove that “Plato didn’t really write that?”

Lord willing, we will call upon one more vital witness to defend the canonicity of Mark 16:9-20, in fact multiple witnesses. They are not inspired like the human authors of the Bible, nor do they claim to be. Part Five of this series is scheduled to be published next week.

Originally published elsewhere, February 8, A.D. 2015

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