Monthly Archives: August 2016

Avoiding Bible Blunders, Part One

One such blunder is failure to consider “the original audience.” The whole Bible is God’s covenant document for all of His people, to be sure. But to whom was a particular book (or passage) first proclaimed?

Genesis, the primary of the five books of Moses, was given first to the “exodus generation” of Israelites whom Moses led out of bondage. The knowledge that they were to inherit the promised land then occupied by the descendants of Canaan, the cursed son of Ham, was important for them in a way that doesn’t obtain for us.

Another example appears in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24; parallel accounts found at Luke 21 and Mark 13). God incarnate gave this important message after He left His old, earthy temple in earthly Jerusalem for the last time. Moved with sorrow and anger as we see in the previous context, Matthew 23:33-39, He told His disciples that not one stone of that temple would be left upon another which would not be thrown down. In answer to their amazed question about that prophecy (fulfilled quite exactly in 70 A.D.), Christ went on to speak to them of things that would come upon THIS GENERATION, i.e. the disciples and their contemporaries.

So, we who live about 3,500 years after Genesis was written, and about 2,000 years after the Olivet discourse was spoken can be edified in our faith, grow in grace, and learn from both portions of Scripture. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). However, to ignore the historical setting of any passage…to fail to consider the identity of its original hearers, is a Bible blunder that can get us off track.

Another blunder can be made if we take “literal” and “truthful” as synonyms. We joyfully confess the comforting truth that the holy Bible is infallible and without any error whatsoever in its original manuscripts. It is fully and finally authoritative because it is the God-breathed (inspired) Word of life.

This does not mean that every statement in Scripture must be taken literally according to the literal meaning of the word literal! The Bible also uses figurative speech to express truth. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father” (John 16:25).

Jesus’ figurative words (for example, His parables) are no less true than the Bible’s literal accounts of historical events like the creation of the universe in six days of ordinary length, the global flood, or the miraculous parting of the Red Sea – in which its waters formed walls to their right and left as the people of God walked through it.

Previously published elsewhere, August 23, A.D. 2015

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I Don’t Discuss Politics or Religion

That “old saw” was quoted to me verbatim in a recent conversation. Reflecting afterward, I considered: In one sense, in there anything else to discuss? Let me explain…

God’s law was summarized or infallibly condensed by God incarnate into two great commandments. They can be paraphrased as follows:

1. Love your Creator and Lord supremely
2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself

The full spectrum of human life is addressed by these two commandments. There is no thought, affection, purpose, activity, or pursuit of any kind wherein these universally pervasive precepts of Almighty God do not obtain.

If the rusty old saw had not been invoked in that conversation, and the person with whom I was speaking had said “I never engage in hostile and unprofitable verbal strivings which do nothing but generate ill will,” I would have affirmed that wisdom! But if one one claims that he NEVER discusses religion and politics, I claim that he is attempting the impossible.

All of human life is “religious.” That is, it involves loving God supremely and being in right relation with Him. And all of human life is “political.” It involves loving one’s neighbor as one loves himself.

The person who will not subject all that he or she thinks, feels, says, and does to the Lord God is in rebellion to Him. For example, the agnostic who asserts his neutrality on the so-called question of God’s existence is actually in rebellion against Him Who said “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” There is no neutrality!

The word politics derives from the Greek word for city: POLIS. A city is a place where people dwell together. As members of immediate and extended families, of cities or towns, of states, of nations, and as people with various other associations, every one of us is political. “No man is an island.”

So a hermit is as corrupt politically as a manipulative candidate for election to an office he plans to use to further some selfish or crooked agenda. The one, in his deliberate isolation, is robbing himself and his fellow man of the benefits that each should receive from the other. His is but an introverted form of the abuse we readily observe in the other more public sinner, the crooked politician.

He who seeks to avoid fruitless strife and unprofitable wrangling in his conversation is indeed wise (2 Timothy 2:23). Using such wisdom, a disciple bears good witness to the meekness and gentleness of his Savior, and keeps the two great commandments. He who does not seek, with deliberation, to  honor God and edify his neighbor in all his speaking and doing is sinning against His king in Heaven, and against his fellow citizens of the king’s realm, which is all the Earth (Cf. Isaiah 9:7, Matthew 28:18-20).

Previously published elsewhere, December 23, A.D. 2012 

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Let’s Play Lord Potato Head!

In the 1,952nd year of grace, the Hasbro company first manufactured a toy that had been invented by George Lerner: Mr. Potato Head. It consisted of a variety of plastic ears, eyes, noses, mouths, hats, and shoes. These features would be attached by way of push pins onto an ordinary potato, according to the player’s fancy. The toy changed a bit over the years; as of 1964 a real potato was no longer required. Mr. Potato Head went on to appear in the Toy Story series of movies, and as a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He can be spotted to this day on ball caps, T-shirts, etc.

This classic American toy was and probably remains great fun for kids of all ages. And it is a fine example of human ingenuity and successful marketing. It is NOT a good model of how to worship and serve God! But apparently, some believe they can trifle with Him Who is the only way to a certain and saving relationship with God – the living Lord Christ – as if He were lifeless “Lord Potato Head!” Here’s how they play the game:

Their potato, figuratively speaking, is usually a featureless, nebulous IDEA of Jesus. This amorphous mental idol is typically based on a few isolated or fragmented words from the Gospels (do not judge…I am with you always…blessed are the poor), or words Christ never spoke (God helps those who help themselves…as long they “love” each other they can do as they please…heaven and hell are here on earth) to which are added visual conceptions of Jesus foisted on the unwary by painters and sculptors.

These usually depict a man striking what the artist conceives to be religious or spiritual poses, and making what he conceives as gestures of the same pious sort. (Or is it that they want him to look like he is drying his fingernails?) Perhaps some Lord Potato Head players include a mental version of the aura or halo seen in some objets d’art which make the painted figure look like he has a shiny metallic plate on his head.

Next, let some ill winds of the false or shallow doctrine that comes from TV charlatans and paperback writers of “inspirational” drivel blow across the mind of one playing with this deceptive theological toy, and a grotesque caricature of the Biblical, historical Jesus is almost complete.

The rest of him is cobbled together in that idol factory known as the human heart. Strangely, the finished Lord Potato Head’s ethics and beliefs are perfectly aligned with those of the one playing with him! Hmm…can we sleuth out the cause of this odd similarity?

When someone having fun with Lord Potato Head is presented with a disagreeable commandment, difficult saying, hard teaching, or perplexing, incarnational characteristic of the BIBLICAL Jesus Christ, the player readily dismisses it with high indignation. “MY Jesus wouldn’t say that!” “MY Jesus isn’t like that!” “MY Jesus taught unconditional love!”

And there you have it. There is no such person as MY Jesus or YOUR Jesus, there is only the genuine, risen, reigning Lord Jesus of the holy Bible. And though His Gospel is surely a message of lavish grace, and is sincerely offered to the undeserving, it is not a plea from a personified toy, wistfully hoping to be “accepted” and played with. It is a trumpet call to sinners: Come repentant to the dread sovereign of the universe in order to be forgiven and accepted by Him! It is not a call to make up a god according to human imagination, but to be transformed and conformed by Him…to be remade in the image of the holy Son of God!

Previously published elsewhere, September 6, A.D. 2015

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Bad Illustrations

John came baptizing in order that the Lord Jesus Christ “…should be made manifest to Israel”, John 1:31. In His baptism, Jesus was indeed manifest as the Son of God – the Second Person of the Trinity – as God the Father spoke from Heaven, and God the Holy Spirit came down in bodily form like a dove upon God the Son incarnate. The one true God exists eternally as three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the baptism of the Lord Jesus, we see the involvement of all three Divine Persons.

The triune being of God…the blessed and holy Trinity, is a profound mystery infinitely beyond human comprehension. This should not surprise us, for a “god” fully understandable by the human mind would be inferior to man! Almighty God is exalted above all His creatures in every way. Job’s friend Zophar the Naamathite well expressed this truth when he asked, “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7)

Some have nevertheless tried to illustrate the incomprehensible Trinity, but none of the illustrations are adequate for this lofty truth. Let us examine them and see why…

Bad illustration # 1: The Trinity is like an egg. An egg is a unit, yet it exists in three distinct parts: the shell, the white, and the yolk. Sorry! This illustration fails to do justice to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity because according to the Bible, each member of the Trinity shares fully and equally in all that being God entails. The Father is eternal, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit (See John 1:1-3, Hebrews 9:14, et. al.)

The same is true of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability, sovereignty, and all the Divine attributes: Father and Son and Holy Spirit each possess them all. The egg surely gives us an example of unity. However, the shell, the white and the yolk have different attributes. The shell is hard, but the other two parts are not. The yolk is yellow, but the other two parts are not, and so forth. The members of the Trinity are not “parts” of the indivisible unity of God.

Bad illustration # 2: The Trinity is like one man who has three distinct roles: a father to his boy, a son to his own father, a sibling to his brother. He is one man, but wears “three hats”. Sorry! This illustration also fails to adequately portray the Divine mystery of three Persons, one God. The distinction of the Persons of the Trinity is quite real. The Father is not the Son, and neither the Father nor the Son is the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Divine being cannot be divided, yet the three Persons are truly distinct.

Bad illustration # 3: Identical triplets. Sorry! This illustration makes a valiant effort, but still fails. The Persons of the Trinity are indeed distinct, as has just been affirmed. However, they are one being…one God, not three gods.

To sum up, the “egg” illustration affirms the unity of God at the expense of the co-equality of the Persons. The “three roles” illustration also affirms the unity of God, but at the expense of the genuine distinction of the Persons. The “triplets” illustration affirms the distinction of the Persons at the expense of the unity of the being of God. Three strikes, human attempt at “illustrating” the Divine Trinity is o-u-t! Nothing in creation is quite like the Uncreated Lord God!

There are several strong “proof texts” for the doctrine of the Trinity in Scripture, such as Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and 1 John 5:7*. There is veiled revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament, such as we see at Genesis 1:26 and 11:7. In addition to the three Gospel records of Christ’s baptism by John, there are other inescapably trinitarian passages such as the upper room discourse of the Lord to His apostles (John 13-17). Moreover, the more we study Scripture, the more we find that the doctrine of the Trinity, being the chief doctrine of the very being of God, is like a deep, rich dye that has Divinely colored all the fabric of Holy Writ.

Is it necessary to believe in the Trinity in order to be saved? Absolutely YES. However, as we said at the outset, no one fully understands it.

Many of the heresies which beset the ancient Church – Arianism, Sabellianism, Patripassianism, etc. – can be seen as a cluster of errors surrounding the orthodox, Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. These heresies disclose a mindset of proud denial of the Trinity because it surpasses human knowledge. A child of God the Father humbly affirms that this mystery is beyond his knowledge, but has been taught by God the Holy Spirit that the Trinity is according to the truth as it is in Jesus, God the Son.

(*The authenticity of 1 John 5:7 has been questioned by some scholars. This is reflected in the way the verse reads in some translations. In this writer’s opinion, the reading provided in the A.V. (King James) and the New King James is correct.)

Previously published elsewhere, August 15 A.D. 1999 et. al.

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Cosmogony and Cosmology

GLEANINGS — September 27, A.D. 2015

Using such words can provoke the popular flippant question, “what planet are YOU from?” My answer to that question is: NONE! That is because I do not live on a planet. Please read on if you are interested in my explanation of that jarring claim.

First, back to our closely related titular words. You’ll see the Greek root word COSMOS in both. English has directly adopted that Greek word. It is a name for all things, the whole creation. CosmoGONY deals specifically with the origin of the cosmos. CosmoLOGY is a broader term which can include origins but also deals with the structure as well as the development and present state of the cosmos.

Generally speaking, terms like outer space, solar system, and planet – as that last word is presently used – assume a “big bang” cosmogony which is based on the presuppositions of godless (and ipso facto culpable, Romans 1:20) reasoning. The real cosmogony is found in Genesis chapter 1. In the space of six days of ordinary length, God spoke and…BANG! All objects and entitites came into being!

As the ancients looked carefully at the night time heavens, they saw that some of those lovely points of twinkling light seemed more fixed in place, while others seemed to wander. The word planet also derives without much change from an ancient Greek word: PLANETES – meaning wandering star.

God has allowed mankind to make further discoveries about what His word declared long before the earliest known telescopes were invented in the early 17th century of our Lord: “There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

We have discovered much about the different glories of light reflecting celestial bodies like the moon, Venus, and Jupiter, and that’s great! And we have learned that they in turn differ in glory from bodies like the sun, Sirius, and Antares – gigantic, light generating balls of fire. How wonderful that the Lord grants us the wisdom to make these discoveries! But unless one is already committed to a godless cosmogony, why should these discoveries overthrow how we think about the divinely created heavens and the earth in general?

Standing firmly on a Biblical world view (perhaps better called a “cosmos view?”) we find that we do not stand on a wandering star! We stand on a very special place called THE earth, which is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof (Psalm 24:1). It is the only place in the cosmos known to have biological life. It is the place to which God came in the flesh.

We need not deny that the earth shares certain attributes with Mars, for example, anymore than we would deny that chimps and humans have somewhat similar body shapes. Yet we affirm that humans are utterly set apart from all animals (Genesis 1:26). Likewise, we affirm the earth’s unique role in God’s creation. That is underscored by the infallibly accurate Biblical cosmogony which asserts that the sun, moon, and stars (wandering or fixed) came into being on day four of the creation week, whereas the earth itself existed as of creation day one.

So our home the earth is not “just another planet.” It is the place from which beings created in God’s image can view by day or by night the heavens which were made by His fingers, which He thereafter stretched out (Isaiah 42:5, et. al.), and which display His glory and call us to humility before Him (Psalm 8:3,4; 19:1).

Court is still out on question of the physical center of the creation. The theories of Copernicus displaced those of Ptolemy. Strict heliocentrism has since been displaced. Genuine scientific inquiry (as opposed to that which masquerades as such in order to push unfalsifiable dogma) will no doubt continue to amaze us BECAUSE of that very purpose of the heavens: to display the glory of the omnipotent, omniscient, “omni-artistic” Creator!

Previously published elsewhere, September 27, A.D. 2015

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A Changed Man

GLEANINGS — July 8, A.D. 2012

The son of Kish was an impressive man according to the book of Samuel, where we read that there was not a more handsome person than Saul among the children of Israel.

He had great promise. When he came to Samuel, Samuel proclaimed to Saul that the Spirit of the LORD would come upon him, gifting him to prophesy with other prophets, and that he would be “turned into another man.”

When he departed from Samuel, God gave Saul another heart, and certain signs that Samuel had predicted came to pass that very day. (Cf. 1 Samuel 10:6,9). So tall, handsome, prophesying Saul had a dramatic testimony. He went on to become a capable warrior, and eventually a king.

Wisdom ever compels us to consider final results. Surely, Saul’s life had great potential due to his natural gifts and abilities, his advantages, and his spiritual gifts. But what was the FRUIT of all this?

As we read on in Scripture’s account of Saul’s life, we find a man who defied God’s express command to him through the prophet Samuel. We see the insanity of his persecution of God’s chosen, David. We read that Saul hypocritically consulted a medium after he himself had rightly banished them from the land of Israel. Finally, we see a man whose life ended in suicide, committed in the interest of saving face. How tragic!

According to the Lord Jesus, when the divine court convenes on the great Day of Judgment, many who appeal to how they prophesied and did great works in His name will hear a dreadful verdict: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Cf. Matthew 7:23)

Love is the prime quality of the Holy Spirit’s fruit. Someone might have the ability to prophesy, have great understanding, and even mountain moving faith. He might give all his goods to the poor, and suffer his own body to be destroyed…but if he has not love, all that is all nothing, says the holy Bible.

Is your testimony that you are another person than the one you once were? Saul received many gifts from God, and experienced great changes in his life, but what was the fruit of it all? What kind of fruit is ripening in your life?

Personal presence, dramatic personal testimony, and even gifts He Himself has given all come to nothing in the sight of God unless our lives display the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Previously published elsewhere, July 8, A.D. 2012

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The Fullness of the Spirit

GLEANINGS — August 2, A.D. 2015

It is always good and profitable to seek the whole counsel of God on any subject, and this is especially true in our day when the Old Testament Scriptures are so readily minimized. Consider Exodus 31:2-5 –

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.”

The fullness of the Spirit in this man of God did not result in ecstatic or prophetic utterances or the ability to work miracles, but in understanding, knowledge, and skill in craftsmanship.

In Romans 8:9, the apostle Paul delivers a fatal blow to the false teaching that one can be a regenerate (born again) person, but still in need of another inward work of the Spirit to be a REAL Christian: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

There are times when our godly affections and zeal are heightened (such as when the disciples were with Jesus on the mount of His transfiguration), just as there are times when hope ebbs and zeal is diminished (such as when they were huddled in bewilderment and grief shortly before His resurrection).

But the Bible says “he who calls on the name of Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13), not “he who calls on the Lord and has a certain experience shall be saved.” Our salvation does not depend on our feelings or experiences, but on the finished work of Christ alone, which we receive by grace through faith.

Some assert that “speaking in tongues” is inseparably linked with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. As the term is used in the Bible, having the gift of tongues means being divinely gifted to speak other LANGUAGES. And when this gift appeared in the New Testament, those who received the gift were speaking real words that could be understood and/or translated. If nothing is communicated, there is no edifying value.

Paul wrote, “…yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:19)

Ephesians 5:18-21 instructs as about what the fullness of the Spirit is like: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

Do you see one who is submissive, thankful, has a heart filled with melody, and who speaks to others intelligibly and to their edification with skill (remember Bezalel)? There is one filled with the Spirit.

Do you see a professing Christian who draws attention to self by spouting gibberish – usually in a disorderly way and with plenty of vain repetition? Could that be one who is greatly mistaken about what Christian faith and discipleship is all about?

Previously published elsewhere, August 2, A.D. 2015

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