Category Archives: Gleanings

Fame!

“It is not good to eat much honey; so to seek one’s own glory is not glory”, said wise Solomon under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Proverbs 25:27)

Philosopher George Santayana (A.D. 1863 – 1952) grasped the gist of that godly wisdom when he said, “the highest form of vanity is love of fame.”

One notable Biblical example of this inglorious seeking of one’s own glory is recorded in the Gospels, and the future apostles James and John are the perps.

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20,21)

(Mark’s account, 10:35-37, makes clear that James and John were complicit with their mother, and not innocent of her wrongful desire to see her sons in the limelight.)

One evil in our lust to shine brighter than anyone else is the desire for that which belongs to God alone,  in  direct rebellion to God’s own jealous (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:24, Nahum 1:2 et. al.) declaration about His glory: “I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.” (Isaiah 42:8, cf. vs. 11)

And the folly of this particular sin is made clear by the truth that no frail creature could even bear such glory! If the light in which He dwells is unapproachable and which no man can see or has seen (1 Timothy 6:16), how much less could any creature be the source of such light?

Our place is to reflect the light of divine glory, attributing all glory to God as its source as we show it forth to others. Those who will receive praise from God…those who will hear those thrilling words, “well done, good and faithful servant” therein have enough to fill their hearts with everlasting satisfaction and joy!

“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:13)

The allure of glory was what the evil one used when he vainly tempted our Lord to worship him. “…the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘all these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’.” (Matthew 4:8,9)

But let’s consider what His Father’s ultimate purpose was for the Son: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:8,9)

So because He did not seek glory, but to do His Father’s will, the Man Christ Jesus ultimately received an eternal renown that the evil one could never have given! And so it is for His disciples, when we aim at obedience instead of looking to be famous, well known, and admired. For the inspired prophet Daniel writes: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

And the same Holy Spirit proclaims through the apostle that there will be “… glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 2:10)

Previously published August 21, A.D. 2016  

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The Great Taboo

Matthew 7:1 is a favorite Bible verse of those who want to justify themselves: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Jesus speaking, parallel verse Luke 6:37). Other passages warn against unrighteous judgment, public or personal. Does this mean that ALL judgment is wrong? Apparently many answer that question affirmatively.

Concluding that something is ethically wrong and expressing that conclusion is the great taboo. Sure, you can advise someone that a certain act is presently criminal. And with a  smile you can express approval (another word for favorable judgment) of almost any behavior, even behaviors that once were illegal. And of course you can keep silent and bottle up your disapproval. But whatever you do, never, never express your conviction that another’s beliefs or actions are to be condemned as wrong.

It is true (judged this writer) that vigilantism – usurping the role of a lawful executor of justice – is wrong. Yet the Psalmist asks God to teach him good judgment, see Psalm 119:66. In other passages, God’s word commands or expects us to judge…to have a righteous estimation of human behavior.

For example Proverbs 31:9 reads, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”

Paul includes judgment as he envisions a peaceful congregation in ancient Corinth: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

In the same letter Christ’s servant further teaches the disciples at Corinth about the proper place of judgment in the Chrisitan community: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? (1 Corinthians 6:1-5)

Further on in that letter the apostle instructs them about judgment as it relates to religious teaching (a form of prophesying.) “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.” 1 Corinthians 14:29.

And the same Christ who said “judge not that you be not judged” also said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment, John 7:24.” The word judge in that saying of His and the word love in another well known saying of His – “love your enemies” – have something in common. They are imperatives. They have the force of a command. Thus spoke the King of kings.

Merciless judgment? No, “…for judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment,” James 2:13. Unrighteous, superficial, biased judgment? Of course not, consider Luke 18:2ff and Romans 2:1.

But no ethical discernment at all? No universal standard of  right and wrong? You be the judge!

Previously published August 14, A.D. 2016 

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The Calendar

BC  OR  BCE,
AD  OR  CE:
JESUS ANCHORS
THE CALENDAR!

Shortly after this message was posted on the street sign outside of a local church, a neighbor came over to share not only the encouragement that she and her husband read and appreciate the sign’s brief weekly notes, but to inquire further about the exact meaning of this particular one. An expanded version of the answer she was given follows.

B.C. of course stands for Before Christ. Traditionally, anything that occurred in history prior to Christ’s advent is dated recessively with reference to that advent. In other words the further into the past we explore, the higher the number of an event’s date. For example Greek philosopher Aristotle began tutoring military conqueror Alexander the Great in 343 B.C. and King Solomon, through whom the Holy Spirit tutors to this day by way of Solomon’s inspired Proverbs, died about 930 B.C.

A.D. does not stand for “after death,” that is the death (and resurrection) of the Lord Jesus, as some have supposed. It represents the short Latin phrase Anno Domini, meaning year of our Lord. As time moves onward with reference to our Lord’s advent, each year has a higher number.

So Jesus anchors the calendar* in that sense that ALL of history is reckoned with His first advent as its central event! The calendar in use by all mankind declares this: anything that has happened from creation to the present, happened either B.C. or A.D. – “before Christ” or “in the year of our Lord!”

This in itself is a powerful testimony to His glorious Name. In ancient times, nations and empires counted years according to kingly dynasties or other significant events such as the Greek olympics. Today, the entire world uses the same calendar. Everyone reckons time according to history’s most significant event: the coming of the Son of God into the world!

As you might surmise, some don’t like that! Enter our other two acronyms, B.C.E. and C.E. They represent, respectively, “Before Common Era” and “Common Era.” In other words, those who want to marginalize the Lord Jesus Christ realize that they can’t change the numbering of the years, but they hope to eradicate awareness of WHY the years are numbered in the way they are.

Thus as you might have noticed, your friendly neighborhood gleaning author makes profuse use of the terms A.D., or “year of our Lord,” or “year of grace” both in things written for public consumption and in private, such as dating paper checks, correspondence, etc. He regards this as one small way to fight the spirit of antichrist, and to bear witness to Him Who in the year A.D. Unknown will come again to put a final punctuation mark on history – which might be called, as someone cleverly has pointed out, HIS STORY!

* Two facts should be noted in connection with this. One, there is no “year zero.” The next calendar year after 1 B.C. is A.D. 1. Two, though the actual date of Christ’s birth is a few years before A.D.1, this does represent any error in the Bible.

adapted from a former “Gleaning”, originally published January 3, A.D. 2016

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Futurism and Preterism

Those terms relate to the interpretation* of prophecy in Scripture – specifically to its foretelling aspect, i.e. predicting the future. Bible prophecy includes foretelling, but its primary purpose is not merely to give information about the future. Prediction is subservient to prophetic exhortations to repent and believe. Prophecy comforts God’s people and calls them to obedience in dark times. In fact “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)

Here are a couple of nutshell definitions: Futurism regards a Scriptural prediction as NOT having come to pass yet. Preterism regards a Scriptural prediction as ALREADY having come to pass.

Regarding some predictions, all Bible believing people are preterists. For instance, all believe that specific predictions made by inspired men like David (Psalm 16), Isaiah (chapters 9 and 53), and Micah (5:2) about Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have all come to pass.

Likewise, all Bible believing people are futurists about other predictions. Jesus foretold the bodily resurrection of all mankind (John 5:28,29), but that is yet to come to pass. And all confess that the ultimate destruction by King Jesus of all His enemies foretold in 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, where death itself is identified as the very last enemy, has not yet happened.

What about the book of Revelation? Is it full of predictions which are still in the future? Or have most of its predictions been fulfilled already? Here are a few reasons for taking a generally preteristic view of this book which is full of symbolism and so challenging to our understanding.

1. According to Revelation’s opening and closing portions (see 1:1, 1:3, 22:6, and 22:10) certain events were shortly to come to pass…the time was near. The revelation was given to John on the island Patmos about the middle of the first century. Are we showing faith in God’s word to hold that those clear time indicator phrases refer to some point in the 21st century or beyond?

2. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are commonly known as the pastoral epistles. They give very practical instructions to their recipients about shepherding the congregations over which they had oversight (1 Timothy 1:3ff, Titus 1:5, et. al.) Christ’s seven letters in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are best considered as seven more pastoral epistles to real Christians for whom those time indicator phrases gave much blessing as they read (see 1:3).

In those letters, the Chief Shepherd directly addresses the angels, i.e. human messengers, of the seven churches. He counsels them about then present conditions and circumstances. No doubt the seven letters and the rest of the book of Revelation have instruction for all congregations of all ages, as does all Scripture. But our interpretation* is sloppy if we disregard the original purpose and intent of Scripture in its historical context.

3. Revelation 11:1 refers to the “temple of God and those who worship there.” In His Olivet discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction and Jerusalem’s desolation. Nowhere in the New Testament do we read of the fulfillment of that prediction. But the temple in earthly Jerusalem was destroyed and the city sacked by Roman military might in A.D. 70, about forty years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, as He foretold.

We have no reason to believe that any of the New Testament was written after that epoch terminating date. So does Revelation 11 refer to a temple that would be built in earthly Jerusalem sometime in the apostles’ distant future? Nowhere does the Bible predict that. The new covenant in Jesus’ blood has swallowed up and superseded the foreshadows of the old covenant temple and its animal sacrifices; they are gone forever. The letter to the Hebrews labors to teach us that.

If a structure is built by man in the 21st century or later in earthly Jerusalem and called a temple, it will have no more significance in terms of God’s plan than the erection of a Hindu temple in New York or an Islamic mosque in Michigan. Revelation 11 refers to that temple to which Peter and John went up to pray sometime after Pentecost but before its A.D. 70 destruction (Acts 3:1).

*Interpretation does not mean assigning a meaning one finds attractive, but discovering the meaning which God and His inspired author intended!

Previously published elsewhere, June 12 A.D. 2016

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Restroom Unrest

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (King Jesus, per Mark 9:42)


On May 13th A.D. 2016 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued a joint “dear colleague” letter to ALL state run (public) school districts in America regarding access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and athletic activities for so-called transgender students. The full letter can be found online here:  www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf

The letter claims to provide guidance but not new legal requirements. Yet,  appealing to Title IX of the Education Amendment of A.D. 1972, it presumes that non-compliance with this “guidance” would nullify a district’s eligibility for federal funds. This is yet another unconstitutional encroachment by the federal government on our liberties; another nanny state overreach. And like the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme court opinion regarding marriage before it, this directive seeks to institutionalize wickedness.

Let us consider just one aspect of this morally horrifying and imperialistic decree – namely its revelation of the lowly view of PARENTS taken by the DOJ and the ED. The directive allows not only a parent or guardian, but a minor student acting independently of his or her parents to claim a new “gender identity,” i.e. to claim to be of the sex opposite to the one divine providence assigned. It reads:

“Under Title IX there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.” It goes on to assert that no documenation such as a birth certificate must be provided in order to treat students “consistent with their gender identity.”

In other words according to our federal government, a high school, middle school, or even elementary school student can choose his or her own sex with no input from his or her parents or guardians required!

Some parents choose to involve the state or other parties they trust in the nurture, care, and instruction of their children. But President Truman’s proverbial buck stops with parents. To them alone belongs sovereign authority over every area of the lives of those they beget or adopt, including that of child education.

This dictatorial overreach by the incumbent administration meddles with both hands. One is clenched into a perverse fist, foolishly being shaken in the face of the thrice holy God Who at the beginning made us male and female. “Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods? Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men? No, in heart you work unrighteousness; on earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.” (from Psalm 58)

The other mischievous hand is busily eviscerating the Fifth Commandment, the first one with a promise: Honor your father and your mother. It violently slaps the faces of parents, God’s vice regents to whom God has given responsibility for His little ones. It is another attempt by the state to annul parental rights.

Will all the pro-abortion voices calling for “reproductive rights” also cry out for the nurturing and instructional rights of the parents of school children? Or will their silence reveal a lack of concern for children outside of the womb identical to their callous, brutal attitude toward CHILDREN still in utero?

Don’t hold your breath, fellow abortion abolitionists!

Previously published May 22, A.D. 2016 

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Images of the Christian

God reveals Himself as the great I AM – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He makes Himself known as the only One to be worshiped, the Lord of all, the Savior of all who call upon Him, the Teacher, the Provider, the One in Whom we live, move, have our being (Acts 17:28), and more.

Even so, in His word He depicts His people in different but complEmentary ways. Here are several of them:

First of all the true Christian is a child of God, unlike others who are described as children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). All people come into this world as what we might call spiritual still births – already dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1,5; Colossians 2:13), condemned as guilty and under the wrath of God (John 3:18, Romans 5:12).

But the true Christian is what 2 Corinthians 5:17 proclaims: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” In Christ he both has been born again (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:23) and adopted (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5) into God’s forever family. The sons and daughters of God are marked by obedience to their heavenly Father. Sharing in the Gospel work of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), they are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

Being eternal children of God makes all Christians eternal brothers and sisters. As such, they live in community as we see exampled in Acts chapter 4 and other places. They bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). They look out for one another (Philippians 2:4). In short, they LOVE one another (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:1)

The Christian is pictured as a spiritual brick in the temple (1 Peter 2:5) in which God dwells by His Spirit. In another figure, the apostle Paul compares each believer to a member (i.e. a part, like an eye, a hand, or a foot) of a spiritual body, which body is the church (Romans 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:12)

In His days on Earth, Jesus chose SOME of his disciples to be apostles, but ALL Christians are His disciples – disciplined ones (Matthew 10:24,25). They imitate His way of life, walk as He walked doing deeds of charity and mercy, and experiencing what He experienced in the world (1 John 4:17).

In a way that by no means contradicts his estate as a “child of the King,” the Christian is also a servant in the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:7, Revelation 1:1). He puts the advancement and prosperity of that Kingdom above his own interests. Therefore according to 2 Timothy 2:3-7 he is like a soldier enduring hardship, unencumbered with civilian life…like an athlete competing according to the rules…like a hardworking, patient farmer who will be first to partake of the harvest.

Finally, the Christian is a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), destined to inherit all things (Revelation 21:7). “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

When it comes to self esteem, (how one feels and thinks about himself), let us not assume the world’s categories of value. Let the Christian form his estimate of himself (and how self needs to grow and change) in Biblical terms. Let the Christian recognize that Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13,14)

Previously published elsewhere, November 8, A.D. 2015

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Emphasis Meditation

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

With that commandment, found in the first chapter of the book bearing Joshua’s name, God himself encouraged Moses’ successor, and we do well to heed that commandment as well. In this high tech, high noise, high speed time a disciple of Jesus is in danger of losing the still and quiet blessing of meditation.

Isaac was out in a field one evening meditating, probably at the end of his work day, when God brought him a very special blessing (Genesis 24:6ff). The Psalmist both prescribes meditation as a means of dealing with anger (Psalm 4:4) and describes the blessed man as one whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1:2).

Some of the Psalms are themselves meditations (e.g. 5, 7, 9). The 19th Psalm includes the well known prayer, “let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.”

In other Psalm passages meditation is encouraged and exampled, and its value extolled. The prophet Malachi (3:16) identifies those who fear the LORD with those who meditate on His name. And in at least two places in the New Testament, meditation is commanded (Philippians 4:8, 1 Timothy 4:15).

The lost world has many vain and foolish ideas about meditation. Some involve bodily contortions, others use the endless repetition of a syllable to which magical power is assigned, still others attempt to “empty” the mind (while the devil smirks in anticipation of filling the vacuum). The Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is concerned with Biblical meditation. What is it, and how does one do it?

We might compare it to digestion. Man does not live by bread alone. We open our spiritual mouths and take in a “chunk” of the inspired word that proceeded from the mouth of God. That chunk might be a precept of wisdom, an abiding commandment, an inerrant historical account of God’s dealings with men, a reflection on one of His righteous judgments or tender mercies. We chew on it, then take it down the spiritual esophagus into our innermost being. There, by God’s grace it provides nourishment for those in Christ, Who is the great Subject of all Scripture. (Cf. Isaiah 25:6-9)

Let’s press the analogy. We know that we should chew a bite of an apple or a steak slowly and thoroughly, and not “wolf it down.” Emphasis meditation is one way to do likewise with a wholesome morsel of Scripture. Here’s an example, suggesting Hebrews 12:14 as a seven course meditation meal. Using the following plan, it takes seven days, not seven seconds, to consume it.

The Lord’s day – PURSUE peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Each day consider the whole verse, but on this first day of the week target the truth that zealously GOING AFTER peace and holiness is necessary. Attainment is by grace, but that does not mean it will “just happen.” Grace energizes. It puts us hot on the trail, pressing toward the goal.

Monday – Pursue PEACE with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Today, zero in on the beauty and wonder of peace, and how those who pursue it can know the blessedness of being a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9). “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).

Tuesday – Pursue peace with ALL PEOPLE, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. On the third day of week, as you again meditate on the entire verse which by now you likely know by heart, emphasize that your pursuit relates to every person in your life. “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7) How much more his wife, relatives, friends, and neighbors?

Wednesday – Pursue peace with all people, and HOLINESS, without which no one will see the Lord. Today, concentrate on how the pursuit of peace is linked with the pursuit of this beautiful adornment of the Christian walk, holiness. Are my thoughts holy? Is my speech holy? In what ways does unholiness still characterize my life? How do peacemaking and holiness go together? “…be renewed in the spirit of your mind…put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23,24 condensed)

Thursday – Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which NO ONE will see the Lord. Thursday is warning day! Recognize the obvious – “no one” includes YOU! Holiness is not optional. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1B). In 2 Timothy 3 and elsewhere, we learn that the unholy have no future – at least no desirable one.

Friday – Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will SEE the Lord. Today, emphasize that when we walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7), by faith we see Him at work here and now in our relentless pursuit of peace and holiness. And what a thrilling truth: in God’s time, hope and faith will give way to glorious realization and sight! And filled with that hope, we move on to dessert day.

Saturday – Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the LORD. On this last day of the week, put the accent where Job put it in the midst of severe trial. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall SEE GOD, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27). May God cause our hearts so to yearn.

Next week, take another passage. Do a longer passage over a month, or a shorter one over a few days. Do an express emphasis meditation as a morning devotional, or at any time. Let the word of Christ dwell richly within you. Hmm, there are seven key words in that short statement.

Previously published elsewhere, October 18, A.D. 2015

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A Personal Relationship with God

A DEIST is someone with a theory about a supreme being. His speculations about that being arise out of his own finite, sin corrupted resources.  The Deist does not claim to have a personal relationship with his god. Nor can he, for the obvious reason that it has no real existence!

So Deism is merely a sophisticated form of idolatry. Its idol is not a statue of stone or wood, but it is just as unworthy of worship and just as harmful to its worshipers as are those physical monstrosities.

Then we have the false religionist, the one who has “…a form of godliness but denies the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). For him, everything is external and mechanical so to speak. The wooing Voice of Proverbs 23:26 says, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” The false religionist has no ears to hear those precious words.

But the Bible tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of true knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10 et. al.). The one who fears the self-revealing, triune God of the Bible does indeed have a personal relationship with his heavenly Father, his Lord Jesus, and the One Who indwells him, the Holy Spirit.

The Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit, receives the holy Bible’s essential Gospel message about Christ the eternal Son of God becoming man to accomplish redemption for all the heavenly Father’s family. By grace, he is both born again and adopted into that family. His spirit cries to God, “Abba…Father!”

In His high priestly prayer the Lord Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)

The inspired words of the apostle John, who was right by Jesus’ side when He instituted the Lord’s supper, teach us the same truth. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

So of course it is quite accurate for the believer who is bearing witness to an unbelieving Deist neighbor to proclaim that he is not a fellow speculator about what a supreme being might be like. Rather, he testifies that he was lost in darkness but then was found by the one true God. He affirms that he knows that one, true God in a personal way.

And it is quite accurate for the believer bearing witness to the false religionist to say, “I don’t have a religion, I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” The disciple is one who says amen to the apostolic affirmation, “…though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

So we rejoice in what Jesus said in His high priestly prayer recorded in John 17: “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” But more must be said about the believer’s personal relationship with God triune.

That is, we want to continue to be Biblical as we grow in our understanding of a believer’s relationship with His heavenly Father, His dear and only Savior, and the blessed Spirit: the three divine Persons with Whom we finite persons are involved. And we want our aspirations for more and more communion with God to be like the apostle Paul’s: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” (Philippians 3:10)

May God use these three precepts derived from His word to guide us thereto:

1. The basis of our finite, creaturely relationships with God is the eternal covenant of redemption which inheres in the eternal relationships of the three Members of the Trinity. Their loving plan stood from all eternity: The Father would send the Son to accomplish redemption and the Holy Spirit would apply it.

Likewise our relationship to God is primarily covenantal. The place of the mind and affections in one’s relationship with God is subordinate to this. Human marriage, primarily a covenant, is much like God’s covenant relationship with His people. In fact, human attempts to redefine marriage are despicable because marriage represents the eternal union of Christ and the church according to the covenant of redemption. Just as we argue for the sanctity of human life because of the image of God in us, so we argue for the sanctity of marriage because it represents the divine Groom and His elect bride.

2. Communication in our relationship with God is not characterized by the verbal dissonance, misunderstanding, and interruptions which corrupt relationships between human persons. Former ways having ceased (Hebrews 1:1), the personal God speaks to us now only by His holy word the Bible. Surely, by His Spirit we gain insights and make discoveries from Scripture, but Scripture itself teaches that no other words of private, verbal revelation are needed for the present time. (2 Timothy 3:17)

We communicate with God by prayer, ever seeking to conform to Scripture our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession (A.C.T.S.) along with any other kinds of prayer, trusting in the “coming-along-side” help of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered, Romans 8:26.

3. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) In our relationships with God, we ever remember that one Party (the Lord) is unchangeable and the other party (us) is not; we are all too often fickle and unfaithful. Let us ever keep that in mind when there is an estrangement in our  relationship with God. If we feel distant from Him, it is not He Who has moved!

Previously published, July A.D. 2016

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Coals of Fire?

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.” (Exodus 23:4),

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him.” (Proverbs 24:17-18)

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)

Though hard to hear and easily misapplied, what saying of Christ is more generally known than, “love your enemies?” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35).

Jesus Himself is of course the prime example of an enemy lover, and those whom He has redeemed by His own precious blood are the greatest examples of enemies turned into friends by the love of Him Who first loved them. For “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The three Old Testament citations above show that in uttering that hard saying, Jesus was not introducing a brand new ethical standard. Rather, as when He spoke of the two greatest commandments (compare Matthew 22:35-40 with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), He was magnifying the beauty and holiness of God’s Law and correcting those who misused God’s delightful Law.

(Such pharisaical abusers of the law are to be found today, giving God’s law and those who love it a bad name. They put a stumbling block in the path of those who might otherwise embrace verses like Roman 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law!” and 1 Timothy 1:8 “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.”)

The old covenant Scriptures instruct God’s people of today in HOW one is to love his enemies; how we are to be doers and not merely assenters. “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)

Exodus 23:4, a case study in enemy loving, is rather straightforward. An application for those of us not very likely to encounter wandering donkeys in day to day life might be, “if you see your enemy sitting in his pick-up truck with a dead battery, get your jumper cables out and help him get his engine started. Then, in order to make sure he gets there without further mishap, follow him that extra mile to his local repair shop.”

But what about this matter of “heaping coals of fire on his head?” At first blush, this seems like the very opposite of helping an enemy with his burden bearing equipment (living or inanimate), or giving him food and water, or keeping one’s heart from being glad about his troubles.

As Bible commentator Matthew Henry has pointed out, we should think of this statement with the ancient smelting furnace in mind. The intense heat that melted the metal was not only placed beneath it, but poured on from above in the form of hot coals. Kindness to our enemies has that melting effect. To use a good old fashioned word, it MOLLIFIES them…calms their anger, amazes their minds, stirs up and perhaps convicts their consciences for their ultimate good.

And if an enemy is too hardened to be mollified, those acts of kindness will further harden him, and in the day when God (to Whom alone vengeance belongs) arises, the Scripture will be fulfilled which says, “…in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:5,6)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Previously published elsewhere, September 13, A.D. 2015

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Male and Female

Masculinism is not an every day word. Feminism is more so, and the ideology identified by that word has many champions. But where are the spokespersons for masculinism)? Does the Bible address the concepts of masculinity (“male-ness” and femininity (“female-ness”)?

Thus says the LORD:  “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female…” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16)

We rightly infer a couple of precepts from these and other portions of the whole counsel of God in Scripture. The first concerns the natural dignity of men and women as persons made in the image of their personal Creator, Whose uncreated dignity is infinitely greater than that of any created person, and Whose infinite being cannot be depicted by the artistry of any finite human being.

A rock is inferior to a tree, a tree is inferior to a horse, and a horse or any other animal is inferior to any man, woman, or child. And though human individuals are diverse in characteristics and abilities, we all share in that majestic and unique honor: we are like God. We are living self portraits of the great Painter.

Next, though the second Person of the Trinity became incarnate as a male human being, God in Himself transcends human sexuality. The commandment in Deuteronomy underscores this. So we must look elsewhere for the reason that God the Father is not called God the Mother, and why masculine pronouns are used consistently in Scripture for the Holy Spirit and for each of the three Persons of the Trinity. Here is another key verse:

“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” (1 Corinthians 11:7)

The issue of literal head coverings in worship assemblies is a matter to be discussed some other time! However, with these Holy Spirit inspired words about the respective glories of man and woman, the apostle has regard to what is taught from Genesis 2:18 onward in Scripture: God has given distinct roles (we might say assignments) to man and woman according to His good and perfect will.

This does not contradict the first precept. The Holy Spirit’s use of masculine terms with reference to the transcendent God throughout the Bible is itself a testimony to the proper roles of male and female. The First Corinthians verse does not contradict the Bible’s insistence on the essential equality of man and woman.

The old covenant priests and Levites all were male; in new covenant communities their heirs (elders and deacons) are to be men as well, per the qualifications given in the pastoral epistles which include the requirement that an elder or a deacon be the husband of one wife. Neither Anna (Luke 2:36) nor Priscilla (Acts 18, Romans 16) held ordained office. Although Phoebe was a servant of the church (Romans 16:1), she was not an ordained deacon. All those chosen in Acts 6 to serve in that capacity were men.

The point is that according to Scripture masculinity (“male-ness”), while not intrinsically superior to femininity (“female-ness”) nevertheless represents divine authority in a particular way.

With Biblical women like motherly Deborah (Judges 4:4, 5:7) in mind, even some Christians might balk at this assertion which is so contrary to today’s worldly wisdom. Scripture records that Deborah the wife of Lapidoth indeed judged. But unlike the other judges, we do not find it written that “God raised her up.” Barak’s role in the full account should not be ignored. Ever respecting the greater context of Scripture, we remember that the time of Barak and Deborah was a time “when every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The case of Deborah and Barak is illustrative of the precept of Isaiah 3:12 –

“As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.”

Did Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah write this to teach that women are inferior to men? Not at all! As we see in Genesis 1:27 et. al., the same Holy Spirit has affirmed the equality of men and women as divine image bearers.

Consider this: the eternal Son of God is equal in power and glory to His Father, and to the Holy Spirit Who spoke by the prophets. (Arians* and others who deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ hold to a damnable heresy; they are outside of Biblical orthodoxy.) Yet, humbling himself by His incarnation, the Son was subordinated to the Father and filled with the Spirit to fulfill His Messianic calling. Thus He could say, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). He did not say, “the Father is better than I.”

America’s Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal. In one sense, this is exactly correct, but in another sense it is obviously false. As to our essential nature we are all equally stamped with the divine image. But just as one artist might paint the same subject many times but with different facial expressions or bodily poses, so God creatively nuances His image by way of mankind’s endless diversity of traits. Male and female are the most basic of those traits. Every human being, every individual rendering of the divine image, is either feminine or masculine.

So that mankind also would reflect the being of God triune by loving, orderly community life, womanhood and manhood were made complementary at creation (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18). That foundational building block of human society remains in place to this day (1 Corinthians 11:11). Reproductive parenthood is its normative issue, for upon creating them God commanded the first human pair to “be fruitful and multiply.” He repeated that command to the few survivors of the Noahic Flood, from whom the whole Earth was repopulated (Genesis 9:19). The “nuclear” family is God’s institution.

Therefore as Bible believing people, we identify a cluster of ungodly errors that grow out of the denial of that…of God’s created order. Among them are the concept of unisexuality, feminism, male tyranny, diverse redefintions of marriage (for example, polygamy) and all the insidious ways in which parental authority is overthrown. We condemn these perversions. And we affirm that although sin corrupts all things human, societies are at their best when they best submit to our Creator’s design. We also affirm that it is unlawful for any human government to overturn that divine plan.

* Arians were so named after Arius, a third century proponent of this false teaching

Previously published elsewhere, June A.D. 2016

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