Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Discernment lesson: How secular writers of Biblical material manipulate your emotions

Filmmakers are always looking for fodder to make their productions and of late they have discovered the narratives in the Bible. Since the people writing and producing these movies and shows are not saved, of course they get it wrong. This is because In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4).

In the recent TV series The Bible, there came a moment when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with a decision. Would they bow to a false god statue, or would they stand for Yahweh, thus losing their lives (as Nebuchadnezzar had aid those who disobey his decree to bow will die, Daniel 3:6).

It's a dramatic moment when you see it in full visual force. Look, here is the clip:

It is not so dramatic when you hear it though. First, read what the men really said, from the real Bible. It is all from Daniel 3. That's the first part of the lesson- always compare to scripture.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The pagan man always seeks to elevate man and diminish God. See how the writers put very different words in the mouths of the three men when they answered to King Nebuchadnezzar.
[Azariah] With all our hearts we follow you. We seek your presence. With all my heart I follow you. I fear you. I seek your presence. Lord hear my cry, though death entangle me, though the anguish of the grave consumes me, do not ignore my tears, I'm overcome by sorrow. I call upon the name of the Lord. Lord save me! Hear my prayer, oh Lord. Hear my cry.
The prayer of the men were self-centered, not God centered. There is a big difference between 'I will not serve your gods' and 'Lord, I seek your presence!' In the Bible the men accepted the consequence of their fate, because as long as glory was being given to honor God they were satisfied. The TV show could not be more opposite to the actual statement the men made in the real Bible. That's the second part of the lesson. Once you compare what you've read or heard to scripture, test  it to see if it gives glory to God only and aligns with His character.

God decided to manifest a miracle in the fire and He saved the men. In the TV show, since the men had prayed to be saved, when they were saved, it looked like it was their own prayer that saved them rather than the sovereignty and power of God.

In the TV show, when the men were delivered from the fire, they emerged declaring "God is with us! People of Judah, rise!" Again, 'me'-centered.

In the real Bible, honor to God in the highest was given by Nebuchadnezzar.

The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside[f] the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:27b-29)

I mention this because the scene where the men do not bow, and the scene where the men are delivered in the furnace are well done and moving. In between, though, when the people speak, it is not with Bible words and a humble God-centeredness.

The point here is, do not let emotion cloud your judgment when you absorb non-biblical material. You will most likely be emotionally manipulated when you read a book written by a non-Christian, (The Shack was well done and emotionally engaging for the first 70 pages) or a movie. The scenes in The Bible are moving and close enough to the Bible, but close enough is not good enough. Be wary of letting emotion override the truth with any material you watch or read. Besides, the real word of God is emotional enough!

Monday, January 30, 2017

God's sovereignty in providence: Esther and Jael

God is sovereign of the entire universe. He plans what He plans and He does what He pleases.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3).

It's admittedly hard to understand how God can and does orchestrate all events at once, constantly, over the earth and throughout the stars, so that His plans providentially combine in perfect harmony to enact His will. But He is God and we're not supposed to understand it! It is also hard to understand how our personal decisions are still personal but also are part of His will and plan and the outcome is predetermined. That our decisions are our own yet are part of a pre-ordained plan that all leads to the cross and beyond is a tension our finite minds can't comprehend. It is a joy to ponder them though, because in so doing, we come up against God's power, omniscience, and will.

Here are two things to consider when looking at God's providence and will, with our decisions and will.


The book of Esther was not written by Esther but it is about Esther, her Hebrew name was Hadassah. She lived during the time of King Ahasuerus of Persia, also known as King Xerxes. Through a series of providential events, Esther wound up as Queen to Ahasuerus and also was put in a position to save her people. However the saving of her people was at dire risk to her own life. She was discussing what to do with her uncle Mordecai, and Mordecai famously said,

"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).

Esther could make her own decision. She could risk her life and go in to the King, or she could stay in the harem and not go to the King. Mordecai knew God's character well enough to know that His promise to keep a remnant of His people alive would indeed happen, whether Esther decided to participate at this particular moment or not. God would keep His promise no matter what Esther decided. The choice was hers. Esther decided to go in and speak to the King even though he had not called for her (usually this meant death). We know the rest, Esther's action revealed to the King the evil deeds of Haman and Haman was killed instead of the Jews.


Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had been cruelly oppressing the Hebrews for 20 years. The people cried out. Deborah was civic leader at that time, prophesying and judging. She sent for Barak, the military leader and told him to go take care of the problem. Barak could freely decide what to do. He could go or he could not go, the choice was his. He said he would not go unless Deborah came with him. (Judges 4:8). His answer was in effect, no. Deborah replied that she would go with Barak, but it would be an embarrassment to him because God would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman, and Barak would not get the military glory for the victory.

Barak freely made his choice, but now the outcome would occur from another quarter, just as Mordecai had said it would if Esther decided against her action.

Into the story enters Jael. After Barak routed Sisera's army, Sisera fled. Sisera aimed toward the tent of Heber the Kenite. Sisera knew there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor (Sisera's King) and the house of Heber the Kenite. Heber had separated from the Kenites and was settled far from the action. Sisera ran, believing he was safe to go toward the area where there was no fighting and where there was peace between the parties. Normally he would be right, especially since hospitality customs were so strong in protecting those who are invited into the tent. However in this providential case, Sisera was wrong. Jael invited Sisera into the tent, gave him drink, and covered him as he fell asleep.

Note that Sisera fell asleep. He had a hard day of fighting, but even though his life was in peril he felt comfortable enough where he let down his guard and fall asleep. Women in those days were responsible for pitching the tents and so Jael was strong enough and familiar enough with how to efficiently hammer a tent peg into the ground. As Sisera slept, she drove a tent peg into his temple and pinned his head to the ground. The verse succinctly states, "So he died." (Judges 4:21b).

And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel
. (Judges 4:22-23).

Barak had kind of said "I will go" but not really. Placing conditions on your obedience to God isn't really obedience to God. I like how the verse says God subdued Jabin.

Whether Esther went in or didn't go in, God would deliver the Jews from Haman. Whether Barak went to battle or didn't go to battle, God would deliver the Jews from King Jabin and Commander Sisera. Both Esther and Barak freely decided on a course of action. Yet both outcomes occurred at the providential hand of God.

God is amazing.

Jael and Sisera
pen drawing  — c. 1440 - 1450
Museum Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig. The name of the drafter is not known. He is thought to be someone close to Van Eyck and his workshop. Source: Art and the Bible

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"YHWH is my Banner..." by Chris Powers

As you head to worship today, if you are reading this on a Sunday, raise your banner of the LORD before you and praise Him, exalt Him, and love Him. If you're reading this on a weekday, raise your banner of the LORD before you and share His Light in your sphere by your words and deeds.

Chris Powers is an artist, animator, and Bible study writer who makes his products available for free. Please visit his page at fullofeyes.com, or support him on Patreon. Mr Powers is drawing an illustration to a verse per day. I will post them frequently, because they are beautiful, scriptural, and edifying. Visual theology at its beautiful best. Read below for artist's explanation.

YHWH is my Banner

Mr Powers said:

Today's verse picture is more of a visual word study (thus the inclusion of verse references within the picture, which I don't typically do for these). You can take a look at the verses and how they intertwine below:

Notice the repeated Hebrew word for Banner/Signal (נס) in the following verses:

Exodus 17:15, "And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, 'YHWH Is My Banner (נס)" - YHWH as נס

Numbers 21:8, "And YHWH said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole (נס), and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." - Serpent set on נס

Isaiah 11:10-12, "In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal (נס)...[the Lord] will raise a signal (נס) for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel..." - The Messiah as נס raised to gather the nations...

John 3:14-15, "...as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life."

John 3:14-15 unites the imagery of YHWH, the curse, the Messiah, and the beacon raised to gather the nations into one--the crucified Son...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Surprised by Leviticus

I've read most of the Bible. I've read through the New Testament all in one swoop, and then I've read different Books straight through several times.

I've read all of the Old Testament Prophets and loved them. I love Genesis especially. I've read Lamentations and Ecclesiastes and loved them too. I'm fascinated by Psalms and Proverbs, even the verses I don't understand.

I've never read Leviticus and Numbers.

Until now.

Going through the Bible in a 90-days Reading Plan does have its upside. I came to Leviticus early on and since this particular plan suggests reading 12 pages a day, I got through Leviticus quickly. I have to say that drinking the Word through a fire hose and moving on while still wet is quite a different experience than sipping it like a hummingbird and then meditating and studying while it digests.

I loved Leviticus. Just as you put anything else off and then finally get to it and it turns out to be not only not bad, but easy and great, and you say "Why did I wait so long to do this?" That was my reaction to Leviticus. Even its repetition was purposeful. I came away with the following reactions:

A renewed appreciation for the blood. Christianity is a bloody religion. All religions are bloody. This one is bloody for a good reason. Christianity  requires sacrifices, blood, and incessant focus on the blood. The reason for this is explained in the short Overview of Leviticus below. Suffice to say, God's institution of Old Testament ritual and purity laws had great meaning in the original cultural setting. But even today, they have great meaning for us, even though we no longer sacrifice animals. Christianity is ALL about the blood, and in my opinion, in no other book do we gain such an appreciation for this fact.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Leviticus 17:11)

Secondly, I gained a renewed appreciation for the holiness of God. His purity, power, and holiness is displayed so magnificently in Leviticus. It is not as dramatic as His power in creating the world in Genesis, or when He parted the Red Sea in Exodus, but it is through His relationship with His people that we see His holiness and purity. It's always great to learn, remember, and ponder His holiness in whatever form He chooses to reveal it, and for me, Leviticus did that.

Why wait? Perhaps you will have the same reaction to Leviticus as I did. It's almost like, all scripture is profitable for... Wait, there's a verse for that.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Bible Project's Book of Leviticus Overview. Worth your time either before or after you read.

The Word of God is always wonderful. Always.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Church bell towers soon a thing of the past

I have always loved the sound of church bells. In the olden days when I was a child, we often heard some kind of bell from towers and steeples. We even heard the organs.

No more. Not so much.

One reason is the cost. Steeples and towers and bells require a financial investment to maintain them that is often cost-prohibitive today. Additionally, there aren't many men going into the profession of steeplejack these days.

Church steeples, aging out of fashion, meet their maker
Atop the tiny, white-columned 1842 church where Glen Likens was baptized, where he married his wife, where their children were baptized, where they still worship on Sundays, the steeple is rotting. St. Mark's Episcopal in Wadsworth, Ohio, hasn't dared sound the 2,000-pound bell, which has a broken carriage and patched hammer, for a year. It may not sound again — unless a congregation numbering 58 souls in a good week can come up with $30,000. 
"It's no easy amount to raise. We absolutely considered taking it off and capping the roof, but voices within the congregation want their bell, their tower. It's symbolic. It's part of our church. We want it to be there for our children's future," says Likens, who volunteers as St. Mark's junior warden in charge of maintenance. 
Nationwide, church steeples are taking a beating and the bell tolls for bell towers, too, as these landmarks of faith on the landscape are hard hit by economic, social and religious change. 
Steeplejacks, specialists in clambering up to build or repair the soaring structures, see weather-struck, maintenance-deprived steeples chipped, leaking, even tilting. Architects and church planners see today's new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion. 
Steeples may have outlived their times as signposts. People hunting for a church don't scan the horizon, they search the Internet. Google reports searches for "churches" soar before Easter each year. 
St. Mark's, which has no website, has never needed to tell the 22,000 people in Wadsworth where it was because, Likens says, "everyone in town knows this is the church with the bell tower."
Caption photo below: This New England Historic church's cupola was removed for repair and returned atop the church. It was an lengthy, expensive, and delicate process.

Here is James A. Regester writing about in the Introduction to his 1908 book The Worship of the Church of the history of church buildings.
Churches are designed they way they are for a reason."As soon as the early Christians were at liberty to build churches according to their own mind, they took pains to make them significant of their religion. Probably at first the Christians took for the purposes of their worship such buildings as they could get, adapting them to their uses as best they might. But when they grew strong enough and independent enough to build as the heart and imagination dictated, then they showed themselves careful to make their houses of God in shape and dimension suggestive of what they believed." These old builders were Churchmen, and made their Churchmanship and their belief felt in their work.
In this essay on The History of Church Steeples, we read about bells:
Some steeples were used to house the bronze or steel church bell, and that section of the steeple is called the belfry. This area of the steeple would have louvers to emit the sound of the bell on all sides of the steeple, with louver blades tilted downward to help keep out rain. Bells were located in steeples, as this was the highest place on the church; this height helped the sound to travel a farther distance, floating out over the community. The bells were used as a call to worship, to ring the time of day in the community, as a wedding peal, and as a solemn funeral toll to mark the passing of a cherished member. This is why you still see louvers in the midsection of modern steeples even though they may not have a tradition bronze bell. Some churches have replaced the traditional bell with the more versatile electronic carillons that can digitally recreate the sounds of cast bells, played as hymns, angelus, pealing bells and funeral tolls. The louvers also aid in ventilation of the steeple, which extends the durability of the exterior finishes.

I believe a church should look like a church, and that means a steeple and even a bell if possible. I know I'm a dwindling minority. Here is James A. Regester again writing about the history of church buildings in his 1908 book The Worship of the Church. The following about the church bells is from his chapter Symbolism of the Church Building
In the tower are the bells, and what the spire with its uplifted Cross says to us in silent eloquence these say in sound and music. 
The office of the bell in calling to prayer and holy worship was regarded in olden time with much reverence. The use of bells for the purpose of gathering people together in large numbers appears to be of Christian origin. "Large bells hung in a tower seem to have been unknown before A.D.500. They were first made in Campania in Italy, whence the Italian name campana, a bell, and campanile, a bell-tower. 
"Bells in the middle ages were sometimes dedicated to saints. They were christened with all the usual ceremonies and with much pomp; sponsors were provided, the bell was sprinkled at the font, anointed with oil, and robed in a chrisom. Superstitious as these customs would seem now, there is something fine in the simple faith which thus, in those more poetic days, consecrated to God's service the voices which should proclaim Him far and wide over the land." In simpler form, the custom is still frequently observed of setting apart by solemn prayer and benediction the bells which are to call men to prayer or to ring out the praises of God. 
Church bells are frequently marked by appropriate inscriptions. The following, for instance, was very common in the middle ages, all these powers being attributed to bells: 
"Funera plango, Fulgura trango, Sabbata pango,
Excito lentos, Dissipo ventos, Paco cruentos." 
"I mourn the dead, I break the lightning, I announce the Sabbath, I excite the slothful, I disperse the winds, I appease the cruel."
Here are a couple of campanile photos I took while in Italy

Florence, Italy bell tower

Caption photo below: Orvieto, Italy bell tower. Notice the cross atop the tower, to the left of the tower, and atop the roof of the distant building. Click to enlarge

If you are interested in Ecclesiastical Architecture as I am, which I have written about a few times before, here is a good series from The Christian Pundit about how and why churches and their interiors look as they do.

Ecclesiastical Architecture (1) Introduction
Ecclesiastical Architecture (2) Pulpits
Ecclesiastical Architecture (3) Sacraments
Ecclesiastical Architecture (4) Baptismal Fonts
Ecclesiastical Architecture (5) Music
Ecclesiastical Architecture (6) Lighting
Ecclesiastical Architecture (7) Pews
Ecclesiastical Architecture (8) Conclusion


Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Herd Mentality v. Self-Control

My grandparents were born in around 1900. The emigrated to the US in their 20s and soon after had accumulated enough money to buy a car. They liked to drive. However they were not so great with directions. When my grandfather didn't know in what direction to go, my grandmother would helpfully advise, "Follow him. He looks like he knows where he's going."

Have you heard of the phrase, 'herd mentality'? Wikipedia explains it,
Herd mentality, or mob mentality, describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors.
Or this from The Royal Society,
Herding can be defined as the phenomenon of individuals deciding to follow others and imitating group behaviours rather than deciding independently and atomistically on the basis of their own, private information. Article- Herding, social influence and economic decision-making
We see the follow-the-crowd mentality in stock markets and even in home design trends.

Sociologists researched this phenomenon at Leeds University.
Researchers at Leeds University performed a group experiments where volunteers were told to randomly walk around a large hall without talking to each other. A select few were then given more detailed instructions on where to walk. The scientists discovered that people end up blindly following one or two instructed people who appear to know where they’re going. The results of this experiments showed that it only takes 5% of confident looking and instructed people to influence the direction of the 95% of people in the crowd and the 200 volunteers did this without even realizing it. (Source)
Herd mentality is real. Following a crowd in home decor trends is not a dangerous activity, but other follow-the-crowd activities are.

Parents often worry about their teenager falling in with the wrong crowd. That's because they know how impressionable youths can be and how easily they can be led to certain behavior through peer pressure. It's one reason I object so strongly to the exclusion of parents or other adults from the youth-oriented Passion conferences. This is a conference where tens of thousands of youths congregate for allegedly spiritual purposes, to receive instruction, and to engage in social justice activities. This last is helped along by the organizers having stationed many ATMs throughout the venue so the youths will donate money to social justice causes. And they do. Of course, donating to charities is not bad, but arming teenagers with credit cards, separating them from their parents, and inoculating them with incessant sermons preaching about donating to social causes, means it's easy to induce the desired behavior from your captive subjects.

However, the herd mentality phenomenon is not restricted to youths, as the example above from Leeds University shows. Here is an example from the Bible which shows, in my opinion, just how easily led the heart and mind can be. In this example, we see how easily adults can fall prey to blindly following a crowd.

So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.  (Acts 19:29-32).

The scene is Ephesus, and Paul is preaching. Ephesus was a wealthy city with numerous guilds such as coppersmiths and silversmiths. The smiths were engaged in a monetarily healthy trade in making false idols to the local deity, Artemis. Demetrius, a silversmith, had quickly seen the effect Paul's preaching had had on the city's new converts. They no longer bought idols of silver, and his income was affected. This could not stand. Demetrius incited a riot. The city-folk streamed into the amphitheater.

One reason I love the scriptures the way they are written is the Holy Spirit-inspired details. If you read the entire passage in context, It's pretty dramatic. The scene is vivid. Picture any B-movie from the 1950s where the villagers are storming the castle with pitchforks. The crowd is unruly, loud, angry, and dangerous. They were also intent on making their point and the adrenaline rush of fury and tumult carried them along. But then you see the few words at the tail end of verse 32, lol.

most of them did not know why they had come together

MOST of them
did NOT know why
they were THERE

Not a few of them, not that some of them, MOST of the people did NOT know why they were headed up the hill and sitting at the local colosseum yelling their heads off.

I'm reminded of this past week's Women March on Washington where thousands of feminists streamed to the capitol to demand nebulous 'rights'. However, when Christian reporters and theologians who were there interviewed several women and asked them why they came, the women didn't know. It reminded me of the riot in Ephesus all over again.

If you read to verse 34, it says But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

I'm sure you've ever been to a high school pep rally or a sports event. The crowd stomps the bleachers and sings 'We will rock you', we are the champions' etc. We have Queen to thank for his everlasting rally cry. Listen, if you will, to the first 35 seconds or so.

I avoid loud gatherings as an adult, but in high school pep rally assemblies were compulsory. I vividly remember the reverberations of the bleachers, the stomping, how quickly the first stomp grew to a unified sound that morphed into the song. It went on for a while, maybe a few minutes. But it didn't last long. It's hard for a crowd to remain vigorous in its unified efforts and soon the effort fall apart into distinct voices and scattered stomps, then ended.

In Ephesus, they cried out with one voice for two hours. Just imagine if the entire football stadium was singing 'We will rock you' for two hours, solid.

We see another mob mentality moment in Genesis 19:4-11. The scene is Sodom and the place is Lot's house. The mob surrounded the house where the two angels dwelt and pressed so hard against the door that the angels struck them blind, but they still groped for the door.

Imagine the scene just prior to this, though. The news that two handsome men - strangers - were at Lot's house spread through the city like wildfire. The verse says that men from all quarters of the city came to Lot's house. The news spread and it ignited feet. Soon the men were like pillaging villagers ready to storm the castle, or in this case, Lot's door. An entire population rushed there, yelling, demanding, just as the people did in Ephesus.

I think these examples of herd mentality (and also the example of the angry mob that stoned Stephen in Acts 7) show just how sinful we are. Even after salvation, the tendency to follow the crowd is still present in the heart and mind, because we are still sinners and not glorified yet. I believe this is why so many passages and verses advise wisdom and self-control. I think it's especially important when a church is considering leaders for their local body. Anyone who consistently engages in self-controlled, measured actions based on wisdom and not an unreasoning follow-the-crowd mentality is definitely leader material.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

Strong's Concordance says of the word self-control here-
egkráteia (1466)  – properly, dominion within, i.e. "self-control" – proceeding out from within oneself, but not by oneself.
For the believer, 1466 /egkráteia ("self-control, Spirit-control") can only be accomplished by the power of the Lord. Accordingly, 1466 /egkráteia ("true mastery from within") is explicitly called a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23).
Paul talked about this exact kind of self-control to Felix in Acts 24:25. Peter talked about self-control in 2 Peter 1:5-6,

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 

It's easy to follow a crowd. All too easy. It's hard to withstand the stream of thousands of people headed in one direction. It takes self-control to stop either actually or metaphorically as you're buffeted by people all around you headed in a certain direction and you're not at all sure you want to go. It takes strength to stand quietly for a moment and think, assess, and pray for wisdom. It is very hard NOT to follow the crowd.

But always remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Though we have the sinful tendency in us to easily become unreasoning animals and follow whatever crowd is doing, we have the Holy Spirit. Self-control proceeds out from within us, but is not by us. It's Him. All him. When we rely on the Spirit to induce in us the control we need, Jesus receives glory.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Forerunner to the Reformation: John Wycliffe

Martin Luther, 1483-1546
It is Reformation year 500. Five hundred years ago this October 31st, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony within the Holy Roman Empire. Luther wrote,
Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Here are the actual 95 theses if you want to read them:
The 95 theses

History.com sums the Reformation up this way-
Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling "indulgences" to absolve sin. His "95 Theses," which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation
Is there any event that is not connected in time by a previous event? Isn't time a constant stream of events, all tumbling one after another, connected by their confinement to the visible riverbanks by the hands of God? Did the Reformation emerge all of a sudden, or were there catalysts and stepping stones laid first? Were there forerunners? I believe so.

As RC Sproul said recently, that before Luther there was Hus, (or Huss, spellings vary) who was preceded by Wycliffe, who was preceded by Augustin who was preceded by Paul who was preceded by Jesus.

The reason there are forerunners to Martin Luther and the Reformation is that Jesus never leaves Himself without a witness, and He as Master Husbandman tends soils so that there is always a soil ready to receive the Gospel. Even in "The Dark Ages", the Gospel was doing its work in hearts. Salvations were always occurring.

Burk Parsons wrote of this connection from one era to the next, the vine as I envision it. It is planted by God and watered by Him, with men springing up along the vine as forerunners to His particular plan and path regarding the Reformation.
John Wycliffe was the morning star of the Reformation. He was a protestant and a reformer more than a century before Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Through Wycliffe, God planted the seeds of the Reformation, He watered the seeds through John Hus, and He brought the flower of the Reformation to bloom through Martin Luther. The seed of the flower of the German Augustinian monk Luther’s 95 theses was planted by the English scholar and churchman John Wycliffe.

Josh Buice wrote two weeks ago that The Reformation Resulted in an Explosion of Gospel Missions. He started a preaching series in--
--2017 with an emphasis on the Reformation and how our salvation is directly connected to the work of the Reformers. R. C. Sproul writes, "The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age."
During the days that preceded the Reformation, the Bible had been locked away in a dark dungeon by the Roman Catholic Church.  They insisted that the Word of God must be heard by the priests, who would speak it only in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church insisted that the common person was unable to understand the Word of God without the aid of a priest. However, they were unwilling to release control of the Bible, and in order to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the Word of God—they would burn people at the stake as an example to all who resisted their authority.

Under John Calvin’s leadership in Geneva Switzerland, thousands of missionaries were being trained and by 1562, over 2,000 churches had been planted in France. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published which was greatly used in Europe and was also the Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower by the early Pilgrims of America. Through the Reformation, an explosion of gospel missions took place that shook the world.

Source Wikimedia Commons

The Reformation is an extremely important part of church history. One would think with the release of the Bible in the people's language, the explosion of missions, the work of the Gospel in the hearts of many subsequent to the reformation, that our ecclesiology would progress in an upward trajectory. But satan does not like upward, only downward. He fights back. He fought back since the moment the first Geneva Bibles were released. And the Geneva Bible's history is interesting in itself! It was the first Bible to be translated directly to of the Hebrew. It had extensive notes and cross references, making it the first study Bible. It was translated so that the people could read it. More here.

Sadly, 500 years after the start of The Reformation, there is currently a definite softening toward the Catholic Church by many people who should know better.

Philosopher and poet George Santayana famously said,
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner's, 1905: 284)
We must remain vigilant because we are not unaware of satan's schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11). We should learn the past in order to remember the past and to push forward with clear, honest, uncomplicated Gospel evangelization. We shouldn't ever remain ignorant of what has happened in the past of our church history. This is the 500th year of the Reformation. Here are some resources for you to learn more:

The Heresies of the Catholic Church

Evangelical Syncretism: Rethinking the Reformation

John MacArthur and RC Sproul on Sola Scriptura and the Reformation

Undermining the Headship of Christ (The line between John Hus and Martin Luther is explained here).

A History of the Reformation, article by RC Sproul

Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: this is a biography of Margery Kempe, taken from her dictated autobiography. She was born sometime around 1373 and died after 1438, which makes her a devotee of the Catholic Church at a time when both the rise of the Lollards (Wycliffe followers) was gaining traction and also the incessant Catholic pilgrimages to Jerusalem were occurring. It is also set in the time just prior to the Council of Constance. This Council was held between 1414 and 1418, principally to reunite Christendom from the 'too many popes' syndrome (schism) but also to examine the teachings of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus and to reform the RCC as a reaction to the attack on the Church's authority.

Wikipedia lists her as "an English Christian mystic, known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language." Kempe wrote of it all from a first person perspective. I liked the book for its attention to vivid detail on the practices of the Catholic Church, the realities of the pilgrimage journeys to the middle East, the ecstatic visions and examination of same by any and all church authorities Margery could get to listen (anchorites, priests, bishops, other mystics like Julian of Norwich, lay people...)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ode to moms: helpful links

I don't have children of my own. Most women who keep blogs write about this important aspect of who they are in Christ, the role of Mom. Since I do not have children I would not presume to write about children or parenting or motherhood. I do teach children all day long and that's been my main career in life, but that is not the same as parenting. However I know that many women read the blog, and may have parenting concerns.

I began teaching in 1983 and with a break for some years I took it back up 9 years ago. There has been a palpable decline in the family quality of childrens' lives over the past 34 years since I began working with children and families through my career in education. I see the culture's drastic effect on children, I see the fractured family's effects on children. I cannot imagine being a parent in this day and age, fraught with the evils, false religions, liberal doctrines, and general chaos and trying to protect your child. I'd go insane with worry!

God cares deeply for children and intact families. How many Bible verses talk about protecting this most vulnerable demographic in society? Many! The orphans, the fatherless, or the children are spoken of in scores of verses throughout the Old Testament to the New.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. (Exodus 22:22)

So with that, here are some links I've seen last week regarding children, parenting, and the issues moms say moms face. I hope you find them beneficial. :)

Nancy Guthrie has some Divine Words for Desperate Parents
We can teach our child the Scriptures, but we can’t be the Holy Spirit in our child’s life. ... But anyone who’s been a parent for long knows parenting requires a lot more than simply following the right steps to success. To raise a child toward godliness, we need much more than the good advice parenting experts have to offer. We need what only the Scriptures have to offer.

Jennifer at One Hired Late In the Day is entering her 18th year of parenting and has some thoughts about How Our Faith Influences Our Parenting
Rachel over at the Danielthree18 blog wrote a good piece today examining whether or not it is wise for Christian parents to send their kids to public school with the idea that they be salt and light to the unsaved. She has some excellent points and food for thought, so please be sure to click on this link and read her essay. Her post prompted me to examine again the decisions that my husband and I have made regarding our own children and their education. Parenting is one of the most important roles that God gives to us, and I know that I am not alone in having a deep concern for my children and whether or not I am making the right decisions for them and most importantly, pleasing the Lord in how I am raising them. 
I have written before about shepherding the minds and hearts of our children. For today’s post, I thought I would expand on that a little bit and give you some insight into our strategy of Christian parenting.

My friend who is mom of an infant recommended this Christian Living book on Facebook, and it does look very good.

Mom Enough
Are you mom enough?  
The cover of Time Magazine asked this haunting question in bold red letters that hung over the startling image of a young mother breastfeeding her four-year-old. When the issue hit newsstands it re-ignited a longstanding mommy war in American culture. But it turns out this was the wrong question, pointing in the wrong direction. Here is a higher and more essential question faced by mothers: Is God God enough? 
This short book by eight women explores the daily trials and worries of motherhood. In the trenches, they have learned (and continue to learn) how to treasure God and depend on his all-sufficient grace. The paradox of this book is the secret power of godly mothering. Becoming mom enough comes as a result of answering the question, "Are you mom enough?" with a firm no.

Here's Jen Oshman with the question, What if We Kept Doing Family Devotions after Advent?
But first, let me encourage you: no one's family worship time is pretty everyday.  If your kids are poking one another with their toes and screaming out for justice, if they are picking their noses and looking at the ceiling fixture, or if they are rolling around on the floor and feigning interest, then you're doing it right (all three of these things happened in our Advent reading time during one single evening this week).
I am on Pinterest, but I hate Pinterest. I find it awkward, clumsy, and useless (in the constant pinning and never actually getting TO the thing you want to cook/make/read/knit). I also think it is satan's way of encouraging defeat in moms, by presenting a highly skewed picture of life that no one can really match up to. With that in mind, here's a meme I found enjoyable this week:

Missionary to the cannibals in the New Hebrides, John G. Paton, revered his mother and father. He wrote how he learned to submit to the will and sovereignty of God through listening to his mother pray. His mother's faith, her lifetime of devoting herself to the good of the family, and to prayer, along with his father's teaching and faith, gave Paton his foundation and sustained him throughout terrible trials at the hands of the cannibalistic pagans he'd sailed across the world to serve.
How do you claim the promises of God for protection when your wife was equally faithful but, rather than being protected, died; and when the Gordons on Erromanga were equally trusting in those promises and were martyred? Paton had learned the answer to this question from listening to his mother pray, even before he leaned the theology that supports it. When the potato crop failed in Scotland, Mrs. Paton said to her children, "O my children, love your Heavenly Father, tell him in faith and prayer all your needs, and he will supply your wants so far as it shall be for your good and His glory" (p. 22) (source)

Pure Flix is a streaming movie site with Christian and family-appropriate movies. Moms, I know it can be hard to find shows and films you trust enough to show your children. Start here. The Pure Flix About page states,
Our mix of family-friendly & wholesome entertainment includes movies for all ages, kid’s animated titles, documentaries, how-to’s, hobbies, educational, health & fitness, sports, outdoors and travel plus many inspirational and devotional titles. It’s all delivered in the highest resolution possible and with a user-friendly viewing experience. We provide a wholesome viewing experience for your entire family that is fun, entertaining, inspirational, and educational.
Moms, please know that I admire you and pray for you. Your job is one of the most important in the entire world.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Franklin Graham's unwise comment about rain

Pastor Gabe Hughes at WWUTT (When We Understand The Text) had a 90-second video response to Franklin Graham's unwise comment at the Inauguration of Donald Trump.

Here is a screen shot:

Here is WWUTT's 90-second video. (All their videos are 90 seconds, check them out!)

As noted in the video, the rain that fell in Genesis was a judgment on all the people of the earth (except for the 8 faithful in Noah's family). Also as noted in the video, Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that rain falls on the just and the unjust.

God raises up leaders and He takes them down. (Daniel 2:21, Psalm 75:7). Just because President Trump won the election does not necessarily mean God is blessing him or America. God could be judging America by raising up President Trump. The same could apply to ex-President Obama. We don't know what was in God's mind when He raised those men up. We do not know why He allowed President Harrison to lead for only 30 dayswhile He has allowed Queen Elizabeth II to reign for 23,725 days.

In order to state that rain is a sign of blessing at any particular moment, one would have to be able to interpret the omen. God used the Prophets of old as a sign to the people. When Moses threw down his staff and it turned into a snake, it was a sign (omen) and Pharaoh understood it as a sign. He did not interpret it correctly, of course, since he had his own wizards standing by who performed the same sign. Pharaoh interpreted that Moses' God was as not powerful as his false god and that Pharaoh could continue to resist God with no harm, no foul. He was wrong.

And that's the problem with interpreting omens. Without a Prophet having heard directly from God, those who are claiming that rain occurring at any given moment means this or that are in fact claiming to know the mind of God. And that is presumptuous. Here is what the Bible says about interpreting omens, excerpt from GotQuestions:
These portents occurred in the Bible, usually through God’s prophets, when it served God’s purpose. However, the Bible expressly forbids divination of any kind: "Let no one be found among you who . . . interprets omens. . . . Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord" (Deuteronomy 18:10–12). We do not live by superstition, and we should not be searching for good or evil omens. Our understanding of the spiritual world does not come through the occult. God has given us the ultimate sign of His goodness, love, and grace in Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9). The Bible is our source for spiritual insight (2 Peter 1:19–21).
It is a shame, and it is unwise that Mr Graham said this. It's unwise not only for his own soul but because he said it while standing on a platform in which his words would be broadcast globally. If one wanted to give the world a lesson on interpreting the mind of God by divination, one could not have chosen a better moment.

I've written before that Graham's partnering with Catholics at his Crusades is also indicative of a heart that does not understand what the Bible says to do and not to do. (for example, do not interpret omens as already discussed, in the case of partnering with Catholics, do not be unequally yoked, 2 Corinthians 6:14).

May the Lord in His mercy send a spirit of repentance onto Mr Graham, and dispense mercy meanwhile.


Further Reading

2016: Franklin said on his Facebook pagein response to Tim Kaine's hope that the Catholic Church would change its stance against same-sex marriage to accepting one, that
I appreciate the Catholic Church remaining very strong on moral issues through the years, and I pray they will be immovable on the teachings of the Bible.

2014:Franklin Graham part of "a new evangelization" partnering with Catholics, Graham's Three Rivers Festival hosts Catholic Bishop Zubik
Bishop David Zubik was the Catholic representative, and he was invited to give the opening prayer. Worse, seekers were encouraged to come to the Catholic church for counseling, since they were 'right next door.'

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The fruit of sin

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. (Romans 6:21)

Paul is asking this rhetorical question in the majestic section of "The Wages of Sin." What has sin profited you? What fruit, then, has sin produced?

I'm a lover of art. I saw Caravaggio's Bacchus in the Uffizi some years ago. Caravaggio's Bacchus is a decadent painting, becoming more so as one gazes at it. Bacchus was the Roman god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual ecstasy, fertility and so on. Dionysus was the parallel Greek god. Here he is:

How is it decadent, one asks? We see the heavy-lidded youth, the Bacchus, reposing against his dirty sheets, with his own covering having slipped off, exposing his fleshy upper torso. He fingers the opening suggestively. His face appears ruddy, from outdoor farm work in the vineyards, or perhaps more to the point, the florid blush of too much wine. On close inspection, the bowl of fruit shows its over-ripeness. The pears are bruised and browning. The figs are burst and oozing. The peaches are in obvious decay.

Decay, rot, decomposition is the theme of the entire portrait. And anyway, it's a false god.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Does sin bring the fruit of love?
Does sin bring the fruit of peace?
Does sin bring the fruit of patience?
Does sin bring the fruit of kindness?
Does sin bring the fruit of goodness?
Does sin bring the fruit of faithfulness?
Does sin bring the fruit of gentleness?
Does sin bring the fruit of self-control?

Can you think of any sin which brings any of the good fruit of the Spirit? Does jealousy bring love? Does bitterness bring self-control? Does gossip bring kindness? Does adultery bring peace?

Or does sin's fruit bring decay, rot, and decomposition? The fruit of love only grows brighter as it ripens. The fruit of sin brings festering putrefaction, flies, and disease. Eventually, death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23).

Flee from that sin, sister. Resist it, slay it. God has given us His Spirit to aid us in this, and the free gift of eternal life is ours so we can enjoy His Holy self forever.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Christian books: It's not "just fiction"

I love to read. With the New Year and all the 'Reading Challenges' that emerge as people make decisions at the start of the year, I'd decided to go back to reading for pleasure. This is an activity that had fallen by the wayside as I got busier, and my eyes grew more tired at night. Aging. It's not for sissies, lol.

I also decided to read the books that were on my own shelves to start with, rather than going out to buy a bunch of new books. Shop my own shelves, so to speak! So as I'd picked up that novel or this novel I'd had on my shelf since before salvation, and began to read them, I became dissatisfied. Sadly, the secular novels of today, even the literary ones, contain things my sanctifying soul objects to. Especially if there is profanity or blasphemy.

Are Christian books safer? Well, no. Take the book The Shack, for instance. This was a runaway bestseller back in 2007-2008 and onward. It was sold in Christian bookstores as a Christian book. Its author, William P. Young, wrote about a man who was staggering under heavy grief due to the kidnapping and death of his little daughter, which had happened in a derelict shack. One day the man received a handwritten note in his mailbox, with no stamp or postage, requesting his presence...in the shack. It turned out to have been an invitation from God. Curious, the man goes to the shack, where he also 'meets' Jesus and the Holy Spirit in addition to being greeted by 'God.' It turns out that according to the author's presentation of the Trinity, God is a woman, as is the Holy Spirit. The book goes on to present discussions between the persons of the Trinity and the man, regarding sin, evil, salvation, judgment, and other doctrines. The book teaches that sin is its own judgment, that hell exists to purge away unbelief (not punish for sin), that there is universal reconciliation, and other aberrant, non-biblical doctrines.

Many credible leaders in the faith negatively reviewed the book. I reviewed it negatively also. A common rebuttal to our negative view of the book was, "Lighten up. It's only fiction!" Or, "It's only a novel!"

Dear reader, novels teach an author's point of view, either subtly or overtly. It's no different for Christian novels. Novels with Christian themes use narrative to teach. We must all be Bereans and check to see that these things in the 'Christian' book are so, in whatever form the doctrines are coming to us. Doctrine is taught in songs, poems, sermons, lessons, theological books...and fiction.

Below are three essays regarding Christian fiction and theology that flesh out these issues.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this first essay I'm linking to, Albert Mohler offers thoughts on the missing art of evangelical discernment as encapsulated by evangelical response to The Shack. The massive popularity of the book meant that Christians were accepting of, or at least overlooking, the heretical doctrines The Shack espoused. Fiction or not, false doctrine is gangrenous, (2 Timothy 2:17) and spreads infection to all who come into contact with it. Infection is no respecter of literary genres.

Though The Shack was published 10 years ago, it is still evidencing strong sales, sure to be spurred by the imminent release of the movie of the same name. Dr Mohler wrote,
Even as Wayne Jacobson and others complain of those who identify heresy within The Shack, the fact is that the Christian church has explicitly identified these teachings as just that — heresy. The obvious question is this: How is it that so many evangelical Christians seem to be drawn not only to this story, but to the theology presented in the narrative — a theology at so many points in conflict with evangelical convictions?
[Professor Timothy Beal of Case Western University] then asks: "What are these progressive theological ideas doing in this evangelical pulp-fiction phenomenon?" He answers: "Unbeknownst to most of us, they have been present on the liberal margins of evangelical thought for decades." Now, he explains, The Shack has introduced and popularized these liberal concepts even among mainstream evangelicals.

So we see that Christian fiction is deliberately used to bring heretical ideas to the masses and worse, popularize them. Christian reader, beware! It's not "just fiction"!

In this linked essay, Samuel D. James muses on the current state of Christian Publishing, where adult coloring books and bubble-gum devotionals litter the top ten, and wonders why there is a gap between the thought-provoking content we regularly read on social media and blogs, versus the tripe we're exposed to in hard copy publishing.
As I look out on the confessional evangelical writing scene, I see a lot of good, even in places where I’d find much to disagree with. There is quite a bit of thoughtful, meaningful commentary out there right now. So when I see a list like this, I can’t help but wonder: Where’s the disconnect? Why am I seeing such a stark difference between the content I inhabit on a daily basis and the content that the average Christian is consuming at bestselling rates? I don’t have an answer for that.
There are a few things I do know:
The space right now for creative Christian writers is enormous. There is a real material need in American Christian culture for literary talent. We can’t talk to teenage and twentysomething believers about using their gifts for the good of the body of Christ and only point them toward vocational ministry or the mission field. Christian art matters (it always has), and it requires Christian artists. They won’t grow out of the ground; they have to be cultivated, encouraged, identified, and supported.
Hear hear. Where are the new authors? People who might have written acceptable fiction twenty years ago are not only growing older but many of them are growing more liberal (Max Lucado...Ted Dekker...etc) Where are the young credible, solid authors coming up? Many of those older authors have taught their own family and their offspring are now writing books, such as Max Lucado's daughter Jenna, and Beth Moore's daughter Melissa. This is even a more important question because the twenty-somethings of today have been raised entirely in a liberal, prosperity, market-driven church growth model with sermonettes passing for deep theological thought and 7-11 praise songs that pass for hymns.

Jesus noted the pattern when sinful doctrine is allowed to remain for periods of time in teaching, the next generation adopts it.

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. (Rev 2:20-23a).

Christian reader, keep your eye out for good new authors, and buy their books and encourage them personally by offering good reviews on Amazon or even directly through their social media or email (if published).

I recommend reading the remainder of Mr James' article, also. He has several additional bullet point thoughts on the matter that are worth your time.

Here is the third article for your consideration, 12 Fiction Books That Will Shape Your Theology

I am mentioning this article not for the list, which may or may not contain books that are healthy 'eating' for the Christian, but for the fact that the author writes that it's a given that Christian fiction shapes theology.
When we think about the role of reading in our spiritual formation, we generally think of non-fiction books that help us understand scripture and theology, but fiction powerfully shapes the ways in which we think faithfully about God and the world. Here is some of the best fiction that has been most formative in my own theology. 
Here Albert Mohler states, that Christian books, specifically The Shack, are in fact sustained theological arguments.
In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.

What is meant here is, is the heretical message simply a mechanism to propel the narrative, as in an
example of a character who believes something unorthodox but eventually is saved from his sinful devotion to an aberrant theology, or is the aberrant message THE point of the book?  One of my favorite books of all time is Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. It tells the story of a false convert who rose to fame and celebrity pastor status, all the while not being a believer in any sense. The message of the book was to illustrate how this can happen, not promote that hypocrisy is to be accepted. The sustained theological argument of Elmer Gantry is that hypocrisy is bad, while the sustained theological argument in The Shack is that God does not punish sin and everyone will eventually be reconciled to God.

Friends, do not accept the argument that "it's just fiction!" Unorthodox theologies come to us in song, poems, art, sermons, movies, and books. We must be Bereans and test every theological argument that we absorb. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Paul repeatedly advised his readers to be vigilant. (For example, 1 Corinthians 16:13). We are on a battlefield in a war, and we don't only hear the cannons booming, but we must be alert for snipers, too. When it comes to accepting things not of the Lord, it all matters. A sniper is not "just a sniper," and Christian books are never "just fiction."


Further Reading

The Gospel Coalition, Christian Reading List for 4th-5th grade (other grades and reading levels at link)

Pilgrim's Progress: (free online)
Pilgrim's Progress is a great work of Christian literature. Originally composed in the 17th century, this spiritual allegory has entertained and delighted innumerous readers for over 300 years. Part I tells of "Christian" and his journey to "Celestial City;" Part II tells of the journey of Christian's wife Christiana and their children to Celestial City. The two parts work together as a unified whole, which describes and depicts the believer's life and struggles. Indeed, given the easy style of the book, readers of all ages can understand the spiritual significance of the depictions in the story. However, Pilgrim's Progress does not simply instruct readers with spiritual allegories; it entertains them as well, through Bunyan's creative story telling. Enjoyable and spiritually instructive, Pilgrim's Progress is highly recommended. 
Pilgrim's Progress at Amazon for purchase

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

At table: What the Table of the Showbread signifies

Our relationship with God is like a meal with Him at table.

From my Ligonier class 'Understanding the Tabernacle', we read,
We tend to appreciate a delicious meal enjoyed in the company of good friends. Such delight in a common meal should not surprise us, because the Lord in His Word describes many times in both the Old and New Testaments how our relationship to Him is like a meal we sit down to enjoy together with Him. In this lesson, Rev. Hyde explains to us the "bread of the presence" in the tabernacle and how it communicates to us God’s desire for intimate covenant fellowship with His people by way of presentation, preservation, and participation.
Here is the main verse where God tells Moses what and how to make the items for the tabernacle.

"You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. Close to the frame the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry the table. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly. (Exodus 25:23-30).

Did you ever wonder about this verse below...where the beginning part of the verse states that the Angel of the LORD (Jesus) encamps around those who fear Him, and then the verse goes into tasting and seeing that the LORD is good? What does a encampment have to do with tasting? If you remember that our relationship with the LORD is like eating with Him at table and enjoying a meal, the verse shows that you are enjoying intimate fellowship with Him even in the midst of enemies.

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (Psalm 34:7-8).

Especially in the midst of enemies! As David wrote:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5).

If you read Exodus carefully you might notice a particular word that occurs often, it's the word 'regularly'. I underlined it in the verse above. The LORD regularly meets with His priests who represent the People. He makes regular visits with His people at table. Often, frequently, repeatedly. What a God we have, who regularly meets with His people to partake of intimate fellowship!

In the tabernacle, there was a table on which the priests would place the bread. The table had a raised crown molding around the edge. The description of the table reminded me of the table that was in my old living room growing up:

There was a lip around the edge of it. In the Tabernacle, the raised edge signified the following:
The table contained crown molding to keep the bread and utensils from falling. This prevented the bread from becoming defiled. This pictures the Lord’s preservation of His people. He who never slumbers ever keeps His children in the grip of His grace. The table permitted partaking in the bread, denoting the participation of God’s people with Him. Source: Ligonier Connect courseUnderstanding the Tabernacle

On the last day, we will join the Lord in His presence and eat with Him and drink with Him.

I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29).

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:9).

Blessed are those invited (called, elected) to participate with intimate fellowship in Him, our King, Priest, Friend, and Savior at His table!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Deuteronomy passage reveals a stupendous God!

Just bask in this wonderful passage. We can never extol the virtues and attributes of our God enough. He is so wonderful, holy, perfect, majestic! He revealed Himself through His word. What a gift.

Deuteronomy 4:32-40,

The Lord Alone Is God
32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 
To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 
There is no other God. Our God did all that, and He allows us to know Him! He meet with us at table, comforts us, gives us what we need, loves us. He is a great God, and there is no other.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's in your pocket? Lists? Or Nails?

We are sinners. The Syro-Phoenician woman knew that. (Mark 7:26). The Tax Collector in the temple knew that. (Luke 18:13). Mary knew that. (Luke 1:46). We know we are sinners.

No one believes in Jesus Christ the savior unless they see a need in Him. Martyn Lloyd Jones, sermon Isaiah 1:10, Repentance and Salvation.

Before we are saved, we are blind to our sin. After the Lord graciously gives us the ability to see ourselves as we are, the scales having fallen off our eyes so to speak, (Acts 9:17-18), we repent of our sins. But that does not mean we stop sinning. We have the Power to resist sin thanks to the Holy Spirit in us, but we still sin. (Matthew 16:24). We will continue to sin until we are glorified.

Legalists like the Pharisees to whom Jesus contrasted the Tax Collector, believed they would attain heaven by their good works. This belief is not expired. People believe it to this day. If you watch street pastors Ray Comfort or Todd Friel, when they ask people on the street if they expect to get to heaven and how, the people always respond that they are a good person doing good things so surely they will go to heaven.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Are you so foolish? (Galatians 2:15-16)

After we are saved, however, we still have a tendency to give in to our to our sinful nature. We can easily start to believe satan's propaganda that we earn God's regard by doing good things, that we maintain our salvation by doing good works. Or we start to make lists of the things we must do to preserve our good name before the Lord. Paul addressed this in Galatians 3:3, asking rhetorically,

Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

John MacArthur said of the verse,
The notion that sinful, weak human nature could improve on the saving work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous.
We should always remember that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved, not by works. After salvation, the good works that we do are an inevitable result of our gratitude for this great gift, and it is the proof of the existence of the new creature. But our works do not save us and they do not add to the preservation of our salvation. Martin Luther said,
We all carry about in our pockets His very nails.
Erik Raymond at The Gospel Coalition succinctly said,
Legalists keep lists in their pockets, while Christians keep nails.

What's in your pocket today? Lists? Or nails?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here I raise my Ebenezer

We sing the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing at our church. Hopefully you do as well. It is a beautiful hymn written in 1757 by Robert Robinson. Here are the original lyrics from the first two of five stanzas. Some hymn books have updated it to modern language but I like the original.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

What is an Ebenezer? Our church had put an explanation in a box at the bottom of the bulletin, which was helpful. We should know what we are singing. Words matter. When we sing in church, or pray, or listen to the sermon, we are meeting with God, eating at His table. We should know what we are about and be mindful of the things we say or do or read or sing.

The phrase comes from 1 Samuel 7:12. Here's the verse:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, "Till now the Lord has helped us."
In the first narrative (1 Samuel 4:1-11 ), the Philistines defeat the Israelites, even though the Israelites brought the Ark of the Covenant onto the battlefield in hope of it bringing them a divinely assured victory. As a result of the Philistine victory and the Ark's presence on the battlefield, it was captured by the Philistines, and not returned until many months later (1 Samuel 6:1-2).
In the second narrative (1 Samuel 7:2-14 ), the Israelites defeat the Philistines, after Samuel has offered a sacrifice. Samuel puts up a stone in memorial and names it Eben-Ezer (the placename in the previous narrative resulting from this). This monument is referred to in the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. (Source)
The Lexham Bible Dictionary also explains-
"The stone of help" that Samuel set up to commemorate a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam 7:12). Also the name of the place where the Philistines defeated Israel and captured the ark of the covenant (1 Sam 4:1; 5:1). 
Ebenezer as a Place Name
First Samuel 4 describes a battle between the Philistines and Israel, whose army was camped at a place called Ebenezer (1 Sam 4:1). The battle ends in disaster for the Israelites, as the Philistines defeat the Israelite army, kill many men, and capture the ark of the covenant.
Ebenezer as a Monument 
Scripture also refers to Ebenezer as the monument stone that Samuel set up after a successful battle against the Philistines. Several months after Israel’s defeat at Ebenezer, Samuel called for the people of Israel to gather at Mizpah and repent of their sins (1 Sam 7:2–14). The Philistines again massed their armies to attack; but as Samuel was praying, God threw the Philistines into a panic. The Israelites cut down the Philistines as they fled, chasing them "as far as below Beth-car" (1 Sam 7:11). In commemoration of the victory, Samuel erected a stone "between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, 'Till now the Lord has helped us'" (1 Sam 7:12 NRSV).

Raise your own Ebenezer in thanks to the Lord for His help. Our victories are not ours, but His. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1).

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. (Hebrews 13:6 KJV).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Miracle Max explains Arminianism v. Calvinism

"With all dead, there's only one thing you can do. Go through his pockets and look for loose change."

LOL. For those who might not know, Miracle Max is a fictional character in the movie The Princess Bride. Of course, the movie was an entertainment fairy tale move, not a theological treatise. But Max's words summed up a critical difference in the two actual approaches to salvation.

The Arminian believes we are slightly alive, and that in some corner of the heart, we can at some point in life choose salvation.

The person who understands the Doctrines of Grace knows that divine grace is the only catalyst for salvation, and that we have nothing to do with it. God saves us. As a matter of fact, He chose every person He decided He was going to save before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 2:1-6).

There's a big difference between Mostly Dead (Arminianism) and All Dead (Calvinism). Miracle Max, you are very wise!

Kay Cude poetry: The Tunnel

Used with permission. Click to enlarge