Thursday, March 30, 2017

How to Contend for the Faith Part 3- Putting it all together

In Part 1 I outlined the fact that we're all called to contend for the faith. This includes witnessing, protecting the message from corruption, and correcting ourselves and others when the message is corrupted, which inevitably tends to happen. I also addressed what I call 'drive-by commenters'.

Though we all read the same Bible, Christians disagree. What is the root of disagreement? In part 2 I outlined three reasons why disagreements arise.

In this part, I offer some biblical ideas about how to positively engage in civil discourse that becomes contentious.

Mixed messages?

And there's the rub. The Bible offers lots of verses on how to speak civilly, but also offers contrasting examples of people delivering their message both civilly and in seemingly uncivil ways.

For example ...  Jesus and John the Baptist called the Pharisees vipers. Paul suggested the Judaizers emasculate themselves. He called the false apostles 'deceitful workmen', he affirmed the well-known idiom that the Cretans were 'always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.' Peter said of the false ones that 'they were brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.' Jude said that false ones were 'dreamers [who] pollute their own bodies,' and are 'grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires.'

Name calling? Rough language? There sure are some mixed messages. For example, on the one hand, James 3:10 says let not praise of Jesus and cursing of men come from your lips. Yet Paul praised Jesus in Galatians 1:5, and in verse 8 he pronounced a curse on the false Christian men leading his flock astray! He let praise and cursing come from his lips, and in rapid fire succession, too! Though skilled in every kind of discourse, Paul also employed holy sarcasm. Can we be sarcastic too? Maybe. Maybe not?

I am not suggesting that the Bible is in error in any way. The examples of the Bible writers were not prescriptive, merely descriptive. The Holy Spirit inspired all the men to write what they did. Jesus speaking to the Pharisees, well, He's Jesus! But I am saying that we should be discerning as to when to use which rhetorical device. Proper discourse takes tact and maturity, caution and patience. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, I lack all four! Gah. Erring on the side of gentleness is best in all cases. I say this from sad experience.

In searching for articles related to civil discourse and theological discourse, I found this one from the magazine published for Methodist Seminarians by Stephen Rankin titled Christian Ethics: Christian Witness in Trying Times. I don't know about the author in general nor the publication itself, but I liked the article. In it, the author sorts through the various verses that speak to "a Christian engaging a whole range of contentious matters and doing so with both charity and bold truth-telling." It's a difficult line to maintain, for me it is, anyway.

One caveat: I do not intend to say that civil discourse means agreeing with others in different faiths. Being civil does not imply agreement. If you Google "fostering civil discourse" combined with the word "Christian" you'll receive lots of pages teaching that civil discourse means agreeing foundationally at some level "with the LGBT community", or that persons in "an Abrahamic faith such as Christians and Jews and Muslims all have the same spark of God-knowledge in them", and so on. Being civil in discourse does not necessarily mean agreement. It is a kind of discourse that acknowledges that we have disagreements - even within and among Christians - but maintains a kindly relationship even as we seek to persuade all men anyway. (2 Corinthians 5:11). This is increasingly difficult to do in these do not judge, angry, flash-point times.

Here is a pertinent excerpt from Mr Rankin's article. In it, he had given several personal or cultural examples of discourse, then said let's go to our sources, the Bible.

What does the Bible say?

Going to Our Sources

As we practice thinking about civil discourse, what biblical and theological resources come to mind? The temptation to ask, “What would Jesus do?” I cannot resist, so let us see what we can find by looking at the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, we hear of the blessedness of meekness, of mercy, of being peacemakers. Later, in Matt 5, we read Jesus’ injunctions about how we express anger and to reconcile quickly with our opponents (5:21-26). Yet this same Jesus in the same Gospel refers to those religious leaders who opposed him as hypocrites, white-washed tombs, and snakes (ch. 23). It is not so easy to get a clear and unambiguous picture from scripture as to how to engage in conflict with opponents.

By today’s standards, would the Apostle Paul be guilty of “uncivil” discourse? Consider his recounting his confrontation with Peter in Gal 2:11, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face” (NRSV), and he goes on to explain what he saw wrong with Peter’s action around Gentile Christians. The whole letter to the Galatians shows Paul’s alarm and he uses, at times, very colorful words to issue his warning. Paul could be one tough customer!

We do not find, therefore, a simple rubric for engaging in civil discourse, yet we need scriptural guidance.


No simple rubric indeed. I've often been confused as to the correct approach to take at any given time. However, the author does offer two important verses to help us navigate the thorny issue of proper boldness buttressed with love; or if you prefer, love buttressed by boldness...

Romans 12:14-21 is full of gentle wisdom, especially v. 18: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (NRSV). “If it is possible….” Sometimes it isn’t possible. You cannot control the other side of the debate. All you can do is be responsible for you. But this is where the other injunctions found in this passage come into play: Don’t repay evil for evil (as in railing for railing). Leave vengeance to God. Overcome evil with good. And, to go back to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44, NRSV). If I can manage to follow these points, I’ll do well in conflict.

And:

The second passage that consistently comes to mind as I contemplate the goal of civil discourse is Eph 4, especially v. 15: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (NRSV). As with Rom 12, this passage addresses a community of Jesus’s followers, and a particularly relevant one for our consideration. Ephesians 2 shows that this congregation is made up of Jew and Gentile, culturally distinct and often suspicious of each other’s backgrounds – a breeding ground for hostility. The immediate context of ch. 4 speaks to the link between sound doctrine and growing to maturity – to the full measure of the stature of Christ. 

It's good to remember the point of theological discourse - growth. Whether it's the doctrinal edification of a brother, or my own growing fruit as I exhibit patience and gentleness, good discourse should be profitable for all involved.

In truth, we disagree on a significant range of theological and ethical questions, no matter what our denomination’s official stances may be. We, likewise, must with courage and gentleness engage the core issues of the faith, around which we commit to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This desired aim takes work, persistence, courage, and epistemic humility. The Ephesian Christians – made up of Jew and Gentile alike – had to do the same kind of work.

Those precepts make sense to me. Whether it's Methodist against Methodist as in Mr Rankin's example, Jew v. Gentile, Christian v. lost person, Arminian v, Calvinist, no matter what the level of polarization seems to be, it's difficult to maintain the "civil" in civil discourse. Yet we must. I believe it's incumbent upon Christians to provide the example for right speech in the world. If we can't or won't do it, who will? We have the Spirit.

How to apply all this?

As an application, I'll share what I do. I don't have it all figured out. I still struggle with all these issues and I know I fail sometimes. I have found it helpful to:

1. Wait. Knee-jerk reactions to an abrupt comment doesn't advance the conversation. And that is always the goal. Advance the conversation- not my agenda.

2. Pray. Pray for the Spirit to create a right attitude in you. Before you answer and during the waiting, whether it's a few minutes or a day, pray for your heart and the other person's heart to be opened to biblical truths, spoken boldly in love. Or, if you prefer, spoken in love with boldness.

3. Use more scripture, not less. Use the Lord's words. Those are the ones that penetrate. Not our persuasiveness nor our opinion.

Also, I don't engage with straw men. That's when someone asserts I've said something in my essay that I hadn't, and then argues from that incorrect position. I don't waste time correcting them. I simply say that I hadn't said that, and if they'd like to continue conversing, which I would love them to do, please copy-&-paste the pertinent part from my essay from which they would like to launch a discussion. Straw men are a passive-aggressive way to derail your thread and get the commenter's agenda out there. Guard your comment stream.

I also do not allow drive-by commenters. I addressed this in part 1.

I do not allow someone to post links to places where bad doctrine abounds. I rarely allow a link at all, unless it's to a really credible ministry I don't have to take a lot of time to investigate links. I need to stay focused on the ministry at hand, not follow someone else's rabbit trail, as sincerely as they may have offered it.

I don't allow people to post bad doctrine. I'm responsible for what happens under my name, and I'm careful and ruthless in this regard. Sometimes I am charged with 'limiting free speech.' This is a ridiculous assertion and do not let it guilt you. No one has a "right" to post undoctrinal things under the banner of my name. You would not allow it in your home and you shouldn't allow it under your social media.

I view my Facebook, Twitter, email, and blogs as part of my home. They are an extension of me and a reflection of me. Which is to say, they are a reflection of Christ in me. Guard the deposit.


Conclusion
Mr Rankin concludes:

Although most of us likely feel caught in the middle (the left, right, and center/middle construal is not helpful, but that’s another matter), we are effectively being forced to have an opinion about serious matters. We all have Facebook friends who post unguarded and sometimes cruel comments. How do we manage?

Always Representing the Lord
Inevitably, as followers of Jesus we will either cast him in a good light or a bad one. Our goal must always be to represent Christ faithfully, especially in the heat of the moment: to love our enemies and pray for those who might spitefully use us, even while we speak the truth to them.

If you adopt one or more of the scriptures listed here or in part 2 as your foundation for theological discourse, then the application will happen in an organically spiritual way.

Maranatha!




---------------------------------------

Further reading

The End Time: How to Contend for the Faith Part 1

The End Time: How to Contend for the Faith Part 2

Ligonier Devotional: Contend for the Faith

Grace To You Q&A: How to Contend for the Faith

CARM.org: What is Apologetics? An Outline


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How to Contend for the Faith, part 2. Why Christians Disagree

Part 1 here
Part 3 here

In today's 'tolerant' and 'don't judge' atmosphere, when discussing biblical things, if the other person blows up it's often seen as a failure of communication on our part. But in many cases it's not.

Though we can't account for how other people respond, there are many Bible verses given over to what kind of speech we are to employ. Here are just a FEW!
  • Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips (Ecclesiastes 10:12).
  • The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17).
  • A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2)
  • A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
  • Anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:22).
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
  • Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).
  • But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8).
  • With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).
  • Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
  • Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:15).
  • Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19).
  • Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
  • He must gently reprove those who oppose him, in the hope that God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25).
Before we get to solutions in the next part, let's look at-

1. What civil biblical discourse is
2. Why Christians disagree

Here, James A. Herrick, Professor and chair of the Department of Communication at the Christian institution Hope College, partner with the Reformed Church in America, states from his article What Do We Mean By “Civil Discourse”: A Biblical Model of Managing Disagreement that civil discourse is:

... talk—including conversation, dialogue, speech making and writing— on questions of moral significance. By 'moral significance' I mean questions that affect the choices we make, individually and in groups. Discourse, then, is talk or communication about (1) our choices and (2) about the principles we embrace that influence those choices. Ultimately, discourse is talk about the way we are going to live our lives as individuals and in communities. ... So, understanding how discourse can be improved is important.

I'll insert here that as we discuss ideas and interpretations from the Bible, there's no higher 'moral significance' to be had on earth. The highest basis for any conversation is when we speak of Jesus from His Word. Therefore, the principles to be understood from these conversations are or should be highly prized.

I'd also add that these conversations are of moral significance but are also of theological significance. And lest a person think that 'theological conversation' or is only for seminarian eggheads, if you say "God is love" you have just uttered a statement of theological significance. Theological discourse just means talking about Jesus or conversing about things from the Bible.

Professor Herrick resumes his definition of discourse, now explaining when disagreement enters into it:

One more nuance should be added to our definition of 'discourse,' for the term also tends to simply staking out and defending a position on an issue, and in this way entering into the larger arena of public discussion of that issue. That is, inherent in the very concept of discourse are both the presence of disagreement and the goal of persuasion. I take these two components to be a facts about our efforts to talk through important issues—(1) we usually run into disagreement, and (2) we typically seek to persuade those with whom we disagree. It is precisely these elements which make it so vitally important that our discourse be civil discourse, that is, that our efforts to persuade those with whom we disagree be hemmed in by some sort of ethic of advocacy that keeps the discourse constructive and respectful. 

Of disagreement, I'm frequently asked, 'If two people are Christians and read the same Bible, why do they disagree on what it says?' It's a good and valid question. Here, Professor Herrick outlines three reasons why in his view, Christians disagree.

1. Sin
2. Ignorance
3. Clash of worldviews

1. Sin is always the root of disagreement. Herrick gives the example of the church members at Corinth. Their failure to address sin caused a disagreement between themselves and their overseer, Paul.

2. As for the second reason disagreements arise, ignorance, Paul mentioned those often. He said 'don't be ignorant' over spiritual gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:1). Paul said don't be ignorant about eschatology. (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Paul also said not to be ignorant of satan's schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11). And what are some of the most vociferous theological arguments about? Eschatology, spiritual gifts, and satan's schemes. Ignorance of the Bible's contents itself also factors into this reason why Christian disagree.

3. Worldviews. Any worldview that excludes God will be wrong about the source of truth, morals, righteousness, etc. Any Christian where Jesus is not at the center of their worldview, will also be incorrect in a number of ways.

Knowing what theological discourse is, and why disagreements occur within such discourse is helpful to know as a basis. Tomorrow, Lord willing, part 3 will look at on what to do about differences when they arise in theological discourse. Solutions, we need solutions! :)




How to Contend for the Faith, it can be confusing part 1

How to Contend for the Faith- Putting it all Together part 3

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to contend for the faith, it can be confusing, part 1

Part 2 here: Why do Christians Disagree?

Part 3 here: Putting it All Together


Introduction

The practicalities of how to contend for the faith is a big subject. We're told to contend, of course, many times and in many ways. For example, Jude wanted to write a nice, little encouraging letter, but found that because of false brothers teaching false doctrine, he had to do his duty first.

Beloved, although I made every effort to write you about the salvation we share, I felt it necessary to write and urge you to contend earnestly for the faith entrusted once for all to the saints. (Jude 1:2)

Paul was sure that in his absence the Philippians will be "contending side by side for the faith of the gospel," (Philippians 1:27).

Paul urged Timothy to "fight the good fight". (1 Timothy 6:12).

Stand firm, do not turn, speak truth, and so on.

It's important to consider, especially in this day and age of social media platforms with widespread audiences watching us, reading our words, and listening to our debates. Even in Solomon's Portico or at the Areopagus or on the hillside at the Sermon on the Mount, with tens of thousands in attendance, today's audiences who either lurk or engage with us online are an order of magnitude larger than those audiences.

But how? How do we contend appropriately? Sometimes we're called to be gentle, other times to be direct. Righteous anger is allowed, but not unrighteous anger, and don't let the sun set on any anger. Paul used holy sarcasm, but are we allowed to? Maybe? Maybe not.

I'll do my best to answer the above but first, there is one part of online life in civil discourse I'd like to address as I fold it into the larger issue of appropriate theological discourse. I call these the "Drive By Debaters".

Drive-By Commenters

It's when someone takes the time to read the post. They take the time to comment on the post. But when they reply they state their position and end it by saying "I don't want to debate."

This kind of comment is opposed to true theological discourse, and even undermines it. It shuts down the point of any biblical discussion, which is to work together to arrive at a common understanding, mutual edification, and brotherly love with Christ as a center point. That kind of comment says 'I'm right, you're wrong, and I don't care if you accept it or not, I just wanted to use your platform to say so. Buh-bye.'

The purpose of discussing biblical principles, interpretations, or concepts in person or online is to arrive at a common understanding. It's to teach and be taught. The drive-by debate-denier displays they have an unteachable spirit.

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5).

What I do if someone says "I don't want to debate" on one of my platforms (Facebook, Twitter, blog, or email) is to engage once more by gently asking a question about what they'd said. Sometimes they'll come back and we can begin discussion. If they don't, I delete their original comment. I figure, if they don't want to discuss, then we won't discuss. At all.

I won't allow my platforms to be used by drive by commenters, because from the outset they display that they are not interested in the rules of honest civil engagement. We should all seek wisdom, then understanding. This should be true from the top-most sage teacher to the newest babe.

Wisdom is to be highly prized. Proverbs 4:7-9 says,

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
    and whatever you get, get insight.
8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
9 She will place on your head a graceful garland;
    she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

How Should We Contend?

As for my main point, how to contend. I contend a lot. I share with friendly people and unfriendly people. Some of the most unfriendly people I deal with are those who claim they are Christians but are not. When addressing their sin, they explode in myriad ways. When pointing out their favorite teacher is false, they go off like a rocket. If you really want to poke a bear, either discuss their sin with a false professing Christian, or identify their favorite teacher as false. Both discussions go to the same root: sin. Satan is protective of his peoples' sin and it does not like to be exposed to the light of day. (John 3:19). That's why the person explodes on you.


Some Bible verses call for gentleness on the part of the deliverer of the message, other Bible verses call for firmness, harshness even. In today's 'tolerant' and 'don't judge' atmosphere, when discussing biblical things, if the other person blows up it's often seen as a failure of communication on our part. But in many cases it's not, and don't be afraid of it if it happens to you. I'll share this verse again and again in the other upcoming parts:

The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ 5And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.b Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.(Ezekiel 2:4-7).

Not that we are Prophets like Ezekiel was, but in New Testament times we are God's witnesses, His ambassadors, people with a sent message. We are one of the ways Jesus uses to either draw people to Himself through the Gospel message, or we are one of the ways He will condemn them on the last day, if they refuse the message. In our case we say 'Thus says the LORD' via His written word.

In addition to sharing the Gospel, we are called to warn, encourage, rebuke, teach and exhort and so on. We are constantly called upon to employ a humble attitude and to contend in myriad ways. Though our proclamations sometimes will not be received well either, we still speak them. The LORD assured Ezekiel and He gives us the same assurance in Luke 12:4 and Revelation 2:10.

In the next part I'll sift through the various verses that discuss our speaking up in warnings and rebukes and exhortations, and being a witness through appropriate theological discourse in difficult times. There's a lot to it, but mainly it boils down to two ingredients; speaking the truth, in love. I'll share my perspective on this tomorrow.



Part 2 here: Why do Christians Disagree?

Part 3 here: Putting it All Together

Monday, March 27, 2017

God created a colorful world. He didn't have to...

Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth

When God created the earth, He could have made it colorless. He could have used only His brush strokes of black, or gray, or brown. The world could look like this:



Did you ever wonder why God graced us with a common grace of color? He has made the world beautiful in its time, says Ecclesiastes 3:11. This beauty includes the spectrum of colors which we enjoy in all its prettiness. I particularly enjoy colorful flowers.





The Bible has in it of course, references to colors. It doesn't, however, really explain if colors of the tabernacle meant anything, if they individually had a symbolism. Other colors do have a symbolism. Here is Baker's Evangelical Dictionary's entry on color:

Color, Symbolic Meaning Of

Although the Bible contains relatively few references to individual colors, their symbolic associations are theologically significant. Colors usually symbolize redemptive and eschatological themes. The Bible is, however, silent on whether the colors used in the tabernacle, temple, and priestly garments held symbolic meaning.

Black signifies gloom, mourning, evil, judgment, and death (Lam 4:8; Micah 3:6; Zechariah 6:2 Zechariah 6:6; Revelation 6:5 Revelation 6:12). Its image is often one of dense, impenetrable darkness (Job 3:5; Isa 50:3). The terms "darkness" and "night" parallel this usage (Job 3:3-7; Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:15). Hell is the place of "blackest darkness" reserved for the godless (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13).

The pale horse of Revelation 6:8 resembles the color of the terror-stricken and corpses (cf. Jer 30:6; Dan 10:8). The horse's color matches the work of its rider. Its rider is called Death, who, with Hades, goes forth to kill a fourth of humankind.

An expensive dye, purple represents wealth and royalty (Judges 8:26; Est 8:15; Daniel 5:7, Daniel 5:16, Daniel 5:29; Luke 16:19); for this reason, idols were attired in purple (Jer 10:9). The purple dress of the harlot symbolized Roman imperial rank (Rev 17:4; Revelation 18:12, Revelation 18:16). Before his crucifixion, Jesus was robed in purple in mockery of him as "king of the Jews" (Mark 15:17, Mark 15:20; John 19:2, John 19:5; cf. Matt 27:28,; "scarlet robe"). Garments of purple suitably clothe a wife of noble character (Prov 31:22).

Red symbolizes blood. Israel's sin as brilliant scarlet and deep-red crimson is analogous to the bloodstained hands of murderers (Isaiah 1:15 Isaiah 1:18). The images of red, blood-soaked garments of God as an avenging warrior (Isa 63:1-6) and the fiery red horse bringing slaughter through warfare (Zech 6:2; Rev 6:4) describe divine retribution against evildoers (see also Joel 2:31; Rev 6:12). The red color of the dragon (Rev 12:3) and beast (17:3) symbolizes the shedding of innocent blood (11:7; 16:6). The red heifer (Nu 19:1-10) and scarlet wool (Heb 9:19) symbolize the Old Testament means of purification through blood; the New Testament powerfully expresses the fullness of Christ's atoning work through a contradictory color image: believers' robes are washed pure white through the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9 Revelation 7:13-14 ; 19:13-14).

White signifies purity and holiness. It depicts complete forgiveness of sin. David and Israel's bloodguilt would be fully removed, leaving them whiter than snow/wool (Psalm 51:7; Isa 1:18). It represents the absolute moral purity of God (Da 7:9), Christ (Rev 1:14; Mark 9:3; pars.), angels (Mark 16:5 ; pars. Acts 1:10), and believers (Rev 2:17; 3:4-5; 4:4), and thus of the divine judgment of God (20:11) and Christ (14:14). It indicates the certainty of God's conquest and victory over evil (Zechariah 6:3 Zechariah 6:6; Rev 6:2; 19:11).

H. Douglas Buckwalter

Bibliography. G. W. Thatcher, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, 1:456-58; P. L. Garber, ISBE, 1:729-32; A. Brenner, Colour Terms in the Old Testament; "Color, " BEB, 1:494-96.

Color is a common grace. Every person on the planet whether young or old, saved and acknowledging the creator or unsaved and worshiping the creation, enjoys the colors of this earth. Everyone can admire a sunset, colorful avian plumage, floral hues that delight the senses.

Theopedia defines common grace as

Common Grace refers to the grace of God that is common to all humankind. It is "common" because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another, believers or unbelievers. It is "grace" because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God.

The Lord God created a world that is beautiful. Its beauty is enhanced by the colors He created for us (and Him!) to enjoy in our common grace. The painted desert, the lush tropics, the animals, insects, and fish in all their rich tones and hues are a joy. He didn't have to But He did.

Thank you Lord!




Saturday, March 25, 2017

El Shama: A God who hears, He is a God who listens

Doesn't it just crush you to pray to Jesus...and know He hears us? It's incredible, and a privilege we always remember in gratitude.

As Isaiah cried in his wonder and grief, "I am a man of unclean lips!" (Isaiah 6:5). In my case, a woman of unclean lips. Why should I be able to use these lips to pray to Jesus when I am the chief of sinners, wretched woman that I am? What is man that God should be mindful of us? (Psalm 8:4). Why should He hear us?

But He does.

Though 'El Shama' is not an official name of God, it refers to the fact that God hears...He listens. God told Hagar to name her soon to be born son Ishmael. Ishmael is is a combination of el and shama, "God hears" or "God listens". The name would be a reminder to Hagar and all who knew them that He heard Hagar's cry in the wilderness. (Genesis 16:11). He listens.

Psalm 17:6 says

I have called on you, for you will hear me, O God: incline your ear to me, and hear my speech.

Gill's Expositions says of the Psalmist's plea in verse 6,

"for thou wilt hear me, O God; God is a God hearing prayer; he is used to hear his people, and they have frequent experience of it, and they may be assured that whatsoever they ask according to his will, and in the name of Christ, he will hear; and such an assurance is a reason engaging the saints to a constant calling upon God, Psalm 116:2; and such confidence of being always heard Christ had, John 11:41;"

1 John 5:14 says,

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

Did Peter forever relive his anguish each morning of his remaining life, when he heard the rooster crow the day awake and remembered his own perfidy? Owww, Peter, I understand your grief, the pain of betraying Jesus in word or in deed from our own sinful actions. Yet...Jesus prayed for Peter. Luke 22:32. He did not pray for Judas. Both men betrayed Jesus, but Jesus prayed for Peter.

If you're a Christian, Jesus prays for you, too. It's staggering to consider that the God of the Universe prays for us. He hears us, and He prays for us. We have a superlative God, One who is true and kind and loving and compassionate. Sister, no matter what you are going through, Jesus hears your prayer and He takes your cares to the Father in prayer. Be encouraged.



Friday, March 24, 2017

He Will Glorify Me: By Chris Powers

Chris Powers is creating visual resources for the global church. As an artist, Powers illustrates and animates theological concepts, and along with his explanations based on and in scripture, he presents thoughtful and beautiful tracts, studies, and videos for the brethren to consume freely. His work can be found on fullofeyes.com, and at Patreon under Full of Eyes, and of course Youtube at his channel Full of Eyes.

Here is a recent drawing:

He Will Glorify Me
By Chris Powers

John 16:14-15, "He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine..."

"I was reading through John 16 this morning and was once again struck by the unique role that Jesus tells us the Spirit fulfills. The Spirit glorifies the Son, which is to say, He takes from the fullness of the Son's glory--from the beauty of who the Son is--and makes that known (With the result that the world is convicted, 16:8-11, and the Church is build up in truth 12-15)."

"So, the Spirit shows us the Son, and the Son shows us the Father--an awesome Trinitarian model of divine self-revelation. And its also interesting to note that the Spirit doesn't come in His Son-revealing work until after Christ the climactic redemptive work of the crucifixion and resurrection. God' self-revelation has not reached its climax until the Son has poured Himself out for creation's redemption on the cross. Supreme redemption serves supreme revelation, and the crucified and risen Son is the one declared to us by the Spirit."

"For this picture, I also wanted to be clear that the Spirit-illuminated revelation of God in Christ happens primarily in SCRIPTURE. How deadly it is when we go wandering outside the Bible for a definitive revelation of the One True God....it happens in the pages of scripture as the Spirit reveals the glory of God in the Son to His bride"






Thursday, March 23, 2017

How does the Holy Spirit lead us?

On Facebook last night I'd posted a mini-discernment lesson regarding a tweet Beth Moore had written advocating a process for distilling whether a prompt from the Holy Spirit is legitimate or if it's your own imagination. I wrote the following in response to her tweet:



Beth Moore is an alleged 'Bible teacher'. She has 753,000 followers on Twitter alone. The following comment is something she taught a few hours ago on Twitter. Nothing in the Bible says what she taught and teaches. What solid and credible Bible teachers do is teach their pupils to go externally and seek the source of all truth, the Word of God. Moore teachers women to go internally and rely on mystical warnings, feelings, and prompts. What Moore is actually teaching is the insufficiency of scripture and the sufficiency of ourselves in obeying personal feelings.

If Moore was a true Bible teacher she should have written that we seek wisdom from the Bible and follow its commands. We do not rely on the timing of mystical feelings in order to make decisions. We don't even have to wonder if it is our imagination if we read it in the Word of God. Here is what she should have written-

"Take caution not to override a command of the Lord in His word. Pray persistently in seeking the strength from the Lord you need to obey what is written. Mind the Lord and His statutes."


I thought that it would be obvious that Moore is teaching something extra-biblical. Obvious.

I was wrong.

I received several comments, one of which asserted that I'd misunderstood the tweet. While it's always possible I misinterpret an author's intent within the confines of a 140 character tweet, in this case I've studied Moore's work widely enough to know that I had not done that in this case. I also thought the tweet was plain enough in its assertion.

Another commenter tried to to convince me that there was room for direct revelation. She knows there's room, she said, because though 99% of the time scripture is enough, sometimes God speaks "very clearly" to her and she knows it's Him because what He says comes true according to her wishes and wants at the time.

If scripture isn't sufficient 100% of the time, it is not sufficient at all. God is not speaking clearly or audibly to anyone in any form, not in...

whispers
prompts
leadings
warnings
impressions on our heart
'told me'
spoke audibly

...because the Bible says that God has spoken though His Son, who IS the Word. (Hebrews 1:2)

Peter said personal experience is never a proper validation of God's authority, because the word is more sure. (2 Peter 1:19). I notice in these kind of discussions that people assert that it must be God is telling them stuff because what they wanted is coming true. However I notice it never seems to be the case that 'the Lord told us very clearly one of us will die from cancer', or 'the Lord told us very clearly that we will never have children,' or 'the Lord told us very clearly that I should stop sinning via pornography.' No, the direct leading of the Spirit people claim they receive are never that kind, the type that brings bad news against their wish list or commands the person to slay their besetting sin.

Worse, women who claim "He told me very clearly that..." means the woman is claiming prophet status - which elevates her to a position she does not have. Moreover, it discourages other women who have not had the privilege of "hearing directly from God". They begin to doubt their situations when they aren't given such personal, clear commands.

One commenter did ask a good question, which formed the basis for this post. She asked, "Where does the Holy Spirit come into it?" Her question is a good one, but a sad one. An entire generation of women have been taught by the Beth Moores etc. that we should expect to be directly (or audibly) led by God, that they do not know what to be led by the Spirit actually means. So here is a post on what it means to be led by the Spirit.

We know the Spirit does lead us. One verse in particular comes to mind, Romans 8:14, where it says so.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

Now, the Holy Spirit does guide us and convict us and teach us and help us but not in a way we know at the time. You might look afterwards and say, gee, that sure was from the Lord. But at the time, we cannot, must not, rely on feelings, prompts, whispers, inclinations, or imaginations, and attribute them to God. That is dangerous because the flesh is at war with the Spirit. One can never really know if it's the flesh or not. We are commanded not to obey the flesh, but to slay it. (Mt 16:24). Just because Beth Moore teaches that if the feeling hangs around long enough it must be God is ridiculous on the face of it. The flesh is persistent. Very persistent.

It's also mysticism and divination to follow promptings and claim they were from God. How can we interpret? We can't, we're sinful. So while the Spirit leads, His main ministry is to point to Jesus, who is the Word. John 16:14. That's why a good teacher also points to the Word, which is more sure.

Here is John MacArthur on the Romans verse 8:14, with a very simple explanation of the Spirit's leading:

How does He lead us?  Two ways.  Externally, by the Scripture – externally, by the Scripture, Psalm 119:18: "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Your law." Show me the truth of Scripture. Externally by Scripture, internally by sanctification. Those two ways. Externally, Scripture; internally, sanctification.

Therefore, there's no need for a teacher such as Moore to teach an extra-biblical process for figuring out if the prompting is imagination or not.

Sinclair Ferguson at Ligonier Ministries has a good take on leading by the Spirit, which concurs with MacArthur's in terms of the main leading of the Spirit being illumination of the scriptures. Remember, the point of the Spirit's ministry is to point to Christ - who is the Word. (John 16:14, 1 John 4:2).

Spirit of Light, by Sinclair Ferguson
Why, then, are Christians today—in contrast to their fathers—so thirsty to experience immediate revelation from God, when His desire for us is the ongoing work of the Spirit opening up our understanding through the mediated revelation of the New Testament? There seem to be three reasons:

1. It is more exciting to have direct revelation rather than Bible revelation. It seems more “spiritual,” more “divine.”

2. For many people, it feels much more authoritative to be able to say, “God has revealed this to me” than to say, “The Bible tells me so.”

3. Direct revelation relieves us of the need for painstaking Bible study and careful consideration of Christian doctrine in order to know the will of God. In comparison to immediate revelation, Bible study seems—to be frank—boring.

Lest we be brow-beaten and develop a kind of siege mentality as Reformed Christians, here are some things we should bear in mind about the work of illumination:

This is the divine method that produces authentic Christian growth, because it involves the renewal (not the abeyance) of the mind (Rom. 12:2) and it is progressive (it takes time and demands the obedience of our wills). Sometimes God does things quickly. But His ordinary way is to work slowly and surely to make us progressively more like our Lord Jesus.

The result of the Spirit working with the Word of God to illumine and transform our thinking is the development of a godly instinct that operates in sometimes surprising ways. The revelation of Scripture becomes, in a well-taught, Spirit-illumined believer, so much a part of his or her mindset that the will of God frequently seems to become instinctively and even immediately clear—just as whether a piece of music is well or badly played is immediately obvious to a well-disciplined musician. It is this kind of spiritual exercise that creates discernment (see Heb. 5:11–14).

In other words, the Spirit leads us by slowly conforming us to Christ-likeness through the application and illumination of the word in us. Our affections change. As MacArthur above said, by the word externally and by inner sanctification as the word works through us.

Now, is there such thing as impressions or promptings? Ferguson below then Phil Johnson below that, explain...yes...and no.

Ferguson from the Ligonier article above:
Well-meaning Christians sometimes mistake the Spirit’s work of illumination for revelation, which, unhappily, can lead to serious theological confusion and potentially unhappy practical consequences. But the doctrine of illumination also helps us explain some of the more mysterious elements in our experience without having to resort to the claim that we have the gift of revelation and prophecy.

Here the late John Murray spoke with great wisdom: “As we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. (Collected Writings, I, p. 188).

Again, it's through the Word.

Phil Johnson, Shepherds Conference 2002, “Super Seminar: Private Revelations”

Now, does the Spirit of God ever move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly. But, even in doing that, He works through the Word of God. Experiences like this, impressions and all, are not in any sense prophetic or authoritative except as they echo what the Word already says. They are not revelation. Those sensations, those impressions, those feelings you get are not revelation, but they are the effect of illumination. When the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, and opens our spiritual eyes to His truth. And, we need to guard carefully against allowing our experiences and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word of God. This is a very practical application of the principle of Sola Scriptura.

Think about this…to what ever degree you seek private messages from God outside His Word, you have abandoned the principle of Sola Scriptura.


It is simpler and more direct to say something like "My husband and I decided to adopt 3 children." rather than "The Spirit led us to the adoption agency." It's more honest to say, "We decided to purchase the organ for the church because we adhere to the biblical principle of cheerfully giving" than to say "We felt led by the Spirit to drive down Main Street where we saw the organ store and God clearly told us to buy it."

The Spirit leads us into sanctification, where we gradually and inexorably conform to Jesus' likeness, not by having Him specifically give us explicit directions for certain actions at any given time. But what a joy to know He does lead us!



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Our struggles are not so different

"Help me never to mistake the excitement of my passions for the renewing of the Holy Spirit, never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses..."

Excerpt from the Valley of Vision, today's devotional, 'True Religion'. The set of Puritan prayers edited by Arthur Bennett is copyrighted and requested not to be published so I won't post the entire devotional, as energizing and encouraging as it is. You can read today's full devotional here.

More info on the book here:

"In this classic volume, edited by Arthur Bennett, the prayers of the Puritans are brought to life. Including prayers of Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Charles Spurgeon, and others, The Valley of Vision is a selection of petitions and meditations in the Puritan tradition. This compilation of prayers is intended to teach and encourage Christians to be faithful in their private and family worship."

What I love about the book is not just the quality writing, the stirring sentiments, and the deep theological pleas and truths. It's also that we can see that in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s Christians prayed and pleaded for the same things we do in the 2000s, go through the same things, have the same cares and wants. O, the thread that connects us to the brothers of the past. It's glorious and it's Jesus. He keeps us, He hears us, and He knows us. We are truly family with these precious brethren who lived and loved and struggled, just as we do. Yes, they were heroes, but they were men and women, and thus, had a flesh nature that plagued them until the end. Just as we have and we do.

Sister, are you fighting against temptation to mistake personal passionate emotion for Holy Spirit enlivenment? So did the Puritans. Perhaps it was Bunyan or Watts, or one of the other men who wrote today's devotional, who asked the Lord in his prayer to help him not mistake passion for Holy Spirit. Are you seeking "to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich"? Or are we asking "to be numbered with the spiritually blessed"? as the devotional writer stated. Are we 'feeling and confessing ourselves a stranger and a pilgrim here' or do we seek to hide, meld in, or worse, pursue earthly goods and fame? The Valley of Vision writers sought the same spiritual blessings we pursue we do and were yet tempted to stray toward the same paths we encounter today.

The good news is that foremost, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8). He responds to our please with the same compassion, care, and perfection that He did to all the previous pray-ers and pursuers we read of in the Valley of Vision.

It is also good news that Jesus knows what is in a man. (John 2:24-25). And He loves us anyway.

He also knows what temptation is, having encountered it at all points. And so He sympathizes with us. (Hebrews 4:15).

He is also God, who is above us and beyond us in comprehension, but He gave us His word so as to know Him and be encouraged by His love and strength when we're tempted. For when we're sad. For when we're confused. For when we fail. For everything.

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

Whether we are John Bunyan in the 1600s, the author of Pilgrim's Progress and nearly 60 other books, whether we are Isaac Watts in the 1700s, writer of 750 hymns and acknowledged as the father of English Hymnody, whether we are 1800s Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers and deliverer of over 3500 sermons, or whether we are Elizabeth Prata in the new millennium, a Christian woman who isn't anybody, or whether you are you, we all share the same struggles, the same fears, wants, and affections. We share Christ.

We're blessed that the Lord raised up good men like the aforementioned ones, and also the editor of Valley of Vision, who compiled these monumental prayers and devotions. We take encouragement from them, and thus strengthened, we go forth as the writer said, paying attention to our principles as well as our conduct, to our motives as well as our actions.

As it says in today's devotional, please, Jesus-

Give me large abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus, that I may be prepared for every duty...




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New Blogger theme, new look for The End Time

I've been on Blogger for ten years. For most of those ten, Blogger hasn't put out any new themes. Themes are the offered Blogger standard templates one can use to present your blog. Its design, look, etc. I've been using 'Simple' for almost the entire ten years, customizing where possible. Blogger finally added new themes, to keep up with the times I suppose.

I switched themes and of course nothing is perfectly easy in the html world. There is still work to do to bring The End Time back up 100%. I'll tweak it more tomorrow. What I'm hoping is that with a standard Blogger template without customizations, the issues some of you have reported to me will go away.

If you have an opinion on how the new theme looks, or what you want to see for sidebars and links, etc, please let me know. The 'Sidebar' is now at the top. If you click the three little lines at the top left, it will appear.

Thanks for reading and thanks for your patience!

Re-blog of Jennifer's "What Happens After You Die?"

Last December, Jennifer of the blog One Hired Late In the Day wrote an essay about what happens after you die, . It's good. I re-blog it here.


What Happens When You Die?
Posted on December 2, 2016 by Jennifer, author at onehiredlateintheday 
This morning I woke to the news that a friend from high school had passed away yesterday from cancer. I had not seen him in 20 years.

Every one of us will die one day. And when someone in our lives dies, especially when it is a friend or loved one, it stirs up questions in our minds about what happens after death. Some of you may quickly blow that assertion off with “don’t be silly, nothing happens, we are dead that’s it.” Let me ask you something: can you truly imagine yourself not existing? Stop for a minute and try to imagine not existing; being dead. I bet you can’t, really. You at least envision everything being black/dark. But even in that scenario, aren’t you aware of the darkness? Be honest. I would guess that you can’t really imagine yourself not existing and here’s why: the Bible says that God has set eternity in men’s hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). People know, intrinsically, that there is more; they know they are eternal beings. The question then becomes, how do you know where you will spend your eternity?

Perhaps your answer when you read my question was “Yeah, I know what happens, we go to heaven. I’ll go to heaven with everyone else, I’m a pretty good person.” My next question to you, if that is your response, is how do you know you will go to heaven? How can you be sure? I am always amazed how the general population can so easily dismiss the claims of Christianity, or mock the faith, and yet when there is a tragedy all you see in the comments online are “he’s an angel now” “God’s got another angel in heaven” “he’s with grandpa now watching over you”* etc, etc. It really is fascinating, the contradiction demonstrated by folks. I believe it is yet more evidence that people do know that there is life after our earthly body dies. It is affirming the previously shared verse from Ecclesiastes that says that God has set eternity in people’s hearts. The trouble lays in the ignoring of such knowledge until someone dies. Then all the sudden it’s heaven and angels and hanging out with those who have gone before. Again, I ask you: where do you get such confirmation that what you hope for and cling to in a crisis, will be true for you? Eternity is a pretty big gamble, don’t you think, to just leave it to chance? Don’t really think about it or do anything while you are enjoying life, and just hope that it all works out? Folks, you put more thought into which restaurant you will eat at this weekend than that. Please, don’t kid yourselves.

I do know what happens when we die, and I will share that with you now since I’ve been asking you if you know. In Hebrews 9:27 it says that it is appointed for men to die once, and then after that is judgement. For those of us who have believed in God’s Son Jesus, and are placing our trust in His perfectly sinless life, death on a cross as punishment for our sins, and resurrection to life (the indication that Jesus sacrifice was acceptable to the Father, and His power over death) our judgement was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. So for we who believe and are born again “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8; please click on the link and read the entire chapter). But for those people who do not believe in Jesus and are not trusting Him to pay the penalty for their sins, they will face eternal judgement and condemnation “and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 please read this entire passage)

John 3:36 tells us “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” And I cannot leave you without sharing John 3:16-21: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” 
A few months ago I wrote and entire blog post explaining what the gospel is. I leave it here for you, please, please go read it
Friends, the only time you are guaranteed is right now. Who knows what the next moment will bring? I plead with you, if you do not know Jesus and have not placed your faith in Him, to fall on the only One who can save! Tonight or tomorrow may be too late for you. Repent of your sins, and place your faith in Jesus to cover your sins, having paid the penalty on the cross. One moment after you cease breathing on this planet, your fate is sealed and it will be too late, forever. Forever is a long time.

Soli Deo Gloria!

*Edited to add: as far as my example of people consoling one another with the sentiment that dead people become angels. They do not. Angels are an entirely different order of created beings. Dead people are just that: people. Angels are angels. Also, there is absolutely no scriptural evidence that dead people in heaven watch over us. The verse in Hebrews about a great cloud of witnesses was referring to saints in the old testament who are examples of faith that believers can look to, not people sitting on clouds watching the happenings on earth. I addressed this verse here. I would hazard a guess that being in the very presence of God almighty is far more captivating than the wickedness going on down here
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Monday, March 20, 2017

Natural History moment: Palm branches

How wonderful it must have been to a caravan of spice traders to climb the latest hill and see green instead of brown. Swaying palm branches clustered at oasis signaled water, refreshment, and perhaps, an arrival to their destination and an end to their journey.

When I was a freshman attending college way up in freezing Bangor, Maine, and I traveled to Florida during March/Winter break, the sight of the palm trees gracefully swaying in the blue skies at Palm Beach were a most welcome sight. They signaled warmth, and a relaxing of the strain to constantly keep warm.

Palm trees and their branches figure frequently in the Bible. The first mention of palm trees in the Bible is in Exodus 15:27.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.

Ahhh, rest. Refreshment, shade. In the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary we read about palm trees.

EPrata photo
PALMS: Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was among the earliest cultivated trees. Five thousand-year-old inscriptions from Mesopotamia give instruction for their cultivation. Palms are characteristic of oases and watered places (Exod. 15:27; Num. 33:9). The fruit of the date palm is highly valued by desert travelers since it may be consumed fresh or else dried or made into cakes for a portable and easily storable food. 
Jericho was known as the city of palms (Deut. 34:3; Judg. 1:16; 3:13). The judge Deborah rendered her decisions under a palm bearing her name (Judg. 4:5). The palm was a symbol of both beauty (Song 7:7) and prosperity (Ps. 92:12). Thus, images of palms were used in the decoration of the temple (1 Kings 6:29, 35; 7:36) and were part of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (Ezek. 40:16, 22, 26). Palms were used in the construction of the booths for the festival of booths (Lev. 23:40; Neh. 8:15). In John 12:13 the crowd used palm branches to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.
When the biblical palm is mentioned, it's usually the date palm. The palm tree in Florida is usually the royal palm. Here is a page that has photos of all the types.  After a storm in Florida there would be huge palm fronds all over the road. They are huge. A lot bigger and sturdier than they look while the frond is on the tree. The Road Crews would have to come pick them up or they'd end up presenting a hazard to bikers, motorcyclists, and even some cars.
They have similar characteristics like long feathery leaves-although when you are looking up at them they don’t seem that large on the tree. Once pruned or have fallen you quickly realize they are huge. Some get to be 12-15 ft long. That’s a lot of green and also one reason they are often used in the thatch roofs. With leaves this size they provide some real strength once woven together, allowing the roofs to last upwards of 10 years. (Source)
In Leviticus we read,

And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40).

Other translations call the palm tree (along with willow, olive, and pine) luxuriant, impressive, majestic, goodly, or magnificent. The context of the Leviticus verse is that God is instructing the people how to make booths for the Festival of Booths AKA the Feast of Tabernacles. The palm leaves were not only used in thatching their booth, but were representative of the joy the Israelites would feel in honoring their LORD.

Speaking of honoring the Lord with palms, we read this in two other verses. Palms were laid on the ground under Jesus feet and waved at Him as he entered Jerusalem. At that time, palm fronds were part of the Israelites' rejoicing:

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!"(John 12:13).

Tribulation saints in heaven will use palms to wave and praise the Lord.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"(Revelation 7:9-10).

Palm trees of any type are beautiful to me. They are made more beautiful knowing how the LORD uses palm trees to provide refreshment, shade, and sustenance.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:12).


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Kay Cude poetry: Peace

Poetry by Kay Cude. Click to enlarge.

The Lord of the universe gives us peace, HIS peace. No longer at enmity with Him, we possess peace in our heart and fear is dispelled.









Saturday, March 18, 2017

Losing my salvation

John MacArthur has famously said on more than one occasion, "If I could lose my salvation, I would." His comment is a succinct but devastatingly incisive statement about the fallenness of man. The fleshly part of man wants to be in control. It wants to be king of our lives. Even Christians who understand our own depravity and desire to work FOR God soon find that if they do not carefully reign in the flesh, that we are not participating in our own sanctification, but we're bossing God around and replacing Him with the idol of works.

MacArthur wasn't guessing when he said what he said. It's grounded in the bible. There is biblical precedent for his statement.

God instituted a Doctrine of Works. Don't bristle. Stay with me. In Genesis 2, God told Adam,

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-16).

As Martyn Lloyd Jones said of the Doctrine of Works in his sermon "The Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament", the Genesis verses are obviously a doctrine of works. God told Adam to--

--work the Garden
--keep the Garden
--not eat of the fruit.

The inheritance of the reward from God was entirely dependent upon what Adam did or did not do. This is works.

It failed.

It failed immediately and utterly. Adam failed to work correctly for his reward from God. Since we are all in Adam from the moment of birth, from the moment of conception even, (Romans 5:12, Psalm 51:5) we, too, will fail to please God with our works. (Hebrews 11:6).
Once again Lloyd Jones, "If man in a perfect position didn't keep the covenant of works, then what is the point of God making a new Covenant of Works? And indeed He didn't. He then made a Covenant of Grace."
We cannot, cannot, inherit any reward from God based on our own works. We have proved this. It was tried, it failed, it's done. God made a Covenant of Grace which is that we receive a reward from Him based on HIS choice, HIS will, HIS election, HIS grace. Our reward is all based on faith, and guess what? The faith we have is also a granted gift from Him. (Galatians 3:22). It is a faith that HE keeps for us and in us. It's sealed. (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13).

This knowledge of works v. faith has import for those who are in a works-based religion - which is to say everyone else in all other religions, even atheism. Mormons try to reach god through their covenant of works. Catholics try to pile up works so as to acquire enough to please God. Islam teaches "To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward," (Surah 5:9). And so on. And so on. And so on...

Our working out of our salvation through fear and trembling is a result of the sovereign choice of God to dispense faith and repentance to us. It's based on our knowledge of the above, that our works while in the flesh count as filthy rags. It's all Jesus, from start to finish, including His reward to us. We receive a glorified body so that we may no longer sin against Him. We become sons, adopted to His family, and thus co-heirs. We receive manifold and eternal mercies in heaven. Most of all we receive HIM. Jesus is our treasure. In His grace he shared Himself with us, gladly, voluntarily.

Praise God for the Covenant of Grace. Because, if I could lose my salvation, I would.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Love One Another: by Chris Powers

Chris Powers is creating visual resources for the global church. As an artist, Powers illustrates and animates theological concepts, and along with his explanations based on and in scripture, he presents thoughtful and beautiful tracts, studies, and videos for the brethren to consume freely. His work can be found on fullofeyes.com, and at Patreon under Full of Eyes, and of course Youtube at his channel Full of Eyes.


Here is one of his latest illustrations.




----------------------------------------------------

Artist's Statement. By Chris Powers.

Love One Another

Jesus' call to obey His commandment (s) (there are, I believe, two commandments in view when John uses the plural "commandments", 1) to receive Jesus as the Son and Revealer of God, and 2) to love as He has loved us. I think a strong case can be made that these two commandments are the Johnannine version of the two Great Commandments upon which all commands depend)...So, where was I? Right: Jesus' call to obey His commandments comes in the context of His call that we abide in Him and His words abide in us (this being, I believe, synonymous with us abiding in His love, v.9). It is only by abiding in Christ--that is, by receiving Him as He declares Himself to us in His words and works--that we will bear the fruit of obedience to His commands, namely, Christ-like love. And this intimate, Spirit-enabled receiving of the Son (which is to receive the Father in the Son) such that God-revealing, Christ-like, self-giving love is born in us--this is the heart of life itself.


So, in today's picture I tried to show at least two things: First that our love only comes from God's love in Christ (thus all the branches streaming from the wound). Secondly, that our love is an imaging of God's love in Christ (thus the fruit borne by cruciform saints).


Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Mother's Agony

Luke 2:34-35

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

We know that the people whose lives are recorded in the Bible were real. Abraham, Noah, Daniel, Hagar, Rahab, Mary...and the others, were all real people who lived a life on earth with all their joys and trials, and heartaches and triumphs. They did their jobs, sang and laughed, worshiped, prayed, ate, relaxed, and did everything real people do.

Sometimes we read about their lives on the pages of the Bible and as inspired as we are, we tend to think of these people as object lessons, as in, what can I learn from their lives that will inspire me to further obedience or knowledge of Christ?

I see people close to me going through difficulties and heartaches. Some have aging parents in poor health, some are experiencing grief because of death, some are parents with ill children or have children who have received dread diagnoses.

The Lord saw fit to place me in this era and in this nation, where, as a Christian, I am not currently being stalked, hunted, killed, persecuted, or arrested. I know our brethren in the closed countries are, but as of now I personally am not. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but then again, this is when and where the Lord created me, He appointed times and seasons for everything, so I cannot speak back to the Potter.

I think some of the greatest agonies ever endured. Number one has to be the separation Jesus endured when God withdrew from Him on the cross. "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?" Jesus cried. (Matthew 27:46–47). The glory and intimacy He had enjoyed for all eternity with the Father was broken, and Jesus was alone in the dark, spiritually bereft.

If there is a number two agony someone had endured, could it be Jesus' Mother, Mary, watching her Son hung up as a criminal, beaten, tortured, and dying in front of her eyes? Most mothers believe in their sons. Moms tend to err on the side of their innocence, proclaiming their son's non-guilt to anyone who would listen. However of all mothers who ever lived, Mary alone knew she had a perfect Son. He never did a wrong thing. He never harmed anyone. Growing up, He treated everyone with perfect courtesy, perfect consideration, perfect attention, perfect honor, perfect trust, perfect love...the list is infinite because Jesus' qualities as God were perfectly and fully manifested in His human life.

So for Mary to see her beautiful Son, hung up as the lowest criminal, on the most dastardly method of execution ever invented, must have been a grief only mothers can conceive of, and even all other mothers can't know the depths of her spiritual and motherly despair.

Jesus knew His mother's temporal agony would be great and her future as a widow would be uncertain. The Lord is good and kind.

When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, here is your son." 27Then He said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)

He also knew her spiritual agony would be great too. As Barnes' Notes says,
Yea, a sword ... - The sufferings and death of thy Son shall deeply afflict thy soul. And if Mary had not been thus forewarned and sustained by strong faith, she could not have borne the trials which came upon her Son; but God prepared her for it, and the holy mother of the dying Saviour was sustained.

The Lord of all is so great, kind, wonderful. He is the originator of our faith, the pinnacle of perfection. And yet even as he looked ahead to the sure knowledge of imminent separation from the Father, a moment none of us can even plumb the surface of, never mind the depths, Jesus cared for His weeping and agonizing mother. He sustained her in her faith and spiritually carried her through her agony.

Whatever agony you endure, especially if you are a mother, remember Mary. Remember that even though her crisis was one that no other mother can even attempt to understand, we can still sympathize. It gets even better, because Jesus is there to help us, sustain us, give us the courage to endure. He did for Mary. He will for you.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What was the worst danger to Paul? (Hint: It wasn't robbers, shipwreck or stoning)

Look at the list of devastating experiences Paul said he had endured for the Gospel:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers (2 Corinthians 11:24-27a)

I've lived on a sailboat and traveled 12,000 miles on it. It was the scariest thought that over any of those nautical miles, one slip of the foot or one swipe of the boom or one misjudgment and a coral reef would rip the bottom of your boat open like a jagged can opener, and you could be in the shark infested waters in a split second. That never did happen to us, but it did to Paul. There he was in stormy waves, legs dangling enticingly below the surface of the water, freezing salt-soaked hands clinging to scraps of wood for a day and a night. /Shudder/

I've never been robbed and beaten but I know those are terrible things. People who have been robbed or assaulted recall that there remains in them a feeling of violation and threat for many months or years afterward.

And stoning? Being pelted with rocks by an angry mob, any one rock would crush your head? Awful.

Paul's sufferings as an Apostle for the name of the Lord are well documented. Through all he rejoiced. That's one lesson. God's grace was sufficient for him. That's another lesson.

But did you notice one of the hardships Paul chose to include? This is today's lesson.

"danger from false brothers".

Can it be true that Paul equates shipwreck, robbery, beating, city danger, (which included riot, theft, and beatings,) and wilderness danger (which included robbery, bears, venomous snakes, torrential rain, and blizzards), hefty dangers to be sure, with the danger of false brethren??

Yes. Is there any worse danger than a danger to the soul?

False brethren are divisive, sly, and greedy. (Romans 16:17, Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2:1-3). They upset whole families, corrupt, poison, and are leaven that spoils the whole lump. (Titus 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:17, (Galatians 5:9). They are hypocrites, liars, and have seared consciences. (1 Timothy 4:2).

Far from the tolerant or even dismissive attitudes many people have today about the danger of false teachers, false doctrine, and false brothers, they present just as much if not more of a major danger as the other hazards Paul lists. They creep in unnoticed (Jude 1:4). That's one reason why it's important even as a layman, to hone your discernment skills, and if you've been given discernment as a gift, to be extra vigilant so as to ensure that on one "creeps in unnoticed."

John MacArthur writes of the false brethren noted in the verse, from his commentary,
But the most insidious danger of all was the false brethren, who posed as believers and then tried to destroy Paul's ministry. The false apostles at Corinth were prime examples of such treacherous pseudo-brethren, as were the Judaizers (Gal. 2:4). Because of the danger posed by false believers, Paul warned  the elders of the Ephesian church, "From among your own selves men will be speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30).
Barnes wrote in his notes, that the danger from false brethren was "the crowning danger and trial to Paul, as it is to all others."

We should think well of our church family and not look at each person suspiciously or askance. However, false believers DO exist. Remember that Paul considered false believers one of his greatest trials and dangers. False believers pose a serious threat, and we should take Paul's admonition seriously.

--------------------------

Further reading

Ligonier:  "If true faith is the instrument by which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, how do we know that we have true faith? How do we know that we are not only professing faith but also possessing it?" Read Faith and Fruit




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The truth about grace

Grace is a concept. But it's not just a concept. Grace is a gift, but it's not just a gift. Grace is a force. Think about how powerful grace is. Think about its power as it exists in Jesus, as it is delivered to the saints, in its common state as it covers the world, and in its special state as it enlivens the saints to do our work.

Here is an excerpt about grace from a sermon from John MacArthur called, Strength Perfected in Weakness, looking at this verse: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In speaking of the linchpin part of the passage, 'my grace is sufficient for you', MacArthur said,
But grace is not just an inert sort of concept; it is a force, it is a power. It is a power that transforms us. It is a power that awakens us from sleep. It is a power that gives us life in the midst of death. It is a power that is dynamic enough to transform us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. It is the power that saves us. It is the power that keeps us, the power that enables us, the power that sanctifies us, and the power that one day will glorify us. You have to look at grace as a force, a divine force that God pours out into the lives of His people at all points to grant them all that they need to be all that He desires.
Grace is a gift.
Grace is a state.
and...
Grace is a POWER.





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