Excessive Celebration

April 29, 2013 at 11:55 am | Posted in Esther | 3 Comments
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One of the meanings of faith is believing the promises of God even when they don’t seem to be supported by observable evidence. But another definition of faith is obeying God in spite of what seem to be the obvious consequences.

The name of God is not mentioned once in the Book of Esther, yet it is full of His Words. The same is true for Song of Solomon. There are different theories on why God is not named in Esther. It may be to illustrate how little His people thought about Him at that time.

The events in the Book of Esther took place between 483 and 473 B.C. Chronologically, they would fit right between Chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra. During this time, the rebuilding of Jerusalem had halted. Zechariah and Haggai preached and prophesied about the people putting roofs on their own homes while the house of God had no roof.

The king of the Medo-Persian empire at that time was Ahasuerus (Khshayarshan in Persian, Artaxerxes or Xerxes in Greek). Ahasuerus was really into putting on spectacular banquets.

Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him: When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days. And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace; Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble. And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king. And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure. Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.

Esther 1:1-9

The particular feasts described here were the result of the failure of Ahasuerus’s father to successfully invade Greece. Ahasuerus was probably excited at the prospect of revenge and greater glory for himself as he prepared to give it a try. As an aside, the defeat of Darius (Ahasuerus’s father) happened at a place called Marathon in 490 B.C. 25,000 Persians were met by 10,000 Greeks. Some of the Persians left to go attack Athens, and a runner ran 26 miles without stopping to warn them – upon which he probably died from a heat stroke or exhaustion. That’s where we get the name of the 26-mile-long race.

On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,

Esther 1:10

There seems to be a great deal of drinking, partying, and extravagant celebrating going on in the Book of Esther. One of the king’s chamberlains was named “Mehuman,” and I might jokingly suggest that his parents gave him this name so that, no matter how drunk he got with the king, he wouldn’t forget he was still a human and not a wild beast. (You have to imagine him talking like Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan for this to be funny: “Me human, you Jane.”)

To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.

Esther 1:11-12

It is very common for anger to follow drunkenness. Ahasuerus’s heart was merry (after seven days of drinking, we can only imagine!), but look how quickly it swung form merriment to wrath. Drunk driving is a huge problem in our society, but it may surprise you to learn that more drunks are still arrested for fighting than for driving while intoxicated. Ahasurerus mastered his whole kingdom, but he couldn’t even master himself.

Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment:

Esther 1:13 (emphasis added)

This is probably a reference to astrology, but these “wise” men also knew the times in which they lived, and they knew they had a king who was susceptible to flattery. They gave foolish counsel, and the king listened, because they flattered him with words.

He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.

Proverbs 27:14

Flattery should make us cautious.

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Don’t Grieve the Holy Spirit

April 25, 2013 at 11:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

Redemption occurs when a person is brought from spiritual death to spiritual life. It may also refer to the physical redemption of the body from the slavery of death which will one day happen to all born-again believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. Redemption is a work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is God. God is three Persons in one – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit is a Person, because He is sometimes incorrectly thought of as a force or a mystical power. If you have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, then you have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to travel to Florida or Texas or Canada to some “outpouring” event to find Him or to chase Him down.

The guaranteed indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for true New Testament Christians is different from the way the Spirit was sometimes given to people in the Old Testament.

And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

Numbers 11:25 (emphasis added)

And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!

Numbers 11:29 (emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit has many functions. He teaches us the Word. The Bible doesn’t make sense to a person who is not truly a Christian in the same way it does to a true Christian. All sorts of signals and programs are being broadcast through the room you are in right now, but you are not perceiving any of them unless you have the right kind of antenna or receiver. This is an illustration of the way the Holy Spirit illumines Scripture for believers.

The Holy Spirit also convicts us of sin. This is for the purpose of bringing the non-Christian to the point where he realizes he needs a Savior, and for the purpose of aiding Christians in their sanctification.

The Holy Spirit also produces spiritual fruit in the lives of believers.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

The Holy Ghost is the Comforter, and He brings inward peace to believers. He does not cause Christians to thrash around and throw a fit, the way you will sometimes see people doing on religious television or in certain Pentecostal or Charismatic churches.

Another function of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to live for God, and to do the work of God.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Acts 2:38-42 (emphasis added)

And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31 (emphasis added)

Ephesians 4:30 tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will never leave a person who has trusted Christ unto salvation, but disobedience, fornication, hurting others who we are supposed to be loving and helping, entertaining sinful thoughts and desires – all these and more can and do grieve the Spirit. We would be far better off surrendering to Him and allowing Him to have His way as He leads us to follow Christ and to obey the Bible.

What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

I Corinthians 6:19

Throw Down

April 22, 2013 at 10:14 am | Posted in Common Expressions | Leave a comment
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Lord, I pray that Your Holy Spirit would work in the lives of people and in their circumstances to bring them to a place of confrontation concerning their souls and their standing with You. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s time to ‘throw down?'”

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This a colloquial expression meaning that it is time to fight. Originally, it meant a challenge to a gun duel or some type of physical confrontation (“throw down the gauntlet”) but these days it can refer to any type of competition – even a barbeque cook-off.

You can find the expression several times in the Bible, but there it usually has a connotation of destroying pagan altars, places of worship, or positions of worldly power: Judges 2:2; 6:25; Jeremiah 1:10; Jeremiah 31:28; Ezekiel 16:39; Micah 5:11; Malachi 1:4.

Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.

Jeremiah 1:4-10 (emphasis added)

God knew Jeremiah before he was born. He not only formed him in his mother’s womb, but He already had a special job for him to do.

Jeremiah had objections to God’s command: “I am a child. I can’t speak. I am afraid.”

The Lord touched him, and put words in his mouth. Why? So he could build up a name for himself? So he could be Jeremiah the famous and well-liked prophet? So he could have a Holy Ghost conference and show off his power? So he could get wealthy? No. God set up Jeremiah to root out, to destroy, to “throw down.”

When God calls us to do something, we need to be obedient. Our answer should be “yes.” Not “no,” or even “why?” Jeremiah was humble, but he wasn’t disobedient. It is in our human nature to seek explanations, but it’s easy for us to allow “evaluation” to become an excuse for delay. I had a professor in law school who liked to call on us in class when we least expected it. The result was often a blank stare and an open mouth on the part of the students. He didn’t like that. He preferred a quick answer, even if it was an incorrect answer, to no answer at all. He often referred to a “fatally logical chicken” which starved to death when it found itself poised exactly equidistant between two equally appetizing pans of grain.

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All too often, as fallen sinners, we are all too ready to “throw down” for the wrong reasons: someone gets on our nerves; someone offends us; someone cheats us out of something we feel like we deserved. When God tells us to “throw down” we might need to throw our hands down, and throw ourselves down on our knees, and throw ourselves wholeheartedly into what God wants us to do.

The Lord’s Love Song

April 19, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Posted in Biblical Marriage, Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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Thank you, Lord, for loving us. For teaching us that love is more than just a feeling or an emotion. It’s an action – an opportunity to obey You and to show what we believe by how we treat each other. In Christ’s name. Amen.

The Holy Spirit used the human instrument, King Solomon, to write the book of the Bible we know as Song of Solomon. There is much debate, disagreement, and doubt about its true meaning. Some feel that it is a poem which is a metaphor for God’s love for Israel and/or Christ’s love for His church. Others believe that it is a song written by Solomon to a Shulamite woman. Perhaps it is simply an ode to the love between a husband and a wife. I will confess that I happen to think that it is all three of those and much more.

Certainly, much of its language is symbolic, but some of it is surprisingly straightforward. One funny incident that comes to mind concerning the Song of Solomon happened early in my marriage when my wife and I were students in a Sunday School class of young married couples. We were using one of our church’s classrooms for a fellowship activity on a Friday evening. Our teacher planned a game similar to Pictionary, with the husbands on one team and the wives on the other. The ladies would choose a Bible verse and give it to one of the husbands, who would have to “draw the verse” on the chalkboard without using words or numbers, while the other men had to guess the Scripture reference. At one point, the ladies chose Song of Solomon 8:8. Maybe you can imagine the hilarity that ensued as one highly embarrassed husband had to draw this verse in front of the whole group!

The romantic language of pastoral Hebrew culture in King Solomon’s day can seem humorous to us. When is the last time you compared your spouse’s teeth to sheep?

Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

Song of Solomon 4:2

When you read Song of Solomon, it is important to remember that there are different voices or different characters speaking different parts, often within the same passages. Let’s briefly examine three main ideas from the book.

1. The importance of expressing love verbally

It is a good thing to tell your spouse, “I love you.” When I was first married, I was told by several older gentlemen that the most important phrase I would need to use in order to have a long and happy marriage was, “Yes, dear,” but I have found, “I love you,” to be more edifying, assuring, and helpful. However, even the phrase, “I love you,” tends to show a limited imagination after a while. Song of Solomon reminds us to be creative and imaginative in our verbal expression of love for our spouses.

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.

Song of Solomon 1:15

Compliments need to be true expressions of love, not flattery. It’s one thing to say that my wife has “beautiful” eyes (she does!), but doves’ eyes are more than attractive – they promote a feeling of peace. Tell your spouse you like the way he or she looks, but also tell him or her that you appreciate the work he or she does for the Lord.

Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.

Song of Solomon 1:16

This might be referring to the place where the couple first met. It is important to “make memories” with your spouse, and then later to spend time reminiscing about those experiences.

Love is demonstrated more by action than words, but the Bible teaches us that it definitely needs to be expressed verbally as well. You’ve probably heard the old saw about the man who boasted concerning his wife, “I told her I loved her 25 year ago. If I change my mind I’ll let her know!” That won’t cut it if we’re trying to accurately represent the love of Christ. If you love the Lord in your heart, He certainly knows it. But He also wants us to verbalize it.

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Romans 10:9-10 (emphasis added)

2. Physical love (sexual intimacy) is for the marriage relationship exclusively.

I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

Song of Solomon 2:7

That verse sounds to me like a kind and loving wife’s admonition to her friends to “keep it down!” To let her hubby “sleep in.” But the majority of Bible commentators believe that the “daughters of Jerusalem” are the young women who are not yet married. The bride in the Song is telling them to wait until marriage to become sexually active. That certainly lines up with the rest of Scripture. God’s plan for physical intimacy is that it be limited to the marriage bed. God ordained from the beginning that a husband and wife would be “one flesh” – that they would be joined together by God in a marriage relationship first – and then physical intimacy would come afterward. Fornication and adultery are condemned throughout Scripture. Take some time and pray for the children and the young unmarried people that you know – that they would remain sexually pure. Sometimes we are mighty prayer warriors when it comes to their salvation, but we are guilty of a sneaking suspicion that there is no way that they will actually be able to wait until marriage in a world where virtually “everyone does it.”

Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee. My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

Song of Solomon 6:1-3

These women of the chorus wanted to go down with the bride to spend time with her husband, but she said, “No, he is mine, and I am his.” The marriage relationship is an exclusive relationship. It is a gift from God, and it is to be guarded. If you are reading this and you are married, respect it. If you are reading this and you are not in a marriage, respect everyone else’s!

Lack of trust is generally a negative thing among spouses, but “jealousy” is not always bad. Remember, in the prophets (such as Hosea, Isaiah, and Ezekiel), those who belonged to God, and then “cheated” on Him, were called adulterers, harlots, and whores.

3. The endurance of love

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

A “seal” in the Bible represents something that’s permanent.

And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30

Monarchs in antiquity wore “signet rings” which were supposed to make an indelible impression. I hope you see your wedding ring as symbol of permanent love and faithfulness. Aren’t you glad that God’s love isn’t as fickle as ours? God says when you commit to love someone – your wife, your husband, your friend, even your neighbor – make up your mind to show that love even when the person isn’t acting lovely, and even when you don’t feel like showing love. “Contemned” in Song of Solomon 8:7 means “held in contempt.” When you place things in a relative perspective, I hope you are placing the highest value on the people you love rather than “things.” All the wealth in the world would be despised if it was offered in exchange for your salvation. A truly saved person wouldn’t break off his relationship with God, through Christ, for any amount of money in the world, even if such a thing were possible.

Thank You, Lord, for those in our lives that we love – and those that love us. Thank You that you are a God of love – that You are love personified. Help our love to leave the stage of feeling and emotion, but to become active. Help us to be people that show love – and make us conscious of opportunities to show love to others. In the Name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.

Vanity: The Diagnosis and the Antidote

April 17, 2013 at 10:53 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 3 Comments
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The Book of Ecclesiastes is – in my opinion – one of the more difficult books in the Bible to teach. Many of its proclamations seem troubling and paradoxical in light of New Testament revelation. However, when understood in the proper context, it is an extremely edifying book, and, like all Scripture, it is immensely profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. It also contains its own helpful thematic summation:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Our earthly life is both temporary, and, in some respects, vain, but it is also valuable and of eternal significance. It is a gift from our Creator, and we must be good stewards of it.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:14

Three solid principles for Christians to remember each day are: Fear God, obey God, and prepare to meet God.

The antidote to Ecclesiastes’ diagnosis of “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” is:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

I Corinthians 15:58 (emphasis added)

Here are links to the previous lessons on the Book of Ecclesiastes:

1. Contextual Wisdom
2. Nothing New under the Sun
3. Darkness Under the Sun
4. Break It Up!
5. Right Where You’re Supposed to Be
6. Do Birds Sing about Eternity?
7. Good Timing
8. Order in a Fallen World
9. Beware of Foolhardy Finagling
10. Working for a Living
11. Fresh, Frail, or Fruitful?
12. Two Kinds of Heart Medication
13. Don’t Ruin Your Name
14. Would You Rather? (Wisdom of Solomon Edition) (*)
15. Don’t Lose Your Balance
16. Accurate Timing
17. The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
18. Fooling or Ruling?
19. A Fly in the Ointment
20. His Heart Was in the Right Place
21. A Little Bird Told Me
22. Fortifying the Fulcrum
23. Indulgent, Incompetent, or Industrious?
24. Life’s Big Adventure
25. Under the Sun vs. Over the Sun

* most-read post in series

Unction in Church

April 15, 2013 at 10:19 am | Posted in C.H.U.R.C.H. | 6 Comments
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C.hrist
H.oliness
U.nction
R.
C.
H.

Unction = power. Unction is what makes something move or something change. One of the ways God chooses to exercise His power in this world is through His Church.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

Acts 2:1

This was the first time that a group of people in the New Testament received the power – the unction – of the Holy Spirit permanently. And this power resulted in:

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:41 (emphasis added)

Now that’s unction!

A Courageous Marriage

April 12, 2013 at 9:42 am | Posted in Biblical Marriage | 4 Comments
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Satan would like to accuse and intimidate you into being so scared of “worldly” influences destroying your marriage that you don’t venture out into the arena of the world in order to minister in the love of Christ at all. But God says differently.

I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

John 17:14-15 (emphasis added)

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

John 18:36 (emphasis added)

It’s not that disciples of Jesus don’t fight. It’s that we fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons, rather than carnal battles with carnal weapons (II Corinthians 10:3-4). When we view our marriages through the Gospel, it is unthinkable that we won’t be proclaiming the Gospel through our marriages in the world. We do this right in the teeth of Satan. Our response to the direct barrage of Satan is an irascible counterattack. Here are two of the irascible appetites which God has given us to combat the accusations and intimidations of Satan as he attacks our marriages:

Courage

Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day. For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you. Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God. Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you:

Joshua 23:6-12 (emphasis added)

It’s going to take courage to protect our marriages in a society which hates our marriages.

Endurance

So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:

II Thessalonians 1:4 (emphasis added)

Are you looking for a quick fix? That’s not usually God’s way. God’s way is having courage to face the persecutions and tribulations – and the attacks of Satan – and to endure. Don’t quit. God is preparing a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory for your marriage (II Corinthians 4:17), so that, when it gets hard, that is the time when somebody sees what the Gospel really means to you in your marriage.

The Trap of Looking instead of Listening

April 10, 2013 at 11:22 am | Posted in Biblical Eyesight, Traps of Lawless Living | 5 Comments
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An angel appeared to Samson’s mother before his birth and declared to her that Samson’s purpose in life was going to have to do with delivering God’s people from their Philistine oppressors.

For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.

Judges 13:5

It seems likely that Samson’s parents must have relayed this information to Samson when he grew older, but Samson’s life seems to have been more of a series of side-tracked adventures than of purposeful and steadfast accomplishment. Part of his problem was that he allowed curiosity to distract him, and he was strongly tempted by what he saw.

And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. Then his father and his mother said unto him, [Is there] never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and his mother knew not that it [was] of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel. Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and [he had] nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done. And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, [there was] a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion.

Judges 14:1-8 (emphasis added)

Certainly, eyesight is a great gift from God. Visual learning is one of our primary means of acquiring knowledge. However, while there are certainly some illustrated sermons in the Bible (where the prophecy of Scripture is acted out rather than communicated verbally), by and large, Christianity is a “verbal” religion. “Thus saith the Lord” was the preface to many if not most of God’s great specific revelations. Scripture is replete with commands to “hearken” (to hear and to listen). The “let those who have ears to hear” outnumber the “let those who have eyes to see.” At the beginning, when mankind first fell into sin by failing to heed God’s words, the tendency to look rather than listen played a key role in the decision to disobey.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

Genesis 3:1 (emphasis added)

And when the woman saw that the tree [was] good for food, and that it [was] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make [one] wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Genesis 3:6 (emphasis added)

Samson was guilty of ignoring what he had been told to do and going about to see what he might see. As Christians, we must remember to walk by faith and not by sight, and that faith comes by hearing.

The Bible on Trial

April 8, 2013 at 10:07 am | Posted in Selected Psalms | 7 Comments
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In the previous lesson on Psalm 119 I stated that the purpose of Bible study is to know God better. Martin Luther had a helpful teaching on the use of Scripture in this area. He started off with oratio: speaking to God (prayer).

Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.

Psalm 119:36 (emphasis added)

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

Psalm 119:18 (emphasis added)

Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works.

Psalm 119:27 (emphasis added)

When preparing to read the Bible, ask God to incline your heart toward Him. Apart from His grace and power our hearts are not naturally inclined to the things of God. Our fallen and sinful flesh has a bent or perverted inclination. It is at worst bent toward rebellion and defiance, and at best toward idolatry of self and the feeding of our lusts.

Luther would then move from oratio to meditatio: meditation (deep-thinking) upon the Scripture.

And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

Psalm 119:47-48 (emphasis added)

Meditation must not be based on drudgery. It is tied to delight. Approach Bible study with a sense of wonder and fascination, expecting the Holy Spirit to show you something thrilling, practical, useful, and transcendent.

Luther then moved from oratio (prayer) and meditatio (meditation), and, when I studied this, I was surprised at what came next. After praying over the Word and mediating upon the Word, I expected Luther to advocate doing the Word. But that’s not what came next. What came next was tentatio: trials and/or temptation.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes.

Psalm 119:67-68 (emphasis added)

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.

Psalm 119:71 (emphasis added)

God’s Word becomes sweet and valuable and magnificent when it is all you have to stand on. This is supernatural. In our finite human thinking we might imagine that it would be depressing to have nothing more than a book to guide us through our suffering and trials, but God has infused power into this Book. My old Sunday School teacher used to have this advice for anyone who told him they were having trouble understanding their Bible: “Keep reading.” That may have been the best piece of Bible-study advice I ever received.

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Psalm 119:11

This is the “right thing” (God’s Word) in the “right place” (my heart) for the “right reason” (that I might not sin against God).

These words were written by a Christian who was going through severe tentatio for his faithfulness to the Lord:

I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now in prison. Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen Him and felt Him indeed. . . I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world. . . I have seen that here that I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express.

John Bunyan

What Kind of a Friend Are You?

April 4, 2013 at 10:27 am | Posted in Biblical friendship, Social Media Shares and Mass Emails | 3 Comments
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Here we go again. Another well-intentioned burst of drivel has been making the rounds on Facebook. And, once again, there is no surprise that the average person would find a statement like this to be perfectly wonderful. But a professing Christian? Someone who actually claims to believe the Bible? As they say on Monday Night Football: C’mon, man!!”

I don’t care what you earn, where you live, what you drive, whether you’re gay or straight, fat or thin, tall or short, beautiful or average, rich or poor, smart or not. If you’re my friend, you’re my friend – I accept you for who you are and that’s ALL that matters.

Christian Facebook Fail

There is a classic logical fallacy known as a “category mistake.” Or, as they used to call it on Sesame Street back when I was in preschool: “Which one of these is not like the others?” You know the one: They show you three farm animals and a vine-ripened tomato, and you put down your cup of grape juice, hitch up your underoos, point at the TV screen and shout, “Tomato!” Or they put the number 4 into a group of letters: A,L,Q,4. You clap your hands, somersault out of your blankie, and proclaim, “Hey, you can’t fool me. Get that numeral outta there!” Easy enough, right? So, let’s play the game with the above statement, shall we?

The idea of the quote is that “if you’re my friend, you’re my friend.” When you click “share” or post it to your wall, it’s your way of bragging to the world what a loyal, non-judgmental friend you are. Now, let’s stand it beside the Bible and see how it measures up.

“I don’t care what you earn, where you live, what you drive.” Does Jesus want me to base my loyalty on the robustness of my friends’ bank accounts, how prestigious a neighborhood they live in, or how expensive their car is? Nope. See James 2:2-5. So far, so good.

“I don’t care whether you’re fat or thin, tall or short, beautiful or average, smart or not.” How about this one? Does the Bible support discriminating against people in an unkind way based on their physical appearance or their IQ? Certainly not. See I Corinthians 4:7 and Galatians 3:28. Again, nothing to see here, move along folks. Just a harmless quote about how we should treat our friends kindly despite our circumstantial differences. After all, the Bible says that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

But hold on a minute, I left one out, didn’t I? Remember, we’re trying to spot the category mistake. The “one that’s not like the others.”

“I don’t care whether you’re gay or straight.” Ah-ha, you found it! Maybe it took a little while, but we’re talking about “Christians” posting this on their Facebook page, remember? Christians? Those people that believe that Jesus died to pay the price for their SINS? See, social standing, wealth, height, and home- and car-ownership are not sinful. Identifying yourself as “gay” is. So for me to have a friend who is “gay,” and for me to then say, “I accept you for who you are and that’s ALL that matters,” is completely unbiblical – not to mention cruel and unloving – and certainly nothing to be proud of. Because if I am truly your friend, then what matters most to me is your relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, I want you to know what the Bible says, and I want to tell you, in a kind but serious way, that Jesus paid the price so that we can be set free from our selfish, sinful desires. I want to lovingly expose the deadly lie that we should proudly identify ourselves with our sin, and seek to be accepted and approved in it. Christians are not supposed to just “have friends” or even “accept their friends.” We are supposed to love our friends. Real love deals in honesty.

Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Proverbs 27:5-6

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