Persistent in Prayer

November 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Matthew | 2 Comments
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In Matthew Chapter 15 we see Christ beginning to minister to the gentiles.

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

Matthew 15:18

You may have heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” This expression may be even more accurate spiritually than physically. There is a sense in which what we become – spiritually speaking – depends upon what type of spiritual food we have been consuming, and how we’ve been feeding our hearts. Then, what comes out of our mouths shows what we really are, because it comes from of the heart.

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

Matthew 15:19-21

Tyre and Sidon were gentile lands.

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

Matthew 15:22

This woman was trying to show that she recognized Jesus’s divinity in the way that she addressed Him, even though she was not Jewish.

But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

Matthew 15:23

Jesus’s initial refusal to answer her was not an act of cruelty or a lack of compassion. He did this in order to give her faith an opportunity to grow. His disciples, though, were simply exasperated with her. “Give her what she wants so she’ll go away,” may have been their reasoning.

But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

Matthew 15:24-25

This woman had a desperate faith. She recognized Jesus as Lord over all – Jews and gentiles alike.

But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

Matthew 15:26

This was possibly an ironic reference by Jesus to the practice that the Jewish people had of referring to gentiles as “dogs.” Jesus may have used the term for dog that denoted more affection – like a “pet dog” – to contrast the offensive way that Jewish people used the term.

And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

Matthew 15:27

Here the woman demonstrated a mature faith: “I don’t want anything more than what Your will is for me.”

Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Matthew 15:28

This statement commending someone’s “great faith” is reminiscent of His statement to the centurion from Matthew Chapter 8. The gentiles, during the Old Testament period, were “afar off,” but Jesus looked ahead to the time after His Crucifixion and Resurrection, when those gentiles who believed would – along with believing Jews – be one in Christ Jesus.

For this woman, it must have seemed like everything was against her. She was crying out boldly in public when it was not socially acceptable for a woman to do so. She was a gentile, seeking help from the Jewish King and Lord, surrounded by Jewish followers. And, at first, it even seemed as if the King Himself was against her. However, she was persistent in asking. Let that be a lesson to you and me to be persistent in prayer, even at times when it may seem like everything is against us.

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Anchored Upward

November 23, 2015 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Hebrews | 2 Comments
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As Christians move on toward greater maturity, secure in our salvation, growing in Christ-likeness and bringing glory to Christ instead of shame, the thorns and briars in our lives are removed.

But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

Hebrews 6:8

As we draw nigh unto God, the things in our lives that prevent us from drawing nigh to God have to be burned away. You draw nigh unto God, and the parts of your life that are not bearing fruit – briars and thorns – draw nigh unto cursing. You are the field; you belong to God. God does not curse His own. The briars and thorns get burned. Land won’t burn.

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

Hebrews 6:19

Earthly anchors don’t always hold perfectly, but Jesus Christ is the perfect anchor, and we are not anchored, like a ship, down to the bottom of the sea. We are anchored upward – our Anchor is in Heaven. Our anchor is both sure (it will not slip) and steadfast (it lasts forever).

The assurance of salvation should not lead to laziness.

And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

Hebrews 6:11

Once we move past the milk, to the strong meat, and start to grow up – be big boys and girls – we don’t have to squabble about who’s more spiritual than whom. We have “full assurance.” Assurance by itself should be enough, but our assurance is full. It is assurance plus bonus benefits. And it is shown by diligence, not slothfulness. Eternal security provokes growth, not childishness, because when you know in Whom you have believed, you draw closer and closer.

The Intercessory Prayer of Moses

November 18, 2015 at 11:42 am | Posted in Exodus | 5 Comments
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Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

Exodus 32:10

This is an example of anthropopathism. In Exodus 15 we learned about anthropomorphism (“man-form”), where human physical characteristics are used to describe God. Anthropopathism is derived from anthropos, meaning “man,” and “pathism,” referring to feelings or emotions. For example, “pathology” is the study of disease – or why people “feel” bad. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone. Empathy is feeling bad with someone. Someone who is “pathetic” is someone for whom we feel sorry. Anthropopathism is attributing human feelings to something (or in this case Someone) who is not human. It does not mean that God is faking His anger, but, unlike us, He is sovereignly and omnipotently in control of it. His feelings or emotions are real, but they are decreed by Him. They are controlled by Him. And they are exhibited in a way that lets us (finite beings) understand His attributes.

God also seems to be testing Moses in Exodus 32:10, telling him that He is mad at the people, and that He is going to demonstrate His anger and wrath, while at the same time making it clear that He is not mad at Moses. It is as if He is telling Moses to move aside while He deals with the people, and that He will start over by a making a new nation from the seed of Moses. God is not lying when He does this because He is not practicing deceit, but He is giving Moses a chance to demonstrate his own humility and faith – which, in fact, Moses does:

And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

Exodus 32:11

A casual, out of context, glance would make it seem like Moses was disrespectfully questioning God, or just being obtuse, asking a dumb question. But what was really going on was that Moses was praying a prayer of intercession. He asked God to do something in a rather bold way, but he recognized this, and he tempered it with a formal Hebrew way of reasoning.

When you were in high school, you probably didn’t say to your father, “Dad, you’re wrong for not letting me drive the car!” At least not if you were thinking rationally. You probably said something more like, “Why would a kind, gracious man like yourself refuse something harmless and kind to a responsible and careful lad like myself?” So, even though it looks like Moses was questioning God’s wisdom, God really received this as a respectful and reverent prayer, with solid reasoning included, as Moses tried to induce God to have mercy. By reading closely, we can find some principles to emulate in our own intercessory prayers:

1. Moses appealed to God’s great past deeds on behalf of these people: “…why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” As if he said, “Lord, you have gone to great lengths to redeem them, even though they don’t appear to appreciate it.”

2. He appealed to God’s glory

Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

Exodus 32:12

As if saying, “The Egyptians (and the world) are watching. It’s going to look to them like You couldn’t finish what you started, or like You were playing a cruel trick in bringing them out of a bad condition, getting their hopes up, and then destroying them.” Moses asked God to “repent of evil,” but it’s not the same thing for Him that it is for us. The “evil” that Moses referred to was not moral evil. It was catastrophic consequences. The word “repent” here is the idea of “relenting” – of reconsidering what He’s thinking about doing. He respectfully asked God to “change His mind,” also reminding Him of the fact that they are “Thy people.”

3. He reminded God of His Own promises.

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.

Exodus 32:13

For God to start over with Moses would pose a difficulty in making it seem like God was breaking His promise to Abraham, so Moses asked God to keep His side of the Covenant for Abraham’s sake, and, more importantly, for His Own name’s sake. This is not a “prayer-trick” to get God to do what we want. It is a God-ordained feature of prayer and one that pleases Him. He is far more interested in His Own glory than in our desires, comfort, or even needs.

Prayer is not really about getting God to change His mind; it’s about re-centering us on His will, His glory, His name, and His purposes. Some people think this whole exchange between God and Moses is just a set-up – just play-acting arranged by God – and, in an attempt to rescue the doctrine of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, they say that Moses’s prayer was basically useless – that God was going to do what He was going to do anyway. If you say, no, prayer really works, Moses really did “get” God to hold back His wrath, then someone might say you are guilty of something called “Open Theism.”

Open Theism is a technical heresy that states either: (1) God does not and cannot know the future because, although He can know all the possible outcomes of free will choices, He still can not know what “free will agents” will choose; or (2) God has the power to know the future, but has chosen to limit His own knowledge so that His relationship with His creatures can be more “real” vis-à-vis reciprocal love.

It is not necessary to resort to Open Theism in order to believe in the omniscience of God and the real effects of Moses’s prayer. God simply chooses prayer (and even changing His Own mind, which is infinite and eternal) as the means to accomplish His perfect sovereign will and plans.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Isaiah 46:9-10

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

Psalm 90:1-4

Through Whom God Works out His Plans

November 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Several years ago my wife and I were sitting across the table from another married couple, having a meal together at a Christian retreat. They were telling us about the first and only house they had purchased after getting married. The wife said that, after looking at many houses, they had a found a few possibilities but none seemed like the perfect choice. Finally, her husband drove them out to the country, down a winding path, to a little rundown home in a wooded area. The wife was adamantly opposed. The price was right, but the house needed a great deal of fixing up, and she did not want a renovation project to be the first task they tackled together as married couple. To put it bluntly, she hated it. She had a certain type of home in mind, and this was not it. Then, as she was telling us about it, the couple smiled at each other, and the wife said, “I had a plan, and…”

I remembering thinking, “I know what’s coming next. She’s going to say, ‘I had a plan, and God had a plan… and His plans are always better than our plans.'” Or something to that effect. But that’s not what she said. She said, “I had a plan… and my husband had a plan.”

The husband listened carefully and patiently to his wife’s input, but, even though they didn’t agree, he made the decision to purchase the house. She lovingly submitted, they fixed it up, they raised a family together there, they glorified God in that home, and, all those years later, they were still living in it and they loved it.

I still think about it that conversation sometimes. It sounded so unspiritual compared to what she could have said. However, the Bible says:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22

That’s not the most popular Bible verse these days. Our modern society doesn’t like the idea of “submission,” especially where gender roles are debated and used as cannon fodder in the culture wars. And, even within the confessing evangelical church, a whole bunch of ink has been spilled trying to “explain away” the plain meaning of such a simple principle.

Many times, we forget that God ordains and commands authority and submission and obedience – even in our fallen and sinful earthly realm – for good, using them as means to carry out His sovereign will. God is omniscient, so He is certainly able to foresee and determine the outcome, even of bad human decisions, but He still tells sinful children to submit to sinful parents, sinful church members to submit to sinful church leaders, sinful employees to submit to sinful employers, and even sinful wives to submit to sinful husbands. It’s not always easy to trust a another human being with a life-altering decision, but it should not be difficult at all for us to read the Bible, understand its basic concepts, and to trust the omniscient God of the universe.

Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?

Job 37:16

Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.

Psalm 147:5

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

I John 3:20

For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

Psalm 139:4

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I Timothy 1:17

God’s Specific Will for You

November 11, 2015 at 3:09 pm | Posted in Where There's a Way There's a Will | 2 Comments
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If you are a Christian, here is the specific will of God for you:

1. Respond to suffering.

For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

I Peter 3:17

God may allow you to suffer for sin or mistakes, or He may allow You to suffer despite your obedience. Our job as Christians is to accept suffering as coming from God – either in allowing or causing it – and to seek to do what is right.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

I Peter 5:10

For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 12:6-10

2. Give thanks.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

I Thessalonians 5:18

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Ephesians 5:20

3. Obey the earthly God-ordained authorities when doing so would not violate God’s commandments.

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

I Peter 2:13-15

4. Be holy.

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

I Thessalonians 4:3-7

5. Use your time wisely.

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5:15-17

What will help me accomplish God’s will in my life?

1. His Spirit

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

I Corinthians 2:9-10

The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Bible and gives us wisdom through prayer.

2. His Word

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

II Timothy 3:16-17

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

3. His Body

Specifically, it is God’s will that we be involved in the local church.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-12

Hearts of Stone

November 9, 2015 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Matthew, parables | 2 Comments
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In Chapter 13 of Matthew, we see the King teaching His closest followers. The teaching vehicle He chose was that of the parable. These parables were earthly illustrations containing spiritual lessons. They revealed truth to those who had a heart for Christ, and hid truth from those who insisted on hardening their hearts toward Him.

Verses 5 and 6 describe what happens when a person who is planting seeds scatters some of the seeds on stony ground where the soil is too shallow to bear roots:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

Matthew 13:5-6

In this parable the soil represents the human heart, and the seed represents the Word of God. When some people hear the Word of God, they have an emotional response to it, and appear briefly to be growing in new life. However, the truth, for these stony-hearted hearers, is that they did not really receive the Word into their hearts, and therefore It was not rooted.

Light in the Bible usually represents truth, but in this parable the sunlight represents the heat of persecution. When someone has a false profession, persecution will cause his shallow emotions to wither, dry, and die. But in the case of the Christian who truly has believed, like the plant with deep roots, the sunlight of persecution will cause growth instead of death.

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that
heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in
himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution
ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Matthew 13:20-21

Partakers Overtake Undertakers

November 6, 2015 at 10:36 am | Posted in Eternity, Hebrews | 2 Comments
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In my opinion Hebrews 6:4-6 is one of the more difficult passages of Scripture in the Bible to understand.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Hebrews 6:4-6

I have encountered people with different views as to what it means:

1. Some people believe that this passage teaches that it is possible to truly trust Christ for salvation, receive eternal life, but then later willingly to turn from that salvation and voluntarily give it up. I disagree with this interpretation, though. In order to try to make Hebrews 6:4-6 fit into a doctrine that teaches that truly saved, born-again believers can make a mistake and lose their salvation, then the verses would also have to be teaching that, once this happens, these now-former believers could never get eternal life back again. Most of the people who deny eternal security instead teach that believers may lose it and get it back, lose it and get it back, many times. These verses teach just the opposite. They are saying that it would be impossible if someone were truly saved, and then could “fall away” out of salvation, to renew them again unto repentance.

2. I have also encountered the teaching that the people being described in Hebrews 6:4-6 were never really saved at all. Certainly there are some who profess to be saved and are really not, but that’s not who these verses are talking about. These folks are “once enlightened.” They “tasted” the heavenly calling, which means they actually experienced it, the way Jesus was said to have “tasted” death back in Hebrews 2:9. These people were “partakers” of the Holy Ghost. He had sealed them unto redemption. Verse 6 speaks hypothetically concerning what would happen if God’s seal could be broken, and it is clear that an unsaved person could not put the the Son of God “to open shame.” True Christians are His sheep. Wild goats don’t bring shame to the shepherd; they’re not in his care.

3. As indicated already, I believe the true meaning of these verses is that they are describing a hypothetical situation to prove the point that only true Christians can bring shame to our Savior by refusing to grow up, but can a baby stay a baby so long that his father is no longer his father? No, as true Christians, we’ve been “born again.” Once you’ve been born, any manner of things might happen to you, but you can never be “unborn.”

I might also note the significance that Hebrews 6:4-8 use the pronouns “them,” “those,” and “their,” whereas the rest of Chapter 6 uses “us” and “we,” which is another indication that a hypothetical situation is being described.

Corrupt Curving off Course

November 3, 2015 at 11:06 am | Posted in Exodus | 3 Comments
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And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

Exodus 32:7

God was not disowning the people, nor putting the blame for their behavior on Moses, but He was distancing Himself from their behavior. He was angry with them, not with Moses. They were acting like the children of men, not the children of God, and God made that clear in His description of them as He spoke to Moses.

Unlike Pharaoh, whose heart, we were told, was specifically hardened by God, these people had corrupted “themselves.” God is no less sovereignly in control here, but He is giving us a glimpse into His feelings about this affair – which will become even more obvious.

They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Exodus 32:8

“Turning aside from the way” is a key phrase because it reminds us that Jesus is the Way and He is a way. God led these people in one direction, and here they had “turned” from following Him. They did not view their movement as a “U-turn” – although they had tried to do that before in wanting to go go back to Egypt – but you don’t have to do a complete 180 to displease God. Any direction other than “His Way” is a path that leads to destruction. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the way that little kids need to keep their eyes on Dad so they don’t wander off in a dangerous crowd of people.

And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:

Exodus 32:9

“I have seen” is another example of anthropomorphism. “Stiffnecked” is what we would call “hard-headed” or stubborn. In an agrarian society, the neck is a better example of stubbornness than the head because of the way farm animals will balk at turning, or the way people who carried things on their heads or shoulders all day would feel at night. As Christians, we need to be keeping our necks loose – looking up to God in prayer and faith, looking down at the Bible, and looking around at others who might need help.


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