God vs. Sin (Part Two)

October 21, 2019 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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God is not disinterested in sin. As I pointed out in Part One, He actively opposes it. Here are some of the figurative ways the Bible describes how God deals with sin:

1. God subdues and drowns sin in the depth of the sea.

He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

Micah 7:19

To subdue something is to apprehend it, hold it down, control it, and keep it down. The “depths of the sea,” to an Old Testament Israelite, was a forbidden place, a place where no one would ever want to go. God throws sin into outer darkness, where the record of it against His people can not be retrieved or “brought up” again.

How does this image of God’s victory over sin help us? It reminds us to live our lives figuratively up in the open air of God’s presence, not down in the depth of darkness and despair.

2. God places sin beyond reach.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:12

The joining of the east to the west is a geographical impossibility. These destinations are never connected. There is an infinity of distance between them, and that is the type of removal that God does with the guilt caused by our sins.

How does this image of God’s removal of sin help us? It reminds us that we are free to move in all directions in the grace of God. We may go to places that remind us of our sins and past temptations, but they are no longer in the same hemisphere that we occupy in Christ.

3. God washes sin away.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Isaiah 1:18

Even the strongest detergent can not remove ALL dinginess from a white garment once it has been stained, but the blood of Christ is stronger than the strongest detergent. It completely removes the stain of sin, and grants believers the pure white robe of Christ’s righteousness.

How does this help us? We don’t have to feel the shame of defilement or believe that we are too “dirty” or that we are covered with too many telling stains to be of service to God.

4. God throws sin behind His back and covers it up.

Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.

Isaiah 38:17

Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Romans 4:7-8

While we have the comfort of knowing that – in Christ – our sins are behind us, here we are told that they are also behind God. He who covers his own sin will not prosper, but the person whose sins are covered by ANOTHER – specifically, by God – is truly blessed. He has placed them out of His view, back in what we think of as the past. We draw near to God, He draws near to us, and, because our sin is now behind Him, it is no longer between Him and us.

How does this help us? It reminds us that a life of Christian service is a life of moving forward. Things thrown behind us do not stand in our way. We are free to advance in our sanctification and out of our former comfort zones, as we stay active in serving Him. Everyone has a garbage can, but no one chooses to hang out near it. This is important in our relationships too. Getting hysterical is bad; getting historical is worse. Don’t retrieve things that God has thrown behind His back.

5. God blots out and forgets sin.

I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.

Isaiah 43:25

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Colossians 2:14

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

Hebrews 8:12

This blotting-out has a connotation of an official notation made of and the satisfaction and cancellation of a debt in a bookkeeping or record-keeping context. Sin was taken by Jesus and nailed to His Cross. There it was covered by His blood and stamped “paid in full.” This is done not merely for our sakes, but for His own sake – His own glory. He divinely erases, cancels, and “forgets” the record of sin on our ledger and in His holy “books.”

How does this help us? We face an accuser who is quick to remind us of our sin, but God does not remember it. The official record has been erased as though it never existed. With a clean slate, we may serve the Lord with a clean conscience.

F. God expiates (takes away) sin.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

John 1:29

God has thoroughly defeated sin. He has subdued it and drowned it in the depth of the sea. He has placed it beyond reach. He has washed it away. He has thrown it behind His back and covered it up. He has blotted it out and forgotten it.
He has expiated it by laying it upon Jesus who carried it away. He can therefore forgive us for it, demonstrating His grace, mercy, and love, while remaining holy, just, and righteous.

God vs. Sin (Part One)

October 4, 2019 at 9:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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We may define sin as the breaking of God’s law. Sin first showed up in God’s universe when Lucifer, in his pride, rebelled against God, inducing one third of the Heavenly host to join him. Sin appears for the first time in the earth very early in the Bible, as the same Lucifer, now Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, and she in turn brought sin to Adam. He sinned too.

The word “sin” first occurs in Genesis 4:7: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” It plays a key role in the story of the Bible, and because it is our chief identification apart from Christ, and because it is the cause of the curse upon this world, including death, disease, misery, and the exhibition of God’s wrath against His creatures, it is a serious foe, opposing the glory of God, and one with which God must deal.

One little sin caused God to cast His entire “very good” universe into moral darkness and decay. That’s one example of how “bad” sin really is. Another example also comes early on in the Bible:

And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;

Genesis 18:20

Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD: And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.

Genesis 19:24-28

Because God is just, He can not simply ignore sin, and, although we know He forgives sins, there must be some basis other than pure mercy for God to deal with sin in mercy while remaining just.

He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.

Proverbs 17:15

This is the great dilemma. God could “set aside” sin, in a manner of speaking, for a time, but His just and righteous wrath could not be done away with, only stored up.

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Acts 17:30-31

The “winking” described Acts 17:30 is not a cutesy type of approval. It’s not an inside joke whereby God acknowledges that “boys will be boys” or that “sinners will be sinners, so what am I gonna do?” What it describes is a sort of judicial “overlooking” for the time being with the understanding that what is currently being allowed WILL be dealth with at the proper time.

When my oldest daughter was still learning to walk, my wife and I took her grocery shopping with us, and, one time, she wandered down the wine aisle without us noticing it while we were having a discussion. Before we knew it, she had hooked her finger into the glass ring on the neck of a huge jug of wine, lifted it from a bottom shelf, and begun precariously toddling toward us. Sure enough, before we could reach her, the jug slipped from her finger and smashed on the floor, sending dark red wine and shards of glass flowing in a rapidly expanding ring. Panicked over the thought that I had let my one-year-old break a bottle of wine, compounded by the embarassment that someone might think my wife and I were near the wine aisle because we were there to purchase wine (we weren’t!), my temptation was to “wink at” this accident – to overlook it and leave quietly, trusting some store employee to discover it and clean it up on his/her own. Thankfully, even back in those days, I had enough integrity to report the spill to the store manager and offer to pay for the damage. This is perhaps not that great of an analogy for what the Bible describes when it talks about God allowing the sins of his Old Testament people to be “passed over” until the day of Christ’s atonement, but it does give some idea of the meaning behind the idea of God “winking at the time of ignorance,” before we move on to some of the specific ways that God does deal with sin, which we will look at in Part Two.

How to Handle Unexpected Hostility

September 16, 2019 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel.

I Samuel 25:2

This man, who probably had two separate homes (one in Maon and one in Carmel), was extremely rich. Some wealthy people are generous – and some are mean and stingy. In the historical period described in I Samuel, if there was ever a time when it would be wise to approach a rich man to ask for a favor, it would be during the shearing time – a time of celebration and prosperity.

Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb.

I Samuel 25:3

What a contrast! This evil and rude and mean-spirited man had a beautiful and gracious wife. He was a fool, and she was known for wisdom. He was “churlish” – translated from a Hebrew word which brings to mind a mean dog that bites the hand that would feed it, and is a pun on the name “Caleb,” which in Hebrew sounds like the word for dog. How could a man like Nabal obtain a wife like Abigail? If you know me and my wife, you are probably thinking I should know the answer to that, since it describes me and her! The Bible doesn’t tells us, though. We are left to assume that Nabal changed after the wedding, or that it was an arranged marriage, without Abigail having had a say in the matter.

And David heard in the wilderness that Nabal did shear his sheep.

I Samuel 23:4

David and his men needed food and supplies. Not knowing Nabal’s temperament, David believed this would be a good time to call in the favor implicitly owed to him by Nabal, but instead of charging into the shearing party with 600 unruly soldiers, he exercised discretion and sent ahead ten young, inoffensive messengers.

And David sent out ten young men, and David said unto the young men, Get you up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name: And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast. And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing unto them, all the while they were in Carmel. Ask thy young men, and they will shew thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David.

I Samuel 25:5-8

There was an understanding that the good service done to Nabal’s shepherds in protecting them and his flocks, and in being very scrupulous not to take anything for themselves without permission, would be rewarded in a culture where the custom of hospitality toward strangers was of the utmost honor.

And when David’s young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased. And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.

I Samuel 25:9-10

Verse 14 says that Nabal “railed” on them, which is translated from a Hebrew word that means to screech at someone in fury like a predatory bird swooping down on its prey. It is difficult to overstate how insulting this was toward David, especially after he had just had an opportunity to take Saul’s life, and had refused to do it.

Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be? So David’s young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings.

I Samuel 25:11-12

David was a complex character. He was a man after God’s own heart, known for his passion and zeal for God, but passionate and zealous people often have a hard time controlling that passion and zeal. David was someone who rejoiced at good news with his whole heart – as many of the Psalms attest – but he was also someone who could react very violently at bad news – as many of the OTHER Psalms, along with some of David’s actions – attest. When he received word of Nabal’s insults and his refusal to pay what David felt he owed, he did not hesitate.

Sometimes it’s hard to read tone into Biblical dialogue, but it’s not at all hard to hear David’s attitude, and imagine him speaking through gritted teeth with flexed muscles and furrowed brow in this verse:

And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff.

I Samuel 25:13

David angry at Nabal

While this was going on, one of Nabal’s servants had the foresight to see where things were heading, and, when David’s servants left to report back to David, this servant, acting on his own initiative, went and found Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and told her what kind of trouble Nabal had stirred up for himself.

Just as David acted decisively and without hesitation when told of Nabal’s offensiveness, Abigail acted just as quickly and decisively – but with a far different motive and intention. Whereas David had strapped on his sword, Abigail packed a picnic!

Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.

I Samuel 35:18

That sounds like a huge amount of food prepared in a short period of time. As she went forth, the Lord’s invisible hand (what we call His providence) was at work. He arranged it so that David, bearing down on Nabal’s estate, ran smack into Abigail at just the right moment.

And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.

I Samuel 25:23-25

A superficial reading makes it sound like she was being disloyal to her own husband, pointing out that his name was well-deserved, but in reality she was doing him a great service – albeit behind his back.

Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal. And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the LORD, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel; That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.

I Samuel 25:26-31

There is tremendous wisdom in this speech, and it is not flattery. It is truth: David would one day reign over Israel, and the act of vengeance he was on the verge of committing would have been a stain on his reputation that would have hindered his abililty to rule, as well as showing a lack of trust in the Lord to fight his battles for him.

And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.

I Samuel 25:32-3

We can take a few lessons from the account of Nabal, David, and Abigail:

1. Don’t assume that people are good-natured.

David took it for granted that his good service toward Nabal would be returned in kind. We don’t have to resort to gross pessimism, but we do need to remember the doctrine of man’s depravity, so that we are not caught off-guard when someone responds to our kindness with rudeness or hostility.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

Romans 3:10-11

2. When you encounter unexpected hostility, don’t respond with rash anger in return.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20

There are times when righteous indignation is the appropriate and even God-honoring response, but a cooling-off period in which we seek the Lord in prayer and Bible-consultation helps us to exercise wisdom.

3. Don’t let your mouth write a check your provision can’t cash.

Nabal talked very boldly and arrogantly and provocatively to David’s servants, but he was ill-prepared to deal with the consequences.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:28-33

4. Peacemakers enjoy God’s favor.

Abigail saved both both men from a tragic consequence – at least temporarily.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9

Making true peace involves sharing the truth, and it involves self-sacrifice. Abigail took a big risk intercepting David, but she needed to share the truth that ultimate vengeance belongs to God, not us. David’s change of mind turned out to be the right course of action, and Nabal did not escape God’s justice.

And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light. But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died. And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the LORD, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head. And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife.

I Samuel 25:36-39

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

Abigail’s actions remind us in a way of Jesus, Who rescued us from the wrath and the shame we deserved because of our hostility toward God and each other. If you have been rescued from the power of sin, and from even greater sin than you would have committed apart from God’s providence and intercession, then praise Him. If you are still in your sins,  seize this opportunity right now – as did David – to turn from your present course, and turn toward Jesus. Repent, trust Him, ask Him to take away your sin and guilt – and live.

Where to Find Courage

August 28, 2019 at 11:28 am | Posted in Joshua, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

Joshua 1:1-4

Moses had been used by God to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt. He had led them through the Red Sea. When their disobedience had caused God send them wandering into the wilderness rather than entering into the promised land, Moses had led them in the wilderness – always subject to God’s guidance, protection, and provision. All of the Israelites who had come out of Egypt and gone into the wilderness for 40 years had died – except for three: Moses himself, Joshua, and Caleb.

Joshua had been Moses’s chief military general, his close friend, and a loyal helper. When loyalty among the people had been in short supply, Joshua was the exception. He loved Moses, and, although Joshua was no longer the young man he had been when the people left Egypt, he still looked up to, and admired, Moses. Perhaps you have or have had a spiritual mentor or even sort of a hero like this in your life.

Now Moses died, too, leaving Joshua to lead in his place. How this must have devastated Joshua! Of course, God’s plans are not dependent upon even the greatest of human beings, and Joshua, although I’m sure he FELT alone, was far from BEING alone. God gave Joshua a tremendous promise.

I hope as you read this that you have been born again. If you have, then this is a promise for you, too, and it is a promise that we all desperately need, whether we realize it or not:

There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

Joshua 1:5 (emphasis added)

This promise alone would enable Joshua to do what the Lord was about to command him to do. The land across the Jordan River was not uninhabited. Spies had previously gone there to scout the terrain, and they brought back reports. Tribes and nations of warlike people lived there: Hittites and Hivites and Jebusites and Cannanites and parasites and mosquito bites and tighty whites and all sorts of less-than-friendly people. Some of them were huge warriors, giant in stature, living in walled and fortified cities designed to defeat and annihilate anyone who would challenge them. Joshua would need the promise God gave him in Verse 5 in order to do what God commanded him to do in Verse 6:

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

Joshua 1:6

Courage is often misunderstood. We contrast courage with fear and we believe they are opposites, but they are not. Courage does not cancel out fear, nor vice versa. Fear must be present for courage to exist. Fear is the sine qua non of courage. The Bible does not condemn the existence of reasonable feelings of fear, but it does exhort us to find the courage to OVERCOME fear. The Bible does not promise us the absence of fearful circumstances, but it does encourage us to act in faith despite our fear, rather than responding with paralysis or retreat.

Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

Joshua 1:6 (emphasis added)

1. The first place to find courage is in the promises of God.

What God has decreed will come to pass. He is not only faithful in character – which makes it impossible to for Him to lie and break His Word – but He has the omnipotent power to perform what He has promised.

There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.

Joshua 21:45

And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.

Joshua 23:14

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

I Thessalonians 5:24

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

Jeremiah 1:12

The Lord stands outside of time at the place of promise and at the place of fulfillment. He comprehensively and minutely supervises His promises so that they come to pass perfectly in His impeccable timing and through His brilliantly organized, ordered, and executed circumstances. By remembering and believing in the demonstrated trustworthiness of God, you will find courage to overcome fear.

2. The second place to find courage is in obedience to the Lord’s commands.

Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Joshua 1:7-8 (emphasis added)

We tend to think of God’s commands of righteousness as burdensome and fearful things – as though they are given to us as a trap, so that, when we inevitably stumble into disobedience, God can rejoice in shaming or punishing us. This is not accurate, though. God’s commands are given to us for our safety and comfort. They are the commands of a loving Father, not a cruel and sadistic taskmaster.

But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Joshua 22:5 (emphasis added)

O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.

Psalm 119:97-98

God’s love and care for us are not at odds with His desire for our obedience and submission to Him. Our obedience and submission glorify Him, yes, but they are objectively the best things for us, too. We were expressly created to glorify Him, and, in doing so, we find our greatest fulfillment and freedom. Obedience to the commands given by God to you in the Bible will assure you that God loves you, and will give you the courage to overcome the fear that the world tries to use against you when it tells you that sometimes you just HAVE to cheat and disobey God to escape trouble or to prosper.

3. The third place to find courage is in the presence of the Lord even in our trials.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Joshua 1:9 (emphasis added)

Joshua had lost Moses. Moses would not – could not – be with him any longer “withsoever he would goest.” No human being can give you the assurance of constant loyalty, consistency, or steadfastness, but God can – and He does. The promise of Jesus that so many of us like to claim (Hebrews 13:5) does not mean that He will start out with us, then forget about us for a while, and then come rushing back just in the nick of time (although it may seem that way from our sinful, lack-of-faith perspective). No, this is a promise to attach us to Himself permanently and to be there in the midst of our worst trials and troubles.

You will experience no greater pain or shame than what He experienced in the Cross, and He is able to comfort you and fortify you so that you can continue to trust Him through absolutely anything.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:34-39

When you feel fear, don’t try to deny it. Don’t opt for some distraction. Don’t give up and retreat. And don’t let the devil intimidate you into paralysis and inaction. Be courageous and strong by:

1. Remembering the strength of God’s promises;
2. Remembering that God has given you an assignment that is worthy of obedience;
3. Remembering that God is with you and will not forsake you.

Praying for the School Equipment

August 16, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I was recently asked to pray a back-to-school prayer for students, parents, teachers, and staff:

Our Father, we ask You to sanctify us with Your Truth as we prepare for a new school year, recognizing that Your Word is Truth. Please equip us through Your revealed Word, and help us not to rely on vain imaginations.

Equip us to witness, to disciple other believers, to counsel with those who have questions or are facing difficult circumstances.

Equip us to love and serve each other and all those you place in our paths. Equip us to worship You, to understand and apply Scripture. Make us walk in Truth, both generally, and in all the various details that apply to the classrooms and our homes.

Please equip us to stand against Satan, and to hold fast to sound doctrine.

In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord I pray. Amen.

Maintaining a Clean and Sensitive Conscience

August 7, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Posted in II Corinthians, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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In II Corinthians we find the Apostle Paul having come through a series of crises, including the problem of having to see that one of the church members at Corinth – possibly a leader – was properly disciplined. HOWEVER:

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

II Corinthians 1:12

As Paul often did, he was able to look within himself to find the strength and the encouragement not to give up. For, unlike many people, when Paul looked within himself he found God empowering him, reassuring him, and comforting him. When we “look” outward, we must use our eyes or at least our physical senses, but with what do we look inward? Our conscience.

Con = with; science = knowledge (to know). Our conscience is not really Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) or the little angel that sits on your shoulder countering a little devil that wants you to do something naughty. The conscience is what we “know with.” It is given by God to every person so that everyone innately knows there is a moral law and moral Lawgiver. It does give us a sense of approval when we do what is right, and it does accuse us or give us a sense of guilt when we do wrong. Even lost people are aware of a sense of right and wrong – objectively. These ideas may be reinforced or corroded by society or experience, but they are hardwired into the human nature (as part of being stamped with the image of God). If a person tells you that right and wrong are subjective or the product of evolution, he or she will quickly fall into severe inconsistency the moment someone snatches her purse or steals his wallet. He/she will quickly become concerned for selfish reasons, but also offended at recognized injustice. No sane person hesitates to call what happened in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or cases of child abuse “evil.”

The conscience is what we “know with,” but it can become calloused and less sensitive – and dirty – which dulls our inward sense of right and wrong. Therefore, it is important to keep our conscience sensitive and clean.

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.

Acts 24:16

1. Simplicity will help to keep your conscience clean and sensitive.

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

II Corinthians 1:12

Your ministry in the name of Jesus Christ does not have to be overly complex, nor do all of your evangelistic witnessing enounters: “I was lost and Jesus saved me. I want Him to save you too.”

Sin complicates our lives, when the Lord would be more honored if we kept things simple. Manipulative bait and switch strategies, duplicity, and scheming are techniques sometimes used to attempt to bring people to Jesus, but they do not honor Him the way the simplicity of the Gospel does, and they cause us to forget that He is really the Savior – the One Who seeks and saves, and the One Who speaks and reveals unvarnished truth.

For we write none other things unto you, that what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are our’s in the day of the Lord Jesus.

II Corinthians 1:13-14

2. Submission to God’s will helps to keep your conscience clean and sensitive.

And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit; And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea. When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?

II Corinthians 1:15-17

The church members at Corinth were upset that Paul’s plans had changed, but he had not carelessly or willfully changed his plans or broken any promises. Circumstances had forced his schedule to change. He had qualified his stated commitment with the understanding that he would do what he planned to do, “Lord willing.”

For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit.

I Corinthians 16:7

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

James 4:13-16

Saying that we intend to do somthing, “Lord willing,” should not be superstition. It should be a serious recognition that God is sovereignly in control of all circumstances, and does not consult with our schedule when carrying out His eternal decrees.

When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

II Corinthians 1:17-20

3. The Holy Spirit helps to keep your conscience clean and sensitive.

The Holy Spirit will give us the proper motive if we are faced with the need to change our plans. Only He gives us the assurance that we truly belong to God.

Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

II Corinthians 1:21-22

Only the Holy Spirit can motivate us to serve others with pure motives.

Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.

II Corinthians 1:23-24

For by faith we stand, but we stand leaning on Him. By faith we try to keep our consciences clean and sensitive, and we lean fully on the Lord.

voice of conscience

The Insidious Appeal to Superficial Excitement

June 14, 2019 at 10:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Back in the hey-day of the so-called “seeker sensitive movement,” churches tried all sorts of embarrassing promotional methods to “reach people where they are.” Programs (disguised under the name “outreach” in many cases), modeled on successful business-growth strategies, were instituted to try to make church services as innocuous and “un-church-like” as possible, so that lost people would feel entertained or a least comfortable enough to attend. Numbers went up, but true conversions and sanctification did not.

This strategy has now been denounced by some of its key founders, but it has not died completely, and it has been adopted in surprisingly subtle and devious (and patently unbiblical) ways. One area where it has recently seen a resurgence is in so-called “survivor” or “recovery” start-up ministries. These ministries are often led by a charismatic individual with some type of character-scandal in his past that would disqualify him from leading a sound Biblical church. A good example of this is a man named “Pastor” Greg Locke, whose rants I often see posted on the social media accounts of otherwise discerning Christians. I used the scare quotes around “pastor” because I don’t believe he’s qualified to be an actual pastor, having left his wife for his church secretary. Locke has hit on a successful formula, though. Using what appears to be his cell phone, he often makes vain “selfie videos,” with his face close-up in the screen, touching on hot-button political or cultural issues like gender-neutral bathrooms or millennial kids who badmouth their own parents. He is absolutely fanatical in his devotion to President Trump, and thereby appeals to a group of people who love conservative politics as much as or more than Jesus.

Whereas the original seeker-sensitive methods targeted the “unchurched,” this new variation goes after other churches’ members. They will try to lure away an existing church’s assistant or associate pastor, looking for someone who’s disgruntled, overly proud and stubborn, and resistant to the senior pastor’s authority, but still weaselly enough to make it seem like he’s getting a raw deal as he pouts off to adopt some sort of “co-pastor” title under the stronger, more manipulative leader of the new recovery ministry.

Once that has been done, the members of the assistant pastor’s former church will be systemically targeted and lured away into this new ministry. The method for convincing church members that the grass is greener is to make it seem like the new start-up ministry is more “exciting,” more “alive” than where they are. As I mentioned in a previous post, it helps if the leaders can claim special private revelations from God authorizing their behavior. Next, they will pull out the old “dead religion” card. “Is your church boring? We will really hoot and holler in our services! Does your preacher just preach from the Bible, trusting the Word of God, rather than raw emotionalism, to change people’s lives? Not us! Our preacher will run around, waving his arms, and even stand on a chair [ignoring the fact that he does it so predictably every time he preaches that it’s obviously staged for effect]. Look, we’ve dropped our former denomination’s name from our ministry title, because it carries ‘baggage‘ in the minds of wishy-washy non-serving Christians! We don’t even use the word church in our name!”

This new ministry targets supposedly “hurting people in the pew” of other churches, so it has to really play up to the squishy “church-is-about-my-feelings” crowd. Sure, the terminology is dressed up in cliched Christianese, but it’s fairly easy to spot for anyone with Biblical discernment. Here are some examples:

1. “At our services, God will touch your heart.”
Number of times “touched my heart” is the Bible: 0

2. “At our services, the Lord will speak to your spirit.”
Number of times the Bible says that the Lord spoke to someone’s spirit: 0

3. “At our services the Holy Spirit will wrap his arms around you.”
Number of times in the Bible that the Holy Spirit wrapped His arms around anyone: 0

4. “At our services, the Holy Spirit shows up in a special way.”
Number of times the Bible describes the Holy Spirit in a post-Pentecost New Testament worship service as showing up in a special way: 0

5. “At our services the preacher gets a hold of God.”
Number of times the Bible describes a preacher getting a hold of God: 0
[What this really means is that the preacher starts his sermon by telling the congregation to open their Bibles to a Bible verse, but then goes on a long tirade or series of personal anecdotes without ever actually exegeteing the verse. He will also, for dramatic effect, claim that, “I’ve been working on a message for several days, but the Holy Spirit just won’t let me preach it. He just now gave me this instead…”]

 

 

 

It’s a formula that sadly works on many weaker church members, inducing them to leave a church with a high view of Scripture and the real transforming work of the Holy Spirit, for a fake sideshow of manufactured enthusiasm, featuring a carnival barker masquerading as a preacher, serving up heavy doses of people-pleasing pablum to folks who would rather be entertained than equipped to serve.

Poisoning the Wells

May 30, 2019 at 10:38 am | Posted in Social Media Shares and Mass Emails, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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“Poisoning the well” is a term that refers to the attempt to strike first in an argument by creating a false dichotomy in which anyone who disagrees with a position has been labeled as having ill motives or some character defect by which they should be prejudged and should have their position disregarded. It is a type of logical fallacy – a sort of ad hominem attack-in-advance, and is often used – especially on social media – by those who are overly defensive and passive-aggressive. Here are some examples in the context of someone who is trying to start a new Christian ministry by attacking and dividing an existing one:

1. “We should pray for people, not criticize them.” This statement is intended to create the false and illogical assumption that anyone that criticizes anyone else’s ministry or ministry position can not be praying for them at the same time when, in fact, prayer, correction, and even rebuke, often go hand in hand in the Bible, and were often used by Jesus and the Apostles themselves (Luke 9:29, 55; Jude vv.17-20).

2. “I’m too busy praying about my sins to gossip about yours.” This piece of self-righteous drivel combines hypocrisy with virtue signaling. You are “too busy” to gossip, but not too busy to graphically design a sophisticated social media meme every day in order to proclaim your piety in comparison to your critics, who you’ve prejudged as idle gossips? This imaginary get-out-of-pride-free-card insults not only the motives, but the intelligence, of those with the ability to address division and false doctrine in a Biblical way. This is the equivalent of a spoiled elementary school brat folding his arms, pooching out his pouty lower lip, and saying, “If I criticize you it’s because I’m a humble and deeply repentant servant, but if you criticize me it’s because you’re just a mean old gossip-monger!” Double standard much?

3. “Some people just like to find fault!” Not the person who says this, though, right? Certainly this innocuous and bland statement of practical observation is not directed at those who are criticizing your methods and ministry, is it? Because if it were, then you would be quite the little fault-finder yourself, wouldn’t you? News flash: people who are serious about applying God’s Word in Christian ministry are capable of spotting, identifying, calling out, and warning against fault without “liking” it one bit. In fact, it grieves them to do so, although it is a clear Biblical calling for those with discernment (Matthew 16:22-23; II Timothy 2:14-19).

4. And, speaking of “calling,” a common tactic for those who are very selective in their use of “D words” while poisoning one ministry’s wells in the attempt to start a new ministry is to claim a divine mandate that overrides any opposing views. Among our Charismatic friends, this is called “having the anointing” or “getting a rhema word.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “papal infallibility” or “speaking ex cathedra.” Even the Blues Brothers adopted a form of it:

Blues Bros

But in Baptist and more conservative evangelical circles, those types of statements are deemed just a tad too outre’, so instead they are disguised under statements like: “God gave me this burden;” “God told me to start a new church;” “God laid it on my heart;” “God gave me this vision,” and so forth. Who are you to criticize God? This poisons the well of Biblical debate and criticism because it claims a special divine revelation to which only one party is conveniently privy. What if the Bible says you are disqualified from the title you’ve given yourself? Too bad, God told me it was okay. What if you are in rebellion against God’s visibly ordained pre-existing spiritual leaders? Too bad, God spoke to my heart, I’m just an aw-shucks country preacher trying to start a sketchy seeker-sensitive “temple,” “chapel,” or “worship center” (the best marketing studies show that flaky Christians absolutely hate the word “church”) in the local strip mall. How dare you question God’s anointed!

Things God Prepared in the Book of Jonah: A Worm and a Wind

May 24, 2019 at 10:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the Book of Jonah:

1. God prepared a great fish.
2. God prepared a gourd.
and
3. God prepared a worm.

Jonah was glad for the gourd that God prepared to provide shade, but he did not take advantage of the opportunity to repent. Therefore, the next morning God prepared a worm to take away Jonah’s shelter.

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

Jonah 4:7

Compared to the great fish which God had prepared to swallow Jonah, a little gourd-blighting worm seems like such a small consequence, but Jonah needed to be reminded just how inconsequential even God’s “greatest” servants are once they forget how great their God is and how truly dependent upon Him they really are. The Bible calls Job, David, and the patriarch Jacob and the nation descended from him worms. I have found, when preparing to preach the Gospel in public that Jonah 4:7 (“…God prepared a worm…”) is good verse upon which to meditate, as a reminder that what I’m about to attempt – proclaiming the glory of the Savior – is something at which I will fail miserably unless God manifests His own power through – or even in spite of – me.

4. God prepared a wind.

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah 4:8

Finding himself without shade on a scorching day, we might expect that a stiff breeze would bring Jonah at least a little relief, but it was not so with this special prepared vehement wind blowing in with the heat from the rising sun, and taking away all of Jonah’s strength to the point that he wished to die. Under extreme duress, God’s servants sometimes need a realistic experience of the fear of literal death to remind them of the necessity of dying to self spiritually in order live in the power of God. We tend to think of death as an ending, but God sometimes uses the death of self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency to prepare us for a new beginning on the road to spiritual victory.

 

Things God Prepared in the Book of Jonah: A Fish and a Gourd

May 7, 2019 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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1. God prepared a great fish.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:17

After experiencing a terrifying storm and being thrown overboard, it must have seemed to Jonah like things were going from bad to worse. We don’t know if he was bobbing quietly on the surface of the newly-calm sea, watching his former ship leave him in its wake, or if he was thrashing violently in the classic non-swimmer’s panic, or if he was simply plummeting like a stone toward both the figurative and literal depths of his despair, but it can hardly have been a comforting feeling to see a huge fish rushing toward him, mouth agape, to consume him whole! Yet the vehicle of his doom also turned out to be the means of his salvation. This fish had been prepared by God to trap Jonah, but also to preserve him; to teach him a lesson, but also transport him to safety. When the Lord sends something distressing, destructive, or downright devouring into your life, don’t lose hope. If you belong to Christ, then the storms that appear to pose the worst danger have often been prepared by God to strengthen your faith, teach you some important truth, and make you more like Jesus. At times like these, turn to prayer, repentance, patience, temperance, and even praise to demonstrate your trust in the One Who can cause you to be swallowed up and then spit out on the side of victory, even when all seems lost.

2. God prepared a gourd.

And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

Jonah 4:6

Jonah was not happy. In fact, he was both sullen and angry that the Lord would show mercy to a group of people that Jonah despised. He sat down in something of a pout to watch what God do to the city where his own preaching had resulted in repentance. The plant which quickly grew to provide much-needed shade for Jonah’s head had been prepared by God. It is in God’s nature to sometimes comfort those who are grieving, even when their grief is very misguided and founded on the wrong basis. When God, despite His prerogative to send chastening rather than blessing in response to our sin, decides to bless us anyway, we must seize upon that opportunity to repent. The option to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord is a much more favorable option than having Him be the one to humble us.

Next time we will look at two more things God prepared in the Book of Jonah.

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