Category: Spiritual Maturity

The Best Gift

Earnestly desire to prophesy!

When was the last time you received a word of encouragement, one that consoled you during a time of loss or simply gave you a quick “nudge from behind” to keep moving in spite of your discouragement?

Reading the Scriptures, particularly the Apostle Paul’s teachings in I Corinthians, we see clearly that God desires to give us these kinds of messages through the ministry of fellow believers.  He does so by empowering believers through the Holy Spirit’s “spiritual gifts,” which are listed in the following passage:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (I Corinthians 12:7-11).

According to the writer of the Book of Hebrews, these gifts were demonstrably manifested through the believers in the Early Church:

how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-5)

Have the Gifts Ceased?

In recent years, comparatively at least, many dispensational Bible teachers and their disciples have taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer given after the age of the Apostles.  This teaching is primarily based on the following passage:

 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part;10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:8-12).

This seems clear enough according to a superficial reading:  based on Paul’s description of the spiritual gifts in this passage, therefore, it is believed by many in the Church today that the gifts are “childish,” not intended for mature believers, for they are “partial” and imperfect.  As Paul writes, “We see in a mirror dimly” (II Cor. 3:12).  It is believed instead that the “perfect” has come to the Church through the completion of the Holy Scriptures, so we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts to teach us and lead us, and the “partial” has been done away with because the “perfect” Bible has been completed. 

However, we must read all of the Scriptures in their contexts, particularly those written by the apostle Paul.  Consider the following passage:

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [metamorphosized] into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:15-18)

It seems ironic, therefore, that the Apostles and Prophets of the Early Church who exercised these “childish” and “imperfect” spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit were also the very ones who thoroughly read the books of the Old Testament (“Moses is read”), and wrote the books of the New Testament.  I can only conclude that the dispensationalist interpretation of Paul’s message is incorrect and misleading. 

Looking Into the Mirror

Instead, the “mirror” references in these passages reveal that the  “perfect” that was predicted is not the New Testament itself, but instead is Jesus Christ when He comes again.  He is the “perfect” Who is coming, and when He appears, we all will be instantly transformed and metamorphosized into His image, for we will see Him in all of His glory.  When this happens, we will be “like Him”:

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53)

See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.  And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  (1 John 3:1-3)

What is the Outcome, then?

We must not be like those sons of Israel who hardened their hearts and heard the reading of the old covenant (Moses) with a “veil” over their hearts.  We must turn to the Lord, who takes the veil away from our hearts, and He will give us liberty.  Read again Paul’s exhortation:

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:12-18).

Since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” Paul further exhorts us to be used by the Holy Spirit through the “gifts of the Spirit”:

So also you since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. (I Corinthians 14:12).

In the Book of Acts, Luke the author and disciple of the Apostle Paul writes this description of Peter’s message to the curious onlookers when on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gathered believers:

 “…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” (Acts 2:38-39).

In context, therefore, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us in the same way, for the promise is to “all who are far away, as many as the Lord calls.” When we are baptized in His Spirit, therefore, we will find that we will experience the gift of speaking in tongues, plus all the other gifts when needed, if we continue to follow Him (1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14). These are God’s gifts of power to enable us to accomplish the tasks to which we have been commissioned.

These gifts have been abused by many, unfortunately, even by some in the Early Church, according to the Apostle Paul’s admonitions in the “Love Chapter” (I Corinthians 13).  If the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not operated in love, Paul writes, we align with the following description:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

Nevertheless, we should not take lightly the Lord’s words to us provided in John’s Gospel.  Clearly, we need today the “rivers of living water” Jesus promised us:

…Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified). (John 7:37b-39)

Finally, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to “earnestly” desire the best spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:1). 

What are the “best” gifts?  They are those that are most in need at the moment.  We should be open to being used by the Holy Spirit at any time in any way He chooses.  And Paul particularly recommends that we desire to prophesy,

 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. (I Corinthians 14:1-4).

He makes this recommendation specifically because prophecy is a gift that we all need to experience, for spiritual encouragement.  

One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. (v. 3)

In addition, the Apostle Paul also reveals another reason why prophecy is important in the Church:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.  (I Corinthians 14:24-26)

I experienced just such a moment early in my ministry when, while leading a home group meeting, I was praying and a word of knowledge came to me.  I spoke the revelation with my eyes closed, and when I opened them, a young woman whom I had never seen before was standing in front of me weeping.  “How did you know those things about me?” she said.  I asked if she wanted to invite Jesus into her life to be her Lord and Savior, and she readily agreed, praying for salvation that night.  

We must understand, therefore, that the gift of prophecy is not intended to “predict the future,” as so many believe.  It should not be connected with occult astrology, fortune telling, or divination by any means.

Another Example

Just yesterday in a women’s Bible study and prayer group here in Hopkins, Belize, my wife Jan received a “word of knowledge” and spoke to a young mother who tended to be very shy in the group.  In effect, Jan said to her, “Do not be troubled about what you will say when you are led to speak to someone, for you love Jesus and you only need to let His light shine through you to others.”

The woman was so moved by this message that she began to weep joyfully, for she indeed had been encouraged, edified, and exhorted.  

Final Comments:

Please note that the Apostle Paul does not denigrate the gift of speaking in tongues, for he tells us that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else.  He does so because through the Holy Spirit he is able to pray “in mysteries” when his mind does not know how to pray.  Consequently, he is personally edified.  He only stipulates that this gift must be used properly and in love.  Paul also states that its use in the Church must not be forbidden:

 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. . . .39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (I Corinthians 14:4-5).

Marveling at the Miraculous by Jan Jenkins

A Miracle!

Peter and John are going to the temple to pray when at the temple gate they hear a man calling to them.

It appears that this forty-year-old man is lame and depends on handouts to support his existence in his disabled condition. What the man does not realize is that his condition can actually be changed so that he need not continue to beg.

This story is a reminder that God often sees a greater ailment in our lives that may need changing that is far deeper than what we may be asking or praying for.

Peter stops and tells the man that he does not possess what the man is begging for; however, he does have something far greater. Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” He then grabs the man’s right hand and raises him up.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts writes that “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:7).

Not only is the man strengthened and upright, but he begins “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8). People who saw him were astounded because they knew something miraculous had happened, knowing that this man was the one who had been carried daily to the temple gate to plead for sustenance.

Peter’s Message

At this point, Peter answers the amazement of the people by preaching his second recorded sermon. He assures his listeners that faith in the name of Jesus has brought strength and healing to this man (Acts 3:16). He then reminds the people whom God’s prophets had foretold of “this Christ” and that by repenting of their sins they may experience His presence and “times of refreshing.” Consequently, this is a reminder to us that we need to repent and make sure we can approach our Savior with a clear conscience and a clean heart.

Next, the priests and Sadducees who have also been listening to Peter, see to it that John and Peter are arrested since this is the only immediate way they can keep them from speaking the truth.

In spite of this arrest, as many as 5,000 men who had heard the message believed! When given the opportunity to testify the next day, Peter again states that the man (who is standing there next to Peter) was made well “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).

Peter tells the high priest and the others of “high priestly descent” that there is salvation only through Jesus. Peter’s words are a reminder that it is through the power of the mighty name of Jesus that we are made whole. Not our good works, our power, our religious knowledge, or our social or political standing.

Peter’s message leaves these educated leaders speechless, and they are unable to reply. They begin to talk among themselves, trying to decide what should be done with Peter and the other men with him. They even admit that a “noteworthy miracle” has happened, and therefore they “cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16). In a feeble effort to control Peter and John, they command them not to do any further teaching about Jesus. They answer by saying that it is impossible for them to stop speaking about what they have “seen and heard.”

It is natural for us to want to share our experiences with others, whether they involve a fabulous vacation, a newborn baby, or career advancement. How much greater is the urge to share the good news of salvation and healing to those who are seeking answers or to those in perilous situations.

So, what did the officials do? They “threatened them further” (Acts 4:21), but their threats were empty. They couldn’t punish Peter and John because of the crowds of people glorifying God! When the apostles were finally released, they went back to their companions to report what had happened to them. Additionally, they prayed together asking to speak God’s word with confidence while He extends His hand to heal in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4:29 – 30).

They are absolutely aware that it is the power of God through the name of Jesus that is the source of these signs and wonders.

Finally, when they had prayed, the building was shaken and they were once again filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness. Accordingly, the only way we can share God’s message is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Steps to Growth and Faith

Therefore, what are the steps in the process of growth and faith as evidenced by this story?

  • First, we recognize that God is in control and we are to trust Him to guide us when we speak to other people while knowing that what that person wants may not be all that God has for him or her.
  • Second, making sure we have a repentant heart and a clear conscience so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Lord when He is leading.
  • Third, we learn that it is the power of the name of Jesus that makes us whole. It is not about us and our good works.
  • Forth, it is desirable for us to maintain a close relationship with the Lord through His word and by hearing His voice, so we can share with others the “signs and wonders” that we are experiencing.
  • Fifth, it is God “who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  • Sixth, the only way we can truly share God’s love and His good news to others is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Wrangling, Part II

A Brief Follow-up

Shortly after posting my last article, titled “Wrangling About Words,” I had a dream.  

I was out fishing with some friends in a boat near where we are currently living in Belize.  One of the fishermen wanted to give a fish to one of his village friends, but he couldn’t remember which fish it was he had caught.  He said something like, “You know, the one that looks like a large trout!”

An argument arose, each man naming the fish by a different name.  After a very intense discussion, I finally held up the fish itself and said, “Surely, we can agree on what to call this fish!”

I was relieved that the argument was over when I awoke from the dream, even though we still hadn’t named the fish.  I lay there in the darkness thinking about the final message, and I was reminded of my recent blog article.  

First, I realized that the fish itself was more than a name, more than just a word.  Instead, it was a vital piece of food for someone in the Belizean village who needed subsistence.  Arguing about what it was called and even agreeing on a name wouldn’t satisfy the hunger of the recipient.

Second, I recalled that Jesus called some of his new followers to be  “fishers of men.”

18Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-20).

I realized that arguing over the name of a fish will not catch a fish, any more than arguing over Church doctrines will bring people into the Kingdom of God.  Instead, wrangling about biblical teachings only convinces non-believers that Christians are deceiving themselves into thinking that they truly know and understand the Scriptures that we claim to be the Word of God which we have personally received.

Let us all agree to cease arguing over doctrines and teachings.  Surely, we can agree on what to call Jesus: the Messiah and Savior, Who came into the world to redeem us from the bondage of sin.

 

Wrangling About Words

Responding to Critics

Since beginning in Christian ministry in 1973, first as an Associate Pastor (licensed), continuing as a home group leader and Bible study teacher, then as a senior pastor and church founder (ordained), and now as an online blogger, I have been accused on a number of occasions of being a “false teacher,” trying to start a cult and gain followers, or be like so many other prominent televangelists and megachurch leaders who seek to gain fame and wealth.  

I can understand the concerns of my accusers, for the Apostle Peter warned against just such “false prophets” in the following passage:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (II Peter 2:1-3).

It is not in my nature to become bitter and angry when I receive such accusations against my life and ministry, though I am only too willing to respond and explain my background, teachings,  and calling when confronted by those who are willing to listen.  

I fully understand that some of my teachings may conflict with many of the more standard interpretations of the Scriptures obtained from theology texts or consumed in seminaries and Bible colleges.  I also acknowledge my weaknesses, for I am not trained in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek), for example.  However, I  believe my inadequacies are sufficiently compensated for by my willingness to consult expert opinions and translations online, as well as use a Greek thesaurus.

My Qualifications

With a Ph.D.  in literature and more than twenty years experience as a university professor, I believe I am fully trained in recognizing and adapting the genres of literature and written texts, while applying the norms for these genres to biblical texts, a context that is not always followed by many Bible teachers and preachers.  Those who delight in interpreting the Scriptures literally, for example, do not always acknowledge that some passages are nonsensical if interpreted literally.

Christ’s references to the “bread” and “cup” in the Gospel accounts  of The Last Supper, for example, do not mean that the elements of the communion are literally the body and blood of Jesus, although many Christians believe in “transubstantiation.”  An example of taking a metaphor literally.  Surely, Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, as the Early Church was accused of teaching.

Apocalyptic writings in the Bible, mainly in Daniel and the Book of Revelation, are also interpreted literally, even though such writings are obviously made up of dreams, signs, symbols and the extra-textual meanings of these kinds of writings.  In addition, I once heard a Bible teacher relate that the “locusts” in the Book of Revelation refer to the “helicopters” in today’s conditions, which meant that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent given the kind of warfare being fought during the Vietnam era.  And how long has it been since then?  Remember when Henry Kissinger was labeled the AntiChrist?  Or was it Anwar Sadat?  

The Apostle Peter continues in his letter to advise and admonish Christians as follows:

14Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 2:14-18)

Clearly, Peter the fisherman had some difficulty understanding the educated Apostle Paul’s letters, for even he, the “rock,” found them “hard to understand.”

Notice, however, that Peter does not counsel that believers must vehemently argue with and condemn or accuse any teachers with whom we disagree. He instead simply advises believers to beware so as not to be “carried away” with teachings that espouse greed and licentiousness.

Indeed, the Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy, his disciple, not to fight, or “wrangle,” over “words,” or perhaps such acronyms as the “TULIP” of Calvinism.

I, personally, have chosen to teach from the Scriptures rather than a book someone has written, whether in the 1600’s or in the 21st Century.    

14Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers  (II Timothy 2:14).

Surely, Paul does not condone false teachings, but instead says that wrangling and fighting are “useless” and lead those who hear such wrangling to ruin.

Indeed, I have tried to explain certain biblical teachings to some of my opponents, only to see the homegroup meetings or Bible classes disrupted and almost destroyed.  Some people simply will not be convinced in spite of clear evidence in Scripture passages, primarily because they do not like what they have learned to be opposed.  Thus, they rise up in “unrighteous indignation.”

The Holy Spirit’s Teachings

Jesus related to His disciples that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to them, both to empower them to spread the Good News of the Gospel, but also to be their Teacher: “ But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:6).

I have been listening to sermons and teachings since my childhood, yet I am persuaded that I learn only when the Holy Spirit is the inspiration for these messages and He confirms their truths in my heart.  Consequently, while I admire and listen continually to a number of Bible teachers, I am mostly focused on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to live, learn, and grow.

In addition, as a Bible teacher I have been most moved recently by such Scriptures as the following:

  1. Job 12:22 “He reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light.
  2. Daniel 2:28:  “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”
  3. Daniel 2:29:  “As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.”
  4. Daniel 2:47:  “The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
  5. Matthew 13:11:  “Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
  6. Luke 8:10:  “And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
  7. 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
  8. 1 Corinthians 13:2:  “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
  9. 1 Corinthians 14:2:  “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

The Apostle Paul’s defense of his own teachings includes the following:

 “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (II Corinthians 12:1-4).

Thus, Paul’s teachings, which comprise most of the New Testament, were revealed to Him as “mysteries,” which defined means, “the secrets God desires to reveal to His people.”  Consequently, the purpose of this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog site is to share what I have learned about these mysteries.

Back to Peter

One teaching that continues to be highly controversial concerns “End Times” prophecy, for the reasons stated above, as well as the desire to sell books, perhaps, among other reasons.  Concerning this mystery, Peter wrote the following:

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:3-9)

Unlike so many teachers today, however, Peter does not, in an attempt to sell books, try to pick the “day or the hour” of Christ’s return (which only the Father knows!) nor does he try to locate the “anti-Christ” (who obviously was not the Emperor Nero!).  

Peter continues on to write the following:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. 

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:10-13)

Therefore, even those who declared the prophetic Words of the Lord, following the leadings of the Holy Spirit, did not presume to “serve themselves” by trying to gain fame and fortune by publishing best sellers or make films about the End Times, as is the case today.

It even appears that lately, such false teachers are resorting to astrology to predict End Times events (“blood moons” and Jupiter’s emergence from the “womb” of the constellation Virgo).

Conclusion

It is fruitless to “wrangle” over such teachings, however.  We are only told by Peter and Paul to beware lest we be led astray.  We need only be concerned with keeping our lamps filled with “oil,” so that when Christ appears, we all will see Him in His glory, and we will forever be with Him!  

Which Film Will You Be Watching?

Many Available Choices

When Jesus Christ returns with the sound of the trumpet, after the “tribulation of those days,” (Matthew 24:29-30), what kind of movie or television program will you be watching?

Many people may be watching the latest “blockbuster,” either in a theater, on a DVD player, or using video streaming online.  One of the options might be a film about a single woman who has opened herself to the sexual temptations offered by the film’s hero, the attractive superstar who has never been turned down.  Consequently, the heroine is facing the choice of continuing with her pregnancy and having her baby or taking the advice of Planned Parenthood (what an ironic name!) and destroying the unborn child in her womb.     

More Choices 

On the other hand, a number of people who believe that the Scriptures are the true Word of God may be watching a film about Mary, the virgin who found herself carrying a child after the angel of the Lord had told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her.  The angel said,  “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (Luke 1:31).  In spite of the possibility of condemnation and scorn from her friends, family, and even her future husband (Joseph), however, Mary said to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (v. 38).  Her faith in the proclamation of the Lord was enough to carry her through the persecutions of King Herod and to comfort her in the events to come, even to the point of seeing her son’s horrific death and crucifixion.

Another film some people might have found compelling and would be watching when Jesus comes again concerns our culture’s current uncertainties about “gender identity.”  In the film, titled Born Again, (rated R for V, N, AC, AL)  a young adult man finds himself confused to the point of suicide. His problems began when he was still in elementary school after being sexually abused by an older teenager.  Because as a child he had often imagined himself turning into a girl when he got older, he, therefore, decided that perhaps he was indeed a girl “trapped” inside a boy’s body, as so many people were explaining in the newscasts and online forums he was listening to.  This path led him not only to seek and endure further abuse, but also to suffer the physical harm he would endure from unnatural sex practices, to the point where he contracted sexually transmitted diseases and extreme mental distress.  In the end, he decided to take medical treatments and surgery to be changed into a woman. His agonies did not cease after his transition, however, and he ended up taking his own life by overdosing on drugs. 

Other people might be watching a film about a woman who awakens to find herself surrounded by a beautiful garden filled with flowers and living streams of water.  She turns and sees a large form beside her, who puts his hand on her shoulder and comforts her in her confusion.  Her fears are quenched by his kindness and tender touch, and she quickly learns how to communicate with him in his language of love.  She realizes that she is like him in many ways, although some of her body parts are very different.  She does not see these as problems, however, for their coming together seems to right, entirely understandable, and satisfying.  When he tells her that she was formed out of a rib in his side, she isn’t perplexed or confused, but instead sees herself indeed as being “one” with him in many ways.  As he had said to her, she was indeed “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).

Films for Families

A father and mother, both of whom were scientists, atheists, and university professors, were watching a film with their children, confident that a science fiction film would be enlightening and entertaining to the whole family.  The science fiction, however, soon turned to occult spiritualistic themes with alien ghosts and demonically evil antagonists.  The children were afraid even to look at the television, with one young girl standing in the room’s hallway so she could quickly escape if the violence turned ugly.  The parents were certain that there was no harm in the film, however, and agreed together that their children could benefit from seeing the evils of religious beliefs and practices, and seeing such an expanded vision of their universe, while learning how to cope with dangerous situations in life.

Another family with three young children was watching a film about the life of Jesus Christ.  One particular scene struck the children immensely:

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

The parents looked at their three kids in wonder and amazement, for they couldn’t comprehend Jesus’ statements about receiving the kingdom of God like little children.  Laughing together, they talked about the messy rooms and hilarious predicaments they continually visualized at home.  But they also were amazed at the love Jesus had for the children, finding their own kids in Jesus’ loving arms. Likewise, they held their sleepy children and carried them up to their rooms.

Keep the Lamps Full

Another possible film might be a depiction of the “Parable of  the 10 Virgins,” told by Jesus Christ:

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps (Matthew 25:1-4).
Watching a film does not mean that our lamps will be full or not, but the oil in the lamps is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and when Jesus comes again, just as the bridegroom comes in the parable, we must be sure to have our lamps filled with oil.  Our hearts need to be constantly full to ensure that they will be full when Christ appears.  The Apostle Paul exhorted the Church in Ephesus not to “grieve” the Holy Spirit, by whom they were “sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).  And Paul also wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
 
Clearly, we understand that watching a film will not make us drunk in the way that indulging in alcohol will.  However, we must be aware of what we take into our lives that may lead to “dissipation.”  We need to take in what will not grieve the Holy Spirit, who lives and moves in the lives of all believers. 
 
Jesus taught his disciples that they needed to fill their hearts with “what is good.”
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
As is said in terms of computers and internet technology, “Garbage in…garbage out.” In the same way, we will reveal what is in our hearts by what comes out of our mouths.  We must, therefore, be filled with the Spirit and the Word of God.  Thus, by filling our lamps with the oil of the Holy Spirit, we will bring forth what is good.

My Personal Story

Only one or two years ago, I was accused by a text message sent from a person whom I did not even know, of seeking to start a new cult and raise up to myself a new crowd of followers.  

This person had never even spoken to me, at least that I am aware, so he couldn’t have known for sure whether his accusations were true.  Since he didn’t know me, he didn’t know that I have never tried to be “cool” enough to start a cult, for I have never liked Cool Aid.  I have had no desire to lead a group of “followers,” hoping they would give me either recognition or money.  Instead, I have always tried to set an example of godliness in the churches or groups I have pastored or led, never even taking a salary in the last two churches.  I have sought only to be a giver, not a taker, unlike the leaders of most cults.

In addition, I have sought only to “equip the saints for the work of service and the building up of the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), doing the best I can, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to encourage and exhort, speaking the Truth in love and rightly dividing the Word of Truth.    

Therefore, I hope to be ready when the Lord appears, with my lamp filled with oil. 

 

 

Who Is In the Mirror?

Entirely Unexpected

I recently finished reading a extraordinary book on Kindle, a memoir titled, “Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard,” written by Laura Bates, a professor and volunteer teacher of Shakespeare in a maximum security prison in Indiana.  

As a retired Professor of English myself, with over 20 years experience teaching some of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as numerous other challenging texts in literature and composition classes (Seriously?  War and Peace?), while also teaching English majors to teach English as secondary education teachers (grades 7-12) for many years, I was poignantly reminded while reading this book of my own struggles to make my classes not only interesting for my students, but also challenging and meaningful, not to mention obtaining tenure and promotions.  

My students were usually very motivated to become teachers themselves, or at least complete their undergraduate degrees. I never considered, however, that teaching Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello would bring significant changes into my students’ lives.  

Professor Bates, however, taught Shakespeare’s plays not only to prisoners, but also to the worst criminal offenders who had been confined in a supermax solitary prison. While doing so, she had to hand out assignments and hold group discussions with only eight students, yet all had to sit in separate cells, conversing through the very small “windows” used to pass meals to the prisoners.    

One of the Worst

One of these prisoners was Larry Newman, known to be the most dangerous prisoner in the Indiana state’s Westville supermax prison” (Bates, 17).  Although he was a fifth-grade dropout and a convicted murderer, with two escape attempts on his record, stabbing one of the prison guards during one attempt, Larry is the focus of much of the book because of his life-changing encounters while reading and studying Shakespeare’s plays.

Larry Newman’s experiences growing up in an abusive home and a crime-filled neighborhood gave him significant insights into some of the problems raised in Shakespeare’s plays, such as the gang-warfare in Romeo and Juliet (Capulets versus the Montagues) or the murders of King Duncan in Macbeth and Othello’s murder of his wife Desdemona because of Othello’s jealous rage. While reading these scenes in Shakespeare’s plays, Newman must confront the decisions he has made in his own life and is forced to challenge his own tightly held positions.  

Consequently, studying Shakespeare’s plays under Laura Bates changed his life, and he became one of the reasons why Bates’ program was so successful with other prisoners, as he participated with her in the classes, continually adding insightful contributions to the weekly lessons and discussions. Ultimately, he even partnered with Dr. Bates in writing a detailed guide to teaching Shakespeare’s plays to inmates, and he even began taking classes to obtain a Ph. D. while in prison to pursue his goal of becoming a professor himself, even though parole would never be possible in his lifetime.

Previously, Newman had spent over ten years in solitary confinement, his only contact with another human being occurring when he was handcuffed and escorted to a restroom, or when he was finally allowed to attend the Shakespeare classes with Dr. Bates.  In the class, titled “Shakespeare in Shackles,” Newman is confronted with such topics as honor, revenge, and conscience, forcing him and the other prisoners to consider their own actions from a new perspective provided by Shakespeare 400 years ago.

A Changed Man

At one point, after three years of partnering with Dr. Bates, the following conversation took place (Bates, 174):

“Where do you think you would be without Shakespeare?”  

Newman responded, saying, “I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today.  I know that.  I’d either be in deeper trouble–tried to escape and been in worse trouble than I was–or maybe I would’ve just that one day developed the courage to . . . you know what I mean?”

“Suicide?” I asked hesitantly.

Heck, yeah,” he replied.  “I was ready to go! I can’t tell you how much I was.” 

After musing on his suicidal thoughts, Newman continued to say,

“But the point is, the being dead part never worried me.  It seemed like a very plausible alternative.  So that’s not even what makes me the happiest.  I like being alive, I like my life, but what makes me the happiest is that I just really feel like I can go anywhere and do anything. I make decisions now ’cause that’s what makes me the happiest.  

Laura Bares is amazed and speechless:

I had worked with this prisoner for more than three years, but I had no idea that Shakespeare–and I–had that kind of impact on him.  I had never had that kind of impact on anyone.  I had never saved anyone’s life before (176).

Finding the Pattern

As both a literature teacher and a student of the Bible, I am always intrigued when I see “patterns” in a text, particularly the Scriptures.  These patterns might also be described as “similarities,” or “repeated phrases,” or “repeated themes,” for these patterns reveal helpful insights into the truths of the biblical teachings, the “mysteries” that the Holy Spirit desires to reveal to us.  

One such pattern is found in the following verses:

  • When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:12).
  • But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).
  • For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:23-25).

Beholding As In a Mirror

By reading these passages closely you will see that they all use the example of “looking into a mirror” to reveal how we are to see ourselves–not as we think we are but as we truly are.
The pattern revealed in these similar passages first highlights the perspectives of looking into the mirror as a “child,” or with a “veiled” face, or by merely seeing the “natural face” that appears.  This image may quickly be forgotten, while the image that appears in the “perfect law of liberty,” or a different kind of mirror, is an image that once adhered to leads to being blessed in all that we do. 
A significant indicator, therefore, of spiritual maturity is the ability to see ourselves consistently not through our natural senses but through the perspectives, we gain by “thinking with the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16), or seeing ourselves as Christ sees us.  

While no record exists of Larry Newman’s encountering Jesus Christ and finding eternal salvation through Him, he did escape earthly destruction by viewing and identifying with human encounters through the examples of Shakespeare’s plays which enabled him to reorder his thoughts and find new directions not based on his previous misconceptions about life and death.  

Ironically, however, Shakespeare’s plays do not provide the same kind of freedom and liberty that the Word of God provides, for His Word is “perfect”:

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

Sadly, many representations in our culture today have stated that not only is God dead, but also Truth is dead, as portrayed on a recent edition of Time Magazine (Source).

April 8, 1966

Commenting on these covers, Jonathan Van Maren writes,

As far as our culture is concerned, God is dead, and so is truth. An institution no less respected than TIME Magazine announced their respective departures from the culture. But I can’t help but think of the origin of the phrase “God is dead.” It came from the nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietszche, in his parable “The Madman,” where he wondered with appropriate panic, where morality would come from once God left (Source).

Van Maren continues to expose the latest examples of the opposition of fact and fiction:

We now reject every constraint on our own so-called right to radical self-determination, even if those constraints are biology and reality. That is why a full-grown man can decide to leave his family and live as a six-year-old girl, and the media coverage of this is largely subdued and respectful. That is why there is a new group of human beings who identify as non-human beings—rather, they are “Otherkin,” people who identify as certain animals. This is treated with long-faced solemnity by our cultural elites, because truth is dead and people can be whatever they want, even if they are obviously not what or who they say they are (Source).

Larry Newman found much freedom, not by denying the truths about himself and his life but by acknowledging the truths about his mistakes and misconceptions about himself.  May God give him the grace to see all the way to “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:16).

 

The Consequences of Hatred

Unfulfilled Desires 

Post-holiday depression is felt by many people, yet rarely has it been so prominent in our daily consciousness as in the present time.  Due primarily to the influence of today’s social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, people are freer than ever to convey their resentments without consequence.  Posts such as, “I hate my life!” or “I Can’t Do This Anymore!”  are common.

Other reasons for the visibility of depression are also probable, however, not just the ability to vent one’s emotions and feelings so freely without any repercussions, events that are extremely contagious in today’s “connected” society.

Since many people have believed the promises made to them in childhood, such as, “You can do anything you set your mind to do!” or “Your dreams can all come true!” they have grown discouraged and resentful when their life goals and desires do not seem to be coming true.  

This despair may lead to expressions and feelings of “hate,” including “hatred” towards others, such as public figures, including politicians and authority figures, whom they often see as the ultimate sources of their depression due to unfulfilled promises.

One reason hatred is increasing in the world today is that some are promoting hatred as a means of obtaining what they feel they deserve or has been promised.  Hatred is seen as the motivator, the “leverage,” that makes one make changes that promote success, fulfillment, and happiness.  Here is how one blog writer validates his hatred:

Finding that sweet spot, where I know what I hate, and why I need to challenge that hatred is central to my ability to succeed with my goals. That is what will spur me to act. Drive me away from pain. Towards pleasure. Ultimately, that is what it all boils down to. Reducing my pain. And increasing my pleasure.

So, the key is to hate the status quo with all our heart. Hate it so badly, that not acting will only take me down the hole even further.

This is also called the leverage. A point in my life where I cannot stand the pain any further. Where the misery of my painful existence is unbearable making my goal the only option to survive.

But for the leverage, I would never push myself to climb out of the pit of agony. . .I turn to my hatred towards the status quo [to] fuel my passion to succeed (Source).

A Story From Long Ago

King David of Israel committed a grievous sin, taking the life of Uriah the Hittite in order to claim the man’s wife for himself, Bathsheba.  Nathan, the prophet, confronts David, admonishing the king and foretelling the woes that would come to the royal family:

“Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight” (II Samuel 11:9-11).

Nathan’s prophecy began to be fulfilled through Amnon, King David’s oldest son.  Amnon was heir to the throne of Israel, one of the privileged few, intent on seeing all of his desires fulfilled, even those that were forbidden by the laws of Jehovah.  Under the Mosaic law, it was forbidden to have sexual relations outside of marriage, particularly with a relative. Amnon desired Tamar, his half-sister, with whom he believed he was in love.

Now it was after this that Absalom the son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her. Amnon was so frustrated because of his sister Tamar that he made himself ill, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her (II Samuel 13:1-2).

It was not only “hard” for Amnon to possess his half-sister, but also forbidden, yet Amnon is so lovesick that he listens to the advice of Jonadab, a counselor to the king.  Jonadab is described as a “shrewd man,” but his advice results in horrendous consequences. We later see this same man’s “shrewdness” brought into the story in the end when King David is faced with his own son’s treachery and Jonadab presumes to counsel the king.  Here is what Jonadab tells Amnon:

But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so depressed morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Then Amnon said to him, “I am in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.” (II Samuel 13:3-4).

Jonadab advised Amnon to pursue his sinful lusts by first pretending to be ill, then requesting that his Father King David send Tamar to him to minister to him, a request that Jonadab knew would be difficult for David to refuse.

Jonadab then said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill; when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat, and let her prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat from her hand’” (II Samuel 13:5).

Amnon assents to Jonadab’s plan, and when King David came to see his supposedly ill son, Amnon asks his father to send Tamar to him so he could regain strength through the food that she prepared for him.

When Tamar arrives and prepares food for Amnon, however, he asks her to bring it to him where he is lying in his bed.  He takes hold of her, demanding that she lie with him.

Tamar refuses his request, saying,

“No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this disgraceful thing! 13 As for me, where could I get rid of my reproach? And as for you, you will be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (II Samuel 13:12-13).

Amnon is not moved by Tamar’s suggestion that they marry, and he easily overcomes Tamar’s opposition to his lusts: “However, he would not listen to her; since he was stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her” (II Samuel 13:14).

Once he has taken her virginity, Amnon’s guilt turns his love for Tamar to hatred:

 Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up, go away!” (II Samuel 13:15).

Ironically, Tamar does not feel so violated, for she finds solace in the Mosaic law commanding that a raped woman shall be able to marry the one who has violated her.  Thus, she refuses to leave Amnon. Her response relates to Deuteronomy 22:28 which states that a man who rapes a virgin must marry her.  

“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

In addition, Tamar realizes that no other man will marry her since she has been violated:

“But she said to him, “No, because this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you have done to me!” (II Samuel 13:16).

Amnon calls his attendant, however, to take Tamar away and lock the door behind her so she cannot return.  Subsequently, Tamar goes into mourning; she “put ashes on her head and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her; and she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went” (II Samuel 13:19).  

Absalom’s Hatred

Tamar then stays and lives in the home of her brother Absalom, where she remains in extreme sorrow and distress.  She has no apparent future since Amnon has taken away her promise of a happy life.  

When King David hears what has happened, he is exceptionally angry at Amnon, but perhaps because David realizes how he himself may have opened the door to Amnon’s lust for Tamar by sending her to him, David chooses not to exact punishment on his son, the heir apparent to the throne.

Absalom, however, Amnon’s half-brother, decides to take revenge in spite of his advice to Tamar not to make Amnon’s rape known: 

Then Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom’s house (II Samuel 13:20).

Nevertheless, we can only imagine the intense hatred Absalom has for Amnon, as he witnesses the sorrow and depression of his sister, Tamar:

But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:22).

After two years, Absalom hatred grows, until he plots Amnon’s death, enticing him away from King David’s protection through an elaborate plot:  inviting all of the king’s sons and servants to help with and celebrate his sheep shearing. 

When Amnon joins Absalom’s company, Absalom commands his servants to murder him:

Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “See now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then put him to death. Do not fear; have not I myself commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant” (II Samuel 13:28).

Subsequently, King David is erroneously told that Absalom has murdered all of his sons:

Now it was while they were on the way that the report came to David, saying, “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” 31 Then the king arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground; and all his servants were standing by with clothes torn (II Samuel 13:30-31).

King David’s nephew, Joab, who is the commander of the king’s armies, intervenes as a peacemaker. He plots with a woman, asking her to pretend to be a widow whose two sons have quarreled, resulting in the death of one of the sons.  Asking for help, she relates to King David that now the rest of her family is calling for the death of her other son.  

David assures her that “not one hair of her son will fall to the ground” (II Samuel 14:11).  

Joab has contrived this pretense, however, to show David why he must forgive Absalom for killing Amnon.  When David sides with the widow, she responds according to Joab’s instructions:

“Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not bring back his banished one. 14 For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from him (II Samuel 14:13-14). 

Seeing the justice of his own judgment for the woman, David sees also that he must forgive Absalom. He calls Joab to seek out Absalom and to bring him home to Jerusalem.  The division between David and Absalom continues, however, for many years: “However the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face” (II Samuel 14:24).

Ultimately, Absalom becomes the leader of a rebellion against his father’s reign:

But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’” (II Samuel 15:10).

King David flees from Jerusalem as Absalom advances, leaving his house in the hands of his concubines.  Ultimately, in another fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy, Absalom commits his own sexual sins on the advice of Ahithophel, David’s advisor.

Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (II Samuel 16:21-22).

Conclusion

What a story!  The sins of one man, Amnon, led to the sins of many others, all resulting in even more sins and divisions in King David’s family, and finally the dissolution of David’s kingdom, resulting in warfare among the people:

Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. The people of Israel were defeated there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured (II Samuel 18:6-8).

Finally, Absalom, famous for his beautiful, extremely long hair, is ensnared in the branches of an oak tree, where he hangs helplessly until Joab stabs him with three spears, and ten young men (who carry Joab’s armor) surround Absalom and kill him.  

When King David hears the news of Absalom’s death, he is stricken with grief:

The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33).

Hatred is Contagious

Living a life of resentment, descending into depression, and hating one’s life, or having any kind of hatred, leads to more hatred, especially hatred for other people.  

When I was growing up, many years ago, I never heard the term “hate crime,” but this designation is increasingly heard and printed today. Clearly, the causes and consequences of hatred are growing in today’s world.   

In this story of Amnon and Tamar, we can also see how hatred is severely infectious. By pursuing sinful thoughts and lusts, Amnon only ends up hating Tamar, the woman he has supposedly once fervently loved. Even if they were to continue to live together and be married, she likely would only have reminded him continually of his evil plot to take her virginity through lies and deception.

It is also likely that Absalom blames his father King David for Tamar’s rape, for Absalom ends up plotting treason against his own father, attempting to overthrow King David to become king himself.

These stories, beginning with Amnon and Tamar, extending through Absalom’s murder of Amnon and his rebellion against King David, resulting in Absalom’s death and David’s grief, all exemplify why we must follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12).  And we must not allow resentments over perceived injustices to lead us to hatred, a condition that only leads to more sin.

Love, Not Hatred

Of course, the ways of the world are the opposite of what the Word of God tells us.  The Apostle Paul wrote the following admonition in his letter to the Corinthian Church:  

“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14).

Rather than hatred in any form, whether spoken or felt, love must be the source of our motivations in our lives.  And our all-knowing God is the provider of true love in our lives, for “God is love.”   

 

The Nature of Discipline

Our Heavenly Father Loves Us

Increasingly in today’s world, far too many people have not received proper discipline in their growing years; consequently, they personally acknowledge the need for more discipline in their lives, and it has become highly common for various “trainers,” “teachers,” or “experts,” often through expensive programs, seminars, or videos, to promote “self-discipline” through meditation, costly seminars, repetitive behaviors, deep breathing, rehabilitation programs, or sheer willpower to gain control over bad habits or destructive actions.  

As Christians, however, we have a heavenly Father who loves us so much that He guides our steps daily in life, while providing us with the power to be overcomers against the many challenges in our lives.  We also have a Father who loves us enough to discipline us as His own children!  

Read what the writer of the Book of Hebrews relates about discipline in the following passage from Chapter 12:

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:4-7)

Nothing is more disturbing than to see a child whose father or mother has not loved him enough to discipline that child.  We Christians, however, have the example of our Heavenly Father as the true disciplinarian: “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (v. 6).  

Learning Discipline

I thank my heavenly Father that my earthly parents loved me enough to show me when I was not being polite, mannerly, or obedient, often in spite of their own grief or embarrassment and my own obstinance. As it is, many children cannot even sit quietly through a performance or meeting without disturbing others around them, most likely because they have rarely sat in church services.

While I didn’t especially appreciate my parents’ love and concern for me at the time, as the following verse describes, I now am most grateful for their loving discipline, for they were teaching me the discipline of God.

11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

Notice that the word used in this passage is discipline, not punishment.  My earthly father never sent for the school bully to beat me up when I was disobedient!  Therefore, we need to reject the idea that our Heavenly Father, Who sent His own Son to the cross to redeem us from the hands of Satan, the enemy of our souls, would ever discipline or “scourge” us by sending Satan to attack us. Why would the Heavenly Father inflict upon us what He sent His son to bear for us vicariously on the cross? This was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, as Matthew declares: 

16 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17)

Who Is Our Teacher?

Jesus said to His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

Therefore, the Holy Spirit was sent by our Father to be our Teacher!

And the Holy Spirit, obviously, always acts according to the “fruit of the Spirit,” which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).  

Our Father does not want His children to be killed, maimed, destroyed, or beaten down by the enemy, so He certainly would not do Himself what He deplores!  Our Father sent His Word (Jesus Christ) and His teacher (the Holy Spirit) to teach and discipline us so that we might not fall again into the hands of the bully of this world, the one who only seeks our destruction, as Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  

God receives no glory or praise when His children fall into the snares and traps of the enemy, but it is a travesty even to suggest that our loving Father is the one who sends disease, sickness, death, earthquakes, fires, or other tragedies into our lives to “teach us something.”

And while our own lack of discipline, or bad decisions, may lead to such tragedies, the word to “chasten means to “lead toward virtue by correcting mistakes and putting barriers around passions.” And to “rebuke” means “to show a person his fault, or to bring a man’s sin to the light through conviction (which means “to convince of error or sinfulness”).  

The Fear of the Lord

Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, relates that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7) 

Unfortunately, when Christians hear the word “fear,” as in the injunction to “fear the Lord,” too often we apply the definition for fear that we have learned in this world: “to be afraid or apprehensive, to be alarmed due to impending danger.”  We need not feel terror in God’s presence, but instead we should be filled with awe and reverence.

Therefore, we are not cautioned to be afraid of God, but rather to feel reverence for Him.  We are even told in Revelation 21:8 that the “cowardly” or “fearful”will have no place in God’s Kingdom.

Notice also that, generally, we are not assigned the task of convicting or rebuking others, even though the Father may use us as his spokespersons, at times. Instead, our Father is He who rebukes and brings conviction to our hearts through His Holy Spirit and through His written and spoken Word!  

God speaks to us personally through His Holy Spirit to reveal our errors or sins in order to bring about repentance and receive His forgiveness.  He does so with love and patience, not with anger and wrath. And with the Word comes the faith necessary to be obedient to His will (Romans 10:17).

  • Thus, the first step towards discipline, as Christ’s disciples, is to have reverence for the Lord and to open our ears to hear His Word, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus said, “Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).  
  • Unless we are determined to be obstinately disobedient, we need not fear the Lord, as I feared the paddle my parents used.  

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
    His praise endures forever. (Psalms 111:10)

  • The final step, therefore, is to be continually obedient to the Word that we have received in Love from our Father. These commandments are not intended to be harmful or destructive, but instead are given for our welfare and good, just as my parents’ instruction to “Look both ways before crossing the street” was intended to ensure my safety. 

The Mystery of Pain

After enduring pain in my shoulder (rotator cuff) for several weeks, my orthopedic specialist gave me a cortisone shot. The shot was more than just a “pinch,” as shots are usually called by medical caregivers, but I was grateful afterwards, for I could move my shoulder again without feeling like I had been stabbed with an ice-pick!

This experience with pain was in addition to my craniotomy last fall and the onset of migraine headaches.  Physical pain is bad enough, but emotional and mental pain can be just as bad, if not more perplexing and burdensome.

Anyone who has chronic pain of one kind or another is usually moved to ask, “Why?  Why do I have pain in my life?”

Years ago, I learned some answers to these questions by studying the disease of leprosy that appears so often in the Bible.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is an infection caused by bacteria that are contracted  by direct contact or through the air by sneezes or coughs.  Leprosy is highly contagious, therefore, which explains the prohibitions given to lepers in the Bible to prevent the spread of the disease.

(Click here to read Leviticus 13 for a description of the disease and its symptoms, along with some of the restrictions placed on lepers.)

Leprosy bacteria multiply slowly, so the disease may take years to fully manifest, but when it does, the symptoms are very visible, especially on the skin.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Skin lesions that may be faded/discolored
  • Growths on the skin
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness on affected areas of the skin
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness
  • Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee)
  • A stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ulcers on the soles of feet

(Click to see source.)

What About Pain?

When leprosy becomes active, which may take two-three years after initial exposure, it eventually attacks the nervous system, leading to numbness in the nerves on the skin and the loss of feeling or sensation on the hands and feet.

Read a fuller description here:

Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. (Source)

The worst danger from the bacteria arises, therefore, when a burn or another kind of injury occurs, for example, and the leper does not feel the injury due to the lack of sensation at the site: “The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent” (Source).

Pain’s Purpose

Imagine putting your hand on a very hot iron or woodstove and not feeling anything.  You may end up leaving your hand on the heat for quite a while, resulting in a terrible burn.  If you had felt the pain initially, you would have quickly acted to remove your hand.

Consequently, as a result of an inability to feel pain, the leper does not react quickly, so the injury becomes quite severe, leading to extreme damage to the body.

Leprosy: A Metaphor for Sin

Leprosy was so dreaded that lepers were shunned, and they were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden from touching anyone to prevent the spread of the disease:

As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Leprosy was so dreaded, and the commandments of God were so clear, that lepers were shunned. Lepers were declared to be “unclean.” To prevent the spread of the disease, lepers were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden even from touching anyone else.  Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another.

Incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people (Numbers 5:2). Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy. (Source)

Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another. The consequences of leprosy, therefore, are analogous to the consequences of sin.  When we are infected with sin in our lives, we become “unclean,” and our sin may even infect others with serious consequences.  Sin results in severe consequences in our lives, both physically and mentally.  Like leprosy, these consequences may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.

Like the symptoms of leprosy, the consequences of sin in our lives may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.  Yet, we should dread the symptoms of sin even more than those of leprosy, for the consequences of sin are death and eternal separation from God.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Jesus Christ, however, is the answer for both leprosy and sin, along with the resulting mental and physical deformities and anguish:

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus is willing to cleanse us wholly, in spirit, soul, and body.  He renews a right spirit within us and restores our souls.  Like King David, we may pray the following prayer in faith:

Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalms 51:9-11)

Jesus Himself, because of His love for us, is the One who restores our souls and cleanses us from all the consequences of sin.  See what the Apostle Peter wrote about the crucifixion of Christ:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (I Peter 2:23-25)

While on the cross and before His ascension into Heaven, therefore, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sins upon Himself and cleansing us from all unrighteousness if we will only accept Him.  By faith (which is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1), we may receive His ultimate cleansing in spirit, soul, and body, taking away our pain.

Today, we constantly seek ways to escape our pain, whether through cortisone shots, or pills, or certain “relaxation techniques” that are essentially occultic.  While we do not like the experience of pain in our lives, we should seek the causes of our pain and be thankful to a wise and loving God who gave us nerves that help us feel the pain of dangerous situations, thereby protecting us from further harm and disabilities.  And above all, we need to find our answer to pain in the forgiveness provided  by God and the salvation offered through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

What Is the Nature of True Confession?

True Humility Versus False Humility

What is humility?  It is the quality or condition of being humble, of having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, status, or rank.  

It is surprising to me, however, how many in the Church, especially those who may lead in prayer or praise ministries, take on a false humility by focusing on their own “unworthiness,” telling the congregation that they, and we, all are nothing more than “ugly sinners saved by grace,” or “dead in our trespasses and sins, not worthy to invoke or receive the promises of God.”

One of the most relevant passages in one of the most significant books of the New Testament, however, declares the falsity of these statements.  In fact, such declarations are fully demonstrated to be examples of false humility by the Apostle Paul.

Paul states to the Corinthian Church why true believers are no longer defined by a sinful nature as they once were before coming to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer from sin:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In itself, this verse alone couldn’t be more clear in revealing to us who we are in Christ Jesus:  If we are “in Christ,” we have a “new” nature, for we are now a “new creature.”  

Paul elsewhere describes our former sinful nature as the “old man,” as opposed to the “new man” we have become in Christ:

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. (Colossians 3:9-10)

And Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to act on the new standing they have obtained in Christ:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (Ephesians 4:20-23)

Being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” simply means that we need to change our minds about who we are in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Teaching to the Romans

Paul further expounds on these truths in depth in his letter to the Romans, as he writes in the following passage from Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6.  I have underlined some of the most relevant portions of the text:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!  Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that  though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6)

 

Looking Ahead and Not Backwards

I just heard from someone the other day who gave me a very simple guideline for living victoriously.  She said that when we drive, we don’t just look at the rearview mirror.  If we only did that, we would eventually crash!  Instead, we need to look forward to the future with expectant hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has not only forgiven us of all our sins, but also redeemed us from their curse of eternal separation from God.

Let me be clear.  I am not saying that we have never sinned.  In order to receive Jesus as Lord, we need to confess all of our sins, as the Apostle John writes:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

However, if we have been forgiven and redeemed, we need to act like we have been transformed by His power and consider ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ! Above all, we must not continue in sinful behaviors and practices, then publicly confess to relieve our consciences.  

To those who mistakenly believe that we need to denigrate the finished work of Christ in order to make unbelievers comfortable in our presence, I suggest that they do not go on presenting the members of their bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness by seeing themselves as sinners. Instead, believe and confess that you have been “born again” in Christ’s likeness.  As a result of this rebirth, you are no longer “such a worm,” as the old hymn “At the Cross” suggests (These are Isaac Watt’s lyrics; see this site: Watt.)

Examining Ourselves Rightly

Introduction

The most difficult role for parents or Church leaders, in a similar context, is the role of one who must bring discipline and correction to the family or to the Church Body.  However, the Apostle Paul found himself in this role, as he describes it in his first letter to the Corinthian Church.  Since what follows is such a lengthy passage, we will examine it separately in parts.

Part I

In the first part Paul describes the problems that need to be corrected.  As Paul describes them, they consist of schisms and divisions in the Corinthian Church instead of solid unity:

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.  (I Corinthians 11:17-19)

Clearly, Paul understands the sinful human nature, for he writes that these factions and divisions have occurred for an all-too-apparent reason:  those who believe themselves to be qualified to lead (those “who are approved”) also desire to be recognized as being in charge (“so that they may become evident among you”).  

Part II

In the second part of the passage taken from his letter, Paul describes an even more troubling problem in the Corinthian Church, one which was probably more prevalent among the believers as a whole:

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (I Corinthians 11:20-22)

When the believers in the Corinthian Church come together, Paul writes, they come to eat and drink, not to “remember” the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their redemption from the consequences of their sins.  Instead, they are only concerned about filling their bellies and soothing themselves with alcohol.  Their desire to gorge themselves is so strong that they even compete with one another, leaving some with nothing, while others are bloated with bread and wine.  

Clearly, this description is nothing like the communion observances we have in most protestant churches in our culture today.  As a child, I was struck by the tiny pieces of unsalted crackers that were passed on a silver plate down the rows of pews by the deacons, along with the tiny cups filled with grape juice. There was no way, under the watchful eyes of my parents, I could have filled myself with such small portions of juice and crackers, simply because there wasn’t enough on the plate for anyone to take more than a minimal amount.  

We knew we weren’t sharing a meal. My mother taught me to gaze at the elements after they were passed, while I prayed and asked for forgiveness for my sins, not allowing myself to be distracted by anything around me or spilling what was in my tiny cup.

Part III

Therefore, in the next part of his letter, Paul describes how the Lord’s supper should be observed:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Their purpose in gathering to partake of the bread and wine, therefore, was definitely not to gluttonously fill themselves with bread and wine, but instead to remember what Christ accomplished as the “Lamb of God” by sacrificing His broken body and His blood, as well as to proclaim the victory of His death and resurrection until He comes again.  

For both elements of this Last Supper, the bread and the wine, Jesus asked that they remember Him, His broken body and His sacrificial blood that was spilled for them. And He asked also that they continue to remember Him as often as they celebrated the Last Supper in the future, thereby proclaiming His death and the results of His sacrifice until He comes again.

Part IV

In this next portion of Paul’s exhortation, the Apostle explains not only the proper attitudes the believers in Corinth needed to have while partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but also the proper behaviors they should have as they drink and eat:

27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But a person must [prayerfully] examine himself [and his relationship to Christ], and only when he has done so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks [without solemn reverence and heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ], eats and drinks a judgment on himself if he does not [a]recognize the body [of Christ]. 30 That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason why many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [in death]. 31 But if we evaluated and judged ourselves honestly [recognizing our shortcomings and correcting our behavior], we would not be judged. 32 But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined [by undergoing His correction] so that we will not be condemned [to eternal punishment] along with the world. (AMP Version: I Corinthians 11:27-32)

To sum up these admonitions, Paul cautions believers not to eat of the bread or drink from the cup in an “unworthy” manner.  If they do, he writes, they will bring judgment upon themselves for “sinning against” (See above AMP v. 27) the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, resulting in weakness, sickness, or even death (v. 30).

By following and acting upon these admonitions, we will neither incur the consequences of sinning against the Lord’s Body and Blood, nor be “condemned to eternal punishment along with all non-believers” (See v. 32 above):

Instead, Paul’s remedy is that believers need to “judge themselves rightly” so they will not be judged or condemned along with the world (v. 32).  

Part V

Paul’s final teaching on this subject, therefore, entails that believers should “wait for one another,” eating at home rather than using the elements of the Last Supper to satisfy their hunger.  Avoid the temptation, he writes, so that the whole body does not come together “for judgment” (v. 34):  Here is the definitive passage:

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (I Corinthians 11:33-34)

Eating and Drinking the Lord’s Supper Unworthily

What does the Apostle Paul mean when he counsels believers not to eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily,” or in an “unworthy manner”?  (See I Corinthians 11:27 in Part IV above.)  

The secret to solving this mystery lies, I believe, in the consequences and ramifications of the incurred judgments, which are “weakness, sickness, or even death.”  Paul writes that we must “judge” and “examine” ourselves  to ensure that we are not
“sinning” against the Body and Blood of Jesus, a sin that may incur weakness, sickness, or even death.  (I Corinthians 11:30)

Most clearly, since Paul is writing to believers in the Corinthian Church, a person cannot participate fully in the Lord’s Supper unless he or she has become a true believer in Jesus Christ and has accepted by faith what He accomplished as the “Lamb of God,” the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sin that separates us from God, our Holy Father.  

This is why even churches that practice “open communion,” or, in other words, churches that allow even non-members of the church to participate in the Lord’s Supper, will most often still warn everyone who partakes to ensure they have committed their hearts and lives to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to avoid the results of taking the communion unworthily.  

Paul’s teachings and corrections are definitely directed in his letter to those who have indeed submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, having committed their hearts and lives to Him and become members of the Church of Corinth.  Therefore, we must assume that his injunctions and warnings apply to everyone in the True Church, including all believers in the Church today as well.  

It seems wise to ask, what are we missing from Paul’s message to the whole Church?  Why does it appear that many people today are weak, sick, or even dead?  Are we partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily?  Have we diminished the significance of the communion sacrament and disregarded the implications of not examining ourselves according to Christ’s own guidelines?

I believe the key to discovering the meaning of this mystery is found in the following passage from John’s Gospel:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

This is what Dr. Michael Brown writes about John’s description of Christ’s final moments on the cross:

What did Jesus mean when He uttered the words “It is finished!” in John 19:30?

The phrase actually translates one word in Greek, tetelestai, from the root teleō, which means “to finish, fulfill.”

Significantly, this specific form of the verb, tetelestai, is only found twice in the entire New Testament, both times in John 19.

In fact, the two occurrences of tetelestai are found within three verses of each other: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ … When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

Do you see that? Although the verb teleō occurs 28 times in the New Testament, the form tetelestai is found only twice, and those two occurrences are in the same context, right next to each other, making the meaning perfectly clear.

Jesus was saying, “Mission accomplished! Everything that had to be done has been done! It is finished!” (Source: Click Here to View Brown’s article)

First of all, therefore, Jesus asks for something to quench His thirst in order to “fulfill the Scripture.”  See the prophecy in the Psalms:

They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 69:21)

Then, when He has received the sour wine from the sponge held up to Him, He says, “It is finished!” and “gives up His spirit” in death.  

We learn from this passage that, even on the cross, Jesus was intent on ensuring that all of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning His atoning death were fulfilled and “accomplished” before He gave up His life.  Jesus then declared that His mission was finished: He had completed all that had been prophesied and that His Father had planned in sending His only Son to be sacrificed.

What is probably missing in our participations in the times for ‘rembrance” during communion, therefore, concerns our inability to acknowledge and receive the fulness of what Christ came to accomplish on the Cross.  These relate to the three conditions that result from our not holding fast in faith to what He “finished”: His triumph over weakness, sickness, and death on our behalf.  

In Remembrance of Him

One passage in the Book of Hebrews states this idea in specific terms:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Clearly, many believers in the Early Church, just as in churches today, needed to be reminded about “remembering,” or the acknowledgement in faith and the appropriation of the magnificent provisions of Christ’s sacrifice on the Church’s behalf.  What does this mean?

Particularly as we “remember” Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, we need to focus on receiving “mercy and finding grace in times of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Since Jesus Himself was tempted just as we are, yet He did not fall into sin, we need to identify with the One who overcame all of the consequences of all sin.  

Jesus could vicariously sympathize with us, when the sins of the world were placed on Him, while identifying Himself as the One who took the punishment for all of our sins, receiving in His own Body on the Cross the consequences of sin as He suffered and died, even to the point of being “forsaken” by His Father because of those sins (see Mark 14:34 and Matthew 27:46).  

While in the Garden praying, Jesus knew not only what He would suffer physically on the cross, but also what He would endure while having the sins of the world placed on Him.  Imagine what He must have experienced, for He was without sin and knew no sin, yet suddenly while on the Cross He felt the sins of a world filled with wickedness placed on Himself, the spotless Lamb of God.

As a result of His willingness to receive this judgment, the consequences of sin were done away with, including weakness, sickness, and even death.  Therefore, Jesus Himself, as our propitiation for our sin, endured weakness, sickness, and death for the first time in His life, suffering not only death and entombment, but also three days and nights in Hell itself.  Is it any wonder why He asked His Father. . . 

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was in such agony over what He would experience and endure that He suffered from hematidrosa (or “sweating blood”) (See definition of “hematidrosa” caused by extreme stress“). Yet even knowing what He would experience, He was willing to take our place and drink the cup offered to Him.  

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And beforehand, during the Last Supper with His disciples, He broke the bread and offered the cup to demonstrate to them how they could remember His sacrifice on their behalf.  Consequently, we today have also been instructed how to identify with Jesus’s offer of redemption through His own death, finding eternal life also through His resurrection.

Conclusion

Whenever I send a package via United Parcel Service, I receive a “tracking number” so that I can determine the progress of the package as it is being delivered.

In the same way, the Lord has given us a means of tracking our own progress as Christians in the ways of the Lord.  We daily need to examine and judge ourselves completely, while identifying with Jesus Christ and holding fast our confession of faith.

However, we also need especially to remember His accomplished work on the cross as we take communion, in order not to be judged and suffer the weaknesses, sickness, and even death that have fallen on some believers. We need to judge ourselves continually and appropriate by faith all that the Lord Jesus purchased for us when He drank the cup that was given to Him according to the will of His Father in Heaven.

Praying in the Name of . . .

  Burns is NOT God!

Not George Burns, and More Than, Like, an “Epithet”

This is how many people would pray the “Lord’s Prayer” today, especially in front of a large group or Church congregation:

OMG in Heaven, hallowed be your name, God.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, God, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day, God, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, God, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, God, but deliver us from evil.  For yours is the kingdom, God, and the power, God, and the glory forever, God.  Amen

I mean no disrespect to the Lord Jesus, who taught us how to pray, nor to our Father in Heaven, to whom Jesus addressed His prayer.  This is how Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:6-13):

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

I merely wish to point out the needless and meaningless repetition of the word “God” in so many prayers, as well as the fact that Jesus taught us to pray to our “Father who is in Heaven,” not some nameless God with whom we have no relationship.

Meaningless Repetition or “Filler Words”

Honestly, I’m surprised that words such as, “like,” or “Dude,” or “Hey!” are not heard in public prayers the way they are in ordinary conversation, especially among young adults.

Hey!  Our Dude who is in, like, Heaven. Hallowed be your name, God, and, like, your Kingdom come, your will be done, like, on earth as it is in Heaven. . .

Having been a professor of literature and writing for many years, I’ve grown accustomed to the ways that “filler words” have crept into the speech, and even the writing, of many young adults.  It’s so much easier to fill the gaps with popular expressions, rather than with meaningful words that are faith-filled and also make sense.

Finally, the expression “Oh, my God!” (and abbreviated as “OMG!”) has become so common that even many Christians use it constantly in social media or in conversation, in spite of its empty (or vain) meaning.  They do so in spite of the third commandment the Lord gave to Israel:  “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7).

Father, Guard My Mouth, Lips, and Keyboard

Instead, I am writing this article merely to exhort every Christian, every follower of the Lord Jesus, to pray the following prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalms 141:3)

And may we have an abiding relationship with our Father in Heaven such that we do not address Him in the form of an “epithet,” but in accordance with the true relationship we have with Him, as our Father, just as Jesus did.  (See a definition of “epithet” below:

1. a characterizing word or phrase added to or used in place of the name of a person or thing.
2. a word, phrase, or expression used invectively as a term of abuse or contempt.

See more at this site:  Source.

 

Reading the Scriptures Honestly

Rightly Reading and Interpreting

God’s Word

One essential belief of most evangelical churches today is that the Word of God, the Scriptures, must be read, understood, and received “literally,” as in the following quotation:  

Do you approach all of the passages in the Bible from a consistently literal viewpoint, seeking to understand the language of the Bible in a natural and normal way, understanding the language in its obvious sense? May God help us to come to His Word in simple childlike faith and humbly take Him at His Word, letting the Bible say what it says, and not forcing it to say what we want it to say or think it should say!

In other words, we must not seek to read into the Scriptures what we want them to say according to our own beliefs, but instead to take from the Scriptures what they actually say, according to a “normal” reading, not a “solipsistic” (or extremely egocentric) reading.  

(See my recent Blog article that includes a discussion of Solipsism by clicking here).

Examples of Misreadings

Several passages from the Scriptures reveal the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15), such as what John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Apostle Peter also makes a similar statement:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  (II Peter 1:20-21)

We must assume, therefore, that God’s Word is His Word, and He meant what He said, or what He communicated to His servants to write.  

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16)

Recently, I have found that some well-meaning Christians have tended not to interpret the Scriptures according to a normal, or obvious, interpretation.  Typically, they may faithfully adhere to their Church’s Statement of Faith/Belief, or merely repeat what they learned in seminary or read in a famous teacher’s book.  Plus, they may tend to disregard certain verses that may seem to contradict their preferred teachings.

See for example, the following passage:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:11-14).

I was using this passage in a teaching to show that the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers were given to the Church for a number of reasons, but the timeline is clearly stated: These ministries were given to protect Christians from false teachings until. . .” 1.) we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 2.) to a mature man, 3.) to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13).  

A plain, normal understanding of this passage shows, therefore, that these ministry gifts are to be in operation until these conditions have been met, conditions which clearly do not exist in the Church today.  

It must be, therefore, that these ministries need to be fully functioning in the Church, not dismissed or negated, as some recent teachings, such as the following, have proclaimed:

Like the apostles, however, their office ceased with the completion of the New Testament, just as the Old Testament prophets disappeared when that testament was completed, some 400 years before Christ. The church was established “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Once the foundation was laid, the work of the apostles and prophets was finished. (First Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1984], pp. 322–24) (Source).

Here is the primary passage, again from the Apostle Paul, used to demonstrate that the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the “ministry gifts” (See I Corinthians 12:27-28 below) have passed away and are no longer functioning in the Church:

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Paul continues in I Corinthians 13:8-11 to say,

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” 

This passage, in particular, has been interpreted to mean that the Church has become mature and no longer needs the kind of help a “child” needs, especially since the “perfect” has come, meaning the completed Scriptures, presumably even anachronistically including the rest of Paul’s letters and John’s Book of Revelation.

Since we have the Bible, it is assumed, we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment, in spite of the demonic age in which we live.  We no longer need words of edification and exhortation (prophecy) or the gift of faith.

Frankly, however, having lived and grown in numerous Churches from infancy, I have yet to encounter any local Church that is “mature,” or  no longer needed the “childish things” that the Holy Spirit provides.  In fact, the Lord Jesus gave the following message to His disciples before His ascension:  

 “But before all these things [His Second Coming], they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15)

Jesus, therefore, promised that the words and wisdom we will need when we face persecution will be provided to us.  In fact, Jesus told His followers that through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be His witnesses to the whole world before His coming again:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

We might easily conclude, therefore, that the promise of the Holy Spirit was given not only to the early Church, but also to the Church of all ages until His coming again.  Jesus Himself is the “perfect” who is to come.

The term Apostle, according to the Greek language, means “one who is sent away” to deliver a message or messages.  In some ways, our term “missionary” very much conforms to this idea, and, significantly, this word is based on the Latin translation of the Greek word (Source).  

In a sense, therefore, we continue to have Apostles in the Church today.  Any person who declares that He is an apostle, however, is probably not an apostle, given the abuses such a person usually inflicts on Believers for his own gain.  It is no wonder, therefore, why so many churches have taught that this particular ministry gift is no longer viable today, even in spite of the Scriptural mandates for these ministries.  

The ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to ensure that we believers mature and not be led astray by false teachings.  Not surprisingly, the Church today is weakened constantly by such teachings which declare that ministry gifts such as apostles and prophets are no longer valid in the Church, leading to divisions and strife, as well as a lack of maturity in the Body of Christ.  

Another Example

The following verses from the Book of Hebrews contain a warning, one which would not have been written were it not significantly important.  See if you recognize the warning:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

Understood according to the strictures of literal interpretation, this passage may nevertheless be disturbing to those who have accepted the “once saved always saved” teaching so common among evangelicals today.  Also termed “The Security of the Believer,” this teaching contains an important promise and blessing most Christians accept, providing as it does the assurance that the love of God is “unconditional,” as the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

This security is for the believer, however, not the unbeliever. Therefore, the passage in Hebrews serves as a warning to the complacent and those who at some point in their lives may not decide to continue to make Jesus Lord of their lives.  The passage in Hebrews makes clear that those being warned are true believers, for they have done the following:  They have 1.) been enlightened, 2.) tasted of the Heavenly gift, 3.) have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 4.) and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.

These conditions refute the proposal that those who “fall away” were never truly born-again believers in the first place, so they were never truly saved from their sins by the blood and Lordship of Jesus.  Therefore, it is said, they have fallen away from what was never theirs.  

Unfortunately, however, this theory does not adhere to the plain language of the passage in Hebrews.  The warning is clear to all who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord:  Do not fall away, or it may be impossible to renew you to repentance, having again crucified again the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  

Although this may be an extreme example, the warning still pertains to all Christians.  In particular, it does not allow for opportunities to engage in sinful behaviors without reaping the resulting consequences.  These sinful behaviors are prohibited precisely because they result in harmful effects in the lives of those who engage in them.  Adultery, for example, devastates the lives of those who choose it, as well as the lives of the innocent children. Fornication and other sexual sins are equally harmful, and true followers of Jesus cannot remain faithful to their promises to Him while engaging in these sins.  

Unfortunately, the “once saved, always saved” teaching, while providing assurance of God’s faithfulness to the Believer, nevertheless tends to imply the idea that sinful lives are acceptable to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What Kind of Tree Are You?

How-to-Plant-Cold-Resistant-Fruit-Trees-sm

It’s Not What’s In Your Wallet, but What’s in Your Heart!

I just finished watching an episode of “Master Chef Junior,” a competitive cooking program that tests the precocious culinary skills of pre-teenagers, ages 8-13. Astoundingly, one of the phrases most commonly used by these children during the program was, “OH, my God!”

Little do these children realize, of course, that they are using the name of the Lord God in vain, one of the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments.  The word “vain” means “empty,” which means that they are using the name of the Lord God, but not giving Him the esteem and honor He deserves. They are appealing to God with their words, but their appeals are empty, without even acknowledging His existence or presence in their lives.

Even more disturbing are the many times I see the many “OMG” exclamations every day on Facebook, not to mention the many other acronyms that refer to sexual intercourse, excrement, or urine.  

When I was a child, I was taught not to use such words, even though I wasn’t always provided a positive example of what not to say.  Therefore, I didn’t have a very good understanding about why I was forbidden from using such words.  I was just told that they were “bad words,” and I was not to say them.  Unfortunately, such words also appear on many Christians’ Facebook pages, at least in the form of quotations from other posts, or “shares.”

Jesus makes clear in the following passage from Luke’s Gospel, however, that a tree is known by the fruit it brings forth.  Consequently, we can know what kind of tree we are by the fruit that comes forth from our lives, or more specifically out of our mouths, or from our pens, texts, or Facebook posts.  

For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:44-46)

Of course, most Christians are familiar with the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the “Fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 to inform the Church what kinds of fruit the Holy Spirit brings forth in those who allow Him to live in us fully:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

The metaphorical application of a fruitful tree to a person who is living a fruitful life in the Lord is not unusual in the Scriptures.  One of the most obvious examples is in the First Psalm:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalms 1:1-3)

This passage contains the essential truths about fruitfulness as it relates to our lives as compared to a living tree.  If we truly wish to be fruitful, we must keep these conditions:

  1.  We must not associate with, or be influened by, ungodly people.  Doing so will ultimately fill our minds and hearts with sinful thoughts and habits.
  2. We must delight in the Word of God, meditating on the Word at all times and filling our hearts with the truths of the Word, the primary prerequisite for building faith in our lives, without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!”  (Romans 10:17).

 

Our Words Reveal Both Our Character and the Faith in Our Hearts

Aligning these Scripture verses together in this way clarifies how the fruit of obedience and holiness arise in our lives.  The ultimate source is the Word of God as it lives and dwells in our hearts, producing the faith that brings obedience, righteousness, and blessing.  In addition, Jesus reveals in Matthew’s Gospel what the source of all good and bad fruit is in our lives: 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. (Matthew 12:33-35)

We have a common saying today that relates essentially the same truth with regards to computer and internet technology: “Garbage in; garbage out.”  In other words, just as with computers, what comes out of our mouths will either be “garbage” or good fruit, depending on what we have received into our minds and hearts.  As Christians, therefore, we display who we are, or what kind of tree we are, by the words we use.  

The Apostle Paul is also very specific about what kind of evil speaking qualifies as both bad and good fruit:

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)

Any communication that does not “edify,” therefore, is not good fruit.  To edify means to “build up,” or to “improve spiritually, morally, or intellectually.”  In today’s culture, we are so concerned about what we are eating, checking for chemicals in our foods and seeking to eat only natural products.  However, Jesus said that it’s not what goes into our mouths that corrupts us, but instead what comes out.

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (Matthew 15:10-12)

Learn a Lesson From the Fig Tree

Another striking example of a tree and fruitfulness  in the Scriptures is the story of the fig tree:

Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

The leaves on the fig tree hold out a promise of fruitfulness, but this promise is not fulfilled.  Clearly, Jesus is disappointed at not being able to eat, and He sends a strong message of rebuke to those of us in the Church who hold out a promise of fruitfulness that is not fulfilled.  

As Jesus promised, today’s Church is facing persecution in many ways, from many different directions.  However, some of this persecution will be brought about only because Christians are not being Christlike or truly fruitful.  Instead, we are perceived as hypocritical, only preaching godliness but not demonstrating that same godliness in our lives.

We need to be different, not merely mimicking the behaviors of people in the world, but pure and holy in our speech, appearance, and behavior.  Even what we quote in our Facebook posts reflects what kind of people we are and what we have inside of us.  If we are no different from everyone else on Facebook, what right do we have to send a message of forgiveness and transformation to others?  

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