The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: April 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Same-Sex “Marriage” Versus Religious Liberty

O Preacher ” . . . religious liberty is directly threatened by the legislation of same-sex marriage.”

CONTENTION.  So warned Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after the Solicitor General of the U.S. admitted Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court, “It is . . . it is going to be an issue.”  Mohler called this same-sex marriage case possibly ” . . . the greatest threat to religious liberty of our lifetime.”

ACCOMMODATION.  A key question of the Solicitor General came from Chief Justice Roberts:  “Would a religious school that has married housing be required to afford such housing to same-sex couples?”

The Solicitor General replied  that “the federal government, at present, does not have a law banning discrimination in such matters on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”  Regarding the states, he said, ” . . . that is going to depend on how the States work out the balance between their civil rights law . . . and how they decide what kinds of accommodations they are going to allow under State law.”

Mohler concluded:  “The Solicitor General of the United States just announced (in his answer) that the rights of a religious school to operate on the basis of its own religious faith will survive only as an ‘accommodation’ on a state by state basis, and only until the federal government passes its own legislation with whatever ‘accommodation’ might be included in that law.””  Mohler points out the same principles regarding student housing would “apply to the admission of students and the hiring of faculty.”

“Accommodation” is an ominous term.  It means in this instance, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “to give consideration to :  allow for the special interests of various groups.”  In other words, the norm would be a Christian college (opposed to same-sex marriage as a matter of faith) would have to admit same-sex married students, provide housing for them as they do for different-sex married students, and hire a same-sex married faculty member.  The college would have to seek special consideration from the government to practice their faith in those areas.

TAX-EXEMPTION.  Finally, when asked by Justice Alito, regarding tax exempt status for religious institutions such as universities or colleges, the Solicitor General answered, “You know, I . . . I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue.”  Mohler warns, “The loss of tax-exempt status would put countless churches and religious institutions out of business, simply because the burden of property taxes and loss of charitable support would cripple their ability to sustain their mission.”  That the Solicitor General of the U.S. before the U.S. Supreme Court would admit that Christian institutions retaining tax-exempt status will be an issue is stunning.  And a harsh reminder that we Bible-believers are increasingly in the minority when it comes to living out our faith in a society that values  egalitarianism (a belief that all humans are equal especially regarding social, political, an economic affairs) over faith.  In them has come true Paul’s words:  “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).  God—even on a non-sectarian basis—simply isn’t allowed into the argument.

ALIENATION.  We may not realize it, but we who follow the Christ of the Scriptures are increasingly becoming strangers in society.  The more “equal” everyone has to be in everything the more freedoms are forgotten—the first of which seems to be religious.  Are we ready to be a fringe group?  How should we then live?

Peaceful protests have their place.  Voting for candidates who champion religious liberty does too.  Without question prayer does, because we are commanded to pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1,2)—and I know I at least don’t do much of that!  But here’s one thing we must never stop doing:  speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  Paul exhorts us to that in a different context, but it certainly applies here as well.

The truth about same-sex “marriage” and its broad ramifications for religious liberty must be spoken.  We can’t be silent however “homophobic” or out of touch with reality we may sound.  But we must speak and act in love.  All human nature is fallen in sin.  We are sinners saved by grace—no different from the so-called gay activists, just different in sinful details.  We all need to repent and follow the only One who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

No matter how few may be on that narrow road with us.

 

You can read Mohlers’ entire blog at http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/04/29/it-is-going-to-be-an-issue-supreme-court-argument-on-same-sex-marriage-puts-religious-liberty-in-the-crosshairs/

You can also hear who  said what in this audio from “The Washington Post”.  (Warning!  It’s 90 minutes long.)  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/04/28/supreme-court-hears-arguments-in-same-sex-marriage-case-obergefell-v-hodges-today/

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Gifts To Love

P.AllanDid the Spirit’s gifts end with the apostles?  If so, we might as well grab scissors and snip 1 Corinthians 12 from our Bible.

WHY IT MATTERS.  If we believe spiritual gifts have ceased but they haven’t, our church is missing some good things (1 Corinthians 12:7)—like upbuilding, encouragement and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3).  On the other hand, if we believe they haven’t and we’re seeking them, we’re being deceived by “gifts” that aren’t of God.

FULL DISCLOSURE.  I’m a continuationist—someone who believes the Spirit’s gifts have continued from the 1st century to today and will until Jesus comes again.  My wife and I grew up in a Pentecostal church.  I graduated from a Pentecostal Bible college.  I was originally ordained in a Pentecostal denomination.  If you think I might suddenly bark like a dog or get “slain in the Spirit” or break out in “holy laughter”, think again.  I abhor the abuses of the abusers as much as the staunchest cessationist does (someone who believes the Spirit’s gifts ceased with the apostles’ death around the end of the first century).

CONTEXT AND PROOF TEXT.  How can we know which view is right?  Scripture, soundly interpreted.  That requires knowing the context of the proof text.  (That’s the verse or verses used to substantiate a particular theological viewpoint.)  For cessationists, the primary proof text (as far as I can tell) is 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.

“Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Generally cessationists interpret “the perfect” to mean the close of the biblical canon.  (“Canon” means “rule” or “standard” and in this context refers to the rule or standard of truth that God has revealed in Scripture.)  When the apostles died or (some say) when the church officially recognized which books were God-breathed (that recognition came in the 4th century A.D.), the gifts of the Spirit ceased.  The gifts were needed to confirm the apostles’ gospel preaching.  The completed canon was self-confirming.  To evaluate the cessationists’ interpretation of verse 10, let’s look at its context—the rest of 1 Corinthians 13.

“THE LOVE CHAPTER.”  Chapter 13 sits in the middle of a larger section—chapters 12-14.  So to understand the context of chapter 13, we have to briefly look at chapter 12.  Chapters 12-14 are about spiritual gifts.  It’s not a complete theology of spiritual gifts.  Rather, as chapter 14 reveals, Paul is addressing an abuse of speaking in tongues:  the Corinthians were making that gift the sign of being “spiritual.”

 Seen in its larger context of chapters 12-14, chapter 13 functions as the way the gifts of the Spirit are to be desired.  “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way” (last verse of chapter 12).  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (first verse of chapter 13).  Here’s the whole chapter . . .

Love is necessary (12:1-3). 
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is morally excellent (12:4-7). 
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth;  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Love is eternal (12:8-13).  “Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

THE SUPREMACY OF LOVE.  Since I’ve exceeded my length limit (are you still there?), I’ll have to say “to be concluded next time.”  But let’s take note how Paul resolves the Corinthians’ tongues-abuse.  Before he issues “how-to instructions” for desiring spiritual gifts (chapter 14), he turns the spotlight on love.  Without love, spiritual gifts amount to nothing more than self-indulgence.  Without love “how to instructions” amount to nothing more than legalistic regulations.  Love is supreme!

THE PRIORITY QUESTION.  It’s not “What does ‘the perfect’ really mean?”  It’s not “Why should we scissors 1 Corinthians 12 from our Bible if cessationists are right?”  The urgent question of first importance is this:  “Are we lovers like Jesus?”

Are we lovers like Jesus in the way we desire and use spiritual gifts?  Are we lovers like Jesus when we discipline someone who uses a spiritual gift in an out-of-order way?  Are we lovers like Jesus when we debate cessationism versus continuationism?  Because they won’t know that we are Jesus’ disciples by our spiritual gifts or absence thereof.  They will know we are his disciples if we love one another as he loved us (John 13:34,35).

 

 

 

 

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Power to Act Over Mighty Bad Stuff

O PreacherHe was the headline news.  It was his authority that put him on the front page.   It astonished everyone.  Demons cried.  Disease disappeared.  Damnation lifted.  Being famous in 30 A.D. northern Israel wasn’t like making it in the Big Apple, but Jesus’ name was on every tongue.  People hounded him wherever he went.  ” . . . his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28).

In our meandering through Mark’s Gospel, we’ve read reports about John the Baptist (1:1-8), Jesus’ baptism and temptation (1:9-13), the Gospel Jesus preached (1:14,15), and Jesus’ call to his first four disciples (1:16-20).  Today we reach the report of Jesus’ power to act over mighty bad stuff.  The whole text is too lengthy to quote.  (But, if you can’t read both text and post, read text!  God’s Word is more important than mine about it!)

HEADLINE:  JESUS DRIVES OUT A DEMON (Mark 1:21-28)!  In the Capernaum synagogue last Sabbath, a man suddenly interrupted the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and identified him as “the Holy One of God”.  Jesus responded by commanding an unclean spirit to come out of the man.  The man convulsed, cried out with a loud voice and the spirit came out.  The people were all amazed at Jesus’ authority.  One said,  “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him!”

HEADLINE:  JESUS HEALS A TOWN (Mark 1:29-34)!  The mother-in-law of Peter and Andrew of Capernaum was ill with fever.  Eyewitnesses say that after synagogue Jesus “took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her.”  News spread.  By evening all the town’s sick and demon-oppressed were brought to Peter’s front door where—people claimed—Jesus “healed many who were sick . . . and cast out many demons.”

HEADLINE:  JESUS CLEANS UP A LEPER (Mark 1:40-45)!  Yesterday a man claiming to have had leprosy told how he had approached Jesus of Nazareth begging to be made clean.  The leper said that Jesus, with a look of pity on his face, “stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.'”  According to the leper, the leprosy immediately left him.

HEADLINE:  JESUS HEALS & FORGIVES A PARALYTIC (Mark 2:1-12)!  Late yesterday men carried a paralytic on his bed to a packed house where Jesus of Nazareth was teaching.  When they couldn’t get through the crowd, they managed to pull the man up on the roof, break through, and lower their friend inside.  Witnesses say Jesus told the paralytic,  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Apparently to prove he had authority to forgive sins, Jesus then commanded the man, ‘ . . . rise, pick up your bed and go home.’  People present in the house all claim the man did pick up his bed and go home, leaving behind an amazed crowd glorifying God saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Demons (Yes, those little devil are real.  Who do you think inspires ISIS’ beheadings?). Disease.  Damnation.  All mighty bad stuff.  But Jesus had authority over it all.  With a word or a touch power to act was released and people rescued,

If we lived in a northern Israeli town (you’ve seen Middle East villages on TV  news) and a  man visited and worked miracles like this, what would we think?  Mark doesn’t want us to write them off as scams or people’s pre-science ignorance.  He wants us to connect them with Jesus’ preaching . . .

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14,15).

Connect healings with preaching and what do we get?

Those healings powerfully signified the kingdom of God was at hand.  “Kingdom” (Greek basilaya) fundamentally means “reign” or “the power exercised by a king.”  The hope the prophets had promised was no longer a circled date on a far-off future calendar.  It was as near as the hand at the end of your arm.  God’s reign was at hand.  Healing miracles were the signs pointing to its closeness.

The kingdom of God was at hand in the person of JesusJesus was (is) the king of God’s kingdom.  Wherever Jesus was the reign of God was.  The kingdom wasn’t a territory but the power exercised by the king.  The kingdom was incarnated in Jesus.  And his healing miracles localized God’s reign in him.

Those healings revealed what life is like in the kingdom of God.  Demons exorcised and banned from coming back.  Disease removed and kingdom-citizens restored to health.  Damnation for sin lifted by a word of forgiveness.  In Jesus the kingdom had already come, but not yet in its fulness.  Here were tastes, glimpses, anticipations of what God’s consummated reign will be.

Therefore, repent.  Stop thinking that this world-system is all there is.  Stop banking on dreams fulfilled by “making it” here.  Stop living as if you’re the king of your own little kingdom.  Turn to give your allegiance to Jesus.  If you don’t, demons or disease or damnation will get you.  And any one of those is mighty bad stuff.

There, believe in the Gospel.  All this sounds like an old Disney movie.  Or as crazy as the idea that if you die killing an infidel 20 virgins await you in heaven.  But it’s real.  As real as the demon-free man.  As real as the healed town.  As real as the clean skin of the leper.  As real as the paralytic walking on strong legs with a guiltless heart.

Because of Jesus—the man with the power to act over mighty bad stuff.

 

 

 

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Ongoing Revelation?

P.AllanIs God’s revelation to humans an on-going process?  In ages past slavery was considered a given.  Those who questioned slavery were directed to passages in the Bible (Onesimus) that appeared to justify, or at least condone, slavery.  We as modern people do not accept slavery..  Do same-sex relations fall into that same category of modernity informing our understanding of Scripture?  And does that equate to God revealing Himself to us according to our ability to understand ourselves and the natural world in ways our ancestors could not?

Good questions emailed from an old friend.  Except “yes” would put the human (sin-corrupted) mind in control of God’s revelation.  Think:  if God revealed himself “according to our ability to understand ourselves and the natural world”, God’s revelation could never be any greater than our natural mind could grasp. We, not God, would be the masters of divine revelation.

Good questions except they presuppose that our “ability to understand” is evolving upward.  Perhaps that’s true  when it comes to the sciences or technology, but theology and morality and spirituality ?  Given the violence and sexual perversity and weird belief systems we see all around us, are we really smarter or wiser than our ancestors?

THE SCRIPTURE.  In the Bible’s last chapter, the apostle John issues an alert:  “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book . . .  ” (Revelation 22:18).  This warning applies to the book of Revelation, of course.  But positioned where it is at the end of the Bible, it may very well apply it to the entire Scripture.  If so, it warns us not to tack “ongoing revelation” on to God’s Word.

The apostle Jude wrote, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b).  Why?  Because ” . . . certain people . . . pervert the grace of our God . . . and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).  Notice:  the faith (that is, the revelation of God fulfilled in the revelation of Jesus Christ) was “once for all delivered to the saints.”  Jude’s language is plain:  no ongoing delivery!  Anything that purports to be “new revelation” perverts God’s grace and denies the Lord Jesus Christ.

THE BIBLICAL CANON. John MacArthur’s comments about canonicity argue strongly against ongoing revelation.

We must understand that the Bible is actually one book with one Divine Author, though it was written over a period of 1,500 years through the pens of almost 40 human writers. The Bible began with the creation account of Genesis 1,2, written by Moses about 1405 b.c.,and extends to the eternity future in the account of Revelation 21,22, written by the Apostle John about a.d. 95.  During this time, God progressively revealed Himself and His purposes in the inspired Scriptures. But this raises a significant question:  “How do we know what supposed sacred writings were to be included in the canon of Scripture and which ones were to be excluded?”  Over the centuries, 3 widely recognized principles were used to validate those writings which came as a result of divine revelation and inspiration.  First, the writing had to have a recognized prophet or apostle as its author (or one associated with them, as in the case of Mark, Luke, Hebrews, James,and Jude). Second, the writing could not disagree with or contradict previous Scripture. Third, the writing had to have general consensus by the church as an inspired book. Thus, when various councils met in church history to consider the canon, they did not vote for the canonicity of a book but rather recognized, after the fact, what God had already written.

With regard to the Old Testament, by the time of Christ all of the Old Testament had been written and accepted in the Jewish community. The last book, Malachi, had been completed about 430 b.c.  Not only does the Old Testament canon of Christ’s day conform to the Old Testament which has since been used throughout the centuries, but is does not contain the uninspired and spurious Apocrypha, that group of 14 rogue writings which were written after Malachi and attached to the Old Testament about 200-150 b.c. in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX), appearing to this very day in some versions of the Bible. However, not one passage from the Apocrypha is cited by any New Testament writer, nor did Jesus affirm any of it as Scripture. He recognized the Old Testament canon of His era (cf. Luke 24:27,44).  By Christ’s time, the Old Testament canon had been divided up into two lists of 22 or 24 books respectively, each of which contained all the same material as the 39 books of our modern versions.  In the 22 book canon, Jeremiah and Lamentations were considered as one, as were Judges and Ruth.

The same 3 key tests of canonicity that applied to the Old Testament also applied to the New Testament. In the case of Mark and Luke/Acts, the authors were considered to be, in effect, the penmen for Peter and Paul respectively. James and Jude were written by Christ’s half-brothers.  While Hebrews is the only New Testament book whose authorship is unknown for certain, its content is so in line with both the Old Testament and New Testament, that the early church concluded it must have been written by an apostolic associate. The 27 books of the New Testament have been universally accepted since ca. a.d. 350-400 as inspired by God.

The “key tests of canonicity” clearly indicate that, when the church councils recognized what God had already “breathed out” (2 Timothy 3:16), they closed the door on further revelation.  How could a recognized prophet or apostle suddenly appear today?  Furthermore, any new “revelation” could not disagree with or contradict previous Scripture (something same-sex “marriage” certainly does—see, for example, the “creation ordinance” in Genesis 2:18-24).
 
A PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWPOINT.  From a philosophical (or just common sense) viewpoint, if we allow for “ongoing revelation”, how could we judge its truthfulness?  A recognized prophet or apostle certainly couldn’t have written or spoken it.  It’s highly unlikely the church in general would recognize it as “God-breathed.”  And it couldn’t disagree with already-recognized Scripture (something same-sex marriage clearly does).  If we forgo those tests, or if the “new revelation” fails those tests, anything could be claimed as being God’s ongoing revelation.  And if anything were God’s ongoing revelation, ultimately we couldn’t be confident that anything was from God.
THE SLAVERY ISSUE.  Christians’ changed views about slavery didn’t come from “ongoing revelation” but from Christians (illuminated and convicted by the Holy Spirit) finally realizing the implications of biblical teaching, along with the abolition leadership of people like William Wilberforce in England and Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe in America. Same-sex “marriage” can hardly be identified as “ongoing revelation” from God, since it blatantly contradicts what God-breathed Scripture teaches.  In this case, we would have to call such revelation “change-of-mind revelation”, not “ongoing.”  We’d also have to replace the word “revelation” with “culture trend”, because society, not God, would be the source.
A WARNING.  When “modernity informs Scripture”, modernity wins the popular vote.  Modernity, post-modernity or the latest cultural trend becomes authoritative.  And whatever the philosophy, worldview or trend it comes from humans, who are natural born sinners and whose sin corrupts their thinking (Ephesians 4:17-19).  Here’s one unspeakably tragic result when we don’t consider sacred what God does:  almost  58,000,000 aborted unborn babies in the U.S. since 1973.

God has completed his written revelation.  Jesus is his “last word”(Hebrews 1:1).  Our role is not to consider so-called “ongoing revelation” but to go on learning and submitting ourselves to what God has once-for-all revealed—even when it leads us to stand against the popular culture, even when that popular culture purports to speak for God.

 

 

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Flesh-Lust

P.AllanShe came to the river and took off her clothes and stood naked, her brown body just caught by the sun. I suddenly went mad. There came to me that dryness in the back of my throat; that feeling…of wild unreasonableness which is called passion. I darted with all the force of swimming I had to where she was, and then nearly fainted, for she was old and hideous and her feet were deformed and turned inwards and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper. You have never seen a leper, I suppose; until you have seen one, you do not know the worst that human ugliness can be. This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask, and the next thing I knew was that I was swimming along in my old way in the middle of the stream – yet trembling…. It was the kind of lesson I needed. When I think of lust now I think of this lecherous woman. Oh, if only I could paint, I’d make a wonderful picture of a passionate boy running after that and call it: ‘The lusts of the flesh.’” [Ian Hunter, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life, 40-41]

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), a British journalist, author, media personality, satirist, and late-in-life convert to Christ, wrote that in a letter to his father when, a journalist in India, he went down to the river to take his customary evening swim.

Rev. Dr. Robert S. Rayburn—Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington—comments . . .

That old, withered, disgusting woman became an image of his own heart that had lusted after her before he knew who she was and what she was. The object of his lust showed the nature of it: ugly, sick, disgusting . . . he spoke of the old woman as an ironic symbol of lust and its consequence; of lust as a desire that is itself leprous, ugly, deformed, repellent, and inhuman. Lust as a desire that must be deeply offensive to God as the willful repudiation of all of man’s higher and nobler instincts, as the complete divorce of sex from love and commitment, and as the objectification and dehumanization of other persons as simply the instruments of one’s own pleasure.

“The lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16) is glaringly glorified in 21st century America.  From TV sit-coms to increasingly immodest women’s clothing to movies to online pornography to commercials and other advertising, we’re awash in it.  The psalmist’s question seems more pertinent today than when he penned it:  “How can a young man (or any man) keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9a),  His answer:  “By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9b-11). 

Guarding our way calls us to vigilance.  “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 103:3).  The children’s song, “Be careful little eyes what you see” warns adults, too.  What do we look at?  To whom do we give that second glance?  Of what does our entertainment consist?  When we’re alone online, what web sites pull at us?  “Keep a close watch on yourself . . . ” (1 Timothy 4:16a).

Guarding our way calls us to play offense seeking the Lord with our whole heart . . . storing up his word in our heart . . .  earnestly begging the Lord to keep us from wandering (good word here, isn’t it!) from his commands. Progressively, by God’s grace, our desires will turn toward the   satisfaction the Lord gives and away from the fleeting pleasure of lust.

Guarding our way calls us to spiritual warespecially against the lust of the flesh.  “Do not love the world or the things in the world . . . For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15a,16).  Fighting against the world (and our own sinful nature!) is a protracted, major battle.  Sometimes we win, sometimes lose. But by God’s sufficient grace, as we persevere in the fight, we can celebrate more victories than guiltily grieve over loses.

Remember Muggeridge and the naked woman in the river?  We would be well-armed if we kept that image before us.  The temptation appears enticing at first, beautiful in a provocative sort of way.  But if we look more closely with eyes enhanced by God’s Word and the Spirit’s holiness, we see sin’s ugliness that offends our Father and inevitably rubs off on us.  (Like leprosy, lust is highly contagious!)  When our eyes are opened to see the ugly beneath the beauty, it’s time to get away to the Water of Life that satisfies forever!

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
. . . let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who desires take the water of life without price (Revelation 21:16b; 22:17b).

river : River and shaft beam of light

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Follow Me

O PreacherExtraordinary life-changes can come from answering a simple call.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee,
[Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea,
for they were fishermen.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother,
who were in their boat mending the nets.
And immediately he called them,
and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him (Mark 1:16-20).

Lest we think Mark’s report about Jesus’ call pertains only to those four fishermen, listen to what the apostle Paul wrote to the church . . .

” . . . God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved,
through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
To this he called you through our gospel . . . ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13.14).

God called these Thessalonians through the gospel.  When they heard Paul preach the good news of Jesus Christ, God was present calling them.  Not surprisingly, then, the apostles often referred to the church as a called people (Romans1:6; 1 Corinthians. 1:2; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 1:18; 1 Peter. 1:15; 2:9; Jude 1:1).  A strong implication this is also true of us.  Through the gospel we heard or read the Lord was calling us:  “Follow me”.

What extraordinary life changes come from answering Jesus’ call?

WE LEAVE CONTROL OF OUR LIVES BEHINDPeter and Andrew had to leave their nets.  James and John had to leave their father in the boat.  Fishing and following wouldn’t mix.  But they left more than fishing; they left control of their lives behind.  They surrendered to Jesus’ lordship.

Lots of fishing in Florida.  If that’s your thing, take heart.  Jesus doesn’t call us to put our poles in the closet; he calls us to lay our lives on the altar.  Answering Jesus’ call means I can no longer say, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Jesus is.

WE FOLLOW A PERSON—JESUS.  Obvious, right?  Certainly for Peter, Andrew, James and John.  They didn’t trail after a doctrinal system, a famous preacher, popular music artist, dynamic church or even the Bible.  They followed a Person—Jesus—down the beach.  But because we can’t see Jesus leading us on, we tend to forget we’re following a Person.  We become adherents of a particular doctrinal system, fans of a famous preacher, groupies of a big Christian music artist, enthusiastic members of a dynamic church or devotees of the Bible—and Jesus the Person gets lost in the crowd.  That mustn’t be, because in him all God’s promises are fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20), and he called,  “Follow me.”

WE BECOME STUDENTS OF THE WORLD”S GREATEST TEACHER.  Those four guys knew how to fish.  But they didn’t know how God was fulfilling all his promises in Jesus or how Jesus fulfilled God’s covenant Law given through Moses or how Jesus’ followers should live in a fallen world or how Jesus was bringing the long-awaited kingdom of God.  Jesus was calling them to become his disciples—his students, his apprentices—to teach them what they didn’t know.

 Are we reading the Bible through in 2015 just so we can check the boxes?  Is our only take-away from sermons critiques?  Jesus called us to follow him as disciples.  We should remember the title of seventeenth century Puritan Ralph Venning’s book—Learning in Christ’s School.That’s what his call to follow entails.

WE START TO OBEY BY FAITHJesus worked astonishing miracles.  (Guess all miracles are astonishing, huh?)  But, apart from them, his followers saw no signs that he was anything but a great teacher.  Following Jesus called them to walk by faith.  That virtue has been diluted these days.  So here are a few questions to help “purify” it.  Jesus warns, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23).   Do we believe him and evidence our faith by not keeping too much wealth for ourselves?  Jesus teaches, ” . . . whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:44).   Do we believe him and evidence our faith by working to serve others?  Jesus explains that
” . . . the Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).   Do we believe him and evidence that faith by resting in his ransoming death for our eternal salvation?  “Without faith it’s impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6a).  And  ” . . . faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

WE ARE MADE INTO “PEOPLE-CATCHERS”“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  Jesus didn’t intend to leave these men as he found them.  He planned to make them “people catchers”.  Up to now, “Follow me” sounds rather inward, private even.  Just Jesus and me.  But Jesus called these men to send them out.  Some would be inspired by the Holy Spirit to influence millions (!) by writing what became books of the Bible.  All spread the gospel to different parts of the Middle East, even Europe and India.  As they followed him, Jesus made them to become “fishers of men”.

We aren’t apostles, as these Jesus’ followers became.  But, as Paul urged, we are to imitate them as they imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). That means we must constantly remember Jesus is pushing outward to “catch” children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, neighbors and nations for him.

GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY.  These extraordinary life-changes at Jesus’ call  can sound freedom-constricting.  But Paul pricks our “freedom balloon” when he reminds us we are either slaves of sin or slaves of God (Romans 6:20-22).  In 1979 Bob Dylan put it this way in the chorus of his Grammy Award winning song.  (If you’re a Dylan fan or just curious and want the full treatment go to https://vimeo.com/87876758.)

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

 Who are we following today?

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Homosexuality: What the Bible Really Teaches

O PreacherSet aside two hours to watch and listen to some of the most informative, dynamic lessons about homosexuality you’ll ever hear!  If you care about this “issue”—more importantly, if you care about people—click on the link and be taught and inspired.

https://www.crossway.org/blog/2015/04/what-does-the-bible-really-teach-about-homosexuality/

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Morning Like This?

O PreacherI sit at my desk this Easter morning.  I feel the breeze through my window.  I hear birds singing.  And I wonder, Was it a morning like this?  Click on the link below to listen as you follow the word and rejoice in praise to our Risen Lord!

Was it a morning like this
When the Son still hid from Jerusalem?
And Mary rose from her bed
To tend the Lord she thought was dead

What is a morning like this,
When Mary walked down from Jerusalem?
And two angels stood at the tomb,
Bearers of news she would hear soon.

Did the grass sing?
Did the earth rejoice
To feel you again?
Over and over like a
Trumpet underground,
Did the earth seem to pound:
“He is risen”

Over and over
in a never ending round
“He is risen, alleluia, alleluia!”

Was it an morning like this,
When Peter and John ran from Jerusalem?
And as they raced for the tomb,
Beneath their feet was there a tune?
Did the grass sing?
Did the earth rejoice
To feel you again?
Over and over like a
Trumpet underground,
Did the earth seem to pound:
“He is risen” alleluia, alleluia!”

Was it a morning like this,
When my Lord looked out
On Jerusalem?
He is risen, alleluia, alleluia.

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=was+it+a+morning+like+this

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Risen!

O PreacherWhen I was young I never thought about getting old.  Days were long.  Years were a road stretching without end over the horizon.  I’m not young anymore.  Aging and disability are constant companions.  Death blocks the horizon.

So I’m most interested in what the women found at Jesus’ tomb.  It was early dawn, the first day of the week, our Sunday.  They carried spices to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial, Joseph and Nicodemus having hurriedly buried him Friday before sundown.

They found that the stone covering the entrance had been rolled aside.
So they went in, but they couldn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.
They were puzzled, trying to think what could have happened to it (Luke 24:2,3—NLT)

Here starts the skeptics’ theories.  Somebody stole his body.  (Mary Magdalene herself presumed this—John 20:2.)  Jesus never died, just passed out until the tomb’s cool air revived him.  The women (having a notoriously poor sense of direction!) went to the wrong tomb.  I won’t refute each theory in detail.  I’ll just note how interesting that most skeptics contentedly accept the historicity of Jesus’ death, but dismiss resurrection
with an arrogant wave of the hand.  (Suppose that’s because accepting the miracle they’d be compelled to bow before Jesus’ authority?)
I prefer believing the whole gospel account.  That doesn’t make me smarter (or dumber, depending on your viewpoint); it makes me a recipient of God’s mind-revealing, heart-softening amazing grace.  It takes away cynicism layered on by life and makes me once again a child who simply stands in wonder at the empty tomb  . . .

Suddenly, two men appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.
The women were terrified and bowed low before them.
Then the men asked, “Why are you looking in a tomb for someone who is alive?
He isn’t here!  He has risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:4b,5—NLT).

Death undone!  Why go to his grave?  He has risen!  The good news announces that . . .

  • All authority belongs to him“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Jesus—Matthew 28:18, ESV).
  • Risen and ascended, he has poured out the Holy Spirit to live in us.  “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Peter preaching—Acts 2:33, ESV).
  • He is transforming us into the likeness of Christ.  “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:18, ESV).
  • God will raise us from the dead.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11, ESV).

The same day the women found the tomb empty, two disciples walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Jesus caught up with them, “but God kept them from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16, ESV).  He asked what they were talking about.  About Jesus crucified and his empty tomb, they answered.  And ” . . . we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21, ESV). Jesus said,  ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ (Luke 24:25,26, NJB).

Sometimes I’m stuck in a tomb of depression.  I’m looking for Jesus in my darkness.  Wrong place.  The One who is alive isn’t there.  He’s risen!  Other times I’m a fool, thinking that age and illness deaden my dreams, faith itself wavering.  But Jesus risen is my hope.

That’s why this climax to the gospel narrative carries such significance.  That’s why reading these accounts is so transformative.  That’s why celebrating Resurrection Sunday turns me again into a little child full of wonder.  And that’s why the words of this triumphant hymn grab hold of my heart . . .

Chris the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Dying once he all doth save, Alleluia!
Where they victory, O grave?  Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Sing in faith, in hope and in triumph.  Click on the link below, then on the first video, and against every skeptic and every doubt, rejoice in our Risen Lord!  I WILL RISE!

https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=ApxNv8aH9NlFLWE0gamRxo2bvZx4?p=%22I+Wil+Rise%22+Youtube&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-318&fp=1 

empty-tomb

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Friday the Good

O PreacherGood Friday was bad for Jesus.  (Though, for one of those counter-balancing biblical  statements see Hebrews 12:2 that surprisingly tells us Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him”.)

Early Friday morning.  The Jewish Council binds Jesus and takes him to the Roman governor Pilate.  The night before in Gethsemane garden a sword-armed mob from the chief priest had arrested him.  His disciples ran.  After the Jewish Council at a special midnight meeting found Jesus guilty of blasphemy (for calling himself Christ), they showed up with the sunrise at Pilate’s door because Rome had banned Jewish executions.  They need Pilate to complete the crime.  Their outrageous charges mean nothing to the governor, who would have freed Jesus had it not been for an agitated mob crying “Crucify him!”  Fearing a riot (and a political black mark from Caesar), Pilate surrenders.

Friday 9 a.m.  Jesus is spiked to a cross, a condemned robber on either side.  The charge, intended to discourage copy-cat crimes, is nailed over his head:  “THE KING OF THE JEWS”.  Passers-by laugh at him.  Chief priests mock him.  The thieves revile him.

Friday Noon to 3 p.m.  Darkness.  It’s as if the created heavens are convulsing at the Creator’s crucifixion.

Friday 3 p.m.  Jesus’ pitiful scream pierces the darkness:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He breathes his last.  Jesus becomes another Jewish corpse sagging on a bloody cross.

Described medically, crucifixion was sadistically cruel.  Described spiritually, apart from the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, it was beyond belief.  The prophet Isaiah described Jesus’ crucifixion like this:  “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6a).  The apostle Paul explained it this way:  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Those statements—except for their familiarity—are mind-blowing.  The Lord took all my sins off me and put them on Jesus!  He made sinless Jesus to be sin for our sake—so we sinners could become God’s righteousness!

Good Friday, bad for Jesus, was infinitely good for us who believe gospel news like this . . .

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4,5).

For while we were still weak,
at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6)

. . . but God shows his love for us
in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).

. . . [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages
to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26).

. . . we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ
once for all (Hebrews 10:10).

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)

Worthy are you [Lamb of God] . . . for you were slain
and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our
God,
and they shall reign on earth (Revelation 5:9,10).

This is why on Good Friday we soberly reflect on Jesus’ suffering.  It’s why we rejoice worshipfully at Jesus’ sacrifice.  And why we bow in awe at the throne of our providential God who turned Friday the Bad into Friday the Good.

 

Actors perform the Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday
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