The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: January 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Against Trump

P.AllanThe conservative magazine National Review caused quite a stir recently when it published an edition with this cover . . .

 

It contains 22 brief essays written by well-known conservatives.  Each essay explains (and in some cases warns) why Donald Trump should not be the Republican nominee for president.  Below I’ve presented the essay written by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the author of Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.

I am not implying one cannot be a good Christian and favor Mr. Trump.  I am saying, however, that any Christian favoring Trump should read and give serious consideration to  Moore’s thoughts before voting in the primary . . .
In 2009, the Manhattan Declaration, led by Chuck Colson and Robert P. George, reaffirmed the three primary goals of religious conservatives: to protect all human life, including that of the unborn; to reinforce the sanctity of marriage and the family; and to conserve the religious freedom of all persons. All three goals would be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency.
Yes, Trump says that he is pro-life now, despite having supported partial-birth abortion in the past. The problem is not whether he can check a box. Pro-life voters expect leaders to have a coherent vision of human dignity and to be able to defend against assaults on human life in the future — some of which may be unimaginable today and will present themselves only as new technologies develop. Trump’s supposed pro-life conversion is rooted in Nietzschean, social-Darwinist terms. He knew a child who was to be aborted who grew up to be a “superstar.” Beyond that, Trump’s vitriolic — and often racist and sexist — language about immigrants, women, the disabled, and others ought to concern anyone who believes that all persons, not just the “winners” of the moment, are created in God’s image.
One also cannot help but look at the personal life of the billionaire. It is not just that he has abandoned one wife after another for a younger woman, or that he has boasted about having sex with some of the “top women of the world.” It’s that he says, after all that, that he has no need to seek forgiveness. At the same time, Trump has made millions off a casino industry that, as social conservatives have rightly argued, not only exploits personal vice but destroys families. One may say that Trump’s personal life and business dealings are irrelevant to his candidacy, but conservatives have argued for generations that virtue matters, in the citizenry and in the nation’s leaders.
Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent? Under withering assault in the Obama years, social conservatives have maintained, consistent with the beliefs of the Founders, that religious freedom is a natural right, not a matter of special pleading to be submitted to majority vote. Most Americans do not agree with the Little Sisters of the Poor on contraception, and the sisters do not have a powerful lobby in Washington. This shouldn’t matter. Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.
Trump can win only in the sort of celebrity-focused mobocracy that Neil Postman warned us about years ago, in which sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power combined with promises of “winning” for the masses. Social and religious conservatives have always seen this tendency as decadent and deviant. For them to view it any other way now would be for them to lose their soul.
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Whose Son Died?

O PreacherJust saw this powerful illustration from Don Carson at the Bethlehem College and Seminary Pastor’s Conference.  Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition.

In this video Carson corrects misconceptions about “the intensity of faith” and redirects us to the object of our faith.  You can listen to the whole sermon here.  Special thanks to Bethlehem for making this available.

 

 

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Blood of the Martyr, Seed of the Church

P.AllanEach month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, according to Open Doors  (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/).  This is the story of the first one.

Stephen Martyred.

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at (Stephen).  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.   “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”   At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,  dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:54-60).

The Sanhedrin violently reacted to Stephen’s “sermon”/defense/prosecution (theoldpreacher.com/stephen-and-the-stiff-necked/).  They were “furious” (Literal Greek, “cut to the heart”) and so enraged they actually gnashed their teeth at him.

In sharp contrast, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus, the messianic Son of Man, standing (ready to welcome him?) at the place of authority over all.  When Stephen made his confession of who Jesus truly is and acknowledged him as worthy of worship and devotion to the death, the Court members covered their ears and, like a pack of hungry wild animals rushed him yelling for the kill.   According to law  (“Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him,” Leviticus 24:14) they dragged him outside the city, threw him down a small hill and stoned him.

Stephen, bludgeoned by the bashing, prayed for the Lord Jesus to welcome his spirit.  Then, falling to his knees under the relentless rain of rocks, cried out as his Lord had done, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  With those words, he passed from this life to Jesus.

Was his prayer ever answered?  It was for at least one.  Young Saul, at whose feet the Sanhedrin members laid their clothes to execute Stephen, himself met Jesus not long after and became the apostle to the Gentiles.  In fact, Augustine (4th century Christian theologian) said, “The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.”

Great Persecution Breaks Out & Scattered Believers Spread the Word.

And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:1-4).

With Stephen’s death, the dam burst.  The church became the persecutors’ target—perhaps the Hellenist Christians, since Stephen had been leader of that contingent.  If so, the Hebraic Jewish Christians remained and the apostles with them.  But the persecution scattered all the Hellenist believers from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria.  And they ” . . . preached the word wherever they went.”  Thus the Lord used persecution to fulfill the next stage of Acts 1:8 (“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”, Jesus.)  The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.

The Church Suffers Persecution Today.

According to Open Doors, “Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution (Christians) experience on a daily basis.”  The Pew Research Center found that over 75% of the world’s population “lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians).”  The U.S. State Department says “Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.”  Open Doors’ “Worldwide Watch List” names the top 20 countries where Christian persecution is the worst:  North Korea, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Kenya, India, Ethiopia, Turkemistan and Vietnam.

Is it coming here?  If Vegas was making odds, I think they’d be good.  Ask Christian bakers and florists and at least one county clerk.  We won’t go from today’s “tolerance” to ISIS-like beheadings.  But the heat is slowly getting hotter.  Are we committed to Christ like Stephen was?

Meanwhile we can remember our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.  We can be informed from organizations like Open Doors https://www.opendoorsusa.org/home/ and Voice of the Martyrs http://www.persecution.com/.  Both sites also have projects we might take part in.

Reigning Lord Jesus, Son of Man, Messiah,
toughen us up in America,
so we’re ready to pay whatever price we must
to faithfully serve you.
Move our hearts now with our brothers’ and sisters’ suffering,
so we will do what we can to stand with them and encourage them.
Protect them, Lord,
convict and convert their accusers,
and keep them faithful even to death.
And have mercy, Lord.
May it not take the blood of
our martyrs
to awaken the church in America
to the eternal life/eternal death struggle we’re caught up in.
But whether it’s mockery, or job loss, or harassment, or beatings, even death,
may
our suffering result in more seed sown for your church.
For the sake of your great name in all the earth we pray, Jesus.
Amen.

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Stephen and the Stiff-Necked

P.AllanStiff-necked people are arrogant and stubborn.  They work hard to be good before God.  But they refuse to worship God as God, celebrating their achievements instead.  Therefore, after much patience, God turns away from them.

We come to the third sermon of “The Acts Eight”, “Stephen and the Stiff-Necked”.   It’s long (7:1-53), so to “hear” it we’ll need our Bible.  Let’s pull it out and read along.  Before we get to Stephen’s sermon, let’s take a brief look at the man and charges made against him.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)– Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen,  but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.  Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”  So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”  All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:8-15).

The Man Stephen.

We met him in Acts 6:5.  There he was one of seven chosen to distribute food to church widows and  introduced as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”  Here author Luke describes him as “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8).  He spread the Gospel primarily among Hellenist Jews, that is, Jews born outside Israel (“Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria and the provinces of Cilicia and Asia”).  They reacted with arguments.  Unable to succeed, they persuaded some men to make false charges against Stephen.  They seized him and dragged him before the Sanhedrin.   When members looked at him closely, they saw a face literally shining with God’s glory, as was written of Moses’ face (Exodus 34:29,30).

Charges Against Stephen.

To the Court the men Luke calls “false witnesses” charged Stephen with blasphemy against Moses and against God, specifically (1) speaking against the temple saying Jesus will destroy it and (2) speaking against Moses by changing his traditional customs. Like most lies, they contained enough truth to be deceptively convincing to the already hostile Court.

Stephen’s Sermon.

It wasn’t really a sermon, but a historical defense which Stephen turned into a prosecution of the Court.  In it, Stephen over-viewed Jewish history in the Old Testament.  Two themes run throughout it.  First, God’s steadfast covenant faithfulness to his people.  Second, the people’s resistance to God in favor of their own way, resulting eventually in God turning away from them.  We’ll look for those themes as we read.  And we’ll do it with the prayer that God may keep us from being stiff-necked before his grace.

The High Priest’s Question.

“Are these things  (the charges of speaking against the temple and the customs of Moses) so?” (7:1)

God and Abraham (please read 7:2-8).

Stephen tells how God called Abraham to a land he would show him.  Abraham went, but only as far as Haran.  But God “removed” him from that land to bring him to the land of promise.  In other words, Abraham half obeyed, half resisted.  Nevertheless, God acted in sovereign grace and drove Abraham from Haran to the Promised Land.

God and Joseph (please read 7:9-16).

Stephen recounts how the patriarchs (the men who would become heads of Israel’s twelve tribes) sold Joseph into Egypt, jealous of his dreams in which he claimed they would have to bow down to him.  But God was with Joseph and gave him favor with Pharaoh.  Therefore, by God’s sovereign grace, Joseph saved his family (and future generations) from famine.  (His brothers did bow down to him.)

God and Moses (please read (7:17-43).

Stephen narrates Moses’ story—how the Hebrews were enslaved under Pharaoh and how the Lord rescued them with signs and wonders.  But from the Hebrews rejected Moses again and again, questioning Moses’ credentials as ruler and redeemer, finally making a golden calf “and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.”  God then “turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven . . . “

God and the Temple (please read 7:44-50).

Yet a believing remnant survived 40 years in the wilderness.  God brought them into the Promised Land, driving out the nations for their sake.  Solomon, David’s son, built the temple.  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?’says the Lord. ‘Or where will my resting place be?  Has not my hand made all these things?'” 

With that quote from the prophet Isaiah (66:1,2), Stephen begins to drive home his charge against them.  The temple was the work of their ancestors’ hands.  They built it and gloried in it, instead of in the God who doesn’t live in a house made by men.  Rather, he is the maker of all things.

Stephen’s Charge.

“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him– you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it” (7:51-53).

Their history reveals their resistance to God.  And they have climaxed it by betraying and murdering the Messiah.  Yet, there is still opportunity to repent at this “sermon.”  We’ll see next time if they do.    Meanwhile, here is . . .

A Soft-Necked Prayer.

O God, please soften my neck.
I don’t want to be like those people
who enjoyed your grace but  worshiped themselves.
I never want you to turn away from me
because of my arrogance or stubbornness.
Enable me to lower myself and humble myself
to your good and perfect will
(even if I think my way is better).
Teach me that I can’t box you in,
because you’re too big and can’t be contained.
Teach me that my achievements earn nothing,
that all things are from you and through you and to you.
What am I that you are mindful of me?
In the name of your Son who chose your will for my sake.
Amen.

 

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War of Women

O PreacherIf I called this “The Apostles Solve a Food Distribution Problem” you’d probably prefer reading the phone book.  Admittedly,  “War” stretches the  conflict a bit, but there was grumbling and complaining and division.  Let’s read Luke’s account . . .

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”  What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (And) The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:1-7, NRS).

Why did the Holy Spirit lead author Luke to write about this ‘War of Women’?”  I find four reasons . . .

First, to report that the church continued to grow in numbers despite internal conflict.

Luke begins and ends this text noting  the church’s growth . . .

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number . . .  (6:1a)

The word of God continued to spread;
the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem,
and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (6:7).

Previously  Luke gave a running account of church growth  . . .

Those who accepted his message were baptized,
and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (2:41),

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved  (2:47).

But many who heard the message believed,
and the number of men grew to about five thousand (4:4).

Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord
and were added to their number. (5:14).

The U.S. account is different.  A recent Pew Research study reveals that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who claim to be Protestant Christians declined from 78.4.% to 70.6%.  The percentage of Catholics declined from 23.9% to 20.8%.  Orthodox Christians remained about the same:  0.6% to 0.5%.

According to the Atlas of Global Christianity, in 1910 Europe was 90% Christian; in 2010 Europe was less than 84% Christian.  Better news:  in 1910 Asia was 2.4% Christian; in 2010 Asia was about 9% Christian.  And  in 1910  Africa was 9.4% Christian, while in 2010 Africa was 48% Christian.  We can interpret these statistics differently, but one thing is clear:  the church can’t be extinguished, and in some unlikely places the church is thriving.

It was in Jerusalem.  It must have been exhilarating.  But with growth came internal conflict.

Second, Luke wrote this to show us that the Gospel unites when cultures clash.

Hellenists or Grecian Jews were from  outside Israel.  They spoke Greek and  had adopted some of that  culture.  Their widows were being overlooked in the daily food distribution.  Hebrew Jews were born in Israel.  They spoke Aramaic and held to Jewish culture.  Their widows were well fed  widows.

When the apostles learned of the conflict, they gathered the believers and had them select seven men to administer food distribution.  But they had to be “men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” In other words, they were to be men known among the church as Spirit- and wisdom-filled.   To say it another way, they had to be men regenerated by the Spirit and being sanctified by the Spirit.   Such men who embody the Gospel draw people together in unity.  This is why I say the Gospel unites when cultures clash.

Third, to provide a model for church leadership.

The model is simple.  When the church spread into Gentile lands, the model remained.  The apostles appointed pastors/elders to pray and serve the Word, while deacons were chosen to serve other church needs.  However, for both spiritual qualifications remained paramount (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13).

The model remains today.  The pastor/elder should prayerfully serve the Word to the people.  The congregation’s needs make that difficult.  But this is the pastor’s/elder’s calling.  Once Lois and I visited a church of thousands, where the pastor largely directed the Sunday “production”; it showed in his poor preaching.

Deacons should be responsible for other areas of ministry.  Even if they are food-distributors, they should be spiritually qualified.  In fact, I believe this model applies to worship team members, Sunday school teachers, etc.  They should be selected primarily because they are known to be being-sanctified-by-the-Spirit followers of Jesus.

Fourth, to teach us the importance of the church caring for her poor.

As far as I can tell, the Roman Empire had no welfare system.  The poor were largely on their own—but not among the Christians.  From the beginning, the church took care of her poor, particularly widows.  In this case, ” . . . as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (4:34,35).  That distribution as we’ve seen, included daily meals.

Today government programs help the poor.  But often not enough.  To love one another as Jesus loved us surely includes being sure our poor are cared for.

* * * *

What should we do with these four reasons for the inclusion of this incident in Acts?  Most of us are in no position to direct what happens in our church.  But we can pray . . .

Lord Jesus, the church you birthed is triumphant,
even in places where she seems weak and is struggling!
The church is triumphant because you are
and, for the sake of your name, you will never let your people lose.
Cause that truth to lift our depressed heart.
Where there is disunity among us, Lord,
root your gospel deep in our minds and hearts
until it brings us together as one in your transforming love.
Give us pastors and elders
who will prayerfully devote themselves to your Word
and others who are spiritually qualified to serve.
And may we who have much
remember the needs of the poor
as you yourself did.
We ask all this for the fame of your name
and the good of the people for whom you died.
Amen.

 

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The Living Church

O PreacherIn 1973 we planted a church in New Jersey.  Named it “The Living Church.”  The local Episcopal priest (half?) joked, “I guess that means the rest of us are dead.”  Ours was alive, yet nowhere near the “alive-level” of the Jerusalem church in her exhilarating early days.  Makes me long for what they had.

In this series of posts, I’m focusing on “The Acts Eight”—eight sermons scattered throughout the book.  To see them in context we ‘re following the narrative.  It’s taking more time than I anticipated.  I hope the Lord uses it for good.

In Acts 5:12-16 author Luke writes a third summary  (see 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 for the first two) of church life, as she marched through her early months and years.  This summary intoxicates . . .

Alive with the Spirit’s Power

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.  No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.  As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

“Seeing” the scene helps—so an explanation.  Solomon’s Colonnade was a porch-like walkway running along much of the eastern side of the temple courtyard.  They met in homes, but this was the public place believers gathered.  Outsiders kept their distance.  (Memories of Ananias and Sapphira?) Yet more came to faith; numbers surged.  Miraculous healings were regular.  Crowds came from outside the city with their sick.  Like the days of Jesus.

A clarification.  The NIV says,  “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders”.   An unfortunate translation, because it makes the apostles the actors.  More faithful to the original Greek is the ESV translation: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done . . . by the hands of the apostles.”  This makes the apostles the means, not the source. 

That church, that was The Living Church.  Alive with the Spirit’s power.

But such dynamic success instigated opposition  . . .

Advance Despite the Court’s Clout

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.  “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”  At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin– the full assembly of the elders of Israel– and sent to the jail for the apostles.  But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported,  “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.  Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”  At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead– whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.   Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”  His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:17-42).

This text, too, beats with the Spirit’s life.  First, the miraculous “prison break”, noted almost matter-of-factly.  Second, the bold “defense” of the apostles, which Peter attributes to the power of the Spirit.  Third, the rejoicing by the bloodied apostles.  And finally their unstopping good-news-proclaiming.

Speaking of “the bloodied apostles”,  it’s significant to note that the flogging may well have been the traditional 39 lashes with bone-filled straps.  That they rejoiced having been “counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”, and that they continued spreading the Gospel knowing the cost, points to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in them.

In fact, it’s quite remarkable how unflinchingly they declared Jesus to be the One . . .

  • raised from the dead by the God of their fathers.  Thus they connected Jesus to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • the Court had killed by crucifixion.  Thus declaring their unquestioned guilt before God.
  • God exalted to the place of ultimate authority (“exalted to his own right hand”).
  • who is now “Prince (Greek arkaygos–leader, prince, pioneer) and Savior”.
  • whose exaltation is for the purpose of giving repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Thus giving the Court opportunity to repent and be forgiven.
  • whom the apostles saw alive again with their own eyes.

So again, as before (4:1-22), the “optics” for the Court aren’t good.  Despite their best efforts, they look powerless and inept,  as the bloodied apostles leave rejoicing and persistently spread the word.

Aberrant Today?

Question:  Is Acts only a history of the church or a model?  If model, then from my (admittedly limited) view, we’re not matching up well.  What is happening among us that can be attributed only to the Holy Spirit?   When was the last time people came because they heard how the Lord was miraculously changing lives among us?  Are we in danger of persecution because our words and works threaten powerful people?

Maybe we should pray desperately for what we’re missing from the model . . .

 

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Flip-Flop

P.AllanBack in November I named Ben Carson as my choice for president (http://theoldpreacher.com/carson-vs-media/).

Now I’ve done what politicians do—flip-flopped.  (Those of you reading this from other countries, I hope you’ll find something for yourself in this.)

I’ve flip-flopped only because, in my humble opinion, I don’t think Carson can get the nomination and I don’t want my vote wasted.  I certain am anti-Trump.  I think his candidacy is all about himself.  As far as flip-flops go, Trump has flipped as far as humanly possible and I’m praying he’ll flop big-time.  I understand the anger.  But just as lashing out in anger on a personal level solves nothing, neither will it on a national level.  No way are his views (which seem to be all over the map) consistent with a biblical worldview.

Words matter.  Jesus said,   “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks “(Luke 6:45).   This is why inappropriate or vulgar speakers need a heart change, not a speech therapist!   What we hear from Mr. Trump’s mouth reveals the condition of Mr. Trump’s heart.  I for one don’t want that heart in the Oval Office.

Last December I posted a Marco Rubio video in which he spoke of his Christian faith (http://theoldpreacher.com/rubio-on-jesus-more/).  I’m posting another today (although the sound quality is poor).  In it Rubio responds to a question from an atheist.  I’m impressed that Rubio doesn’t minimize his Christian faith.  My sense is that he spoke from his heart at the risk of losing the atheist-bloc’s vote.  I’m not campaigning for him, though, under the circumstances, I think I’ve flip-flopped and will vote for him in the primary.

Whatever happens, I’m convinced we need more politicians, more leaders in every area and more Christians in general to speak up for Jesus.  Not to beat anybody over the head with the Gospel, but to make it clear where we stand—and to speak that truth firmly but humbly in love.

One question has long-concerned me:  If so many of us profess faith in Christ, why is our country (and the world!) as godless as it is?  Is it because many of us really aren’t believers?  Or is it that we have no intention of obeying the One our mouths call “Lord”?

 

 

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Bible Illiterates?

O PreacherI read a familiar, but still disturbing, post today entitled, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy:  It’s Our Problem”.  It’s available in its entirety at http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/.

The content reveals why most of my posts are “devotional commentaries” (or “little sermons” ) on the Scripture.  Christian bloggers write posts on everything from theological doctrines to practical “how to’s” to church history to personal stories.  Most are worth reading.  I am not competing with them or suggesting mine are “better”.  I write mostly about “The Word”, because I agree with Dr. Mohler:  Christians in American are largely biblically illiterate.

Mohler calls this a “scandalous problem” and declares “it’s up to us to fix it”.   Let me say at the outset the only “fix” is to prayerfully  read and study Scripture.  Neither my blog nor anyone’s writing can substitute.  The “fix” is to read God’s Word.  That’s why I typically quote (rather than just refer to) Scripture.  Even so, at best it’s only part of the “fix”.

Before looking further at the “fix” let’s see how bad our illiteracy is.  This information comes from various researchers, people like the Barna Research Group, George Gallup, etc.).  According to Mohler’s post, “Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.  Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.  Barna claims “60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments.  No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are.”

Eighty-two percent of Americans say, “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.  Eighty-one percent of self-professed born again Christians agree!  Some research results are tragically funny.   Barna polling shows “that at least 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”  In another survey over 50% of graduating high school seniors “thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.”  And another poll “indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.”

Why does this illiteracy matter?  It matters not so we can win a Bible trivia game at a youth group.  Mohler offers a powerful reason that should shake us if we’re among the “illiterates”:  We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs.”  To put it another way, the quality of our faith is determined by the extent of our biblical knowledge and the way we live is determined by our faith.  Now, knowing  the names of the twelve disciples won’t bolster our faith and thereby shape our lifestyle.  But, as Mohler points out, “An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.”

How, then, can we improve biblical literacy?

  • Pastors must preach the Bible—what it says, what it means, how to live it out.
  • Members must regularly be good students of sermons—listening, jotting notes, taking away knowledge of the truth taught, coupled with an aim to act on it.
  • Youth groups must include serious Bible study as part of their program.
  • Parents must read the Bible and pray with their children at home.
  • Christians individually, or as a married couple, must make time daily to read God’s Word and pray.
  • Blog-readers should read blogs that focus on God’s Word,  read them with Bible open, and read them prayerfully.
  • Everybody should buy and use a study Bible that gives introductory information to each book.  I think the ESV Study Bible is the best.

An encouragement.  The Bible is an intimidating, challenging book to read, made harder by the dumbing-down of our society as visual media (Internet, smart phones, etc.) push reading off the stage.  But the only way to become Bible-literate is to prayerfully read it.  (I try to write my blog in series so we’re walking through a Bible book or section.)  I know from experience that reading doesn’t just add knowledge of Scripture; as time goes on reading multiplies it.

Mohler’s concluding words are also mine . . .

I’m not suggesting that reading my blog guarantees biblical literacy. 
With my prayers, I just humbly offer it as a help.

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Money: Fulfilling or Fatal?

O PreacherAt a busy intersection not far from where we once lived a billboard boasted, “WE’RE A CHURCH THAT DOESN’T PREACH MONEY!”  Funny.  My Bibles says a lot about money.

In fact, Luke’s second summary of early church life (4:32-37) is almost all about money.  That’s especially significant because many months (maybe even a year or so) has passed since his last summary (2:42-47).

Church Life Summary (4:32-35)

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

The first sentence is key to this summary.  All the believers were one in heart and mind.  Commentator William J. Larkin Jr. writes, This phrase masterfully brings together both the Greek ideal of friendship–“a single soul [mia psyche] dwelling in two bodies” (Aristotle in Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers 5.20)–and the Old Testament ideal of total loyalty (1 Chron 12:39–referring to the devotion of David’s band of men in the wilderness).

I caught glimpses of unity like that over 44 years of pastoring.  Sadly, I also saw painful occasions where we suffered the opposite in shameful church splits.  Most of the time, though, our church unity registered somewhere in between.

This Acts’ oneness was more than a km-ba-ya moment around a campfire.  It was lived out by the whole church.  “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” with the result that there “were no needy persons among them.”  This was especially significant, because Jerusalem’s economy was shaky at best, the country as a whole suffered through several famines, members from  Galilee and other places were away from their source of income and social and economic persecution added to their poverty (Acts 24:17; Romans 15:26)This sacrificial love enabled the apostles to testify to the Lord Jesus’ resurrection “with great power.”

How, I wonder,  did the apostles pull 5000  members into such unity?  Fundraising projects?  Car-salesman-like persuasion?  It wasn’t the apostles at all.  It was the gracious work of God the Holy Spirit (“much grace was upon them all”)Author Luke comments:  “For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”  In other words, they gave freely having been moved by the grace of God the Holy Spirit.

That’s extraordinary.   More accurately, that’s miraculous.   Who does that?  Maybe a multi-billionaire who can write off such gifts as “charitable giving” on his taxes.  But these people weren’t rich and enjoyed no tax deductions.  Without question, this was the result of Spirit- empowered, grace-produced oneness.  In passing, Luke identifies one example . . .

A Living Example (4:36,37).

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Why did the apostles nickname Joseph “Son of Encouragement”?  Perhaps in part because his Spirit-inspired gift brought heavy-hearted people hope.  But there was two other people whose gift brought a distinctly different result . . .

Fatal Fraud (5:1-11).

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?   Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”  When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”  Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”  At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Even though this narrative is pretty straightforward, a few observations . . .

—Apparently these two wanted the praise without the price.
—I think the Holy Spirit revealed Ananias’ deceit to Peter.
—Satan was the “power” behind Ananias’ sin.
—Ananias’ lie was primarily to God the Holy Spirit (who was present in the believers), only secondarily to the apostles.
—Death seems an extreme penalty for what we today call “spin”.  But  spoken in God’s presence, it’s a capital crime.
—The phobos (Greek) that seized everyone was not “reverence” (Romans 3:18), but “terror”.

Three Warnings & One Reward

First warning:  God punishes sin.  So, don’t mess with God.  He is to be feared, not casually dismissed.  The Good News part of this warning is that when Jesus died, he was punished for the sins of all who would believe in him.

Second warning:  God sets the rules.  We judge Ananias’ sin as small or even shrewd.  But life isn’t our “game”, it’s God’s.  And in the Bible he instructed us how it’s to be “played”.

Third warning:  The Spirit may move us out of our comfort zone.  Not to spotlight ourselves, but to point people to Jesus.

One reward:  We can bless others with our money and possessions.  Not only will that meet their needs and bring glory to the Lord; it will give us great joy that can come no other way.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit, Lord,
so we will be radical givers
as you have been to us.

Image result for photo of giving money

 

 

 

 

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The Country That Murders an Innocent a Minute

O PreacherI stumbled across this post by Andrew Napolitano on “Newsmax” and thought it informative about abortion from a legal point of view.  Take the time to read it and realize how lawless our country has been and continues to be regarding this devastating issue.  And wonder with me how long God, in whose image all these innocents are created, will withhold his wrath from America.  More than that, let’s pray and vote for a pro-life president.

Murdering Continues as Roe Turns 43

By Andrew Napolitano | Wednesday, 20 Jan 2016 10:42 AM

 

Image: Murdering Continues as Roe Turns 43

In one week during January 1973, President Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated to his second term, former President Lyndon B. Johnson died, the United States and North Vietnam entered into the Paris Peace Accords, and the Supreme Court legalized abortion.

Only the last of these events continues to affect and haunt the moral and constitutional order every minute of every day.

The court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade is arguably its most controversial in the post-World War II era. Its effect has been as pernicious to human life as was its 19th century intellectual progenitor, Dred Scott vs. Sanford, in which the Supreme Court ruled that African-Americans are not persons.

Roe declares that the states may not ban abortions during the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy because the states have no interest in or right to protect the baby during that time period. This made-up rule was a radical and unconstitutional departure from nearly 200 years of jurisprudence, during which the states themselves decided what interests to protect, guided since the end of the Civil War by the prohibition on slavery, and the requirements of due process and equal protection.
During the second trimester of pregnancy, the Court declared in Roe, states may regulate abortions but only to protect the health of the mother, not the life or health of the baby, in which, the Court found, the states have no interest.

This, too, was a radical departure from well-settled law.

Under Roe, during the third trimester of pregnancy, the states may ban abortions or they may permit them; they may protect the life of the baby or they may not protect it.

This diabolic rule, the product of judicial compromise and an embarrassing and destructive rejection of the Civil War era constitutional amendments, permits the states to allow abortions up to the moment before birth, as is the law in New Jersey, where the state even pays for abortions for those who cannot afford them.

The linchpin of Roe vs. Wade is the judicial determination that the baby in the womb is not a person. The court felt it was legally necessary to make this dreadful declaration because the Constitution guarantees due process (a fair jury trial, and its attendant constitutional protections) whenever the government wants to interfere with the life, liberty or property of any person; and it prohibits the states from permitting some persons to violate the basic human rights of others, as was the case under slavery.

As the Supreme Court sometimes does, it ruled on an issue and came to a conclusion that none of the litigants before it had sought.

Roe candidly recognizes that if the fetus in the womb is a person, then all laws permitting abortion are unconstitutional. The court understood that abortion and fetal personhood would constitute the states permitting private persons to murder other persons.

So, in order to accommodate the killing, it simply redefined the meaning of “person,” lest it permit a state of affairs that due process and the prohibition of slavery could never tolerate. George Orwell predicted this horrific and totalitarian use of words in 1949 in his unnerving description of tyranny, “1984.”

Is the fetus in the womb a person?

No court has contradicted the Supreme Court on this, and the Roe supporters argue that nonpersonhood is necessary for sexual freedom. Think about that: The pro-abortion rights crowd, rejecting the natural and probable consequences of ordinary, healthy sexual intercourse, wants to continue to kill babies in the name of sexual freedom.

I take a back seat to no one when it comes to personal freedom. But the freedom to kill innocents violates all norms of civilized society. It violates the natural law.

It wasn’t even condoned in the state of nature, before governments existed.

It violates the 13th and 14th Amendments. Yet, the Supreme Court and numerous Congresses have refused to interfere with it.

It is a grave and profound evil. It is legalized murder.

Is the fetus in the womb a person?

Since the fetus has human parents and all the needed human genome to develop postnatally, of course the fetus is a person.

A simple one-line statute could have been enacted when Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush were in the White House and Republicans and anti-abortion Democrats (the handful that have made it to Congress) controlled the Congress. They could have ended the slaughter by legislatively defining the fetus in the womb to be a person.

They did not. Are the self-proclaimed anti-abortion folks in Congress sincere, or do they march under the anti-abortion banner just to win votes?

Their failure to attempt to define the fetus in the womb as a person seriously, and the Supreme Court’s unprecedented dance around the requirement of due process and the prohibition of slavery has resulted in 44 million abortions in 43 years.

That’s an abortion every minute.

Abortion is today one of the most frequent medical procedures performed in America; and the Democrats have become its champion.

They, and their few Republican allies, have become the champions of totalitarianism as well. The removal of legal personhood from human offspring in order to destroy the offspring is only the work of tyrants.

How long can a society last that violates universal norms and kills its babies in the name of “sexual freedom”?

Whose personhood will the government define away next?

 

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano was the youngest life-tenured Superior Court judge in the history of New Jersey. He is Fox News’ senior judicial analyst. Napolitano has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. He is the author of the best-seller, “Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History.”

 

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