POP! Goes the Wineskin

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 ESV)

A while back I read right through that passage, unable to grasp its implications. Later, I understood its literal concept but couldn’t see how it applied to me; I’m neither wine nor a wineskin. Then I read what Apostle Paul had to say, and God’s truth began to dawn on me.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

As it turns out, I am indeed the wineskin that Jesus expounded upon, and in my old age the resemblance becomes even more obvious. But seriously, folks …

Before I applied the gospel of Christ to myself, allowing Him to give me rebirth in His Spirit, my flesh and its demands were all I knew. Of course, those fleshly demands included my religion and its rigid dogma. Even though someone always read a brief passage from the Gospels and the Epistles during the Mass, those holy words sailed high over my head, crashing and burning upon the sanctuary’s rear wall.

At some point, however, God’s Word began to hit its target, gradually changing the way I saw it. I began to ask questions that the priests couldn’t answer from God’s Word. If I had mindlessly accepted the Church’s dogma and rules and become a, “good Catholic,” I would have, in effect, sewn a patch of good behavior on the old wineskin of my heart. Jesus’ parable of the wineskins graphically portrays the painful result if I had chosen to go that way.

A transformed life doesn’t make a transformed spirit. Rather, by grace, through faith, God gives new life to your spirit, then to your heart, and finally to your way of life. That way, you needn’t worry about such things as torn wineskins and spilled wine.

Sorry Doesn’t Cut It

John the Baptist’s head on a platter

In Matthew 14:1-12, Herod, the mock-king of Israel, responded to his alluring step-daughter Salome’s demand for John the Baptist’s head on a platter with—well, God’s Word says it best:

[Mat 14:9 NKJV] And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded [it] to be given to [her].

So easily we preface our deliberate disobedience with, “Sorry Lord, but …” Then we try to condone our actions with a litany of excuses. Flip Wilson showed himself an acute observer of churchy behavior with Geraldine’s, “Da devo made me do it.”

My theology may be better than Geraldine’s, but my rationalizations are just as transparent. I pray for the self-control to resist my baser nature, so when I ignore the red flags I, in effect, tell God, “You didn’t answer my prayer,” diverting my guilt to the righteous One.

What presumption! I hold myself above God’s judgment by judging Him for treating me unfairly. How can God forgive such deliberate blasphemy?

Am I alone in this sin? Do such rationalizations cross your mind when you condemn someone else for their worldly behavior? When you envy someone else for their undeserved good fortune? When you rationalize consuming worldly entertainments as your, “liberty in Christ”? When you lust after material goods, presuming upon God’s future provision to, “Buy now, pay later”?

I plead, “Guilty as charged.” I must join the sea of sinners at the Judge’s left hand, bound for perdition’s miserable pit of eternal fire. And that would be my fate, if not for my Lord’s infinite grace, expressed in 1 John 1:6-10, where He pronounces the conditional, “If”:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Warning—We must not simply read those key verses. We must study them. Meditate upon them. Live by them, so we can claim God’s unfathomable grace.

For Want of Light

 

On ships of war, the men below decks at night exist in a dim, red world, lest when called to their battle stations in the outer darkness they should succumb to night blindness. In the same way, we must willingly live in relative darkness, so we might fully see what God places before us in His subtle, spiritual light.

Isaiah 50:10-11 New King James Version (NKJV)

10 “Who among you fears the LORD?
Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
Who walks in darkness
And has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD
And rely upon his God.
11 Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment.

Guilty as charged! I would love to be alone in that verdict, but alas, I am anything but.

My confession is true; I have ventured forth into self-generated light, imagining it was from God. I should have heeded Isaiah’s admonition: Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.

Is trusting active, or passive? It is active, as we discern and reject the world’s—and the self’s—seductions. But it is also passive, as we wait on God’s light, as opposed to trying to generate our own.

We live in a performance-oriented culture, and that drive taints the church’s works. We constantly audit our own productivity, and that of others. We encircle ourselves with sparks, walking in the light of our own fire and in the sparks we have kindled.

Let us not turn our work for our Lord into a competition, always striving to make points against “them,” while refusing to acknowledge the fruit “they” bear, lest they pull ahead of us on some celestial scoreboard.

HARD WORDS

Jesus said some hard things to His disciples, like in John 6:60-66, where many of His disciples turned away at His teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But His hard teachings didn’t end there; some are difficult even for today’s believers, such as in the very next chapter of John’s gospel.

Matthew 7:1-5 ESV
(1)  “Judge not, that you be not judged.
(2)  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
(3)  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
(4)  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
(5)  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Oh yes, we’ve all heard this passage preached many times, but have we unstopped our ears to hear what our Master is really telling us? Yes, this is for you there, the one who shows little tolerance for doctrinal disagreement! If that lesser brother contradicts you, why, he’s trying to teach error, and conscience dictates that you expose him for what he is.

Have you, O know-it-all, ever entertained the possibility that you may not have all of God’s Truth? As much light as He has shown you, is it not possible that He has illuminated someone else where He has not you? Assuming that you have a complete grasp of God’s truth is presumption, regardless how exhaustively you have studied His Word. It embodies the sin of vain pride, which is the one sin that hides behind itself. Unless you repent, you will stand before the Judge perfectly upright, until you notice which side of the throne you are standing on.

And yes, it’s for you, the one who won’t dirty himself by offering friendship to a homosexual, just in case perversion is contagious. You’re a manly man, and your Internet surfing habits attest to that. Better to sate your sexual frustration with hetero-porn than to risk sullying yourself by exposure to the real perverts.

Take solace in the fact that God’s Word commands relative sexual purity, right? Wrong! Consider what Jesus said earlier in His sermon on the mount:

Matthew 5:27-28 ESV
(27)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
(28)  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

You may try to answer, “Lusting after porn isn’t the same as lusting after a real woman.” If so, you’d be wrong. Porn is like a drug, constantly desensitizing its user so ever harder porn is needed to satisfy. Also like a drug, it’s habitual, changing the way you see women in general so you are tempted to look at them more as sex-objects than as sisters in Christ.

Not so? How often do you dwell on physical characteristics below women’s faces? Yes, it’s hard not to notice, but dwelling and noticing are hardly the same.

And you, O media-engorged woman, cannot stand with condemning finger pointed at those lousy men. Does the word, “Hot,” occur to you upon glimpsing an Adonis? Do you love your sizzling soaps? Do regency romance novels disappoint if they are not explicit? Whether or not you like to admit it, that is chick-porn, even without graphic pictures. Do you dress to accentuate your more favorable features, attracting men’s attention? Don’t be a hypocritical, blaming men for objectifying you as a sex-object.

Those are just two of many possible examples where hypocrisy is rampant within the church. I picked them because they are also my personal battlegrounds.

Ever wonder why today’s church seems so impotent compared to the first-century church? Pray for insight, and look deeply within yourself to find the answer.

SANTA CLAUS GRACE?

My previous post laid out some pretty stringent requirements for salvation that seem to leave no room for our human weakness. If that were all of God’s revelation to us, we would be in seriously bad straits. But there’s also this little thing called, “grace,” and it’s not to be taken lightly.

Searching, “did evil,” produced twenty hits in the KJV’s Old Testament. Each time, God judged that generation with some calamity that lasted until Israel begged His forgiveness and repented of their adulterous ways. And each time they repented, God gave them victory over their oppressive enemies. That’s grace.

Popular misconceptions have God either wearing a red suit and long, white beard, or throwing lightening bolts at anyone who steps out of line, but those who seriously read the Old Testament will see the depths of God’s love and grace toward His wayward people. God used all that failure, and all that judgment, simply to show us that we have no hope for salvation outside of His grace.

The fact that you’re reading this indicates your interest in things Biblical. The teaching of God’s inexhaustible grace is the hinge pin of all Bible doctrine.

Here you will find a treatment of God’s grace that, while not exhaustive, is thorough enough that you may learn something about it. Though I recommend the article, please know that I don’t agree with every point the author makes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am right in my conclusions, or that he is wrong. Weigh his propositions by God’s Word. If nothing else, it will give you insight into the teachings of Calvinism.

With all this teaching about God’s grace, remember that He is not Santa, keeping a balance sheet of good and bad boys and girls. From the age of accountability, we are all on God’s “bad list,” and only by obeying the good news of His grace can we hope for eternal life with Him.

TRUE FREEDOM—John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36 EMTV

(31) Then Jesus said to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, truly you are My disciples.
(32) And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
(33) They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
(34) Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly I say to you, that everyone that practices sin is a slave of sin.
(35) And a slave does not remain in the house forever, but a son remains forever.
(36) Therefore if the Son sets you free, you will be truly free.

We usually think of this as an evangelistic passage, yet, verse thirty-one says Jesus was addressing, “Jews who had believed Him.” Then He followed with an “if” statement, which means the promise is conditional upon abiding, or staying, in His Word.

Does this mean we must always tote a Bible around under our arm and quote Scripture at every turn? I only wish I could quote Scripture to every situation, but my lame power of recall prevents that sort of fluency with His Word. Even so, God’s Word incarnate lives in me, and I in Him. The blessing in that intimacy is the God-colored glasses that His Word provides for me. While book-chapter-verse eludes me, my general familiarity with His Word often enables a red signal flag in my mind when I’m about to go out on my own in disregard of His will, or witness flagrant violations of His principles. I think that is what Jesus meant by staying in His Word.

Verse thirty-two promises to set us free, but free from what? Jesus’ blood covers our sin in the Father’s view, freeing those of us who believe with saving faith from the eternal death we deserve. If Jesus’ blood gives us His eternal life, why worry about living in His Word?

That’s exactly the same as asking why we should live holy lives for Him, because without His Word we will never achieve that holy life. Here’s where His Word comes in again:

1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV
(15) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
(16) because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (Leviticus 11:45)

That’s a command, my friend. It’s not optional, or impossible, this side of heaven. Apostle Paul summed up God’s command for our lives:

1 Thessalonians 5:23 NKJV
(23) Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might insist that is optional, based on a best-case scenario. If so, read the rest of that passage for the knot that ties it all up:

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV)

Please see my followup post for the grace side of the gospel.

Danger: Quicksand!

Psalms 37:23-24 ESV
(23) The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;
(24) though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.

To which man does this passage refer? I think it’s addressed to the one who delights in the existing One’s(YHWH’s, Yahweh’s, Jehovah’s, or the LORD’s) Way, which of course is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). If one delights in Jesus, and His Way, the existing One establishes or directs the course of his life. That can be taken as an absolute statement, as one who delights in God’s Way will not easily go against that inclination. If he does, verse 24 and 1 John 1:9 apply, and he will not be cast headlong to destruction, but the existing One steadies and sustains his hand.

I visualize an explorer blazing a path through the jungle, where he encounters a wide mud bog. Being a careful explorer, he realizes the possibility that it is quicksand, and his Guide cannot show him a way around it. His Guide locates a downed log, long enough to span the bog, and just big enough to do the job. As he mounts the log he finds it precarious at best; he needs his Guide’s steadying hand. Being a klutz, he loses his balance and begins to fall into the quicksand, but his Guide pulls him back onto his narrow path.

What an encouragement, that I don’t need to worry about falling into the “quicksand!” My Guide will keep me on His path despite my human weakness, because I delight in His Way. Of course, this promise excludes anyone who insists on delighting in, and pursuing, his own way.

THE THORN IN MY HEART

St. Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Apostle Paul wrote of several aspects of his life that could cause him to be proud:

2 Corinthians 12:1-4
(1) It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
(2) I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
(3) And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–
(4) how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

(Romans 11:13) For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry,

(2 Corinthians 12:12) Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.

Most scholars believe Paul spoke of himself regarding these wonderful claims. Yet, in all these, he glorified God rather than himself, and for one reason:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
(8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
(9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What a truth! The eminent apostle recognized a fundamental spiritual law: that everything we naturally think we know is completely backward compared to God’s eternal truth.

My Thorn

I have a few physical issues, but none so deep or painful as to be compared to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. For that I thank my Creator, God’s eternal Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. My thorn is entirely different from anything physical; it is a thorn in my heart.

God’s Word calls the seat of our emotions, faith, mind, will, and temperament, the heart. Of course, God doesn’t mean that muscular blood-pump in our chest, but the in-most home of our nonphysical functions.

My personal thorn pierces a number of my heart’s functions, and my born again life’s work has been dealing positively with it. Here’s a litany of my heart’s bleedings: my emotions are too tender, my faith is too weak, my mind is too loud, my will is too weak, and my temperament is too fearful. Just ask any women who have been in my life.

I praise God, though, for the way He’s used that thorn, and the incorporeal blood that drips from it. My tender emotions give me empathy for others’ suffering. My weak faith makes me skeptical of anything that is not of God and His Word. My loud mind is also analytical, giving me a sensitive bovine manure-detector.

Let’s see, what possible redeeming value could my weak will and fearful temperament have? They work together, feeding off of each other, and have always been the cause of my deepest regrets, so I must dig deep to find the answer. For one thing, weak will prevents me from overpowering those around me. Even though some really need overpowering (that’s where the fear flattens my resolve), apparently God wants me to leave that job to someone else. Or is that a cop out? There are times when I realize that God has placed me where I should assert myself, such as sharing my faith and dealing with others’ wrong demands, and I pray constantly for the assertiveness to overcome such resistance when needed.

God’s Solution

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Jesus bore that cruel crown of thorns to tell me that my sins pierced His divine soul. How trivial my personal thorns are in comparison.

Though we sometimes must seemingly dig to China to find God’s richest blessings, those gold nuggets give us unrivaled cause for grateful rejoicing. Join me in praising Him for the hard things!

A Textual Contradiction?

Ancient Hebrew manuscript

Regarding Isaiah 9:3

Here is where various translations diametrically disagree, one taking a positive and another taking a negative disposition on the subject.

The positive are: ASV, Brenton, ESV, GNB, NASB, NKJV, YLT
The negative are: KJV, LEB, Webster

Without an understanding of textual criticism, I perceive a contradiction in the negative rendering, with the clause following it. Why would God tell us first, that He had multiplied the nation, and then that He had not increased its joy, followed by telling us of their joy as in harvest?

Albert Barnes addressed this issue thus:

And not increased the joy – The Masoretes here read in the margin לו  lô “to it,” instead of לא  lo’ “not.” Eleven manuscripts, two of them ancient, have this reading. This reading is followed by the Chaldee Paraphrase, the Syriac, and the Arabic. The Septuagint seems also to have so understood it. So also it is in the margin, and so the connection demands; and it is unquestionably the correct reading. It would then read, ‘thou hast increased for it (the nation) the joy.’ Hengstenberg, however, suggests that the phrase may mean, ‘whose joy thou didst not before enlarge,’ that is, upon whom thou hast before inflicted heavy sufferings. But this is harsh, and I see no reason to doubt that an error may have crept into the text.

I had tentatively sided with the KJV on textual issues, but here is a gross exception to that assumption, where the KJV makes no sense at all in its rendering. Please note that I did not title this piece, “A Biblical Contradiction.” While God faithfully preserves His Word’s meaning and application to our lives, in his sovereignty, he allows us to make mistakes where it contributes to His purposes.

What sayest ye?

Who Do We Worship?

First, What Is Worship?

Technically, it is an expression of our lowliness compared to our object of worship. It demonstrates recognition of another’s superiority or sovereignty over us. Praise is an expression of worship that recounts the qualities and works of the one we worship. I didn’t capitalize “one” in that sentence because we too often worship our temporal gods of material goods, people, or positions of power.

Today’s worship is usually programmed to elicit worshipful feelings, even if the content is non-Scriptural. Too often we feel we’ve failed to worship if we somehow fail to reach that tearful ecstasy. Despite all its wonderful aspects, Pentecostalism has elevated emotional response to where it can become the main priority of worship, with a neopentecostal worship style becoming the norm for Evangelical churches.

Now look! Did I say emotional worship is wrong? Not at all, as long as it isn’t our main priority. If our tears are in response to our love for God, or our conviction of sin, and not merely emotional contagion, God is well served by our tears.

God, or Jesus?

That’s a trick question. Jesus is the human expression of God, the eternal Word, so worshiping God is worshiping Jesus the Christ, the unique Son of God. In the same way, worshiping Jesus is worshiping God.

CAUTION! We can easily analyze the heart out of worship, and getting hung up on technicalities is the heart of legalism. Speaking of hearts, God knows and understands our deepest motivations. If love for God motivates our worship, it glorifies Him even if we fail to understand all the Scriptural particulars.

We mustn’t worry about how we worship God, whether we focus on the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to concern ourselves with obeying God according to the light He has cast upon His Word.

Amazing Grace

No one will ever get living for God exactly right. That’s why He gave us 1 John 1:8-10.

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

If you can’t praise God for that, you don’t know Him as you could.