Promises, Promises

2 Peter 1:3-4 NKJV as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, (4) by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

I believe God’s Word! When God tells me something through His Word, I know I can, “take it to the bank.” Unfortunately, actual banks don’t see it that way, but that’s their problem. If something in God’s Word seems out of whack, I know either the translation, or my interpretation, is in error, and not His revealed Word.

Apologetics

Daniel B. Wallace Ph.D. sets the record straight about alleged New Testament errors in his article, The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation. Though most Christ-followers would rather simply accept the Bible’s reliability, and that is certainly warranted, some knowledge of textual criticism helps greatly when trying to deal with skeptic’s challenges. Indeed, one of the major reasons for Christians loosing their faith is ignorance of apologetics (That branch of theology which defends the Holy Scriptures, and sets forth the evidence of their divine authority.1).

Human Promises

2 Peter 1 should give us great hope in God’s promises. Unlike Him, we mortals are quick with promises. Someone expresses a need and, with the best of intentions, we offer help.

A promise as simple as, “I’ll pray for you,” carries with it an obligation to actually pray for that person. Instead, it usually includes the unstated qualifier, “… when and if I get the chance.” And, yes, I’m as guilty as the next brother.

Those of us who have been reborn in the Spirit have no excuse for such laxity, as we are to always seek to become more like Christ. When we the church grow to where we can live by our promises, thereby completing Christ’s love in us, we will truly turn the world upside down.2

Father of all mercy, I am grieved that we who claim Jesus’ Name are so flippant about our word. By Your Holy Spirit’s power and through Jesus Name, empower us so we can complete our mission of turning the world upside down.

1 Webster’s 1913 dictionary entry for “apologetics” (Yes, Noah Webster was a Christian.)

2 Reference to Acts 17:6

It Seemed Significant At the Time

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had a thought while reading or listening to the Bible, but because I wanted to finish the reading I failed to write it down. When I return to the spot that jumped out at me, it seems to just blend in with the rest of the passage, and I wonder why it seemed significant.

My memory has never been stellar, but as I age, what memory I had gradually seems to ebb away. Most of my contemporaries will answer my concern with, “Oh posh! You’ve got to expect that as you get older.” Maybe so, but it is none the less frustrating.

Now, what was my point with all this?

Ah, that’s right. I seem to be exchanging my marvelous powers of recall—yeah, right!—for a broader perspective on life. I have always, and still do, pray for my Father to give me His eyes (a nod to Amy Grant here).

So easily I fall into the fleshly trap of viewing people and circumstances through the eyes of carnality. What could be an occasion for growth and blessing, I turn into a thorny problem. Will I ever learn Job’s lesson?

Job 42:1-5
(1) Then Job answered the LORD and said:
(2) “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
(3) You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
(4) Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
(5) “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.”

Before Job’s tribulations he knew of God, and that was enough for Him to be obedient, but his faithfulness during his trials matured his faith and brought him into a personal relationship with his heavenly Father. Job knew, and I’m learning, that my loving heavenly Father never allows trials without a purpose.

Praise God for His loving kindness toward us!

Apple Cluster Sin

Sandy’s Donuts makes “apple clusters.” They are the yummy clusters of goodness that most bakeries call, “apple fritters,” and simply typing that places me in serious temptation. Like this morning when, after getting up late, I didn’t feel hungry for breakfast, so I delayed it til after 2pm when I began feeling hungry. But that isn’t when the apple cluster temptation began.

My yearning for those clusters of fried, sugary goodness began as I was trying to concentrate on my daily Bible-reading … of course. While struggling through those Scripture passages, I prayed for God to counter my almost-certain baked goods binge. After my reading I realized that our household garbage receptacles were nigh unto overflowing, so hungry as I was, I set to gathering the refuse and began the fifty-yard trek to the dumpster. During my return trip I began feeling convicted about my yummy, afternoon plans as God’s inaudible voice reminded me of the consequences:

First, James 4:17 NKJV Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. This nugget of wisdom from author James isn’t new to me; in fact, it haunts me more than I care to admit.

Do you really want to willfully sin?” said that pesky, silent voice.

Isn’t it somewhere included in ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER that debaters aren’t supposed to detonate the “S-bomb”? If it’s not, it should be.

Second, “You will feel depressed and bogged down later.” Again, nothing new, but the hard truth of experience. While my palate loves those apple clusters, the rest of my body does not. No need for Your quiet voice here Lord, but thanks for the reminder.

Third, “You’ve already grown out of at least two wardrobes …” Enough said.

And finally, my own inner voice for a change, “Of course, You’re absolutely right Lord. I’ll be glad I didn’t. And thanks ever so much for Your help.

Sin? Really?

How could enjoying one (or two) wonderful apple clusters possibly be sinful? After all, lots of other fat Christians (forgive my frankness) manage to indulge their appetites for such palatal pleasure, so why not me? The answer is easy; I don’t want a thousand or two calories, however delicious, forming a barrier between my Savior and me. Regardless how you cut it, to willfully disobey is sin.

Does satisfying any of your appetites, whatever they may be, put a busy-signal on your prayer-line? Does praising your loving Savior seem just a bit hollow when you allow His conviction to penetrate your denial, and indulge anyway? If we honestly have to answer in the affirmative, James 4:17 applies directly to us.

Where is your battle line drawn?

I confessed just one of my struggles, but I have many more. What are your struggles? You may be skinny as a rail, able to look down your nose at us fat folks munching out on our sugary poison, but Apostle John says you are not free of your own guilt:

1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

If God’s church seems lacking in vitality, you and I can see the reason by simply looking in a mirror. A sinning church is an impotent church. How have we sinned? Read the New Testament and apply it to yourself, rather than to Betty-Sue over there.

And pray! Serious, sin-confessing, prostrate-on-the-floor prayer. Then watch the Holy-Ghost victory flow.

Peter’s Stunning Affirmation

I confess to having questions about certain Biblical statements, and theologians’ opinions don’t help much. If said highly-educated theologians were to establish a consensus in their interpretations I would have little choice but to accept their analyses at face value. But they haven’t, so I keep questioning.

Speaking of difficult teachings, John 6 records one of Jesus’ most controversial statements, and debate about it continues to this day:

John 6:53-58 NKJV Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (54) Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (58) This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so misunderstood that when outsiders heard of it they accused Christians of cannibalism. When some of Jesus’ followers balked at His teaching and turned away from Him, He said to the rest of His disciples:

John 6:67-69 NKJV …, “Do you also want to go away?” (68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Though Peter finally got it, his understanding was not his own. When I quoted excerpts from John 6 above, I omitted some crucial truths for the sake of continuity. Not only is this crucial, but it is the source of heated controversy even today.

John 6:63-65 NKJV It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. (65) And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

If you were hoping for my personal opinion regarding these profound truths, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. It is enough for me that Jesus preserved these truths and spoke them to me through His Holy Spirit. I pray for Him to wash our minds of preconceptions, to make them ready to receive His unadulterated Truth. And it’s all right there in black(or red)-and-white, waiting for open and pure minds to receive it.

I’m Not Dying

Oh sure, the world is quieter than it used to be. I glance down at my hands and they look like I forgot to iron them. I lack energy to get out of my own way. I have to be careful what I eat; everything I enjoy is off my diet and likely to come back to haunt me. I have CRS, but can’t remember what it means. People say these dreaded words to me: “Can I help you with that sir?”

But I’m not dying—I’m transitioning! And it’s about time; seventy years on this blue-and-green marble is long enough in my book. What about God’s Book, though?

God’s Word doesn’t tell me, “Let your light shine before men, until you get old, then hang up the spent lantern.” I can’t find the word, “retire,” anywhere in the Bible. Even the Levites, when they completed their twenty-five years of temple service, were assigned other duties.

No, my thinning skin should just allow Christ’s light within me to shine through all the brighter. These words of Jesus changed my life when I realized He was talking to me:

Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Without the Christians who held up their light before me, I’d be a goner. And without me and millions of other Christ-followers holding up His light, the world is full of goners.

“Getting saved,” isn’t our final game play, it’s just the starting gun’s report, the kickoff, the tip off, throwing out the first ball, and there’s no timer on the game board. In fact, there’s no game board, ‘cause keeping score is God’s job, and notching our Bibles for every “decision for Christ” is pure presumption, an act of pride that should alert us to the probability that our motivation is not to glorify our heavenly Father, but to glorify ourselves.

Now I need to examine my own life’s priorities; is influencing others to live for God numero uno? Or do I just want to sit back and enjoy the view of others marching straight into perdition? If the second option is true of me … or you … we may as well be dying, ‘cause we’re no earthly good.

It Comes Naturally

Even this couldn’t stop the people’s murmuring.

The greatest personal challenge I find in Scripture happens to have been authored by my namesake. Most Bible students would agree that Author James didn’t mince words when dealing with the essential issues of daily life in Christ. The coincidence of our given names has nothing to do with my interest in his letter to the scattered churches. Rather, it is the practical nature and authority of his instructions to God’s people.

And he leads with a powerful right cross to the mouth.”

James launches into his instructions like a boxer throwing a violent first punch to the enemy’s weakest point: his mouth. Satan relies on our natural human penchant for spreading negativity.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Satan sows discontentment when the church encounters opposition, “various trials,” or simply when some don’t get their own way. It begins with murmuring and griping, and progresses to outright rebellion, much like God’s people Israel in the wilderness.

Joy? Under trials? It just ain’t natural, and that’s the point. It separates God’s true children from the wannabes and pew-sitters who seek just enough religion to get that righteous feeling once a week.

Beware of brethren* who accost you after church with statements like, “Hey, what’d ya think about Pastor’s sermon today? I mean, …” Chances are what follows will be critical and mean-spirited.

And then a jab to the solar plexus.”

The next few verses never fail to knock the wind out of me.

James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Verse five qualifies the promise that follows. Fine and dandy, but the condition that follows the promise describes me perfectly. Yes, I ask in faith, or I at least summon all the faith I can muster. Unfortunately, I’m a “What I see is what I get,” kinda guy, so when I ask for godly wisdom but keep making the same bone-headed gaffes, I can only conclude one thing; my faith is either insufficient, or it isn’t true.

Yes, sometimes I am driven and tossed by the wind. And yes, sometimes I am double-minded and unstable. All this uncertainty grieves my spirit, and in my more depressed moments, causes me to wonder if I’m truly one of God’s people. Yet, that very grief tells me that I do belong to God. If I didn’t, wouldn’t all this be a non-issue?

Lord, I believe, …”

One of the most encouraging accounts of Jesus’ ministry is … click here and I’ll let author Mark tell it.

So verse 24 has inspired the desperate prayer of my life.
Lord Jesus, I know You want me to become like You, and for that to happen I must believe that it will. Like the possessed boy’s father, I believe. I know that You can transform me into Your image. But I need to know that you will transform me. Deal with my unbelief, Lord, so I can become truly like You. Thank You Jesus, by faith, for Your plan for my life.

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* “Brethren” is the archaic form of today’s “brothers.” It meant, “brothers and sisters,” but those with “sexist” issues take exception. Many modern translations render the word, “brothers and sisters,” but that seems awkward, so I’ve chosen to use the archaic form to include both male and female Christ-followers.

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.

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.

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!