Friday, February 16, 2018

Personal Greetings


See the source image


For some time, I have been assembling my own commentary on Paul's letter to Philemon. Recently, though, I decided to work my way through 2 Timothy, a letter I have not preached or taught before. While I have read it several times, a word leaped out at me as I translated the first verse.  Quoting from the King James Version:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus

This is a typical salutation from the Apostle. The thirteen epistles written by him begin with his name. There is nothing unusual in this. But, what grabbed my eye was the word "apostle". Yes, Paul frequently begins his salutations by noting his divinely appointed office. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus find the same word in the very first verse. There are only four Pauline epistles which do not have "apostle" in verse 1: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon.

You might ask, then, why the word in 2 Timothy grabbed my attention. All, but four, of Paul's letters were written directly to churches; only four were personal letters: 1 & Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Having spent so much time in Philemon, I knew Paul never used the word "apostle" in that letter. When writing to his Christian brother and friend, Philemon, about the latter's runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul had no need to remind his friend of his exalted position within the church. Yes, he was an Apostle. Yes, the letter to Philemon bears apostolic authority; it is the Word of God. But, Paul found no need to remind his friend of this. His approach was to appeal, not command, his friend to receive back Onesimus as not only his servant but also his brother in Christ.

Approaching 2 Timothy, I guess I assumed Paul also had no need to remind his friend and former missionary partner of his office. I was surprised, then, when I saw the word "apostle" in that first verse. Quickly, I checked the other two personal letters (1 Timothy and Titus) and, sure enough, the word was there as well.

The Timothy epistles and Titus are collectively known as the Pastoral Epistles. Timothy and Titus are pastors and Paul has insight and instruction for them and their local churches. While the letters are directed to these personal friends, Paul leaves no doubt as to the authority of his words. He is writing not merely as their friend and co-worker, but as an Apostle of the Almighty God. His Words are God's Words. His wisdom is God's Wisdom. His commands are God's commands.

These facts are true in all of Paul's letters including Philemon. Let us clearly understand that, when we read the writings of Paul (or any other Biblical author), we are reading the very Word of God. What they have written is not merely their opinion.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Paul, a prisoner (Philemon 1b)


“a prisoner of Jesus Christ” - desmios Xristou Iesou 



Sometimes Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, stressing his calling and mission from God.  Often Paul refers to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ, a menial servant who does whatever his master demands.  But in this personal letter, Paul uses a different noun to describe himself: “prisoner”.



We can learn much from this description.  First, we may take the declaration naturally.  Paul is truly a prisoner at this moment.  He is under arrest in Rome, chained to a Roman guard every hour of every day.  As a prisoner for two years in the Middle East, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and appealed his case to Caesar.  Now, for almost two years, Paul has been waiting in Rome for an audience with Nero.  As he pens this letter to a friend, he notes his physical position.  He is indeed a prisoner. However, he does not consider himself a prisoner of Rome or of Nero.



No, the description Paul primarily had on his mind when he penned the word “prisoner” was not about his physical imprisonment. Paul views himself as a spiritual prisoner.  He is “chained” to Jesus every hour of every day.  He goes where Jesus goes.  He does what Jesus does.  He says what Jesus says.  And his “imprisonment” is something he gladly accepts!



The phrase “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” may be interpreted in more than one way even when describing his “spiritual bondage”.  He is a prisoner “belonging to” Christ.  He is Jesus’ “peculiar possession”.  He is also a prisoner “for” Christ.  His devotion is not to himself, his family, his friends, or even his emperor.  No, Christ has made him His prisoner and all that entails (travels, words, actions) is in service to and for Jesus.



This one who, like each of us, was in bondage to sin has been set free from that sin.  He is now happily in bondage to Christ, gladly doing his bidding, whatever it may be.



May you and I view ourselves as prisoners of Christ.  May we see ourselves chained to our Lord, saying and doing (and thinking) only what our dear Savior says and does (and thinks!).

Friday, February 2, 2018

It's Groundhog Day!


Yes, Phil was out this morning, saw his shadow, and, therefore, predicted six more weeks of winter. While I haven't check the television guide yet, I would not be surprised to find Bill Murray's movie, "Groundhog Day", playing all weekend!



Anyway, the annual event performed in Pennsylvania raised a question in my mind.  How accurate has old Phil been with his predictions? So, I did what anyone who has such curiosities might do: I scanned the internet.  Yes, someone has determined Phil's weather forecasting accuracy. For the past ten years, Phil has been correct 50% of the time. I would say the groundhog may be better than most weather forecasters!



Being correct 50% of the time is not bad in certain situations. If you are a major league baseball player and strike out 50% of your opponents, you are a very good pitcher. If you happen to hit safely 50% of the time, you are the greatest hitter of all time! On the other hand, 50% can be very bad for others. If I am a surgeon and my surgical success rate is 50%, I'm out of business (or in jail!). If I play goal for the St. Louis Blues and stop 50% of the opponents' shots, I'm quickly released from the team.



But, there is one area where ANY percent other than 100% is deadly.



"But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)



A Biblical prophet was called by God to proclaim His Word. Of course, there were times when God's Word was a prophecy or prediction of a coming event. In those cases, God's prophet has 100% accuracy or he's not God's prophet. And, if he is not a prophet of God but is passing himself off as one, well, Scripture says "that prophet shall die".



There are many over the centuries who have called themselves "prophets" and gathered followers. They may be a prophet, however, if even one of their "prophecies" was not fulfilled, they are not a prophet of God.



I guess Punxsutawney Phil is glad he has never claimed to be a prophet of God!  


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MOON "Shines"


If you were awake early this morning as I was, you had the opportunity to see a rare stellar event not witnessed since the mid-19th century (1866, I believe).  Our sky displayed a super blue blood moon. Indeed, it was quite an interesting sight to behold.



While I am not an astronomer, I have always enjoyed reading about space. My knowledge on the subject, therefore, is limited and I am open to any corrections concerning my analysis.



From what I remember, the adjective “super” refers to the fact that the moon was at its closest proximity to the earth this morning.  As a result, it appeared to be larger and brighter than usual. Super moons occur every couple of years or so.



A “blue” moon implies the second full moon in a month. Since childhood, I have used the phrase “once in a blue moon” to refer to something that is unlikely or rare. However, blue moons occur almost every year. I read somewhere we will have another one in March of this year.



A “blood” moon describes the reddish color of the moon during a lunar eclipse.  The earth moves between the sun and the moon, the satellite changes color, and, in a total lunar eclipse, briefly disappears. Lunar eclipses also occur on a somewhat regular basis.



What was unique this morning was the occurrence of all three types of moons at the same moment. It is a unique experience. I’m glad I witnessed it.



While watching this rare display, my thoughts turned to the God of the super blue blood moon, it’s Creator. I don’t remember any Scripture mentioning a super moon, a blue moon, or even a lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, I was reminded of a passage of Scripture as I stared into the heavens.


The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.



The Apostle Peter spoke those words in his Pentecost sermon following the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. As those Biblical students who read this know, he is quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Joel. But, there it is: a blood moon!



Does Joel and Peter mean there will be a lunar eclipse at the time of Christ’s return? Personally, I believe God will perform a more miraculous sign to turn the moon into the color of blood. Yet, if He chooses to use a natural occurrence such as an eclipse, may He be praised! He is the King and Sovereign and may do as He pleases.



However, as I gazed at the super blue blood moon this morning and reflected on this verse, the word that leaped to my mind was the word “before”. The great and notable day of the Lord IS coming! He has promised to return. He WILL return. And, before He does, the moon will be turned into blood.



Praise God and come, Lord Jesus, come!


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chance: A Misnomer?


I love mathematics! I realize those three words classify me as a geek, strange, weird, whatever.  Nevertheless, I love math.



This does not mean I am a great mathematician; far from it. I am well-aware of my limitations when it comes to this field. My undergraduate degree is in Mathematics, but earning that degree required many, many hours of struggle. One of my graduate degrees is in Computer Science which also demanded additional math courses. Math is fun; math is hard.



For me, math became even more fun when I was called by Christ into a personal relationship with my Creator. In fact, every aspect of our education, every subject we investigate, must be examined from God’s perspective if we are to able fully appreciate it. Math is no exception. When one realizes that math has its origin in God, not in man, the subject takes on a different, far more appealing, flavor.



I have the privilege of teaching some math courses at local universities. Usually, these classes focus on Algebra. But, I have also taught a course in Probability and Statistics more than once.  For me, probability is one of the most fascinating categories of math one can study.



Probability deals in the matter of “chance”. Webster defines chance as follows:



Noun:

1a: something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause.

1b: the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings: LUCK.

1c: the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence: CONTINGENCY.



2: a situation favoring some purpose: OPPORTUNITY.



3: a fielding opportunity in baseball.



4: the possibility of a particular outcome in an uncertain situation.



5a: RISK

5b: a raffle ticket.



Adjective:

in the haphazard course of events.



Teaching probability demands the use of many illustrations or experiments.  Most of them revolve around flipping a coin, rolling a die, or drawing a card.  Obviously, these actions are associated with games of “chance”.



When I introduce the subject to my students, I do so with the following bullets:



·      Probability is “the chance of an event occurring.”

·      “Chance” or randomness is our perspective of certain events.

·      There are no “chance”, “random”, or “unexpected” events from God’s perspective.

   “(God) works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11b)

   “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)



The end of Ephesians 1:11 has always fascinated me, not only as it relates to probability. You see, the verse relates to every area of life! The full verse reads as follows:



In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (English Standard Version)



This is one verse in, what may arguably be, one of the greatest introductions to any letter. The end of the verse, starting with the “of him” in English, may be translated as follows:



Of the all things working one according to the counsel/purpose/plan of the will/desire of him.



While my translation is choppy in English, I believe Paul’s placement of the words rendered “all things” is designed to draw attention or emphasis to them.  The “working one” or “him who works” is a reference to God. Make no mistake; not only is God working (even now), He is working ALL THINGS for He is the “all things working one”.



What does Paul mean when He claims God works all things? What are all things? “All” does not necessarily mean “each and every”. This is true even in English. We sing the hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.” Are we universalists? Of course not. The context of the hymn dictates a limitation on the word “all”. “When all Christians get to Heaven” is what the composer means. Sometimes, the use of “all” in Scripture is limited as well.  We must look at the context to make such a determination.



What about the context of Ephesians 1? Does “all things” mean “each and every” thing, or must we limit the phrase to some subset of things?



As I read the entire chapter, I see no reason to limit the working of God. Nothing in the passage demands such a restriction. Furthermore, the tone of Scripture overall (see the Proverbs 16 passage as an example) supports this understanding. God is working each and every thing in His creation.



Yet, Paul goes further with his Ephesian comment. God is not only working all things (even the small things), He is working them with a purpose: “according to the purpose of His will.”



God is not a haphazard being as we are. We act, evaluate the outcome of that action, revise our plan, then take further action. I can think of an example from my family’s past.



1. We plan a trip to Myrtle Beach for a week in the sun.

2. We arrive at our hotel according to plan.

3. Hurricane Bertha is forecast to make landfill near our beach.

4. We revise our plan and divert to Florida for a week.



Our plan was rudely interrupted by an unplanned hurricane. Quickly, we had to modify it and pursue an alternative destination. But, for the God who works all things, such interruptions are never unplanned. Nor, are they without purpose.



God is working all things and He is doing so according to a plan that never changes, for He never changes. His plan is never altered for it is based on His desire; His unchanging, immutable will.



I believe Paul is clearly teaching the Sovereignty of God in this text. God does all things according to His perfect eternal plan. Everything He does has a purpose. Everything occurs at the time He has decreed. He is working out all things. Yes, these things include the events of our life which we see as “unplanned”, “chance” happenings. There is no “chance” with God.



While God does everything according to His immutable, eternal plan, that does not mean we will understand what it is He is doing or why? Those are different questions for another time. However, such questions do not negate the teaching of Paul, specifically, and the Scripture in general. God is providentially involved in every aspect of the universe from the rotation of the planets to the feeding of the ravens.



So, let’s study mathematics and the field of “chance”. Let’s pull that card from the deck and determine the probability it is an Ace (1 out of 13 or 7.7%). But, let us remember, this concept is relative. “Chance” is “chance” only for us, not for God. The card we pull from the deck is the card He intended for us to pull from the deck, whatever His purpose for it may be.



Praise our Providential, Sovereign God!



   





 


Monday, January 29, 2018

Observations on James 1:16-18


Observations on James 1:16-18
January 28, 2018 – Highland View Baptist Church



Our pastor preached on these verses during our Sunday morning worship service.  They are beautiful words, and he gave an excellent exposition of them.  Having studied, preached, and taught James, I decided to review my work to date on this passage and highlight some observations I see from the text.



ESV: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  



1.  Verse 16 may be understood as wrapping up the previous paragraph or beginning this new paragraph. 



(1)  With vv. 13-15, James exhorts followers of Christ not to be deceived concerning the source of our temptations.  God is not tempting us.  Don’t attempt to excuse yourself from responsibility for your sin.  Neither God nor the Devil made you do it.



As Dr. Doriani writes, “We can view (a test) as a trial and turn to God for aid, so we persevere.  Or we can read it as a tragedy, or as a senseless accident, or as a failure—on God’s part—to love and protect us.  Worse yet, some who meets trials blame and attack God for them, accusing him of malice.”



(2)  With vv. 17-18, James exhorts Christians not to be deceived concerning the character of God.  Do not cast suspicion upon His character.  God is good and gives good gifts.  He is not out to punish His followers.  The punishment our sins deserve were meted out on Christ at the cross.



I believe the verse may go either way and maybe that is what James (God) intended.



2. Verse 16 is a command, not an option.  “Do not be deceived.”  The implication is, of course, that Christians may be deceived.  Satan cleverly tricks us into believing God is our enemy, out to get us, and the bad things which take place in our life originate with Him.  “Don’t be deceived.”



3. Also, Verse 16 uses language structure implying such deception was already at work. James knows what his readers are dealing with every day.  He tells those first-century Christians, “Stop being deceived!”  Some were believing the lies of the enemy.



Of course, James is also telling us the same thing.  He understands the depraved heart within us (“the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”) and knows each of us have those moments when we believe the lie that God is against us.  If you truly have faith in Christ but, at this moment, think God is fighting you, punishing you, “stop being deceived.”  God is for His children; He is in our corner.

 

ESV: v. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.



1. James gets into the heart of his message for this paragraph.  Remember, God is the source of all good things. What are a few of those good gifts?



(1) Salvation, meaning regeneration, justification, sanctification, & glorification.  Ephesians 2:8-10

(2) The Holy Spirit in us and with us.  Luke 11:13

(3) The Kingdom of God.  Luke 12:32

(4) Eternal Life. 1 John 5:11



2. The gifts God gives us do not all arrive at one moment.  We may be regenerated and justified at the same instant, but James tells us here these gifts “are coming down”, a continuous flow of gifts from an all gracious giver!  God is not stingy.  He gives and gives and gives some more.  If we do not see the many gifts He has given us, it is because sin or the deceiver has blinded us.



3. James refers to God as the “Father of Lights”.  Who, but God, could create the lights in the sky?  He is their parent and, as Scripture tells us, calls each of His stars by name (Ps. 147:4; Is. 40:26)! What an amazing thought! My wife and I had difficulty in naming nine children.  Yet, our marvelous Creator has a name for each and every star in the heavens, billions and billions of them!



4.  Further, he describes the character of God as one who does not change.  A. T. Robertson said, “There is no such periodic variation in God like that we see in the heavenly bodies.” There is no variableness or shadow in our Creator.  He is not evil one moment, then good the next (which describes each of us from time to time).  There is nothing in Him to improve either through addition, deletion, or modification.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He is, as the theologians say, “immutable” (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). 



ESV v. 18 “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” 



1. Make no mistake about verse 18. James agrees with Paul and the other New Testament writers, clearly presenting the Reformed understanding of salvation (see also 1 Peter 1:3).  It is by the will of God, not our will (decision), that we have been born again.  “Brought forth” means to be born.  As the King James translates it, God “begat us”. We are new creatures in Christ because God decided we would be.  He chose us; we did not choose Him.



2. When we talk of this new birth God has given to those of us in Christ, let us reflect on precisely what we mean.



(1) We were justified by Christ, declared not guilty of sin.  But, from where did this justification come?

(2) We were justified by Christ because of our faith. But, from where did this faith come?

(3) We were made spiritually alive, given the repentance and faith necessary to turn from our sins and trust the Lord.  But, from where did this spiritual birth come?

(4) It came from God’s work of regeneration. Yes, regeneration precedes repentance.  It precedes faith. It precedes justification. Apart from such regeneration, we would never turn from our sins and trust Christ (see Ephesians 2:1-10). He, not we, made us new creatures. “Of his own will he brought us forth”.



Let us forever dismiss the idea that we were the initiators of our salvation. Nothing we said, did, or could have done would ever produce our spiritual birth leading to eternal life (John 10:28).



3.  God’s will for our new birth is accomplished through His Word (“the Word of truth”).  His Word is always true for He is the God of truth.  He does not lie and does not deceive.  Therefore, His Word, likewise, does not lie or deceive.



God, in His own mysterious ways, brings about our new birth through the Scripture.  Paul notes our faith comes from hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  Again, he writes in Ephesians 1:13, it was by means of His Word.  We heard the Word.  Perhaps we heard it in a sermon or read it in a book or listened to a friend quote it.  Perhaps we heard the Word in multiple ways.  But, by the Will of God, He used His Word to give us a new birth.



4. And why did He give us this new birth?  Was it simply as a form of “fire insurance”, to keep us from Hell?  No! James writes “that”, indicating purpose.  One purpose for our new birth is so we may be a “kind of first fruits”, a model of the creative hand of the Almighty. Do you want to see the power and glory of God?  Look at a born-again soul.  Believer, look at your own life and marvel at the wondrous changes God has made in you.



We are not to merely sit around and await His return.  We are to be a testimony, a witness of His love, power, creativity, wisdom, holiness, and forgiveness.



Our pastor noted them Sunday and Manton’s words are worth repeating: “The world are his goods, but you his treasures.”



If you claim to know Christ but you see nothing of God at work in you, you are being deceived.  “Stop being deceived!” Repent of your sins and trust Christ to save your soul.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Jesus, Free Will, and Predestination



Almost two decades ago, the Southern Baptist Convention updated their confession of faith known as the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.  That document summarizes Southern Baptists’ understanding of God’s Word.  Article V begins as follows:

"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.  It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end.  It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable.  It excludes boasting and promotes humility."

Now Christians have disagreed over the exact meaning of the opening word of this article.  Some believers refuse to use it.  Others will close their ears any time this word is used.  And I know there are some who feel the hair on the back of their neck raising whenever this word is used.  The problem, however, is that this word, and related words, are used in the Scripture.  You can’t ignore or disregard it.  The Bible speaks on the matter and so must the Christian, especially the preacher!

Our statement of faith says that election is:

(1)  First, “the gracious purpose of God”.  Election owes its very existence to the grace of Almighty God.  Apart from God’s grace, there would be no election.  Instead of deriding election, let us praise God for His grace which forms the basis of this doctrine.

(2)  Second, it is God’s purpose.  Election is not a “whim” of the Almighty.  Rather it is a doctrine based on His will, His purpose for the creation.  To despise the doctrine of election is to despise God’s very plan.

(3)  Third, election is the basis of all salvation.  As our statement reads, it is very election that God “regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners.”  Salvation is clearly the work of God alone and not man and election certainly testifies to this truth.

(4)  Fourth, election and “the free agency of man” are consistent.  Note well the choice of words:  “free agency” and not “free will”.  Man is a free moral agent.  Each man makes his own moral choices.  Election is consistent with these free choices.  To our puny minds that does not make sense.  How can God elect (or choose) yet man still have free agency?  We may not be able to explain this paradox but we accept, by faith, its validity.  Election and free agency are consistent.

(5)  Fifth, election “comprehends all the means in connection with the end.”  In other words, God does elect sinners to salvation.  However, he also elects the means to accomplish that end.  He has chosen prayer, preaching, teaching, and witnessing as means to accomplish His elective purpose.  To believe in election does not mean one does not believe in the means to salvation.  In other words, a man who believes the Bible teaches God elects sinners to salvation does NOT sin around and wait for God to accomplish that salvation.  Rather, he preaches and teaches and testifies to those who are lost and calls them to salvation.

(6)  Election  "is the glorious display of God's SOVEREIGN goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and UNCHANGEABLE."  In other words,  election is God’s choice, not ours, and that choice is final and irrevocable.  In other words, salvation for certain individuals (those elected) is "predestined".

Those opposed to election (and predestination) usually rise up at this point of the argument yelling “free will, free will”.  How can God elect or choose those who will be saved and then predestine them to that salvation and man have a free will.  Such an election and/or predestination is contrary to the free will of man.

Theologically, the doctrine of election is one aspect of the doctrine of predestination.  Predestination teaches that God has planned all that will occur.  That plan will unfold as He has planned it and nothing can or will change His plan.  Election teaches that part of predestination has to do with the salvation of sinners, namely, that God has chosen certain men from all mankind to be recipients of His saving grace.  This election predestines their eternal salvation.

Without repeating all the arguments supporting election (and predestination), I wish to simply examine what the Bible says concerning Christ and these doctrines.

Would anyone deny that, of all men who have ever lived, Jesus Christ was the most free?  Only he and the first Adam ever possessed a will which was untainted by sin.  Adam lost his untainted will when he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But our Lord Jesus never had his will corrupted by sin.  Scripture is clear that He never sinned.  Can any Christian deny that Jesus Christ possessed true free will and was the most free man who ever lived?  Any decision He made while walking this earth was truly a choice that was made by a will completely and totally free from any sin.  In Jesus we find TRUE FREE WILL. 

Yet what does Scripture say about this man? 

"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus:  for he SHALL save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)  Even before His birth Jesus' "destiny" was determined.  He WOULD save his people and, to accomplish this salvation, He must die a voluntary, substitutional, sacrificial death.  In other words, His death was "predestined" before his birth.  The most free human ever was predestined to die!  Now if predestination is true for the most free person who ever lived, how can predestination be objected to by any believer of Scripture?

"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the LAMB SLAIN FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD." (Revelation 13:8)  Not only was the death of the most free man predetermined, it was predestined as far back as the creation!  This man with a perfectly free will was predestined to die on the cross. 

We must be honest with the Scripture.  Jesus was the only human who lived his entire life with a will perfectly free of the effects of sin and yet His death was predestined from eternity.  And, in fact, so was his birth!  Did not the prophet foretell He would be born of a virgin?  Did not Micah foretell He would be born in Bethlehem?  Even his birth, its nature and location, was predestined by God.  Furthermore, we can point out several Old Testament Scriptures which prophesies about our Lord's life here on earth:  His birth, His ministry, His death, His resurrection.  All of these prophecies were possible and correct because HIS ENTIRE LIFE WAS PREDESTINED.

Again, how can we believe the life of one so free such as Jesus is predestined and yet deny God's predestination in our own lives.  Jesus was chosen by God to be the Savior and predestined to that end yet some of us wish to deny predestination exists.  Again, consider just one Scripture:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:  according as HE HATH CHOSEN ("elected" in the original) US in him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  HAVING PREDESTINATED US unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, ACCORDING TO THE GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL, to the praise of the glory of his grace". (Ephesians 1:4-6)

Here we have election (hath chosen) and predestination (having predestinated) clearly taught by the Scripture concerning US, not the Lord.  Certain sinners (“us”) have been chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy.  Certain sinners have been predestined to be adopted by Jesus as children.  And this election and predestination is according to God’s good will.  It is His choice.

Praise, indeed, to His glorious grace!

So, may no believer fear the doctrines of predestination and election!  Rather, give God the glory for His salvation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Providence of God, an Election, and Answered Prayer

Praise the Lord for His providential hand in His execution of His eternal decree!  I am comforted knowing that God works ALL things according to the counsel of His will.  And ALL things includes an election such as took place yesterday.

The Presidential race was between 2 fallen candidates, 2 sinners; how could it be otherwise?  Both have sins charged against their account and both will add to that list over the remaining days of their lives.  No one, except Christ, is perfect.  Apart from the grace of God and the redemption of sin found in Christ, neither of these 2 individuals will spend eternity with the Savior.  

Because of their falleness, their plans are also not perfect.  Neither of them can save this nation.  Only God can do that.  But one candidate has a plan to restore this country to its greatness while the other has a plan merely to maintain the direction of the past 8 (or, perhaps, 24 years), a plan which has proven to be a failure.  The latter plan has led our country to the precipice of bankruptcy and insignificance in the world.  That plan has, at its core, a hatred of nationalism, patriotism, religion, and individual rights.  It seeks to have government, the federal government, serve as the master of each individual.  The income of the people, in this view, belongs to the ruling class in Washington, not to the people themselves.

Surely such a plan is straight from the devil's pen.  I firmly believe Satan has been behind those working to elect Hillary Clinton.  Oh, I doubt any of them believe or even sense that has been the case.  But the deceptions and outright lies attached to her candidacy adds support to this theory.  Satan is the master of lies, the master of deceit; certainly he has been a major contributor to that campaign.

Many prayers were offered up to God that He would intervene and save us from Hillary Clinton for the good of this country and the greatness of His name.  He certainly had no reason to do so.  Our nation has strayed far from Him.  He could have sat back and simply said, "you will reap what you have sowed", pretty much what has happened over the past 2 decades.  But prayers went up before His throne pleading, once more, for His mercy and grace.  I believe, God, in His providence, has answered our prayers.  Donald Trump, a fallen man, is now the President-elect; the certain success of Hillary Clinton has been thwarted, again, by the hand of the Almighty.

Let us give thanks to our God for giving us another opportunity to return to our Savior.  And let us lift up those elected yesterday, praying that each one comes to Christ, if lost, and serves this nation best by serving the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why Did You Leave Your Pastorate?

Since leaving the pastorate of Bethesda Baptist Church in mid-October, I've had a few queries from friends as to why I did so.  Speculations abound so I want to lay those aside.

I left Bethesda because, for 6 months, I sensed God telling me that was the right thing to do.  He finally convinced me in June that I needed to move on and that Bethesda needed a different pastor.  There was no personal sin in my life leading to this decision.  There was no problem at the church either.  My departure is entirely due to the Lord's prompting just as my coming to that pastorate was solely by His prompting.

The church is in great financial shape.  The people there are some of the most generous Christians I have ever known.  Some of them have grown spiritually over the past few years.  The total membership number has not grown but it is the Lord who gives the harvest.

This is not to say that those of us at Bethesda are perfect.  Far from perfection, we each have sin in our lives which demand our daily wrestling.  Some members there are fighting, suffering, and growing for the Lord.  Others are sliding backwards.  Some, like in most churches, are probably not saved in the first place, despite being members of the church.

Bethesda is a fairly typical Baptist church with good people.  I would have stayed there until the day I died if the Lord had permitted me to do so.  But that is not His will for me at this moment.

So I have left the pastorate by His hand and am now waiting to see what He has for me next.

Nothing more and nothing less!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Providence of God

I have been convinced from the Scriptures for several years concerning the Providence of God.  All things occur according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).  We are in His hands.  Nothing surprises Him or catches Him off guard.  All is working according to His immutable, infallible, eternal decree.

A week ago today that decree included my physical salvation.  As I was driving 60 mph, a semi pulled out in front of me.  I thought for sure I was going to hit it.  But I quickly jerked the car to the left.  Then I was certain I was going into the median but I managed to jerk the car back to the right and around the truck.  Now I was heading for the right shoulder and the ensuing ditch, certain I would crash or flip my car.  But, again, I jerked back to the left.  This time something changed and I went into a spin.  The spin stopped my forward motion and I found myself facing north in the southbound lane.  After taking a minute to grasp what had happened, I turned my car around and simply drove home.

I should have hit the truck.  I should have hit the median.  I should have gone into the ditch.  I should have flipped the car.  But God had His purpose for my salvation that evening and He and His angels spared my life.  My escape from what I thought should have been death was not due to my great driving skills. 

My salvation from death was due to the mighty Providential Hand of God!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Poetry

Late last evening I published a poem on this blog.  However, this morning I determined it was not quite ready for publication.  So I have backed it off for now.

I have found writing poetry from time to time to be a relaxing yet stimulating device.  I am not very good at it and most of my poems seem as if they are constrained.  But since I don't care if anything ever comes of them, I don't really care if the poetry experts like what I write or not.  

Let's all admit it.  Some of the poems by some of the "great" poets STINK!  They make no sense or they do not rhyme, or there is no meter.  I would rather write a badly worded poem that someone can understand than a well written poem which no one can understand.

I'm a poet and my poems stink.
But at least you will know what I think!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dedicated to "Christians" Who Take Their Marbles and Go Home



There once was a member of a church,
Who left other members in the lurch.
   He got very upset,
   And so he quickly left,
To remain at home upon his perch.

He thought he had been wrongly accused,
By someone from among the church crew.
   A P. I.  he became,
   And searched for who to blame,
Until upon one he dropped the shoe.

Of course his target was the wrong head.
You see no charge had ever been said.
   He had misunderstood,
   A concern for his good.
And his imagination was fed.

The pastor called and wrote to correct.
Each attempt the member did reject.
   His heart was now on fire.
   He called pastor, "Liar"!
For weeks his church he did not respect.

Cloistered in his home, he took his stand!
Admitting his problem? Not this man.
   Impossible thought he,
   the problem could be me.
Pastor and church from life he did ban.


Then that pastor departed the scene.
Next week the member at church was seen.
    He never repented,
    Or even relented.
Yet the church greeted him as a king!

For weeks he abandoned his brothers,
His deacon list as well as others.
    But the church didn't care,
    They just wanted him there.
So it was a day like any other.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Concerned

As a Christian and especially as a pastor, I am deeply concerned for the people who DO attend churches for Sunday worship.  I am concerned because something is amiss in many of their lives, at least, from that part of their lives which I can see.  They profess the name of Jesus, claim to have been saved or born again, probably are a member of a local church, and very often attend church almost every Sunday.  Yet when I listen to them speak and watch their actions (or lack thereof) outside the church's worship service, I see works which do not match their professed faith.

For example, how can a person who has been born anew by God's Spirit and indwelt by the Spirit have little interest or desire to be in God's Word.  Oh, some of them tell me they read their Bible every day.  Yet their ignorance of Scripture is very apparent.  They lack a simple familiarity with the Word of God which belies their claim to be students of the Word.  They often will not attend Sunday School classes or other free opportunities provided by the church to study the Scripture.  How can you be truly saved and not thirst for the Word?  Something is wrong and I am concerned.

Others who are members of a church will never attend a prayer meeting.  Why?  How can you be a child of God yet not want to meet with your brothers and sisters in Christ and lift up the needs of your church to God's throne?  Something is wrong and I am concerned.

For many of these self-proclaimed Christians, there is no evidence of growth in Christ.  There is no apparent desire to grow.  How can one be born from above and have no desire to grow in Christ.  Something is wrong and I am concerned.

I know a lady who, over a 5+ year period, has attended morning worship twice at most.  She claims to know Christ and is a member of a local church.  She often attends an evening Bible class at the church but never comes to Sunday School or prayer meeting or almost any church fellowship.  When asked why, she says she has trouble sleeping and can't get up early enough.  Yet some of her Facebook posts have been made on many mornings before 9 a.m.  No, not being able to sleep is not her problem; it is her excuse.  She does not want to come to Sunday School, worship service, or prayer meeting.  PERIOD.  How can a church member have such an attitude and truly believe they are born again, saved, and covered by the blood of Christ?  No, something is wrong, something is very wrong, and I am concerned.

Perhaps this has always been true in Christianity.  Perhaps the overwhelming number of local church members and attendees have actually been lost individuals either faking their Christianity or deceived into a false security of salvation.  But, given the impact of Christianity upon society over many centuries, I suspect this has not been the norm .  

Actually, it doesn't matter if this is normal for our faith or not.  Something is wrong and I am concerned.

I tremble and shake when I read the Lord's words on judgment day as recorded in Matthew 7:  "I never knew you; depart from me,  you workers of lawlessness."  Lord, what can I do for such individuals?

I appeal to everyone who reads this post.  Examine yourself as Paul tells us to do.  Is there spiritual growth in your life?  Be honest with yourself for your eternity depends on it.  Is there a true, deep, heart-felt desire to be like Christ?  Don't be deceived.  God will not be mocked in the end.  Claiming you are born again but living a life with no fruit (or even a desire!) loudly proclaims "I am LOST!"  Are you lost or are you saved?  Wanting to be saved and having a home in eternity is not the same as possessing such salvation.  You can't just want it or pretend to have or merely think you have it.  You must be born again!

If our local churches had true, converted, growing believers in them, we would be dynamically impacting our communities.  The saints would be living godly lives and proclaiming Christ daily.  How many churches are truly impacting their neighborhoods?  Often the pastor is blamed for the lack of community involvement.  But where are the church members who claim they know Christ?  

Probably sitting at home watching the NFL or some other sporting event; anything but ministering for Christ.

Something is wrong and I am concerned. 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Commonly Senseless



At the time of the Revolutionary War and the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine wrote a simple pamphlet called “Common Sense”.  His words helped inspire Americans to take up arms against Great Britain.  Simple common sense revealed this was the necessary path for those living in North America. 

In our United States today, the majority of people appear to have lost all common sense.  Instead I deem them “commonly senseless”.  The recent Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Count decision is a perfect example of the loss of human reasoning and common sense.

This court decision will live in American history as another damning demonstration of our nation’s degrading morality in the same way the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision did.  According to the court’s 5-4 majority report,

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

Same sex marriage is now legal in the United States of America.  As noted in the report, this decision was based on the 14th Amendment to our Constitution.  Unfortunately, this amendment has been much abused since its ratification in 1868.

Since I am not a Constitution scholar, I will refrain from debating the use of the 14th Amendment to support this decision.  But the bottom line is that same sex marriages are now a right just as abortion has been deemed by this Court as a right. 

Such rights as abortion and same sex marriage, however, are “man-made” rights.  These rights are NOT on the same level as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as is often claimed.  If you remember the words of our Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men driving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Our government exists, therefore, to secure the rights endowed “by their Creator”.  These rights coming from God are summarized as “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”.  Since these rights come from God, such rights do NOT include the right of abortion or same sex marriage no matter what men might say.

God has given life and commanded us to respect the lives He has created.  To kill an unborn child is not an idea that comes from God but from Satan.  Hence, abortion (‘baby killing’) is not a right “endowed by their Creator”.

God has defined and given marriage to establish the institution of family.  Genesis 2 clearly indicates marriage is one man, one woman, united before God in holy covenant forever.  God knows nothing of the right of two men to get married or two women.  In fact, He condemns such behavior both in the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Romans 1:18ff).  Therefore, same sex marriage is not a right “endowed by their Creator”.

So abortion is legal in our nation.  Same sex marriage is legal in our nation.  But both remain sin and immoral (and illegal) in the eyes of God.

Our justices have left the common sense of the words of both the Declaration and the Constitution in rendering such a decision.  Furthermore, they have left the Judeo-Christian foundations of our Founding Fathers.  Morality has been swept away from the minds of the people.  For so many Americans to rejoice over such a decision clearly shows that our nation is commonly senseless.

Let’s just call “commonly senseless” what it really is:  FOOLISHNESS!



Monday, July 6, 2015

Flags Unfurled!





The winds have not been blowing well for the flag of the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) in recent days.  All across the nation there have been cries for its removal not only from flagpoles but also from monuments!  Stores at Civil War battlefields are withdrawing merchandise containing the “Stars and Bars”.  Political correctness is everywhere.  Even the “General Lee” from “The Dukes of Hazzard” has come under attack!
The reason given for this all-out assault on the “Rebel flag” is that the flag brings back memories of slavery.  The flag supposedly teaches that slavery is ok and represents bigotry.  As some folks see it, that flag only reminds them of slavery. 

For what it’s worth, I thought I would chime in on this lunacy.  First, some disclosures:

1.  I have a couple of “Stars and Bars” flying alongside some “Stars and Stripes” in my study at home.
2.  I despise slavery.  Involuntary servitude is wrong no matter who practices it (including several of our nation’s Founding Fathers).
3.  I am not and never have been a bigot or a racist.
4.  My ancestors served in the Union army during the Civil War.  It is possible some served in the Confederacy but, if they did, I am not aware of it.  I do know one ancestor died at Vicksburg and another defended the base of Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg.
5.  I was born and raised in Illinois so I am a “Northerner”.
6.  Two of my favorite persons from history are Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson, both Southern generals, both slave owners.


Now, let’s look at the Stars and Bars.  Certainly slavery was a key factor in the outbreak of the War.  Slavery was a millstone around our nation’s neck since its founding and the “institution” needed to be removed.  But my study of the Civil War has led me to conclude that many of those Southern men who died fighting for the C.S.A. were not slave holders.  Despite how the South is often portrayed, not all “Johnny Rebs” had slaves.  Yet they died just the same.  You see, there is more than slavery wrapped up in the Confederate flag.

If you have spent any time in the South, you know the Civil War is referred to as the War of Northern Aggression.  Indeed, the Northern armies invaded the Southern states and attempted to force them to change their form of government.  Yet the 10th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States confirms that the Southern states were free to govern themselves.

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

When the War began, the Constitution said nothing about the illegality of the institution of slavery.  This intentional omission (intentional from our Founding Fathers’ perspective) was, thankfully, remedied by the 13th Amendment, ratified months AFTER the war.  The Northern states had no Constitutional right to force the Southern states to change their government.  And the South did not see anything “right” about the armies of the United States invading the Southern states and attempting to implement changes by force. 

So, you could also say the Stars and Bars not only represent slavery but the rights of States to govern themselves.  Our Constitution provided for a limited Federal government.  The true governing was to be at the state and local level, not from Washington.  In fact, one of the results of President Lincoln’s use of force in the Civil War is the continued growth of the Federal government to the detriment of the state governments.  Prior to the Civil War, that was not the case.

Many of those rebel soldiers gave their lives in order to defend their state and their way of life (even for those who owned no slaves).  The Confederate flag is viewed positively by many who lost ancestors fighting for states’ rights.  You see, that flag also has some very positive connotations.

But some can’t see past the slavery issue and that’s a shame.  They are so closed minded and hard-hearted, they see only what they want to see.  To them, there is nothing positive in the flag of the Confederacy even though slavery officially ended in this nation 150 years ago.

I think before leaving this subject, though, I need to take a moment and look at the “Stars and Stripes”.  What a beautiful flag it is!  It represents freedom and liberty and opportunity.  People from around the world want to come to America.  We are the land of the free and the home of the brave!

I love our country and believe we are the greatest nation on the earth.  We have the greatest governing document every devised by man, our Constitution, and the greatest philosophical document written by man, our Declaration of Independence.  Many of our citizens have boldly and bravely given their lives to defend our freedoms and I am truly thankful for them.  I love celebrating the nation’s birthday on July 4th and would never want to be a citizen of any other country.  It is a wonderful feeling to see our flag flying high across the land.

At the same time, our flag is not untarnished.  While the Stars and Bars “supported slavery”, our Stars and Stripes “supports abortion”, does it not?  You tell me, which of the two is to be preferred:  enslaving men or killing them before they are born?  The Confederate States had no right of abortion while they existed and, hence, that stain is not on their flag.  But our nation permits unborn children to be killed, even as they are being birthed!  How does this action differ from the Holocaust, the terrible crime associated with the Nazi flag?! 

Perhaps there should be an outcry among our citizens about flying the American flag these days.  When you see the Red, White, and Blue, does it remind you of abortion?  Even if it doesn’t, can you deny that the flag represents that “right”?

Now I certainly do not want us to take down our American flags.  Yes, abortion is horrific and I hope and pray one day that crime will once again be banned by our nation.  Yet, compared to all the other nations in the world, we live in the greatest nation.  

So let us fly our flags gladly and reflect upon the freedom and liberty it represents.  But, at the same time, perhaps we should back off a bit about the flag of the C.S.A.   Yes, slavery is a part of that heritage.  But so is a defense of the rights of states to govern themselves.  Surely if one can overlook abortion they can overlook slavery.  The Stars and Bars no more causes slavery than the Stars and Stripes causes abortion.

So unfurl those flags.  Let both fly!  They are part of our imperfect but glorious history!