Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why the World Does Not Hate You

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,
and in favor with God and man.”
Luke 2:52

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink,
but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
For he that in these things serves Christ is acceptable to God,
and approved of by men.”
Romans 14:17-18

The apostle Paul warned young Timothy that “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2Tim. 3:12). Every person who has ever done what is right in the sight of God knows the sadness of being misunderstood and even disliked for no legitimate reason. But that is the case only when “wicked and unreasonable men” are involved. Reasonable people, even if they are non-religious, value goodness and respect godly people. They value honesty, and decent people in every culture on earth respect such qualities as humility, generosity, and moral integrity.

Paul said that when we live according to the will of God, we “commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” It must be admitted that some sinful people do not like what their conscience tells them about the good people they know; at the same time, there are plenty of people who do not deny the testimony of their conscience and appreciate the godly lives that God’s obedient people live. They value decency and goodness, and they don’t mind saying so.

If you have lived a godly life, then you have been spoken evil of by some evil people. But by that same godly life, you have certainly earned the respect and praise of many others. That is how it has always been in this confused world, and that is one reason that “we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells.” We want to live where nothing but truth exists, and where everyone loves it.

Friend or Foe

Meanwhile, while we are here in this life, the important thing is that we learn how to deal gracefully with everything, and not to judge ourselves by the way others speak of us, whether good or bad. My father taught that if our feelings are affected by either praise or calumny, then our heart is not yet established. You must know who you are, regardless of what anyone, friend or foe, says about you. If you do not know yourself and your place in life, then someone else, either a detractor or an admirer, may well convince you that you are someone that you are not. Friends can lift you up to occupy a place above your calling, and enemies can put you down and cause you not to follow your calling – if your heart is affected by the praise or slander or men.

It was a heathen philosopher, Socrates, who rendered the famous injunction, “Know thyself!” From a heathen or not, that warning should be heeded. To know yourself is essential to maintaining peace in the face of the spiritual winds that blow on you from every direction. However, as wise as that warning was, it was given in vain until the Son of God came and brought the knowledge of God to man, for only when man came to know the true and living God could he ever know anything else rightly, including himself.

How precious Jesus is to us! He suffered and died so that we might be filled with the Spirit and come to know our heavenly Father, so that we could at last truly understand ourselves rightly and, so, overcome the influence of anything that anyone says about us, whether friend or foe!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why the World Hates You

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own;
but because you’re not of the world
(on the contrary, I’ve chosen you out of the world),
the world hates you.”
John 15:19

“They think it strange that you do not run with them
to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.”
1Peter 4:4

According to Jesus, the fundamental reason that God’s children are hated by the world is simply that they do not belong to this world. Of course, any child of God who hides his light and refuses to be a living testimony for others will not be hated by the world, but Jesus was talking about honest-hearted, humble children of God. Everybody in the world, except them, is trying to fit in with one group or another in this world, and because those humble children of God do not spend their lives trying to please any group on earth, all of earth’s groups hate them.

Peter explained that the world considers people strange if they do not embrace the world’s lifestyles, if they are not impressed with and desire earthly wealth, beauty, and pleasure. To the world’s way of thinking, it makes no sense when a person does not want the same things that worldly people want, or when someone has no interest in participating in the world’s self-serving, self-gratifying activities, or when someone is not shaken by the things that cause the world to tremble. It is just as Peter said: “They think it strange.”

Child of God, you are different. You have been different from the beginning, and only when you came to Christ did you finally understand why you have always felt different, why you felt feelings that others in your life did not feel, and why you had thoughts that others did not seem to think. You have always belonged to God, even before you knew Him, and now that you know Him, you understand that you have always felt different simply because you are different; you just don’t belong to this world, and you never have. Your name was in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

That is why the world hates you. You are “a stranger and a pilgrim” here; you are a foreigner to this wicked world, its ways, its feelings, and its thoughts. You never wanted the world, even when you lived as a worldly person. You wanted to know and to love your heavenly Father. Jesus said, “The world loves its own.” So, if we belonged to this world, we know that it would love us because we would not seem as strangers to the world. We would enjoy fellowship with its sinfulness as so many around us obviously do.

If you belonged to the world, you would be content without the convicting presence of our Father’s holy Spirit. Others are comfortable without that sweet voice of the Spirit guiding them day by day. Why aren’t you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just One Plural “You”

Part 2:

Exodus 23
20. Behold, I am sending an angel before you, to keep you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
21. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.
22. But if you shall earnestly obey his voice, and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to your adversaries.
23. For my angel shall go before you and bring you in [to Canaan].

Not One Among You?

Paul warned the elders in Corinth that they were not maintaining God’s standard of holiness among the saints there. The apostle was disappointed and indignant. “Is it really so,” he wrote, “that there is not a single wise man among you, one who is able to judge among his brothers?” (1Cor. 6:5). In other words, is there no elder there in Corinth who fears God enough to stand in the gap and either encourage righteousness or rebuke sin? Does no one among the elders value his hope of salvation enough to demand that those in his area of control fear God and be holy? Or does no one among the elders there understand that with the honor of being an elder among God’s people comes the fearsome responsibility of keeping things clean among them?

God’s promises and commandments were given to Moses alone, in Exodus 23:20-23, and had it all been left to Moses, there would not have been any problem with Israel entering with Moses into Canaan’s land. But there was a stipulation added to those promises of God, just a single, terrifying stipulation revealed in the one plural “you” that was in the midst of God’s words to the man He had chosen, and that stipulation was that the transgressions of those who followed Moses would be considered as Moses’ transgressions. No matter how perfectly Moses might personally conduct himself before the Lord, he would be not be judged merely on that basis. He would be judged on the basis of the conduct of all those over whom God appointed him as leader and guide.

Moses was refused permission to enter into the land of Promise.

God appoints men to shepherd His flocks on earth. And it is the condition of the flock, not the shepherd himself, by which the shepherd will be judged in the end. The care of the whole flock is such a serious matter that Jesus said it will be necessary at times to cut off a member of the body in order to save the whole, just as surgeons sometimes amputate portions of a person’s physical body that jeopardizes the well-being of the whole:

Matthew 5
29. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you! For it’s better for you that one of your members perish and not that your whole body be cast into Gehenna.
30. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you! It’s better for you that one of your members perish and not that your whole body be cast into Gehenna.

Paul, too, told the elders in Corinth to expel a member whose ungodly conduct was endangering the purity of the flock in that city:

1Corinthians 5
4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you and my spirit are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5. deliver such a man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Paul understood the meaning of that plural “you” in God’s word to Moses, that righteousness in the body of Christ is a community affair, that the shepherd is responsible for the flock, and that all of us to some degree are responsible for one another. That is why God commanded the Israelites not to allow sin to remain in a neighbor’s life, when it was seen, but to love one’s neighbor enough to try to rescue him from sin, for everyone’s benefit:

Leviticus 19
17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.

It is an expression of hatred, not love, to fail to reprove a brother or sister who is sinning. But not only do we hate the ones that we do not reprove for sin; we hate ourselves as well. Solomon said, “Whoever is partner with a thief hates his own soul; he hears cursing and he does not expose it” (Prov. 29:24). If we do not “reprove one another”, as Paul praised the saints in Rome for doing, then we are partakers of the sins that we do not reprove. And if we are partakers of the sin, then the guilt – and the judgment – of the transgressor becomes ours. (That is why God is calling His people out of Christianity!) We are required to “reprove the works of darkness” that may show up among us!

Do not fear the reaction of the transgressor. Fear God, and live! I have seen husbands try to cover the sins of their wives, and then go down with their wives when their wives completely turned away from righteousness. I have seen parents try to hide the sins of their children instead of reproving them, and then go down with their children when God turned the children’s hearts to darkness.

Let us love one another enough to strive for the good of the whole community of faith, that we may all, together, be clean and holy before the Lord. “No man is an island”, the poet John Donne once said, and nowhere is that more true than in the kingdom of God. We are “our brother’s keeper”.

Just One Plural “You”

Part One:

Exodus 23
20. Behold, I am sending an angel before you, to keep you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.
21. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.
22. But if you shall earnestly obey his voice, and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to your adversaries.
23. For my angel shall go before you and bring you in [to Canaan].

In mid-2009, I came across these verses in the process of working on my book, God had a Son before Mary Did. I was without my Hebrew Bible, but I wanted to make sure that the “you’s” were all plural. So, I called Aaron Nelson, one of my Hebrew students, and asked him to look it up for me when he had the chance. I told him I was certain that all nine of the “you’s”in those verses were plural, but that I wanted to make sure. Aaron called back within an hour or so and surprised me with what he had found. He told me that only one of the “you’s” in those verses was plural! Can you guess which one? Go ahead. Take a moment and see if you can tell. Within one of the verses above, I have left you a clue.

What Aaron’s information made clear is that, in those verses, God was talking only to Moses, not to all of Israel, as I had previously thought. Every time (except once) when God said “you”, He meant “you, Moses”, not “you, Israel”. This new information gave this portion of Scripture an entirely different cast, and it helped me understand Moses’ passion for holiness among the Israelites, and even helped me understand Moses’ fury against his fellow Israelites whenever they began to turn from righteousness, whether it be his violence when he found the golden calf that Israel had built at Mount Sinai or when they provoked him to sin at Kadesh-barnea and he was forbidden by God to enter into the Promised Land.


This portion of Scripture had been special to me since June, 2001. At that time, Jesus had sent me on a mission to rescue a troubled congregation, and as I looked out the window of the airplane, the Spirit spoke those words from Exodus to my heart. The feelings I felt can hardly be described. The fear provoked by the sternness of His warning was softened by the comfort inspired by the promise of His presence. Because I had taught the Old Testament many times over the years, the words God spoke to me as I was on the plane were familiar. I recognized them as being from Exodus, and so, I opened my Bible and read them carefully. And now, with help from one of my students, I saw even more clearly than I did in 2001, that these words of God were, and are intended only for someone whom God anoints to guide His people to the place of rest which He has prepared for them. Every pastor, every teacher, every elder among the saints should tremble at these words from God.

The Answer

The clue that I have left for you is in verse 21. I designated the only plural form of the word “you” in these verses by making the “y” italics. It is the word “your”.

In verse 20, God is promising Moses, not Israel, that His angel would go before him to bring Moses to the place He has prepared for Israel. Of course, this is good news for all the Israelites because it meant that God’s angel would go before them, too – as long as they followed Moses. But it was Moses that God sent His angel to lead, not Israel. The only leader Israel had was Moses, and as long as they followed him, and as long as Moses followed the Angel whom God sent to lead him, Israel was protected and blessed.

21. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.

In verse 21, the verbs “beware”, “obey”, and “provoke” are all singular in form. This fact tells us that God is commanding Moses, not all of Israel in this instance, to fear the Angel and submit to him. But the reason for this warning is astonishing, and it was this: “for the Angel will not forgive your [plural!] transgressions”.

God was warning Moses that He would hold Moses himself accountable for more than his own obedience! Moses was commanded to fear, obey, and please God’s Angel – for the Angel would not forgive Israel’s transgressions! I cannot imagine a more fearful prospect for a leader of God’s people. Moses’ judgment would be measured by Israel’s obedience, not just his own. He himself is commanded to obey, but Moses would be judged not simply on the basis of his own behavior but by the behavior of all those who were following him.

This is consistent with how God judged His ministers throughout the Scriptures. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation, Jesus held the pastors of the seven congregations of Asia personally accountable for the conduct of the saints in their congregations. Those ministers were required by God to maintain order and a standard of holiness in their area of control. When God spoke to Moses as he did in Exodus 23:20-23, Moses understood perfectly that if he failed to enforce the law among God’s people, neither he nor they would enter into Canaan. He was to be perfect with God’s Angel, and he was to maintain perfection in the camps of Israel.

Can anyone blame Moses for his wrath upon seeing the golden calf that his brother Aaron, with all Israel, had constructed while Moses was on Mount Sinai with God? Their foolishness was jeopardizing Moses’ hope of entering into the promised land of Canaan! Moses dearly loved Israel, and his goal was to bring them to the place God had promised them, but he understood that his judgment was bound up with theirs! They were ruining everything, for Moses and for themselves, and Moses’ response was to begin a slaughter of his fellow Israelites until God’s was satisfied and told him it was enough (Ex. 32:26-28).

Next: Part Two: “Us”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Psalm 125:3, Part Two: A Savior

“The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous,
lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity.”
Psalm 125:3

The last half of the verse above tells us that the reason God does not allow the wicked to have control over the lives of the righteous is so that the righteous will not “put forth their hands unto iniquity.” One would think that the righteous would never “put forth their hands to iniquity”, no matter what the situation. God knows better. He knows our fabric, and the limits of our faith. As mere mortals, we have no strength. Paul confessed as much in Romans 5:6, when he said, “When we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Every one of God’s children can be put into situations that are too much for our faith. Realizing this, Solomon’s wise friend Agur pleaded with God not to make him destitute in this world, lest he resort to stealing in order to survive (Prov. 30:8-9). Agur understood human nature in general, but only God knows the limits of faith in each one of us, and He will never allow the wicked to put any of His children in a situation that they are unable to overcome (1Cor. 10:13). That is what David meant when he sang, “The rod of the wicked will not rest upon the lot of the righteous.”


If a child of God ever does find himself in a situation that is too difficult for him to overcome, God always makes a way for him to escape. David’s story gives us two examples of this. In both cases God miraculously made a way for David to escape “putting forth his hand to iniquity”.
In the first instance, young David was on the run from the mad king of Israel, king Saul. Those who were also fleeing from the law gathered to David, so that in time, he had a force of hundreds of desperate men, men who for one reason or another could not return to society. These desperados looked to David as their leader, and all the time they were hiding with David from the law, David refrained those men from stealing the sheep or cattle from near-by landowners, and in fact, protected those landowners from thieves. On one occasion, David and his band grew low on food supplies, and David sent messengers to a local wealthy landowner named Nabal to humbly ask for a little help. But Nabal treated David’s messengers with great contempt and sent them away with nothing.

David himself would have overlooked this cruelty and trusted God, but not the band of renegades that were with him. They wanted vengeance, and David’s faith was overwhelmed by the power of their wrath. He found himself leading them to Nabal’s property to plunder it, and in all likelihood, to kill Nabal. This was not what was in David’s heart. David had a heart for God, but this situation was one of life and death for all of David’s men, and David lacked the spiritual strength to turn the tide of his followers’ fury. He needed God to save him from doing what he was about to do. And God sent Abigail, Nabal’s godly wife, to do it.

Abigail, upon hearing how Nabal had treated David’s messengers, knew what David’s men would probably do next, and she commanded her servants to gather food quickly, and in abundance. Then she hurriedly led those servants out to meet David with the food she had gathered. When David, with his little army behind him, met Abigail, she fell at his feet and begged him to receive her gifts. But more importantly, she offered David and his comrades some very wise counsel, warning David that if he avenged himself instead of trusting God to avenge him, his heart would be troubled for the rest of his life. David rejoiced at Abigail’s coming and sincerely thanked her for rescuing him from what he had been about to do. Later, by the way, after God did avenge David and killed Nabal, David took Abigail as his wife. He obviously wanted such a wise counselor to stay close to him.

In another instance, when the rod of the wicked rested on David’s lot, he found himself traveling with the Philistines to do battle against Israel. David saw no way out. He did not want to fight against king Saul; he loved him. And David loved Saul’s son Jonathan even more. But what else could he do in the situation he was in? He was trapped. But God again made a way. He turned the hearts of the Philistine generals against David as they traveled toward the battle, and they demanded that the Philistine king order David and his men to leave the army at once. David protested, but the king insisted, and so, David once again was saved from sin by the God he trusted.


Jesus’ title, “Savior” means everything for us. He saved us in the sense of rescuing us from sin. He is saving us in the sense of keeping us from sin by his power as we walk through this life. And he will save us from eternal damnation at the Final Judgment. But another part of his being a Savior to us is his power to keep “the rod of the wicked from resting on our lot”, lest we turn to some form of iniquity. He will not allow any situation to arise in our lives that we are unable to bear. He is good. His mercy is above the clouds. And his love not only covers a multitude of sin; it keeps us from situations that would compels us to commit sin. There is no excuse for sin for those who are in Christ because he is so great a Savior. We face only the trials that we can overcome because he is a faithful watchman over our souls.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Psalm 125:3, Part One: Restrained Wrath

“The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous,
lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity.”
Psalm 125:3

This is a precious promise of God to all His children. He will not allow the wicked to rule over us to the extent that they determine our circumstances. Their rod (symbol of rule) shall not rest on our lot. In another place, David sang to God, “The wrath of man shall praise you; the remainder of wrath you will restrain” (Ps. 76:10). In other words, only that part of men’s wrath which will bring glory to God will be allowed to touch us; the remaining part of their wrath, God will restrain.
This is the understanding behind Solomon’s puzzling statement, “There shall no evil happen to the just” (Prov. 12:21). Solomon knew that God controls to the smallest degree every circumstance of our lives, and that whatever part of the world’s hatred we must face, it is for His glory and our eventual blessing. Paul was moved by this same knowledge of God to write, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are the called, according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Men wanted to do many cruel and unjust things to Jesus, but only that part of their hatred that was useful to God’s plan for His Son’s life was allowed to touch him. Evil men wanted to kill the lamb of God before the appointed time, but they could not. Had they done so, it would not have brought praise to God. He was his Father’s Lamb, not theirs. Jesus understood this, and it was that knowledge of His Father’s care which gave him the strength not to strike back but to humble himself to his Father’s will, regardless of the suffering he faced. When Jesus told his followers to “turn the other cheek”, he was only saying to them, “Trust God as I do, and do as I have done.” Peter summed up Jesus’ attitude beautifully (1Peter 2:20-23): "For what glory is it if, when you are buffeted for your faults, you take it patiently? But if when you do well and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even to this you were called, for Christ also suffered for us, providing us an example, so that you might follow his steps, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to the One who judges righteously."

Peter went on to exhort us to have that same faith in our heavenly Father’s care, and to continue doing what is good in His sight regardless of our circumstances. He said, “Therefore, let them who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1Pet. 4:19). We “commit our souls to God” by patiently walking in His ways, as Jesus did, instead of yielding to feelings of vengefulness and hate. And we want the tests. A wise man once said, “A calm sea never made a skillful mariner.” It is also true that easy times never made a wise and godly soul.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

At Ease in Zion

“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”
Amos 6:1

The Lord cried out through Amos, “Woe to them who are at ease in Zion!” But who are the ones “at ease” among God’s saints? The answer to that question can be deduced from comments made in several Scriptures. One is from Amos himself. Here is how he described those who were “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1, 3-6):

"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion. . . . You who put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; who chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph."

“Joseph” was a name used in the Old Testament for the children of Israel who had forsaken God’s law. They were the northern tribes of Israel who followed a man-made religion instead of the law of Moses, a religion that a king named Jeroboam invented for them, long before Amos was sent to call them back to their God. “Zion” referred to God’s chosen place of worship, Jerusalem. The children of Israel who lived in the southern part of Canaan still worshiped in God’s chosen place and still recognized the authority of the law of Moses. But they were not grieved for their fellow Israelites who had gone astray. They were at ease; they were comfortable and secure in their knowledge that they were doing things the right way and that their northern kinsmen were in the wrong. They were proud of worshiping in Jerusalem and of maintaining the ancient rule that God had once given to all His children at Mt. Sinai.

Notice that Amos’ warning was not to the ones who had rejected God’s law and rejected God’s chosen city, Jerusalem. The warning was to those who still observed the law and revered the holy city and went to Solomon’s temple that was in Jerusalem. They were enjoying the benefits that obedience brings, but were not grieved for the children of God who were being led astray and were headed for certain destruction.

Job warned his “miserable comforters” not to be proud against those who were drifting away from righteousness. He said to them, “He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a despised lamp in the thought of him that is at ease” (Job 12:5).

All of God’s children are lamps; they have the anointing oil of the holy Spirit within them. Some of them are not shining very brightly because their oil has run low. They are no longer lights to the world because love for the world has dimmed their flame. But Jesus can restore to them the brightness of his life. He lifts up, and he casts down. He can make them clean and whole again in his sight, and he will bring low all who despised them when they were fallen. Paul cautioned all of us who are in the family of God not to become proud against those who are struggling spiritually, for God is watching and judging us all (Galatians 6:1-2):

"Brothers, if a man be overtaken in some transgression, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, you who are spiritual, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ."

The Good Shepherd will leave the “ninety and nine” sheep who are safely in the fold and risk his life to find the one who is lost. That is the heart of God and the heart of His Son. And it is the heart of all God’s children who are like their heavenly Father.

If you have wandered off the right path, you may feel unclean, but you are wanted by your Father. You are missed by all in Zion who are not at ease, but are grieved for your trouble. That is why there is “great joy” among the inhabitants of heaven whenever a wayward soul repents. And there will be great joy among saints on earth who know you when they see you turn again toward Zion, your home.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How I Learned the Bible

Excerpt from a sermon on November 18, 2009.

Years ago, when one of my students in the Old Testament at the community college asked me, “How in the world did you get to know the Bible as well as you do?”, I couldn’t give her an answer. Such a question had never been asked of me before. I went home and thought about it during the week. Finally it dawned on me how it was that I came to know the Bible, and that was simply that I believed it. I just believed it. Every time in my Bible study that I came across something in the law of God in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy, or anywhere in the Bible, that I would not have said, or came across a judgment of God that I wouldn’t have made, or found anything that was different from how I felt – I felt shame and fear, and repented. I believed God, and I saw what He thought, I saw what I needed to think. I discovered what I needed to feel in order to be true and right. I learned the Bible by changing my thoughts every time I found a place where God’s way of thinking was different from mine, where His thoughts were not my thoughts and His ways were not my ways. I confessed to Him, “I’m wrong, God. I’m blind. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into your mind.” I rearranged me to accommodate Him.

That is how I learned the Bible. I confessed that it was right and I was wrong every time there was a difference between it and me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Better Off?

When Jesus knew their thoughts, he said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself
is brought to desolation,

and no city or house that is divided against itself will stand.
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.
How then will his kingdom stand?
Matthew 12:25-26

Thoughts inspired by chapter 7 of the book God Had a Son Before Mary Did

In the above verses, Jesus was revealing something about Satan. He was telling the leaders of Israel that Satan loves order and that he has it in his kingdom of darkness. Satan’s dominion is structured, and orderly, and efficient. He despises anarchy and confusion, and he will not tolerated such things within the ranks of the fallen heavenly creatures who were cast out of heaven with him.

It is very important for us to understand that Satan was cast out of heaven not because he despised the orderliness and efficiency of God’s kingdom but because he envied it, and when he was cast down to earth, he did not lose his admiration of order. Men and women who have no self-control and have given themselves over to self-indulgence and fleshly lusts are despised by the devil. Vandals and other out-of-control human beings are held in contempt by Satan. There is discipline and high standards of conduct required of all humans with whom Satan loves and uses, such as the men whom Jesus called “sons of the devil”. Those men fasted at least twice a week; they prayed loudly and publicly on a regular bases; they were always present for the religious gatherings of Israel; they gave tithes of everything that came into their possession; and they treated with great contempt other human beings who were less devoted to religion than they were. Jesus called these men “sons of the devil” because (1) that is how the devil is and (2) those men were so much like him.

I said all of that so that you would understand why I say the following: In some respects, human society is better off with the devil than without him because he influences men to live up to strict standards of morality, cleanliness, and order. Without the devil, men go wild and give themselves to all kinds of perverse, fleshly lusts and lawless activity. When Satan is in control of men, those men are wicked, but they are wicked in an orderly way, and they impose that order on societies, which has some benefits.

Then again, those people who are overcome by lustful desires and are despised by the devil and his ministers have the advantage of being aware of how unclean they are. Being out of control – out of God’s control, Satan’s control, or even self-control), these pour souls are more likely to hear the call of Jesus and surrender to his love than those who are proud of the religious standards that they maintain. We saw these things among people when Jesus was here. Jesus was called “the friend of harlots and drunkards” (Mt. 21:32), while he warned the self-righteous sons of Satan that drunkards and harlots would be welcomed into the kingdom of God before them (Mt. 21:31).

If you have messed up your life, and if you know it, then you are closer to God’s heart than the greatest religious figures of earth who have not humbled themselves to Jesus and received the baptism of the holy Ghost. It does not matter who you are or what you have done; if you know you are wrong, you are wiser than the Pope, the self-righteous head of the greatest abomination of earth, and you are cleaner in God’s sight than the exalted pastor of the largest congregation in town if he has not been washed from sins by the power of the baptism of the holy Spirit. “Be of good cheer!” my sinner friend! “He calleth for thee.” And if you feel guilty, then you have heard that voice.

Jesus said he didn’t come for those who think they see but for those who know they are blind. The “great physician” said that he came to heal the sick, not to heal those who claim to be well. Are you sick in spirit? Are you blind concerning the things of God? If you confess that you are, then God has chosen you, has already touched your heart, and you have something to be thankful for. There are millions who are as sick and blind as you are but who will not confess it. They choose rather to hide behind their pastors, priests, steeples, stain-glass windows, and doctrines and titles, and unless they repent, they will die in the shadow of such things instead of in the light of Christ. They may be better off in some ways than the wretches who are wasting their lives with drunkenness, rebellion against authority, and immorality, but they are not better off than the weak and miserable wretches, like me, who have fallen at the feet of Jesus and confessed our need of his mercy.

The Time for Judgment Has Come

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.
And if it first begin at us,
what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
1Peter 4:17

A thought inspired by Chapter 7 of the book, God Had a Son Before Mary Did

“The time has come” for house of God to be judge only because it has already been accomplished in heaven. The creatures who existed from the beginning in the very presence of God in heaven have already had their Judgment Day. They were judged when the Son of God ascended into heaven, offered himself to the Father as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and was glorified by the Father to be “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). When the Son of God was exalted to sit at the Father’s right hand, Satan and the angels who followed him were cast out of heaven. That was their judgment, and it was also the day of Judgment for the angels and other beings judged worthy to remain in the presence of God. The Father gave all authority of judgment to His Son Jesus Christ, including the authority to judge angels, cherubim, seraphim, and every other heavenly being. Heaven’s Judgment day was the day that Jesus was glorified and sat down at the right hand of the Father as Master of heaven and earth.

So, as Peter said, it is now time for judgment to begin at the house of God. Since the family of God in heaven has been eternally judged, the family of God on earth is now in line for judgment, and we are being judged now. Jesus said that before he returns to bring salvation to the faithful among his people, this earthly family of faith will be purged of every soul who is disobedient and who causes others to stumble in their faith (Mt. 13:37-43). Paul taught the same thing, that there will be a judgment and a purging of the household of faith before the return of Jesus (2Thess. 2:1-3). Only after this purging of the household of God on earth takes place will Jesus come to take away to the Father those who are judged to have kept the faith.

Of course, after that Second Coming of Christ, the judgment of the entire world will soon follow. But that does not concern us. What matters to us is the present. Today is the day of salvation. If we were to be judged today, what would the Master’s decision be?

Friday, October 30, 2009


Note: After Uncle Joe was visited by an angel in 1959 and healed of the cancer that the doctors said would kill him in 60 to 90 days, he immersed himself in the Scriptures, and as he studied the Bible, he wrote out many of his thoughts. Here is one of them.

If something influences us, we follow it. The question, “Who are you following?” is only another way of asking, “Who is influencing you?” We can, of course, follow, or be influenced, by good as well as by evil. When Paul exhorted the saints to “follow after the things that make for peace”(Rom. 14:19), that was only another way of saying, “Let yourself be influenced by the peaceful spirits of others.” When he wrote, “follow after charity” (1Cor. 14:1), he was only saying, “Let your spirit be influenced by the charity you see in others.”

Here are some other things Paul wanted the saints to follow:

1Thess. 5:15: “Ever follow that which is good” (that is, “Always let good people influence you.”)

1Tim. 6:11: “Follow after righteousness” (that is, “Let righteous people influence you.”)

2Tim. 2:22: “Follow faith, charity, and peace” (that is, “Let faithful, loving saints influence you.”)

Heb. 12:14: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness” (that is, “Let God’s holiness and peace influence how to treat others.”)

Heb. 13:7: “Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken to you the word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct” (that is, “Let the example of faithful elders influence you.”)

Heb 6:11,12: “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, so that you be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (that is, “Work steadily in the Lord as you see others do.”)

1Peter 2:21: “. . . leaving us example that you follow His steps” (that is, Let the example of Jesus influence you.)

My father once told me that others will follow you, once your mind is made up. In other words, you will influence others once Jesus has sufficiently influenced you. But not only will people follow us once we are on the right path. On the day of judgment something else will follow us, too, as Uncle Joe’s last Scripture shows us!

Rev. 14:13: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Sacrifices of Israel

Jesus said that he was “meek and lowly in heart”, and then he issued an invitation to his disciples to “Come, learn from me” (Mt. 11:29). Men of God, years later, would write that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “the radiance of God’s glory and the reflection of His very being” (Heb. 1:3) and “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). But if the Son is the mirror image of his Father, and the Son says he is ”meek and lowly in heart”, then what does that truth tell us about the Father?

It tells us in words what the Father told Israel in works.

In Leviticus, the laws governing sacrificial works in Israel are given. One of the astonishing things about God’s sacrificial system is how simple and generous it is. While the gods of the Gentiles were demanding extravagant and costly gifts, including the sacrifice of innocent children, the God of Israel demanded so little that Israel could not even believe it was sufficient. The main reason ancient Israel failed in their walk with God was that He was so good that they could not believe it. For one instance, if the entire nation of Israel was found to have transgressed, what was required to make atonement for the sins of all those millions of people was one bullock! That was all: “When the sin which they have sinned against it [God’s law] is known, then the congregation shall offer a young bullock for the sin” (Lev. 4:14).

Perhaps even more astonishing, especially in comparison to the oppressive, self-serving demands of heathen gods recorded in the sagas and laws of ancient Gentiles, is what God demanded when someone stole from Him as compared to when someone stole from a mere mortal: Here are God’s requirements for such sins, as found in Leviticus:

Trespass Offering for stealing from God
1. The owner must bring the offering to the Lord (Lev. 5:15a).
2. It must be a ram without blemish (5:15b).
3. A fine will be determined by the priest (5:15c).
4. The guilty must “make amends” for the harm, and add 20% to it (5:16a).
5. “And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the Trespass Offering, and it shall be forgiven him” (5:16b).

Trespass Offering for stealing from a neighbor
1. The owner must bring the offering to the Lord (6:6a).
2. It must be a ram without blemish (6:6b).
3. A fine will be determined by the priest (6:6c).
4. The guilty must restore what he has stolen, and add 20% to it (6:5).
5. “And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord, and it shall be forgiven him.” (6:7).

The humility of the Almighty revealed in these Trespass offering laws is breath-taking. He could have demanded anything – everything – of those who succumbed to fear, or greed, or were just ignorant, and failed to render to Him what was His due, in tithes and offerings. But His concern was not with Himself; His concern was for the one who had done the wrong, to restore him to fellowship and safety within the congregation of the Lord’s people. The focus of God’s law was on our well-being because the focus of God’s heart was on our well-being.

If there had been a law given which could have given life,” wrote Paul, “surely righteousness would have been by the law (Gal. 3:21). Before the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost so that we could walk in it, walking in the light of the law that God gave Israel was as close to God as anyone could be. The righteousness of the law was a pure and great a righteousness as anyone could have before God shared His righteousness with us, through the Spirit. The Old Testament law revealed God’s loving heart, and His perfect justice, as well as it could have been revealed without having God Himself dwell in us and guide us from within. The sacrificial system of the law was just one of the tools God used to reveal Himself to Israel, but other than the sunshine and the rain, it was the one He used the most.

If you would like a copy of my summary of Israel’s sacrificial system as it is described in the book of Leviticus, it is available. It was a very simple system; still, one must study it carefully in order to grasp its beauty.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Psalm 119 Imitation

David wrote a Psalm (119) in which each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. He went through the whole alphabet in order. I thought I'd try that, and it blessed me. I really felt some good feelings when I did it. YOU try it and see how you feel. Here is mine:

All my ways are in you.
Before the beginning you knew me, and you loved me.
Come to me now, and teach me.
Do not leave me to those who hate me, for
Evil men would destroy me.
Forgive the foolishness of my youth.
Give me life, and I will delight in you.
Hide me in the shadow of your wings, for
I am poor and needy.
Just the breath of your mouth made the heavens.
Keep me as your own, and make me glad.
Let me walk in your ways.
Make me to know you and to be as you are.
Never let me be moved.
Open my ears with your song.
Put your hand upon me for good.
Quicken my steps so that I can walk in your ways.
Raise me up to sit with you in glory.
Save me.
Take me into your kingdom forever.
Until I see your face, I will not be satisfied.
Very often my thoughts are on you.
When will I see your face?
EXcept for hope in your mercy, I would have been overwhelmed.
You are life to me.
Zeal for your people has driven me to your altar.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wanted by Carnally Minded Men: The Flesh, Dead or Alive

or “Why Seek Ye The Living Among the Dead?”

It is, of course, very important to know who is saint and who is not. God makes a person a saint by baptizing him with the holy Ghost, for a saint is anyone who has been sanctified, regardless of whether or not he has remained faithful to the Sanctifier, Jesus Christ. The act of being sanctified by the Spirit makes one a saint, not the behavior of that saint after being sanctified. Every person who has received the holy Spirit is a saint because of what God has done, not what that person has done. And such a person is a saint, whether or not men say so. A person’s becoming a saint is altogether the work of God, not of men. Only the One who has the power to baptize with the holy Ghost has the power to sanctify.

Christians have a bizarre and extended rite by which they claim to make a person a saint. As part of that prolonged ecclesiastical process (sometimes it takes many years), the rotted corpses of dead candidates for sainthood are disinterred and examined. From the January 11, 1999 edition of U.S. News and World Report comes a detailed description of how Christians make saints. Part of the process is that the persons who have nominated someone for sainthood must write a detailed, scholarly paper, called a posito, in defense of their candidate. On page 56 of the article, we are told that the posito “is often accompanied by the much grimmer task of exhuming the candidate’s corpse.” For example, the thoroughly decayed corpse of Pierre Toussaint, who died in the 19th century, was dug up by Christians in 1990, and “a forensics team spent 15 days excavating his grave, using computer imaging to match the skull to an antique photo of Toussaint.” Explained one of the Christians who was promoting Toussaint for Christian sainthood, “Rome wanted assurances that these were the real remains of Pierre Toussaint, and not just a bunch of bones.”

That’s a good idea, I think. If you’re about to make somebody a saint, you’d better make sure you have the right guy.

The article goes on to explain that disinterment of a corpse is especially needed in cases in which the candidate has been dead a long time, because “the church requires proof that the person actually existed.”

This is another good idea. If you’re about to make somebody a saint, it is best to make sure the guy even existed.

It’s a good thing that the Lord never has to dig people up and examine their skull for fifteen days before giving him the holy Ghost. With their tongues rotted away, it would be very difficult for them to speak in tongues. Can you picture Jesus, in making his decision to give someone the holy Ghost, sending a band of angel investigators to earth to make sure the guy existed? If it were not for the fact that Christians claim to be doing the weird things that they sometimes do in the name of the Lord, they would be committed to a mental asylum. Instead, they honor each other and are honored by worldly men as wise, devoted servants of God. What a world!

Actually, the digging up and admiration of corpses is a long-standing tradition among Christians. This is not a well-known fact, but it is an indisputable, historical fact. Any reputable history of early Christianity will describe the crucial role that “relics” played in the spread of Christianity to Barbarian societies in northern and western Europe. “Relics” are body parts taken from dead Christian saints, believed to have power to bring good fortune to those who possess and revere them. Incredible lengths have been taken by multitudes of Christians, especially in Europe, to secure (sometimes even rob graves and steal) body parts of dead saints.

The rapid spread of Christianity among the superstitious Barbarian peoples was made possible in large measure by the use of relics. This gruesome element of the Christian experience is described in many histories of early Christianity, but the practice of the veneration of relics is not merely an ancient phenomenon; it has remained an important part of Christianity. In the late 16th century, king Philip of Spain, an extremely devout Christian, collected thousands of various body parts from cadavers of saints – hands, feet, ears, fingers, whatever he could get – then placed them in golden vessels in a specially prepared gold-plated wall in his palace, and slept close to them. To this day, body parts from Christian corpses can be found in thousands of chapels and “holy sites” around the world, and pilgrimages to those relics are still made by faithful Christians.

The most famous disinterment came in the “cadaver synod” of A.D. 897. In this case, Pope Stephen VI ordered that the still-rotting corpse of his hated, recently deceased predecessor, Pope Formoses, to be exhumed and put on trial. From page 83 of the book, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Eamon Duffy. Yale University Press, 1997), we are told that “the corpse, dressed in pontifical vestments and propped up on a throne, was found guilty of perjury and other crimes, was mutilated by having the fingers used in blessings hacked off, and was then tossed into the Tiber [River].” We are not told what defense the dead Pope offered on his own behalf. Apparently though, Pope Stephen’s display of Christian zeal was too much for even Christians to endure. Stephen was deposed, and later, while in prison, strangled. We are not told if his body was brought to trial or was sliced up and given out to provide relics for various chapels in Europe.

Folks, such a history as this is unworthy of the name of Jesus. But this is Christianity’s history, and God ordained that men should record it so that His people could clearly see how ungodly that religion is, and so that they would be encouraged to obey God and come out of it. That is why I am bringing it to your attention. It is a nasty thing to dig up a corpse for any reason, but it is spiritual insanity to dig up a rotting cadaver as part of one’s service to Jesus. To do so is to partake of one of the world’s grossest delusions. Is there any wonder that the Spirit is crying out to us, “Come out of her, My people”?

My advice is for us all to wait until Jesus comes, and let him raise up the dead. He’s the only one who really knows how. Those whom he raises up will live again, and will live in new, glorified bodies, not in the same old fleshly bodies in which they lived previously. Those decayed corpses of flesh will be left behind for the entertainment of fools, to worship or to condemn in court – whatever they choose to do with them. Those who belong to Christ have far better things to do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Offender, The Offended, and Jesus

I have edited this message which Uncle Joe (1915-1996) wrote in private almost half a century ago. As usual with the things he wrote, one can sense both his wisdom and his struggle with putting forth what he saw in words. Hopefully, with my few additions and clarifications, I have made the wonderful insight of his message more accessible to the reader. Uncle Joe and I were kindred spirits, and knowing what he meant to say made my task much easier than if I were editing the message of a stranger.

I hope you will enjoy this and other messages from Uncle Joe, written in private after he was healed of cancer in 1959, but that are now being salvaged from his papers, typed and made public. In this one, he is trying to describe a place with God that is only found in the Spirit.

The Offender, The Offended, and Jesus
Joseph H. Murray

As long as we are among those offending "one of the least of these" or among those being offended by "one of the least of these", we cannot be of help to either of those two groups. In fact, we are found to be in one group or the other, needing help ourselves.

Before one can be used of the Lord to help God’s people, we have to move from the stage of being an offender or from the state of being offended at every little thing that comes our way -- and move to the plateau of which Paul wrote when he said, “none of these things move me” (Acts 20:24).

It is written, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42). No one can be offended unless there is an offense in him, because we cannot reap anything that we do not sow. Therefore, we should depart from all sin so that no one could sin against us.

If we are liars, we should stop being liars so that no one could lie to us. We should stop deceiving others so that we could not be deceived. Again, I say, we can only receive into our basket what we have it open for, and what we already have in it. If a trash basket, we receive trash. If a vessel of honor, we receive the good things of God and things that are honorable.

Jesus never puts any one down but draws both the offender and the offended to the same level. When he was arrested in the Garden, this happened: “And one of them [Peter] smote the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. Then Jesus [rebuked Peter and] touched his ear, and healed him” (Luke 22:50,51). Here, Jesus put Peter and the man whom Peter wounded with his sword on the same level. He rebuked his disciple and helped his enemy. They both needed his righteousness.

Again it is written, “Then said Jesus unto Peter, put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it” (John 18:11). Then said Jesus unto him, "Put your sword back in its place, for all they that take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

On another occasion, Jesus stood on the stage of one of life’s tragedies, “And the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what do you say? This they said, tempting him, so that they might have something by which to accuse him, but Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
"And then again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground, and they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, no man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more” (John 8:3-11).

It is a pity that those Pharisees and Scribes did not stay around long enough to hear Jesus speak those consoling words to this wretched woman, for neither would he have condemned them for wanting to throw stones but not being able to. He would have spoken the same words to them: "Go and sin no more.”

In doing what he did on this occasion, Jesus demonstrated that, to him, the offender and the offended in this world were on the same level. And he was able to help them both because he was neither one.

The Law of the Lord was Prophetic -- And Still Is!

The Law of the Old Testament was God’s Law. It made God’s requirements clear for the lifestyle, worship, and justice system of Israel. The Law was a revelation of how God viewed right living, right worship, and good government. And God still thinks what He has always thought! What God thought was righteous conduct in Moses’ day, He still thinks is righteous conduct. And what God thought was righteous judgment then, He still thinks is righteous judgment. If God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is “the same today, yesterday, and forever,” then what is the Father? If you know God at all, then you know this:

1 - God has never learned anything.
2 - God has never had to correct anything He ever said or did.

The principal reason God gave His Law to Israel was to point them to the coming Messiah, His Son. Paul described the Law as Israel’s schoolmaster which led to Christ (Gal. 3:24). And that same Law, written on our hearts by the Spirit, is now doing for us what it once did for Israel. It is pointing us to Jesus Christ, preparing us for his coming, but this time it is his second coming, not his first.

Governing the Earth

A very great benefit of studying the Law of Moses is that the kind of judgments found in the Law are God’s kind of judgments; therefore, they are the kind of judgments that Jesus will render when he rules the earth for a thousand years. The Law is not a dead, worthless relic of the past; it is telling us what kind of government to expect from Jesus when he sets up his kingdom on earth. Jesus will rule over the wicked, “with a rod of iron”, and the “iron” judgments he will execute are the kinds of judgments found in Moses’ Law! The Law is still pointing to Christ and preparing God’s children to reign with him.

To prepare to reign with Christ Jesus means to learn to agree with him in judgment! We certainly are not prepared to reign with Christ if we disagree with his judgments. We are supposed to be in the process of developing the mind of Christ so that we judge as he judges, and feel as he feels about everything. We are in training. That is why God sends trials and temptations our way. Consider this description of the millennial reign of Jesus, from Zechariah 14:

16. And it shall come to pass, that every one who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
17. And it shall be that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.
18. And if the family of Egypt that has no rain still does not go up, and come not [to Jerusalem to worship God], then there shall be the plague with which the Lord will smite the heathen who come not up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
19. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

At the present time, believers are given no authority to physically punish the wicked. For that, we must wait for the return of Jesus. It is sin for a believer today to become entangled in the political or military affairs of this world. We are citizens of a heavenly country, and we are here as ambassadors of Christ. This world’s social ills and political controversies are none of our business. Our king is coming to conquer and replace every government in every place. His kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit, and we who believe are in the critical process of learning to walk in the Spirit, judge in the Spirit, and stand in the Spirit against strong opposition. We are kings and priests to God, but not yet with earthly civil authority. That will come, though. Are you prepared to judge the world with Christ?

The Son of God occupies his position as well as he does only because he completely agrees with everything his Father thinks. How well we occupy our places in the kingdom of God will be determined by the same standard. Do we think what God thinks? Do we feel what He feels? I am only as good a pastor as I agree with Jesus. I am harmful to the body of Christ unless I judge as he judges. Any time I think one thing when Jesus is thinking another, I am wrong, and I have become a stumbling block to every saint under my care.

Because Jesus always thinks the way the Father thinks, Jesus is always right. The fundamental issue of life for every child of God is, Do we think the way our heavenly Father thinks? Jesus has the mind of his Father, but do we have the mind of Christ? The value of the Law of Moses is that it gives us a glimpse into the Father’s mind. Moses’ Law was the most precious insight into the heart of God ever known until the Spirit of God was poured out on the day of Pentecost. But what kind of thinking, what kind of judgments, did the Spirit bring into men’s hearts when it came, if not God’s kind of thinking and God’s kind of judgments? That was, after all, what God promised in Jeremiah 31:

31. “Behold, the days come”, says the Lord, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah,”. . . says the Lord.
33. “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days,” says the Lord, “I will put my Law into their inward parts and write it in their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34. And they will teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord!’ For they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” says the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

That promise, that the Law would be put into believers’ hearts, was fulfilled when Christ ascended into heaven and the Spirit of God was sent to dwell within us and to give us the knowledge of God.

What about the Other Commandments?

We are all familiar with God’s moral commandments that are in the Law, laws such as “love your neighbor as yourself”, “thou shalt not steal”, “thou shalt not bear false witness”, “thou shalt not covet”, etc. Everyone agrees that God’s moral commandments are “holy and just and good.” But what about the other judgments of God revealed in the Law, the ones that reveal what God considers to be perfect justice? What about His commandments for the judges and rulers of Israel, the criminal judgments (perfect because the Giver was perfect) such as public whippings for wicked transgressors, or the execution of murderers, adulterers, and harlots, or the forced double or quadruple repayment of stolen property?

• Do we agree with God’s Law, that kidnappers should be put to death? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns.
• Do we agree with God’s Law, that the owner of a dangerous animal should be executed if that animal kills someone and the owner knew the animal was dangerous? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns.
• Do we agree with God’s Law, that every witch should be burned alive? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns.
• Do we agree with God’s Law, that every person who worships any God but Jehovah should be executed? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns.
• Do we agree with God’s Law, that every homosexual should be put to death? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns.
• Do we agree with God’s Law, that every adulterer and adulteress should be put to death? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns.
• Do we agree with God’s Law, that every son or daughter who rebels against his parents and becomes stubbornly self-indulgent is to be stoned? Jesus does, and he will execute such judgments when he returns. (Jn. 8:1-11).

The Law of Moses is telling us about the future reign of Christ! It is not a useless ancient document. It came from God and served a purpose to point people to Christ – and it still does, though now it points to his future reign instead of his suffering and death.

David offered the following descriptions of the Law and the judgments of God, from Psalm 19:

7. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
8. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

Do we feel as David felt about the Law and judgments of God? To the extent that we do, we have the mind of Christ and are prepared to reign with him. To the extent that we do not, we are carnally minded and unprepared to reign with Christ, and we will doubtless be a stumbling block to some child of God while we live.

God’s ways are not our ways, but they are right. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, but they are perfect and true. And only those who think as He thinks will reign with His Son when he returns to this earth.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Parable: “The Manner of the Jews”

In John 11, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and the dead came to life. When Lazarus came out of the pitch blackness of death and walked out into the sunlight again, the poor man could not even see how liberated he was. He could not enjoy the liberty he had been given because his trunk, his hands, and his legs were still wrapped tight in the burial cloth in which the dead were wrapped in those times. You’ll remember that when Jesus died, he was similarly wrapped and that within his linen burial blankets, spices were added to reduce the smell of the corpse as it began to decay. His face, too, was wrapped with a cloth, according to John 20:7.

Now, we are plainly told, in John 19:40, that this way of burying the dead was “the manner of the Jews”. So, when Lazarus’ spirit, at rest in Paradise, heard the voice of the Savior calling him back into its earthly body, Lazarus returned to a body tightly wrapped in spices and burial cloths, as was “the manner of the Jews”. How his revived body managed to get up from his hewn-out bed while still tightly wrapped up, I don’t know, but somehow Lazarus managed to rise and waddle to the door, where the light of this sun shone upon him again.

Do you remember what Jesus first said when Lazarus came out of the shadows and appeared at the door? He gave a command to those standing by: “Loose him, and let him go!”

Now, we all know that the resurrected Lazarus was just as alive before he was unwrapped from the linen burial cloths as he was after they unwrapped him. He was fully alive from the moment his spirit entered into his body again. But it was only when “the manner of the Jews” was removed from him that he was able to experience what life really should be.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus Christ received the life of God and came out of the tomb of human nature, which is dead to the things of God. But “the manner of the Jews” still had them bound. They could not see, even though they were alive, the light of the Son that they felt. The arms and legs of their minds were bound by the manner of the Jews in a tight little area of Jewish controlled territory; they could not reach out to the Samaritans and Gentiles. They were alive, but they still could not fully experience what life in Christ could be because “the manner of the Jews” still had them bound.

But Jesus called Paul up to the third heaven and commanded him to go loose men from “the manner of the Jews”. He was sent to the Gentiles whom Jesus would call out of death into life, so that they could go where God wanted them to go, and see what God wanted them to see.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus were filled with life, but they did not understand the kind of life they had. Peter was so wrapped up with “the manner of the Jews” that he did not even understand the keys of the kingdom of God that Jesus had given him, the keys he had been anointed to use! He even argued against God when God tried to show Peter that He was about to invite unwrapped Gentiles into His kingdom. Peter would never have gone to that Gentile’s house and used his keys to open for him the door of the kingdom if God had not compelled him to go. Think about this, and what this tells us about Peter’s understanding! If Peter had done only what he felt at liberty to do, he would never have gone to open the door for the Gentiles! God had to send the same vision three times to Peter just to make him willing to have his legs unwrapped, to loose his arms, and to reach out with the love of God to those who were not like him! God had to compel Peter to let Him unwrap the burial cloth that covered Peter’s eyes so that he could walk to Cornelius’ house!

Jesus said that no one who has been drinking old wine wants the new, for they say the old is better. This was true about Peter. He thought the old was better. He didn’t want the liberty that Jesus was forcing upon him because he had never tasted a drop of it. He had confidence in God only within the confines of “the manner of the Jews”. He knew how to waddle around in burial clothes just as well, or better, than anyone. And for many of Peter’s fellow Jewish believers, Peter’s reputation would remain intact only if he stayed bound up with them, and he was well aware of how those saints would feel about him if he ever became unwrapped. In fact, he felt the same way.

Peter tried being unwrapped once at Antioch, a Gentile city, but he quickly covered his face and wrapped himself up in those binding clothes of dead tradition again when he saw some Jewish brothers walking up to the front door. Paul rebuked him for that hypocrisy and for making Gentile believers feel pressured to also submit to “the manner of the Jews”, when Peter knew perfectly well that God did not want that for them.

When God gives you life, He wants you free, not only from “the manner of the Jews” but from the manner of every other earthly bondage so that you can serve Him and do good in His sight. What good to God or to anyone else are saints so wrapped up in fear of new wine that they can’t drink in His sweet Spirit and move, and so bound by traditions and cultures that they don’t dare think God’s thoughts or feel God’s feelings?

I know you have life, if you have the Spirit. The Spirit is life. But have you been unwrapped yet? Has the truth made you free? Or is your mind still dominated by wrong ideas about your God?

When Jesus gave life to the Gentiles, they were without the wrappings of the Jews’ “manners”, or traditions. Thinking this was not good, some Jewish teachers told Gentile believers that they needed to be wrapped up like the Jews and that they were not acceptable to God without being bound in the Jews’ spiced-up straitjackets. Many Gentiles fell for that doctrine and allowed those false teachers to cover their minds and restrain their spirits with “the manner of the Jews”. They surrendered the liberty God gave them! They left the light and waddled back to the tomb. Paul cried out against this institutionalized death. He wrote to his beloved Gentile converts (Gal. 5:1): “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The Spirit is calling all of God’s children out of all things that hinder them from walking freely in the light. Whose doctrine is keeping you from the liberty Christ has for you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Simplicity that is in Christ

If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it out of hewn stone; if you lift up your tool upon it you have polluted it.”
Exodus 20:25

King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with the king of Assyria, and there, he saw an altar that was at Damascus. And king Ahaz forwarded to Urijah the priest [in Jerusalem] the pattern of it, and Urijah the priest built the altar according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus. And when the king returned from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king approached the altar and made an offering on it. And then he moved the brass altar that was before the Lord from the front of the temple and put it on the north side of the new altar.
(excerpts, 2Kings 16:10-14)

When God made His covenant with Israel, God commanded Israel not to build any fancy altars. But when King Ahaz traveled north to Damascus to meet with the Assyrian king, he saw a beautifully crafted altar there and just could not resist having one made like it in Jerusalem. God’s plain altar must have been an embarrassment to the sophisticated Ahaz, and so he moved it from it’s assigned position right in front of the temple to a less conspicuous location, putting in its place the more expertly crafted altar like the one in the heathen city of Damascus.

The story of the moving of God’s altar from its place represents the spiritual battle between the Spirit and the flesh that God’s people have always had to fight. The Spirit is simple. It is clean and holy and good. And the flesh hates it because it cannot make the Spirit of God into a form; it cannot stylize the holy Ghost. Every time we resort to style to win souls or influence people, we lose some of the glory and power of God. Every time we lean on philosophy instead of on revelation to persuade men to repent, we drift away from true wisdom and into darkness. When some of Paul’s converts were being lured away from the simplicity of the Spirit of God, he wrote them and said, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I betrothed you to one man, to present a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest, as the serpent led Eve astray by his craftiness, your thoughts should be led astray from the simple and pure devotion which belongs to Christ” (2Cor. 11:2-3).

When we fail to value the call of God and the grace of God on our lives, we find ourselves resorting to style, form, and tradition to fill the gap. It is the inescapable human condition. Young David is one who rose above all human conditions. He loved God’s law, and he loved it simply, with his whole heart. He was satisfied just to be among those chosen and loved by God. He said, “You are my portion O, Lord. . . . At midnight I will rise to give you thanks because of your righteous judgments. I am a companion of all those who fear you and of those who keep your precepts” (Ps. 119-57, 62-63).


September 22nd, 2009, marked the beginning of the thirty-fourth year of my marriage. It began on a Sunday afternoon in 1975, near the end of a prayer meeting in Grandma’s farmhouse. My father asked the few saints gathered in that old house to pray for Barbara and me, and when they did, I suddenly felt the Spirit of God put her into my side. It was a surprising, physical sensation. We were married at that instant, and the following Friday afternoon, we went downtown to the local Justice of the Peace and made it official. Then we went on a weekend honeymoon and began our life together, glorying in the work of God.

If we had lightly esteemed the grace of God that joined us together, we would certainly have yielded to the world’s pressure to make a spectacle of the marriage. But if we had done that, then from then until now, people would have pointed to that marriage ceremony as the thing that made us husband and wife, and the flesh would have stolen – again – the glory that belongs to God alone. Another opportunity for God’s people to confess the righteousness of their God would have been forever lost to the flesh. Another expression of the tenderness of God would have been forgotten, and all we would have instead would be a photo album with pictures of a man claiming to do what God had already mercifully done.

Jesus married us in Grandma’s farmhouse when the saints laid their hands on us and prayed, and I refuse to glory in anything but that. When I meet Jesus someday, I will be able to say to him, “I remember the day, Lord, when you joined us together. And I honored your holy grace above all the vanities of earth.” Jesus will remember that day, too, and all the days since then, and he will know that I never let any man steal the glory for the mercy he showed me that day.

God is my portion in the earth, and I will be a companion only to those of a like mind. What God does may be simple, and it may not satisfy the “lust of the eyes” and the “pride of the flesh”, but it is glorious to my soul! His holiness is beautiful to me and to everyone else who has eyes to see it. His glory I will not give to another. As long as I live, in this place and among these saints, the precious altar that God has given to us, we will not move to the side in order to make room for a fancy one from Damascus.


Paul said, “If any man glory, let him glory in the Lord.” That is a superfluous commandment to anyone who truly loves God because love for God causes the heart to glory in everything the Lord does, feels, or says. Compared to Him, all the “glorious” things of earth are nothing. David felt this way, and he sang to the Lord, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else].” That is the simple and holy attitude that the love of God brings into the heart, and it is the simplicity of Christ that we must maintain if we hope ever to see the face God. Paul warned the saints to beware lest the simplicity of Christ be stolen from their hearts (2Cor. 11:2-3). It is a warning we would do well to heed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Knowing God

There is not a baby born on earth who knows its mother or father when it is born. Typically, the newborn quickly learns by smell and touch who the mother is, and a strong bond is quickly formed there. But there is no newborn who quickly learns its father’s thoughts or understands his work or will. It takes years of normal growth for a child to attain to that knowledge.

Likewise, there is not a soul born of God who has ever known God when he first was born of the Spirit, including the very disciples of Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, when they were born of the Spirit, not one of Jesus’ disciples really knew their heavenly Father. They obviously knew things about Him. They had walked with Jesus, the very image of the Father, for several years, and they loved him dearly. But when they received the Spirit, they did not yet know God for themselves. On that day, they began the process of receiving the true knowledge of God. “The day you receive the holy ghost”, my father used to tell us, “is your first day in school.”

Think about it. If you had suggested to Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost that God was going to allow Gentiles to enter His kingdom, the disciples would have considered you mad. That would be contrary to everything God had done from the time of Abraham, and most certainly since Moses. Besides, Jesus plainly and firmly commanded them not to carry the gospel to Gentiles (Mt. 10:5). On the day of Pentecost, not one of those disciples dreamed that God would ever allow a man into His kingdom who was not circumcised after the manner of Moses. The uncircumcised were excluded from covenant with God, period.

Furthermore, if you had told the disciples on the day of Pentecost that the ceremonial worship of the Law would become sin, as Isaiah prophesied in the last chapter of his book, they would have been indignant. Why, even the Lord Jesus observed the Law’s ceremonies while he walked on earth. The disciples did not understand that God would bring ceremonial worship to an end, that the time was at hand when such things as physical circumcision and animal sacrifices would mean nothing to God, much less that the observance of such things would become sin, a stench in God’s nostrils and a reproach to the name of Jesus.

If you had told those disciples that when the door by which Jews entered into Christ was closed, the holy baptism that John the Baptist preached would be holy no more and that having a genealogical connection to Abraham would mean nothing to God, they would have considered you a blasphemer, worthy of death. Even Jesus was a Jew, they would have contended. Didn’t that mean something?

Yes, it meant something. But what did it mean? When Paul returned from his visit to the third heaven, he had the answer:

Romans 15
8. Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,
9. and so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto your name.
10. And again he said, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.
11. And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; and laud him, all you people [the Jews].
12. And again, Isaiah said, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
13. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the holy ghost.

This revelation to Paul about the Gentiles is something that the disciples, on the day they were born of the Spirit, did not understand. They did not know that God was making a New Covenant in which the only true worshipers on earth would be those who worshiped the Father in spirit and in truth. The disciples were very good Jews. They had watched Jesus be a very good Jew, too, as he observed all the carnal commandments of the Law. They did not yet comprehend the ramifications of what Jesus told the woman at the well: “God is a spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” The phrase “in spirit and in truth” means that ceremony is excluded, but they did not understand that. It means that communion with God is a matter of the heart, that baptism is a matter of the spirit, that robes of righteousness have replaced robes of earthly material. But the disciples did not yet understand those things, either.

What God accomplished in Christ is so great, so far beyond the thinking of even the best people on earth, that even Jesus’ disciples did not expect what would happened. They would not have believed it even after it was done, had God not had mercy on them and raised up Paul to teach them.

That is the greatness of Paul’s work. He was taken up into the third heaven, heard things unlawful to speak, and then returned to earth to educate even those who were apostles before him concerning what God had done in Christ Jesus. Paul is the man who broke the yoke of the Law off the back of God’s people, not Peter, not James, not John. Those good Jews continued observing the ceremonies of the Law even after the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. Paul unlocked the shackles of the Law’s carnal ceremonies and holy days and set God’s people free indeed!