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Friday, January 30, 2009

Scrutinize the Spirits

In 1Jn. 4:1-3, the Apostle John, addressing believers ["beloved"], contrasts the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of false prophets. He gives two commands (Imperatives):

1. Stop believing in / entrusting yourselves to every spirit.
[Present Tense = progressive, on-going, lifestyle action]

2. Be testing/scrutinizing/analyzing each spirit.
[Present Tense = progressive, on-going, lifestyle action]

He then explains this can be done by examining each spirit's message.

a. One confessing [def: to say the same thing as God] Jesus Christ having come in the flesh
"confessing" = Pres. Tense [progressive, on-going, lifestyle action];
"having come" = Perfect Tense [action which happened in the Past with continuing results in the Present]

b. One NOT confessing Jesus Christ having come in the flesh

He also gives a reason WHY it is necessary for these believers to do this: "because many false prophets have gone out into the world". And he tells them the SOURCE of this false teaching - the spirit of antichrist, which they had heard was coming, and which now, in fact, had arrived.

What is the significance of John's words, penned over 1900 years ago? The spirit of antichrist REMAINS in the world. False messages about Jesus Christ are STILL being promoted. Christians STILL need to stop believing every spirit and STILL need to be testing/scrutinizing/analyzing the messages they are hearing. Within the past five years alone many cults have started claiming they believe in Jesus. But if you analyze their message you will find they are proclaiming "another" Christ, not the One who is revealed in God's Word.

Tragically, many who name the name of Christ have lost their ability to test, to scrutinize, to examine because they no longer know the Truth as it is revealed in God's Word. They may listen to preachers teach about Christ, but they do not have the ability to discern whether or not the teaching is True. They may read books naming Christ, but they do not have the ability to discern whether or not the writing is True. That is because they have abandoned the Truth. They no longer read their Bibles. They no longer read, re-read, meditate, taste, savor Scripture. They may have the indwelling Holy Spirit, but they give Him no Scriptural food to work with.

So my challenge to you who name the name of Christ is to examine yourself. If you find you no longer have a hunger for God's Word, it may be because you have starved yourself and thereby lost your appetite.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Five Reasons to Be Thankful for Obama's Inauguration

Over at the Irish Calvinist blog, Erik Raymond has written a post on why he, as a believer, is thankful for President Obama. I have found myself being incredibly disappointed with the response of many believers to his election. If you name the name of Christ, you are representing Him in this fallen world, even in so lightweight a place as Facebook. It is a serious matter in God's eyes; we need to take it seriously in our own eyes. One does not need to have supported the man in order to be thankful for God having sovereignly placed him over us at this point in time. If you are in need of an "attitude adjustment", here are the highlights from Raymond's five reasons.

1. A finger in the eye to evangelicals. When George Bush became president many professing Christians looked at him as if he was some sort of lower-case ‘m’ messiah who would usher in the religious right’s agenda. Too often it felt like evangelicals were content with their king and forgot to long for the King.

2. More occassion to pray. There are many issues that are on the hot plate now. Now the burden seems heavier to pray and pray harder. We (me!) might have been a little lax before as we looked to men who professed to have the same views as ours to bring about such radical change. Furthermore, I am forced by virtue of the fact that I know this president and his staff need Christians to pray for him . I need to pray and keep praying for the President in light of 1 Timothy 2, that the Word of God might continue to be proclaimed freely in this country.

3. Racial progress in America. Within the lifetime of many folks watching this inauguration, an African-American could not have even been served a meal in public, much less receive the oath of president of the country! This represents great progress for our country in the area of racism. As this is more in line with God’s revealed will, I am thankful.

4. The peaceful transition of power. I am reminded afresh of the abundant grace of God in allowing this country to not have violence in the street as the power is wrestled from the current leader. Instead we have our outgoing president sitting respectfully, smiling and affirming our new leader. This is a cause for thanksgiving.

5. A fresh and vivid reminder to long for the King. All of the noble ideals and grand plans pale in comparison to the treading down of all unrighteousness, the visible reign of the Righteous One, the swelling emotional and theologically-driven worship that will abound when the gloriously wonderful One will finally reign.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Look at Sovereignty & "Free Will"

"We love Him because He first loved us."
1 John 4:19

Many believers are convinced by Scripture of the sovereignty of God in all things, yet not quite reconciled to "the fairness" of it in their mind. They know Scripture is true and their thinking in error, but find they can't quite reconcile their personal ideas about "fairness" and "free will" with God's sovereignty, and they would like to be able to.

I believe part of the answer lies in having an accurate understanding of "free will". "Free will" does not mean an individual can do whatever he wants. As Americans, we are "free", but we are not "free" to do "whatever we want". We can not murder, steal or drive drunk and expect there will be no adverse consequences for our actions. Even the much-touted idea that "As an American I can grow up to be whatever I want to be" is fallacious. I may "want" to be a nuclear physicist, but I am limited by my intelligence and a lack of funds to expend on the required education. I may "want" to be President, but only one person is elected every four years. Do the math ... every American cannot become President, no matter how much they might desire the job.

From a Scriptural point of view, "free will" means a man has the freedom to act according to his nature. An unregenerate heart/mind is at enmity with God. [Rom.8:7]. (By the way, that verb is in the Greek Present Tense, which indicates a progressive, on-going, "lifestyle" kind of action.)

It takes a "golden chain" of effort on God's part to bring a mind at enmity towards Him into a relationship of loving Him. "For those whom He forekenew, He also predestined... and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." [Rom.8:29-30]

For months I have been trying to think of an illustration that might demonstrate "free will" in a scenario involving outside intervention. Remembering the above definition of "free will", that an individual is "free" to act within their nature, I recalled an incident I think might help illustrate the concept.

When we were raising sheep, it was not uncommon for people to dump their pregnant cats in our neighborhood. While doing chores one morning, the kids were surprised to have a kitten drop down from the loft into the grain bin. A litter of kittens had been born in the loft above. Understanding that I would incur a cost, I called the animal shelter to make arrangements to bring the new family into their care. I was told I could not bring the kittens to the shelter until they were weaned. I was also warned that if I left them on their own in the barn, they would be feral cats by the time weaning occurred - untameable and unsuitable for adoption.

So, with considerable effort on our part, we finally caught all of the kittens and their mom, and brought them into the house. We fed them, held them, patted them, put up with their propensity to scratch furniture and climb curtains ... until they were weaned and could be brought to the shelter, which for a fee would neuter each one and give the appropriate shots, making them presentable for adoption by loving owners.

Now, if I had not intervened, what would have happened to those kittens in the barn? They would have had the "free will" to be feral. What happened when I DID intervene, paying the price of scratched kids & curtains, feeding & vet costs, nurturing time, etc.? Their "nature" was changed and they had the "free will" to be tame cats. In both cases they possessed "free will" to follow their nature. My intervention did not remove their "free will".

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Winter came late this year, but it seems to be making up for lost time. I thought you might enjoy the following poem by Ogden Nash:

Winter comes but once a year but it lasts for most of it,
And you may think there is a chance it may be a mild one, but there isn't a ghost of it.
Some people still say ice is nicer than slush
And to those people I say Hush.

Some people still say snow is nicer than rain,
Which is like being still unreconciled to the defeat of James G. Blaine.
Some people still say a freeze is nicer than a thaw,
And I hope they find cold storage Japanese beetles in their slaw.

Slush is much nicer than ice because when you step in it you simple go splash,
instead of immediately depositing either your posterior or your pate on it,
And also you don't have to skate on it.
Rain is much nicer than snow because you don't have to have rain plows piling rain up in six-foot piles exactly where you want to go,
And you don't have to build rain-men for the kiddies and frolic in sleighs and sleds,
and also rain is nicer because it melts the snow.
A thaw is obviously much nicer than a freeze,
Because it annoys people with skis.
And in all my life I have only known one man who honestly liked winter better than summer,
Because every summer he used to have either his tonsils or his appendix or something out,
and every winter he was a plumber.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Always Changing Jerusalem

When someone visits Israel for the first time, it can be easy to imagine that the historical areas have always looked the way you are seeing them. But modern Israel is about 20 feet above where it would have been during Jesus' day. Here are two photos of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The top picture was taken in 1964. Note the large crack in the stone behind the man's knees.

The Western Wall Plaza has been lowered about 6 feet since then. The bottom picture shows how it looks today. Note the same cracked stone under the right hand of the young man in the red shirt who is standing on a chair. I found this to be a wonderful visual reminder of the constant changes Jerusalem is undergoing.

[I found these two photos on Todd Bolen's website. The top photo was taken by David Blevin and the bottom one by Todd.]

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Happy" in Christ

Speaking to His disciples in the "Sermon on the Mount", Jesus gave a list of the characteristics of individuals who will enter the Kingdom. This isn't a 'pick & choose list'. All of these attributes are characteristic of the person entering the Kingdom. Each verse in Mt.5:3-11 begins with the word variously translated "Blessed" or "Happy" in English. You might misunderstand the biblical meaning if you are relying upon the meaning of the English word "happy", which is based upon the root word "hap", meaning luck as a favorable circumstance (e.g. "happenstance"). It carries the idea that life is good, I am lucky, and as a result that makes me "happy". But what happens when the circumstances of life are not good?

The Koine Greek word used is "makarios". Dr. Zodhiates gives a good definition in his NT Word Study: "Blessed, possessing the favor of God, that state of being marked by fullness from God. It indicates the state of the believer in Christ, of one who becomes a partaker of God's nature through faith in Christ. The believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of Christ and as a result should be fully satisfied no matter the circumstances."

To be "makarios" is to have God as your "portion" [Ps.119:57]. It means to be totally, completely satisfied in God regardless of the circumstances of life. [If you didn't happen to hear Pastor Wragg's sermon last Sunday night, be sure to listen to it on the FBC website.] This section of Ps.119 starts out with, "The LORD is my portion..." and then lists six ways a believer cultivates satisfaction in God, rather than allowing life's circumstances to be the bellwether of his happiness.

1. Constantly, wholeheartedly be seeking to know God as He has revealed Himself in His word. (58)
2. Constantly be practicing repentance. (59)
3. Be doing what God commands. (60)
4. Be fighting against all earthly distractions. (61)
5. Constantly be practicing thankfulness in prayer. (62)
6. Be developing close relationships with Godly-minded people. (63)

How does this truth impact your life?  In what ways can you specifically incorporate it into your Christian walk?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beware of Jewish Myths

Recently I came across a few Jewish myths which have made their way into Christian teaching and preaching. Todd Bolen wrote about one in his bibleplaces blog. You've probably heard that the priests would tie a rope around the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies so that he could be removed should God strike him dead. It turns out this is a Jewish myth which didn't appear until the 13th Century AD when it was mentioned in a Jewish work called "the Zohar" (which contained many inaccuracies). It's not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Apocrypha, the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud or the Jerusalem Talmud. But you CAN find it in the NIV Study Bible comment on Ex.28:35.

Another myth which has trickled into Christianity is the idea that the deaths in Naomi's family were the result of their sin. According to F.B. Huey, Jr. in his Commentary on Ruth (Expositor's Bible Commentary), that idea comes from a Rabbinic teaching which stated they were being punished for having left Judah and for having married non-Jews. I don't find Scripture supports such an assumption:
1. Scripture nowhere condemns their actions.
2. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob also left the land during times of famine. In fact God personally arranged for Jacob and his family to go to Egypt during a protracted famine.
3. The word translated "sojourn" in Ruth 1:1 speaks of temporarily leaving, being a pilgrim. They had every intention of returning to Bethlehem.
4. As for marrying women of Moab, Israel was not specifically prohibited from doing so. Moab is not included in the ban of Deut.7:1, 3. In fact, you'll remember the people of Moab were descended from Abraham's nephew, Lot. [It is true that because of Moab's involvement in hiring Balaam to curse Israel, they were not allowed into the congregation of the Lord until the 10th generation. But marriage was not prohibited.]
5. And finally, both King David and Jesus were physically descended from Ruth, the Moabitess.

Yet we find this Rabbinic tradition repeated in Christian Commentaries... and subsequently being preached from pulpits, taught in Bible studies and written into Sunday School lessons.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Life Behind the Service

Daniel Block, Wheaton Prof & OT Commentator was guest speaker at Winterim at The Master's Seminary last week. Concerning the use of spiritual gifts (particularly in worship music), he stated, “The life of the person is more important than the performance.” 

How true this should be for ALL ministry. God is NOT looking for “talent”, He's looking for obedient faithfulness. Shouldn’t churches seek SS teachers, Youth workers, etc. based upon their faithful walk before a holy God, rather than looking at ability alone or attempting to “fill holes” with whoever can be talked into doing the job? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people concentrated on their Christian walk to the point that they would feel “honored” to be considered qualified enough to be asked to serve some way in the local assembly?

I've heard people complain that their “gift” is not appreciated, nor utilized by their assembly… and so they become church jumpers. Isn't it better to be concentrating on your walk before the LORD and on being sensitive to His leading into a particular area of service?

Over my first year as church secretary I’ve received multiple calls from people wondering if we could use their “gift” in our church… yet never asking a single question about what we believe or preach! I’m serious! The second most asked question is, “What kind of music do you have?” or “Do you have contemporary music?” In the past year I’ve never had a SINGLE question concerning whether we have expository preaching, if we stress Missions & Evangelism, asking to see a Statement of Faith or wondering how many Prayer Services and Bible Studies we offer.

Putting the emphasis on your “gift” instead of on your walk with the One who GAVE you that gift is tantamount to serving yourself and not God.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Are You From New England?

I came across this and thought it might bring a chuckle... and perhaps motivate me to start writing here again. Can you add to the list?

You know you live in New England if ...

... you can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching.

... you've worn shorts and a parka at the same time.

... you're proud that your region makes the national news 96 nights each year because Mt. Washington is the coldest spot in the nation.

... your local Dairy Queen is closed from September through May.

... someone in Home Depot offers you assistance, and they don't work there.

... you've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number.

... you measure distance in hours.

... you have switched from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day and back again.

... you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both unlocked.

... you carry jumper cables in your car and your wife knows how to use them.

... you design your child's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

... you know the 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.