The Presbyterian Church

Over the course of the week, Kat and I have been delving into the teachings, the doctrines, and the ways of the Presbyterian Church. Last study, Kat said that trying to understand the beliefs of the Baptists was a “maze of uncertainty”. The Baptists and Presbyterians both worship the Godhead, like other branches in Christianity, but each worship differently.

I promised two weeks ago I would study the book Churches of Today (by author L.G. Tomlinson) and update on what has changed since the book was written. Kat told me while fixing lunch, after having done research the modern way (online), that the book’s contents feel a bit outdated, but only in one real way: “Modern Christians have molded their words to counteract the image that other denominations stereotype them as.” In simpler words, churches have altered over time because of the arguments leaders have and the way culture has changed. The way the church is viewed by the members also has a great impact on what happens in the church to overturn (or not overturn) old traditions.

Origin


 

“…Calvin, however, never founded a distinct denomination, but he preached and put into practice the principles which underlie all Presbyterian Churches… The Westminster Association, which was in session from July 1, 1643, to February 22, 1649, framed the Westminster Confession of faith, which became the doctrinal foundation of English and American Presbyterianism. Francis Makemie, who is called the ‘Father of American Presbyterianism’, organized the Rehoboth Church in Maryland in 1684.” –Churches of Today

Not all Presbyterians strut their history on their church websites and informative sites. I doubt that every church to come across touts their Calvinistic views, or even knows who John Calvin is other than the fact their religion is based after his beliefs and they follow those beliefs to stay within their denomination. Many of the churches are much more focused on present day, as in their members, their outreach, and their good-standing ideals.

Sacrament: Lord’s Supper


Churches of Today says:

“PRESBYTERIANISM TEACHES:

“…the Lord’s Supper does not need to be observed weekly.”

Now, the great thing about the Bible is it never changes whether it’s 1927 or 2018 or 2029. The Word of God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Let’s place the foundation of the Lord’s Supper by finding where it starts in the Bible, to see why it is a sacred practice:

The Old Testament “sacred bread” practice:

Leviticus 24:5-9 (CEV), “The Lord said, Use your finest flour to bake twelve loaves of bread about four pounds each, then take them into the sacred tent and lay them on the gold table in two rows of six loaves. Alongside each row put some pure incense that will be sent up by fire in place of the bread as an offering to me. Aaron must lay fresh loaves on the table each Sabbath, and priests in all generations must continue this practice as part of Israel’s agreement with me. This bread will always belong to Aaron and his family; it is very holy because it was offered to me, and it must be eaten in a holy place.”

The New Testament practice of the Lord’s Supper:

Acts 20:3-12 (CEV), ”Paul was about to sail to Syria. But some of the Jewish leaders plotted against him, so he decided to return by way of Macedonia. With him were Sopater, son of Pyrrhus from Berea, and Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica. Gaius from Derbe was also with him, and so were Timothy and the two Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. They went on ahead to Troas and waited for us there. After the Festival of Thin Bread*, we sailed from Philippi. Five days later we met them in Troas and stayed there for a week.

“On the first day of the week we met to break bread together. Paul spoke to the people until midnight because he was leaving the next morning. In the upstairs room where we were meeting, there were a lot of lamps... 

”...After Paul had gone back upstairs, he broke bread, and ate with us. He then spoke until dawn and left...”

*NOTE: The Festival of Thin Bread was a holiday observed by the Jews near Sabbath time.

The Presbyterians are always stressing individual conscience; to each his own when leading the church. The Lord’s Supper is one of the two Sacraments they follow (the other one baptism). I saw many saying they practice communion on a once per month basis, but there are variations in divisions.

Sacrament: Baptism


 

My findings were that Presbyterianism allows for a baptized believer of any denomination to come and partake in the blessings of their church, albeit that person was baptized in the name of God in three parts (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). They have infant baptism and adult baptism, either sprinkling or immersion, and have ordained leaders that take care of the ritual.

I wondered the question, “Does an infant who is baptized get re-baptized as an adult, or are they baptized once and that’s final? Does the church encourage believers who were baptized as infants another choice, or do they discourage any guilt that may happen?” I ask this question because I am a Christian who was baptized a second time; I did not feel secure in my original baptism at age 9. To this day, I do not know if I needed to be re-baptized to gain entrance into heaven. My family tells me I knew Jesus Christ the first time I was immersed in water, and I did not need a second baptism, but fear gripped my heart and once I was baptized again (after prayer and counsel) it hasn’t been an issue in my spiritual walk. If nothing else, it gave me assurance in my faith and for that I am thankful I did it. But this question for the sake of Presbyterians is on my mind: do Presbyterians feel assurance in their early baptism? My studies have uncovered the answer that one baptism is what the church believes is a good-standing ideal. Quoting Reverend Roy R. Bennett,

“Baptism was instituted by Christ as a perpetual ordinance until the end of the age. This sacrament signifies a person coming to faith and belonging to Christ and is to be administered only once. The sign used is water and is correctly administered by pouring or sprinkling. Salvation is not inseparably connected with baptism nor is the effectiveness of baptism tied to the time of its administration.”

Churches of Today argues against infant baptism:

“THE BIBLE:

“1. Without faith it is impossible to come to God (Heb. 11:6)

“2. Faith cometh by hearing (Rom. 10:17)

“3. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16)…

“4. There is not one mention of a child ever being baptized. The household converts were preached to, showing they were old enough to hear.”

Presbyterianism doesn’t really teach that infants are baptized because they are sinners, need salvation, and understand their need for repentance, in fact, infant baptism is almost more for the parents than for the child. It is a sign that the church and God approves of the baby, and they consider it a seal of God’s faithfulness and love, at least according to the rhetoric used on church websites.

However, it is true that infant baptism was a practice established after the apostles’ early church. It was not a practice started by Jesus Christ. Some argue that Jesus holding the children, accepting them, and saying not to turn the little ones away is validation to keep infant baptism in practice.

Predestination


 

Predestination is a debate many religions hold, not only Christianity. Much of the debate in the Christian realm comes from the teachings of John Calvin, also known as Calvinism or Calvinistic views. The Westminster Statement of Faith (the teachings upheld by traditional Presbyterian church leaders) holds to the view that some persons are predestined to receive God’s grace, while others are predestined to damnation, God having not only foreseen it but also purposed it. These views come from the Bible — yet denominations that are anti-Calvinistic argue that it is perverting Scripture to say that we do not have a personal choice, and that God destined and made us either for glory or ruin.

A concern I have is whether Presbyterians believe that God predestined souls to come to him depending on the person. Many of their modern churches focus so much energy on individual conscience, diversity, and allowance of choice-making. Many of those churches hold liberal/progressive values (in the political sense) like pro-choice women’s rights, which marriage partner, school choices, etc.  But if our choices are not a part of our destination (meaning our choices do not change God’s plan for our eternal life), then why make choices at all? If that were the case, we would simply wait for the Lord to tell us whether we were chosen, and if we were invested in the journey of winning God’s trust (if indeed it could happen), maybe we would try to live righteously to prove that we belong to him; but if the predestination statement means what I think it means, it could also be true that a righteous person who prays and follows God in every way would live their whole lives, never being heaven-bound; or is it more, they would never have felt the desire to pray in the first place, because they were destined for hell and never got the power of the Spirit within?

The paradigm of Calvinism is a bit confusing. Again, “a maze of uncertainty” as you try and understand the rhetoric of the church.

Romans 8:9-39 (bold-type added by me) tells the truth for us in detail:

“You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God’s Spirit, who lives in you. People who don’t have the Spirit of Christ in them don’t belong to him. But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. Yet God raised Jesus to life! God’s Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit.

”My dear friends, we must not live to satisfy our desires. If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit you say ‘No’ to your desires. Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him.

“I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.

”The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children. This means that our bodies will also be set free. And this hope is what saves us. But if we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. However, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it.

”In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children. God then accepted the people he had already decided to choose, and he has shared his glory with them.

”What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.  Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? It is exactly as the Scriptures say,

‘For you we face death
     all day long.
 We are like sheep
 on their way
     to be butchered.’

“In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Westminster Statement of Faith


 

The main reason why Presbyterianism is different than other Christian faiths is for the Westminster Statement of Faith. This document (founded in 17th century England) was not meant to replace the Bible, neither does it hold the authority of the Bible in their view. Instead, it was a document made to accompany the Bible: maybe a little explaining, a lot directing, and a lot answering questions… also elaborating on the original sacred text, the Bible. Their statement of faith is not unlike “The Baptist Faith and Message” which is the guide of Baptist churches, but also each a very unique set of words. To have a summary on the basics, I found this document, A Summary of the Westminster Statement of Faith by Reverend Roy R. Bennett, to be very helpful as a reminder of what the long text had.

In a personal story, I had a close relationship with someone who had trouble with Christianity and the dogmatic principles they advocate. It stifled her love for God. She no longer believes. Her fall from faith was due to the division between Christians. Why did that have to be? She thought it was better to leave God instead of feel pain and misery. What could the churches do differently to help her understand? Give her the truth about Jesus Christ. Why did they not “snatch her from the fire” while she had the chance? They let her fall through the cracks. Did I personally do enough? These convictions still lay close to my heart.

A soul’s destiny is the hugest subject that the Christian faith is about. How we define sin, faith, salvation, baptism, and fellowship is everything, and how we reach others depends on everything we teach them. What I said and what I did that may have caused a rift in my friend’s salvation is everything, and for that I’m sorry. To her, I betrayed friendship, becoming another Christian bigot, hurting our love. My words taught Jesus, but my insistence that she was in sin taught her low self-esteem, when in reality, the first sin was in the church. That is why we should be careful what we teach.

After reading Roy R. Bennett’s summary of the Westminster, it concerns me again what Presbyterians believe about our destiny (“God’s Eternal Decree”). Take the book of Job for example. It takes a trained eye to read the whole text of Job with the full speeches of Job, his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar), the mysterious man Elihu, and God himself, the Almighty, and understand the meaning. But the Lord is straightforward when he says to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God spoke personally to Job’s friend and confirmed their speeches were wrong and deserving of wrath, and yet if Job was willing to sacrifice for them, which in Job 42:9-10 it confirms Job prayed for them and the Lord accepted his prayer; Job was their mediator, standing before God on their behalf; they were forgiven because of their obedience to God. This proves that their action was capable of altering the outcome. Someone can argue, “God knew Eliphaz would obey, and so he was one of the ‘elect’ – that is why God says that he will not deal with him and the others according to their folly.”

However, take King Solomon as another example. In 1 Kings 11, verses 1 through 6, it says (eloquently in the VOICE, italics added by the VOICE):

King Solomon loved countless women from other countries—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, Hittites—as well as Pharaoh’s daughter.

“All the countries of the king’s lovers were heathen countries that the Eternal One had warned the Israelites about: “Do not mingle with them, and do not allow them to mingle with you. They will corrupt you and lead you away from Me. They will seduce your hearts to follow their own gods.” But Solomon clung to these lovers. He had 700 royal wives, as well as 300 mistresses. And his wives and mistresses seduced his heart away from God.

Solomon followed the Lord during youth and middle age, but when Solomon was an old man, these women seduced him into following other gods. His heart was led astray and no longer completely belonged to the Eternal One, his True God, as his father David’s heart did. Solomon pursued Ashtoreth (the Sidonian goddess) and Milcom (the abomination of the Ammonites). Solomon abandoned his lifelong integrity and committed evil in the eyes of the Eternal. He did not follow Him completely, as his father David had.”

I will say, in the Summary of the Westminster Statement of Faith, in section 4, it says regarding creation, Adam, and Eve, “God endowed this first couple with the ability to obey His command as well as the freedom of will to choose otherwise, making them capable of a fall.” It seems the Presbyterians do confirm free will, and they do acknowledge the need for obedience, and it may not be an issue to argue. Their doctrines do make the Bible appear contradictory at times, which other denominations do not experience with their faith journey. The Westminster Statement of Faith accentuates certain verses in ways that make the Bible enigmatic and hard to grasp.

What it says about Jesus Christ seems completely Biblical (meaning they accept Jesus as Lord, part of the Triune God, and Savior and Redeemer, and he was born to virgin Mary and was connected to the Father God during his walk on earth) and that is a truth worth celebrating.

 

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The Baptist Church

“So much confusion exists today because of division that the honest seeker after truth finds himself in the maze of uncertainty.” (Quote from Churches of Today, by L.G. Tomlinson.)

I find myself here, in the maze of uncertainty, as I emerge from researching the beliefs of the Baptist church.  Fortunately for me, I believe Galatians 2:17-21 as it reads “If we are those who desire to be saved from our sins through our union with the Anointed One, does that mean our Messiah promotes our sins if we still acknowledge that we are sinners? How absurd! For if I start over and reconstruct the old religious system that I have torn down with the message of grace, I will appear to be one who turns his back on the truth.  But because the Messiah lives in me, I’ve now died to the law’s dominion over me so that I can live for God.  My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me-we live in union as one!  My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine!  So that is why I don’t view God’s grace as something minor or peripheral.  For if keeping the law could release God’s righteousness to us, the Anointed One would have died for nothing.” (TPT)

Baptists allow for every person to have their own interpretation of the Bible, so everyone will have a differing slant to their belief in salvation and grace and what God requires, but typically they will follow a statement of convictions which summarizes their beliefs, known as “The Baptist Faith and Message”.  The differences and similarities are all seen when a general search is done on the Internet.  One example is that some Baptist readings state that The Lord’s Supper should be taken quarterly or yearly, but some Baptists online also argue the case that it should be observed every week.

Looking at the websites of some Baptist churches all around the world, it can be seen that they are very direct in what they believe.  They are all very organized.   They know what they believe, and they list it out for visitors to see.


God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit

Baptists believe that God is the one true God, the creator of the universe, and that he shows himself through the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, he lived a sinless life, he died on a cross and then was resurrected 3 days later, and that His blood washes away the sins of humanity. Now, Jesus sits at the right hand of his Father, God, and acts as a mediator, an intercessor.  We are allowed a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and don’t need the priests of the old law any longer because as believers in Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit who fills us and makes us holy temples of God.

This is true, as you can see in the following scriptures.

God the Father

"...being one body and one spirit, as you were all called into the same glorious hope of divine destiny.  For the Lord God is one, and so are we, for we share in one faith, one baptism, and one Father.  And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all, and lives in us all!"   Ephesians 4:4-6 (TPT)
"So Jesus said, 'I speak to you timeless truth. The Son is not able to do anything from himself or through my own initiative.  I only do the works that I see the Father doing, for the Son does the same works as his Father.  Because the Father loves his Son so much, he always reveals to me everything that he is about to do. And you will all be amazed when he shows me even greater works than what you've seen so far! For just like the Father has power to raise the dead, the Son will raise the dead and give life to whomever he wants.  The Father now judges no one, for he has given all the authority to judge to the Son... I speak to you an eternal truth: if you embrace my message and believe in the One who sent me, you will never face condemnation, for in me, you have already passed from the realm of death into the realm of eternal life!  ...For the Father has given the Son the power to impart life, even as the Father imparts life.  The Father has transferred to the Son the authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man."  John 5: 19-22, 24, 26-27 (TPT)

Jesus the Son

 "Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways.  The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another.  But to us living in these last days, God now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed Heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time.  The Son is the dazzling radiance of God's splendor, the exact expression of God's true nature - his mirror image!  He holds the universe together and expands it by the mighty power of his spoken word.  He accomplished for us the complete cleansing of sins, and then took his seat on the highest throne at the right hand of the majestic One.  He is infinitely greater than angels, for he inherited a rank and a Name far greater than theirs.  For God has never said to any angel what he said to Jesus: "You are my favored Son, today I have fathered you." And this: "I will be the Father to him, and he will be the Son to me."  Hebrews 1:1-5 (TPT)
"He longs for everyone to embrace his life and return to the full knowledge of the truth.  For God is one, and there is one Mediator between God and the sons of men - the true man, Jesus, the Anointed One.  He gave himself as ransom-payment for everyone.  Now is the proper time for God to give the world this witness." 1 Timothy 2:4-6 (TPT)

Holy Spirit

"But when the Spirit of Christ empowers your life, you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit.  And if you are not joined to the Spirit of the Anointed One, you are not of him.  Now Christ lives his life in you! And even though your body may be dead because of the effects of sin, his life-giving Spirit imparts life to you because you are fully accepted by God.  Yes, God raised Jesus to life! And since God's Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you!"  Romans 8:9-11 (TPT)
"We carry this confidence in our hearts because of our union with Christ before God. Yet we don't see ourselves as capable enough to do anything in our own strength, for our true competence flows from God's empowering presence.  He alone makes us adequate ministers who are focused on an entirely new covenant.  Our ministry is not based on the letter of the law but through the power of the Spirit.  The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit pours out life." 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 (TPT)

God-Inspired Truth

Baptists believe that the Bible is the absolute truth, and it must be obeyed.  They do not rely on creeds or doctrines to tell them how to act, and they believe that any doctrine written by man can – even subconsciously – replace the laws of God.

"Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness." 2 Timothy 3:16 (TPT)
"For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword.  It will even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet!  It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts.  There is not one person who can hide their thoughts from God, for nothing that we do remains a secret, and nothing created is concealed, but everything is exposed and defenseless before his eyes, to whom we must render an account."  Hebrews 4:12-13 (TPT)

The two ordinances- Believer’s Baptism and The Lord’s Supper

Baptists believe there are 2 things ordained by God: baptism and the Lord’s supper.  To the modern Baptist, it is a sin for a believer in Christ to not be baptized or partake of the Lord’s supper. They are symbols of a believer’s faith: Baptism symbolizes the believer’s death to sin in comparison to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection; The Lord’s Supper is a memorial to Christ’s death, and also symbolizes the believer’s anticipation to His coming again.

Baptism

To a Baptist, baptism is the step into a membership with the church community. To become a member of the church and receive the privileges given to the community of believers, a person must be baptized into the church.

"Peter replied, 'Repent and return to God, and each one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus, the Anointed One, to have your sins removed.  Then you may take hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For God's promise of the Holy Spirit is for you and your families, for those yet to be born and for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.' ... Those who believed the word that day numbered three thousand.  They were all baptized and added to the church." Acts 2:38-39, 41 (TPT)

Lord’s Supper

Baptists also believe in the importance of memorializing Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross with the Lord’s Supper. You can read in Galatians 3:21-25 the importance of Jesus’s death. “Since that’s true, should we consider the written law to be contrary to the promise of new life?  How absurd!  Truly, if there was a law that we could keep which would give us new life, then our salvation would have come by law-keeping.  But the Scriptures make it clear that since we were all under the power of sin, we needed Jesus!  And he is the Savior who brings the promise to those who believe. So until the revelation of faith for salvation was released, the law was a jailer, holding us as prisoners under lock and key until the “faith,” which was destined to be revealed, would set us free.  The law becomes a gateway to lead us to the Messiah so that we would be saved by faith.  But when faith comes the law is no longer in force, since we have already entered into life.”  (TPT)

"Those who believed the word that day numbered three thousand.  They were all baptized and added to the church.  Every believer was faithfully devoted to following the teachings of the apostles.  Their hearts were mutually linked to one another, sharing communion and coming together regularly for prayer. " Acts 2:41-42 (TPT)

Stewardship

Baptists believe that because God’s grace is undeserved, believers in Christ should recognize their duty to share the gospel with the world.  They must serve God in the form of living sacrifices, by serving others in brotherly love.

"And as a spiritual father to you, I will gladly spend all that I have and all that I am for you!  If I love you more, will you respond by loving me less?"  2 Corinthians 12:15 (TPT)
"All the believers were in fellowship as one body, and they shared with one another whatever they had.  Out of generosity they even sold their assets to distribute the proceeds to those who were in need among them.  Daily they met together in the temple courts and in one another's homes to celebrate communion.  They shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility.  They were continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were coming to life."  Acts 2:44-47 (TPT)

Separation between the church and civil governments:

Baptists believe that the government which the church is under should offer religious freedom and protection to the believers, but that in return, the members of the church should respect and obey the laws that the government puts into place.  The government should not be in subjection to the church.  With that said, the government should keep in place certain morals in accordance with God’s laws.  (For example, laws against murdering.)  Believers in the nation’s government should always, through prayer, seek peace with other nations.  They should never push their religion off onto the people who they care for but allow freedom in their country. Baptists believe in Hell.  Believers will not fall from God’s grace, but one can see a believer’s true faith through his stewardship.

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is God's spiritual child and has been fathered by God himself. And everyone who loves Father God loves his children as well. This is how we can be sure that we love the children of God: by having a passionate love for God and by obedience to his commands." 1 John 5:1-2 (TPT)
"'Show me one of the Roman coins.' So they brought him a silver coin used to pay the tax.  'Now, tell me, whose head is on this coin and whose inscription is stamped on it?'


'Ceasar's,' they replied.

Jesus said, 'Precisely, for the coin bears the image of the emperor Caesar. Well, then, you should pay the emperor what is due to the emperor. But because you bear the image of God, give back to God all that belongs to him.'"  Matthew 22:19-21 (TPT)

Pastors and Deacons

Baptists believe that men are placed over the church to advise the members.  These men must match the standards expressed in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.  Once a believer becomes a pastor, he earns the privilege to admonish the church and lead it into God’s grace.  Deacons are civil servants, serving the members of the church with God’s guidance through the Bible.

"For those who serve in this way will obtain an honorable reputation for themselves and a greater right to speak boldly in the faith that comes from the anointing of Jesus!"  1 Timothy 3:13 (TPT)

As a Christian based after the Church of Christ, I don’t agree with everything that I read from the Baptist websites.  Many of them spoke truths; they all have the right intentions: to live under the forgiveness granted to us by our faith and obedience in Jesus Christ, spoken of in the Bible.                                                                                                                                             

New Year’s Resolution: To Be Heaven Here On Earth

You are given the option for immortality. Do you take it or do you decline?

Mom eagerly shared with me this thought from the writer’s app called 1000+ Writing Prompts.  “This is the question we face every day.  God has given us the option for immortality, and it’s up to us to take it.”

It’s a good thought to begin the new year with.  You are given the option for immortality.  To choose Jesus Christ is to choose eternal life.  To deny Him is to decline the option for immortality.  Or more accurately, to accept a harsh damnation as your eternal fate.

“But because of your callous stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are [deliberately] storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will pay back to each person according to his deeds [justly, as his deeds deserve]: to those who by persistence in doing good seek [unseen but certain heavenly] glory, honor, and immortality, [He will give the gift of] eternal life. But for those who are selfishly ambitious and self-seeking and disobedient to the truth but responsive to wickedness, [there will be] wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and anguish [torturing confinement] for every human soul who does [or permits] evil, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, but glory and honor and inner peace [will be given] to everyone who habitually does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For God shows no partiality [no arbitrary favoritism; with Him one person is not more important than another]… on that day when, as my gospel proclaims, God will judge the secrets [all the hidden thoughts and concealed sins] of men through Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:5-11, 16 (AMP)

Eternal life is a mystery to a mortal’s mind.  Humans are born, they live, and they die.  It’s common knowledge that people can only dream of defying.  It is impossible to accurately imagine what eternity will be like.

“Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.

“You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

“This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!

“…I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don’t in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very “nature” is to die, so how could they “naturally” end up in the Life kingdom?” 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, 50 (MSG)

Like a seed planted into the ground, the seed dies and is shed away as the plant begins to grow; that is how Paul describes our mortal bodies.  After we die, our spirit will be given a new heavenly body.  Our new selves will shine with splendor possibly even greater than the sun, moon, and stars.    And definitely much greater than our own weak and sinful earthly bodies.

“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” 2 Corinthians 1-10 (NLT)

In a common belief among many Christians, heaven is explained in the last chapters of the book of Revelation (chapters 21 & 22), but allow me to correct that belief with an awesome thought.  Or maybe I’m not correcting; more just expounding on the idea.  Try to imagine it like this…

WE are the description of heaven. Christ’s church is the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

Let me try to explain it for you:

When the book of Revelation (chapter 21) explains the new heaven and earth, it says “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”  (vs. 2-4, NIV)  The description of the new heaven and new earth that John saw sounds exactly like something that Paul wrote to the letter to the church in Corinth, when he wrote “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2, NIV)  As Christians we-the church-are the bride of Christ, brought to Him in godly splendor because of the blood that He has shed for us.  And now, because we have the Holy Spirit, God can dwell in us and give us peace and comfort.  We no longer have to fear the destructive nature of death, because Jesus has redeemed us and reconciled us to God.

The explanation of New Jerusalem, found in Revelation 21, also points to our salvation through Jesus Christ.  The city is described with the language of the prophets: 12 gates, which the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, like the 12 tribes of Israel; the walls of the city has 12 foundations, each with the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb, broadening God’s holy people to not only the Israelites, but also the children of the new covenant, which is everyone who accepts Christ as Savior. Each of the four walls of the Holy City has 3 gates on it- 3 is the number of God, the Trinity, and explains that there is no obstacle stopping anyone from entering into God’s presence. An angel measures the city and finds it to be 12,000 stadia in length, width and height- 12,000 is a multiplier of both 12 and 10.  The number 10 is, like the number of fingers and toes you have, the number of completion.   So by putting 12 and 10 together, it means that the city is made up of all of God’s people, not just some of them.  No one is left out.  The wall of the city was also measured and found to be 144 cubits thick, which is another use of the number of God’s people, since 144 squared is 12.  The measurements, the gates, and the brilliantly shining stones of the Holy City explains to us how precious Christ’s church is.  The church is literally heaven on Earth.  All people are welcomed into it, and once a citizen of God’s Holy City, New Jerusalem, we will inherit God’s promise.

In chapter 22 John tells “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down to the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse…” (v.1-3, NIV)  The city’s street leads to the tree of life, which brings healing for the nations and bears fruit all year round.  That’s what we as Christ’s church, the Lamb’s  bride, the Holy City needs to be doing. We need to be healing the nations.  We need to be bearing the fruits of the Spirit.  We need to be examples of God to the people around us so that they can see His glory: wiping the tears of the mournful and ministering to those suffering from pain.  That’s what God does.  It’s also what we should be doing.

We are also told that in the Holy City, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”  (v.5, NIV) Talk about being the city on a hill!  That’s exactly what Jesus called us when He spoke in the sermon on the mount: “You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (AMP)

The explanation of the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, and the new Eden that’s explained in the final pages of the Bible is not describing how heaven will look like.  There’s no way we can fathom the greatness of God’s dwelling.  Much like the royal Priesthood spoken of in Hebrews,  we are meant to think of the description as a shadow of what heaven will be like.  In fact, we as Christians are called to be the foreshadow of Heaven.

 “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.” Revelations 21:5-8

Returning to the writing prompt, we are offered a choice of immortality. Will you accept or decline the offer? If  you choose to accept, then you must, in turn, share the offer to others as well.  For 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says:

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (NLT)

As we begin 2018, let’s consider our role here in the physical life.  Why not make a new year’s resolution to be heaven on earth to all the people around you?  You may even snatch a life from the fiery fate of Hell.

"But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!" 1 Corinthians 15: 51-57 (MSG)

To Infinity and Beyond! (From Abstract to Absolute)

You must have felt, the air is chilly, when that craving for hot, steamy satisfying tea appears, where you crave that comfortable heat to fill your body, your hands, your head, your heart; you don’t want to freeze, so you want hot tea. Your favorite flavor may be zesty lemon, fresh mint, or spicy cinnamon. “Ahhh” would be a natural reaction your lungs have when steam fills yours nostrils, cheeks begin to rosy up, and your nose gets runny.

That’s how I feel when I get tea. You?

At least with the leading brands like Yogi, tearing back the paper and pulling out the stringed teabag lately brings the reading of a wise proverb. One tea stated,

“Love without trust is like a river without water”.

I like that one. Another tea stated,

“The gate to happiness is self-compassion”.

(What is happiness? …self-compassion?)

Wise sayings like these are usually harmless. Mostly they hold some truth, take them as they are. However, the second message (about self-compassion) can be interpreted both to harm and not to harm, due to its abstractness. For example:

A mother’s interpretation might be: “I should care about me this weekend. I’ll soak in a long bath while the hubby’s home.” Mostly harmless.

A painter’s interpretation: “Heed not the family business. Instead, do what makes me happy and go to art school.” Maybe harmful, maybe not.

But then a troubling interpretation from an angry teen: “To protect myself, I should get rid of the bullies. Tomorrow the gun goes in my backpack.” Mostly harmful!

Do you see where I’m going?

There’s no need to blame the teabags for sinister influence. These sayings are far too short and vague for the granting of ill intentions, and it’s entirely the responsibility of each person how he thinks, how he plots, or how he reacts. Right?

With that said, what concerns my writing today is the manner in which we consume abstract thoughts like these – even if each person is responsible for their own living and own behavior, it is the responsibility of a society, or a community, to provide the ambience needed for people to produce good thoughts each on their own.

It is a matter of how we habitually think and live. If we make a habit of consuming messages that are vague and abstract, our lives will be lived in the same abstractness. Our lives will be lived for the general purposes of “happiness”, “wellness”, or “productivity”; that is, the persons that we are will become bounded to the finite. The predictable. The limited. The temporary. Without the eventual consumption of that which is deep, unlimited, and endless, we will never find the absolute truth that sets us free.

As I have taught from week to week for more than a year now on my blog, I teach again: we can find that absolute truth by reading the entire Bible. It allows us to live a life boundless and free, unpredictable, unimaginable, and everlasting. Partly the purpose of my blog has always been to discuss again and again the Scriptures so you will come to know the Bible without having to read it alone and in cold, hard truth. I pray you come to see the burdens-lifting message of the gospel.

The inspiration of my writing today came from a teabag message I have not yet shared with you. I believe it is my favorite, because it brings to my mind the entirety of Christ. Quote:

“Love is an experience of infinity.”

What Yogi meant by putting it on its product I don’t know. Maybe,

God is love.

Love at its fullest mends all hurts.

Love shared by two people has an out of this world feeling.

Lovers are metaphorically stargazers who will never see every star no matter how long they gaze.

Love literally does not stop when completely unconditional.

Love has no ending of explanations.

Christ, however, reveals the quote much less abstractly, in fact, as Paul states it, there was a mystery and that mystery is now seen in Christ. All that was abstract is now absolute in our Lord and King who reigns on heaven and in earth. Read this passage in Ephesians 3:14-21 to get a true taste of infinity!

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 

 

Give Me the Bible

My father was stationed overseas when I was born.  Yakota Air Base was our home for the first 3 years of my life, so my family has had a kindred heart for Christians in Japan.  When I would brag to my friends in school that I was born in Japan, they would always come back with a reasonable question: “Can you speak Japanese?”  The question bothered me at the time, because I was a quiet child and didn’t even speak much English until I was 3 years old.

When I was 13, we moved to Germany.  We lived 2 years on the German-Dutch border, in the small German town of Gangelt.  We had a German neighbor and received advertisements in the mail in a language we didn’t know.  We made some special friends in our small church group which met at a chapel at the Nato base my father was stationed at.  If it weren’t for the gracious people of Germany who would gladly speak English for us, we would probably have been clueless about a lot of things there.

So I have always had a pretty good concept of foreign languages and different cultures.

If I were to pick up the little red Dutch Bible that I have in my library, I wouldn’t be able to read the words because I don’t know the language.  Even if I browse the pages of the Japanese Bible that I have, I may recognize a symbol or two from where Lacy and I are working on learning, but I still wouldn’t be able to read it and understand what it says. I can bet that if I were to know Japanese or German, when I read the Bible I would still have to focus on the words and grammar, because it’s not my first language.  It’s not the language that I hear when I think thoughts in my own head.

 “Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  Luke 24:45-48 (WEB)

Aside from Japanese, which I’ve always kinda wanted to learn ever since my friends asked me if I could speak it, another language that I’ve always found attractive is ASL.  My mother has always had a desire to learn sign language (and she passed the desire on to Lacy and me), so when she saw a piece of mail with a man on the envelope signing the words “Please open”, it was no surprise that it stole her attention and made her open and read the enclosed letter.  It was from the Pioneer Bible Translators, an organization that translates Bibles into foreign languages.  Their goal is to translate the Bible into every known language, so no man will be hindered from knowing God due to not having His Word in their own language.

This particular letter from Greg Pruett, the president of Pioneer Bible Translators, was talking about a personal experience when he was trying to decide whether to pursue a version of the Bible for the Deaf.  In it, he says “Brothers and sisters, it’s time for us to repent of how we have ignored the Deaf of the world as if they were not included with us in the message of God’s love. It’s time to take action…”

“Now, why would the Deaf need their own Bible?  They just speak English, or Dutch, or Korean, or Italian, or whatever the language of their environment.”  I’m sure that thought would go through the mind of many people.  But in knowing the differences that can be found in languages, it makes perfect sense to me.  Sign Language, as well as other languages like Japanese, isn’t as complicated as English.  Where we speak what we want to say in complete sentences, “I would like to give you this gift.”  They don’t clutter their thought with the needless extra words.  “Give.”

“It is true some Deaf learn to read by memorizing what each sequence of letters represents.  But this is tedious and unnatural, and those words will never be their heart language.  Most Deaf think in sign. For God’s Word to resonate deeply within their hearts, they need it in sign language.” –Greg Pruett

Also, according to Greg Pruett, people who were born deaf have a disadvantage.  When they read a Bible verse in the language of the country they live in, they only recognize the words as symbols on a page.  They have never heard the sounds that they must read.  While people who speak English see the word “Pizza” and think of how it sounds (like PEETsa), the person who uses ASL as their native language might read that word as a “Z” drawn with the index and middle finger.  Like this…

The truth is, Sign Language is an entire network of languages that haven’t even been considered for a Bible version of its own until recently.  And each region of the world has it’s own version of sign language.  ASL is “American Sign Language”, and is used by Americans.  But Pioneer Bible Translators are working to expand their reach to include the Deaf community all over the world.  They want to make many versions of a sign language bible, made into phone apps, a website, DVD, or memory card for the phone or computer; they want God’s promise to be carried even into the most silent of communities, so that all will have the chance to find God’s truth.

They are trying to raise $100,000 by the start of next year.  Would you be willing to help them out?  You can donate on-line or by check, by visiting http://www.PioneerBible.org/YearEnd2017

 

PioneerBibleTranslators

Below are some amazing videos of songs which have been translated into Sign Language.

“Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven! –were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed.  I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.”   Galatians 1:8-9 (MSG)

The Social Gospel

Do you hear the word “unbiased” often? Many people, especially millennials, strive to be unbiased in their viewpoint. I myself have heard the word a lot in conversations with friends when we talk about politics, education, and religion. It seems that the more a person learns, listens, and observes, the more unbiased she or he becomes.

First, let’s get the dictionary definition of unbiased:

Dictionary.com:

Unbiased (Adjective) - Not biased or prejudiced; fair; impartial.

English Oxford Dictionary:

Unbiased (Adjective) – showing no prejudice for or against something; impartial.

Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Unbiased (Adjective) – 1. Free from bias; especially: free from all prejudice and favoritism: eminently fair; an unbiased opinion

To be unbiased means you are able to understand opinions other than your own; your opinion is tolerant, because your mind reflects other opinions, and you believe the other person’s worldview to be acceptable and pure despite being different from your own.

Contrarily, a biased person is seen as someone who takes a stance FOR or AGAINST a view. Being unbiased, however, means to take a neutral stance, neither for nor against a view. For example, if you are having a discussion about politics, and you are talking to a biased person, he or she would obviously argue in favor of a certain candidate, and if you didn’t agree, then you are wrong; but if you talk to an unbiased person, he or she would stay neutral and would never take a view, instead listening to your point of view and debating the candidates without loyalty to a side, and with a broad outlook on pros and cons.

There are both qualities and flaws of unbiasedness: the qualities are sound judgement, ability to see all sides, and knowledgeability; the flaws are a sense of apathy, nonchalant impression of outcomes, and never being a team player.

I desired to be that, until I learned that living my life trying to be unbiased (as a rule of thumb) was a trap secularism set for me – the trap we shall call The Social Gospel – which swayed me to avoid righteous action and stop from speaking truth. Don’t get me wrong, the dictionary definition of unbiased is ok, or using the word in a sentence, or being unbiased accidentally on occasion, but when you try and live by the principle of it, it becomes the antichrist!

 “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” 1 John 4:2-3 (NIV)

What is the Social Gospel, you may ask?

The Social Gospel defined is the life principle of caring about others’ views and teaching God’s love, while refusing to care about their souls, their sinful habits, or the possible descent into Hell they may endure.

It’s not easy to say this, but being unbiased is a dangerous trap that can lead to numbness of character and lack of obedience. By reading the Old Testament, we can see how passionate God’s people were as warriors, prophets, and kings, and it can be a hard pill to swallow for a person who sails through life trying to stay neutral. Even in Romans, there’s a warning: don’t seek after self-contentment; seek the truth of God’s wrath and judgement toward evil, realizing that you can grow haughty in your pursuit of open-mindedness.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”  Romans 2:5-11 (NIV)

The Righteous Alternative

Avoid The Social Gospel. Utilize that unbiased attitude in a different way than what secularism teaches: be unbiased for God, being willing to listen to and accept God’s word, will, and way in a fair and tolerant manner.

Hmm, if you’re like me, you might have been told, “Christians are more biased than secularists” but that’s not true, because you have been called to imitate God, and God is the #1 most impartial, fair, merciful, and just judge that ever lived!

“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.'” Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)

 

Psalm 103 (CEB)

Let my whole being bless the Lord!
Let everything inside me bless his holy name!
Let my whole being bless the Lord
and never forget all his good deeds:
     how God forgives all your sins,
heals all your sickness,
     saves your life from the pit,
crowns you with faithful love and compassion,
     and satisfies you with plenty of good things
so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle’s.

 The Lord works righteousness;
does justice for all who are oppressed.
 God made his ways known to Moses;
made his deeds known to the Israelites.
 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
 God won’t always play the judge;
he won’t be angry forever.
 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
     because as high as heaven is above the earth,
that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.
 As far as east is from west—
that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.
 Like a parent feels compassion for their children—
that’s how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor him.
 Because God knows how we’re made,
God remembers we’re just dust.

 The days of a human life are like grass:
they bloom like a wildflower;
     but when the wind blows through it, it’s gone;
even the ground where it stood doesn’t remember it.
 But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from now

for those who honor him.
And God’s righteousness reaches to the grandchildren
         of those who keep his covenant
and remember to keep his commands.
 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

 You divine messengers,
bless the Lord!
You who are mighty in power and keep his word,
who obey everything he says,
bless him!
 All you heavenly forces,
bless the Lord!
All you who serve him and do his will,
bless him!
 All God’s creatures,
bless the Lord!
Everywhere, throughout his kingdom,
let my whole being
bless the Lord!”

Hymn of the Day: Almighty by Wayne Watson

Hungry for Salvation

“At high altitude, the body's caloric needs are astronomical ... we were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway ...again and again we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels. We tried to eat strips of leather torn from pieces of luggage, though we knew that the chemicals they'd been treated with would do us more harm than good. We ripped open seat cushions hoping to find straw, but found only inedible upholstery foam ... Again and again I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock.”              

Miracles in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, by Nando Parrado

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, God.” Psalm 42:1 (WEB)

As Christians, we are reassured that “Blessed are those who hunger (Greek word peinaó: to be needy or desire earnestly) and thirst (Greek word dipsaó: to suffer from thirst) after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6 (WEB)

If we earnestly desire for God’s will to be done in our lives, then we will be strengthened by God.  Like a survivor of a flood who climbed to the roof of their home to wait for a boat to rescue them, we need to understand that we need a savior too.

I’ve been blessed not to know hunger like Nando Parrado and his Rugby teammates when they were stranded in the Andes after their Flight 571 crashed in 1972, but spiritually-speaking, we need to seek for sustenance; we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Luke 18:18-23 tells of a certain ruler who asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  This man wanted salvation, but he wasn’t hungry enough for the answer that was given to him.  Jesus’ response made the man very sad.

The men in Luke 9:57-62 weren’t hungry for righteousness either, when Jesus called to them “Follow me!” and they tried to stall their obedience by saying “first allow me to say goodbye to those who are at my house” or “allow me first to go and bury my father.”

To hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, you must be willing to seek His will and ready to obey.

In order to survive the 72 days in the freezing mountains, Nando and his comrades were driven to do what they believed was despicable and unthinkable; they had to eat the flesh of their own friends and family who hadn’t survived the crash.  It was the only way that they could survive the environment and find life.

We too, may face a task that we believe is too big for us, or one that goes against what we think is morally true. I’m assuredly not saying that the Bible tells us to eat our family or friends, but Jesus does say in Matthew 10:34-38,Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s foes will be those of his own household.  He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me.” 

Jesus’s response to the rich ruler was “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)  And Jesus’s response to us is “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…for whoever will be ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he comes in his glory, and the glory of the Father, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23, 26)

 

“But you who forsake Yahweh, who forget my holy mountain,  who prepare a table for Fortune, and who fill up mixed wine to Destiny; I will destine you to the sword, and you will all bow down to the slaughter; because when I called, you didn’t answer. When I spoke, you didn’t listen; but you did that which was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I didn’t delight.”

Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh,

“Behold, my servants will eat, but you will be hungry; Behold, my servants will drink, but you will be thirsty.  Behold, my servants will rejoice, but you will be disappointed; Behold, my servant will sing for joy of heart, but you will cry for sorrow of heart, and will wail for anguish of spirit.”  Isaiah 65:11-14 (WEB)

“And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”   Isaiah 32:17 (ESV)

Inherit the Earth!

Want to know how to inherit the earth? First, I’ll tell you what happened to me today. After that, I’ll explain.

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Today I learned that bird-watching is a good test of one’s patience. Your eye has to be skilled, watching and waiting for the bird to appear. My family got a hummingbird feeder for our backyard, filled with bright-red, citric hummingbird food, and it hangs outside on the white arch.  From the window, you can watch for the little bird. It comes every 15-20 minutes on the clock. When it comes it is sudden: the hummingbird in a flash appears and feeds for 10 seconds or less, zooming off, and then you’re stuck waiting for it to come again. (Taking a picture is even harder than waiting.)

I’ve seen videos where others have the perfect spot for hummingbirds, bringing large enough numbers so that the buzzing noise their wings make, collectively, is loud enough to be heard even at a distance. Maybe someday my feeder will do that, too, but as of today, I saw only two hummingbirds come at the same time and one ran the other away – that little green one was possessive of her food saying (I can imagine) “It’s mine! Go away,” dive-bombing at the other one, making him leave.

It’s odd, yet amazing, how animals act as the defenders of their good green earth. There’s this narrative society declares, about how peaceful nature would be if only humans would stop their wars, and although I understand, it makes me surprised when I see animals angry or possessive, bickering at one other about what they think is theirs. My Dad saw the birds fighting and said, “They should know, it’s not private property! The feeder belongs to everyone.” Ha! Absurd to think the human is telling the birds to be nice, considering I favor that popular nature narrative I told you about.

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I continually ask myself, what is meekness and what is meek? Even a person who is said to be sweet, gentle at heart, or a humble person can find him or herself thinking, “I’m meeker than my Christian brother” and comparing their blessings, or comparing their lives to see which is more blessed. In reality, in the moment a person revels in his own meekness, is the moment of weakness instead of meekness.

Let’s repeat that thought:
In the moment a person revels over his meekness is a moment of weakness, not meekness.

No matter who you are, becoming meek needs discipline. That’s why God tells parents to discipline children, wives to submit to husbands and citizens to obey governmental authorities. If a person is not disciplined, meekness is only but a concept, and not a precept.

Without discipline, meekness is a concept not a precept.

Once a person becomes an adult, becoming meek needs self-control. You have to control yourself to be a meek adult. That means controlling what your body does, controlling what your mind thinks, and controlling what your mouth says. Like reins direct a horse’s will and body strength, self-control directs a person’s body and makes a temple for the Holy Spirit.

Self-control allows the Holy Spirit to take the reins.

Listed below are four ways you can be meek:

1. Live Confidently Knowing God’s Power.

Job 1:21 When Job heard that all his servants, his livestock, and his children died disastrously all the same day, he glorified God with these words: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Luke 1:38 Mary asked the angel how she was pregnant since she hadn’t been with a man, and he told her with God nothing is impossible. She said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Her willingness is an example on how to receive God’s power over our lives.

2. Live Obediently Submitting to God’s Authority.

Luke 22:42 “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” Jesus prayed in the garden with his friends nearby, relinquishing his will obediently to God, knowing his fate would always be to die on the cross for the sins of humanity, but he prayed with the desire for God to change His mind, anyway. He gave up his will for his Father’s.

Acts 8:3, 9:1, 9:6 Saul threatened, imprisoned, and punished Christians fervently up until the day he saw the light (literally) in which he asked Jesus, who appeared to him in the light, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Instantly, he was meek enough to know all he did was wrong and Jesus truly was the Messiah.

Jeremiah 18:1-11 God, the Potter, and mere mortals, the clay: the Lord said, “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel!  … Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.” He spoke to His people Israel. Presently, God is calling us to submit to Him in Christ Jesus for the salvation of our souls.

3. Live Unselfishly Taking God’s Direction.

James 1: 21 “…lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word…” The man who endures in good even when evil tempts, tries to love the lowliest of persons, and gives up personal pride is living by “the implanted word”.

Psalm 25:4-5 A prayer from our mentor David, asking for God’s guidance: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.” That’s how we should talk to God.

4. Live Honestly Keeping the Peace.

1 Peter 3: 15-16 “… sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

Ephesians 4:2-3 “…walk…with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I think the way to do that is to not think too highly of myself, and listen sooner than I speak.

Application of “Inherit the Earth”

The Jews in Jesus’s time were aware of his meaning when he said, “the meek will inherit the earth”. Like our popular idioms nowadays (i.e. “Hit the nail on the head” means exactly on point, you can picture a nail being hit by a hammer), the Jews knew to imagine great fortune and blessings when he said the phrase “inherit the earth”. Psalm 37:28-29 says, which the Jews also lived by, “For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” The Promised Land was a gracious gift to Israel from God, with the promise it would be theirs forever, as long as they obeyed God. Therefore in the Hebrew culture, it was common knowledge that God blessed those He loved with an inheritance of land and people, so Jesus Christ could say to his listeners this concept and immediately they would gain encouragement. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”, his listeners understood that he was comforting the common folk and lowly people of the land, and the ones who served God without trying to possess or gain anything in return.

In conclusion… Here’s how I sum up Creation vs Creator after today:

NATURE: It’s a dog eat dog world. (I learned that from hummingbirds.)

HUMANS: Bombers and missiles and nukes, oh my! (I learned that from news about North Korea.)

GOD: There are many rooms in my house. I am preparing a place for you. My Son Jesus will come back and take you there when it’s time. (I learned that from the Bible.)

 

Meekness Defined

“Pop, pop, pop! Bom, bom, bom!  throughout the day. No time for memorandums now. Go ahead! Liberty and Independence forever.”

~Davy Crockett, the last entry in his diary, on the 5th of March, 1836

In the battle of the Alamo, do you think you would you hear Davy Crockett telling his fellow patriots “Proud men, we’ll need to be meek in this battle!”  To call the battle of the Alamo meek would be like trying to pronounce Hurricane Harvey as a meek storm in the wake of its devastation at Rockport and its torrential downpour over Houston this weekend. The defenders of the Alamo fought courageously, and the Tropical Storm Harvey still threatens Southern Texas with its strong winds and flooding waters. That’s not the image of meekness, is it?

In today’s world, meekness is labeled as weak.  The Merriam-Webster explains the word meek with 3 definitions.  The first is “enduring injury with patience and without resentment: mild”; the second definition states “deficient in spirit and courage: submissive” and the third says “not violent or strong: moderate”.

The definition of the Greek word πρᾷος, or práos, according to the biblehub.com is “mild, gentle, meek, kind”. HELPS Word-studies gives the example: “the necessary balance of exercising power and avoiding harshness”.

As Christians, we need to show meekness.  But what defines meekness in God’s book?

“So I am not the one living now—it is Christ living in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God. He is the one who loved me and gave himself to save me.” Galations 2:20 (ERV)

Since it is Christ living in us that inspires our actions, and Christ says “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29, ASV), we should strive to be meek like Him.

John 2:12-17 shows us an example of Jesus’s meekness.  While God’s temple was supposed to be a house of worship and reverence to the Lord where people would come to find forgiveness through sacrifices that they offered, the Jewish leaders had set up stalls and tables in the temple, and the people were told to buy the perfect sacrificial offerings from the temple, when their own offerings didn’t match the priests’ standards.

…it was almost time for the Jewish Passover Feast. So Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves. He saw others sitting at tables, exchanging money. Jesus made a whip out of cords. Then he forced all these men, with the sheep and cattle, to leave the Temple. He turned over the tables and scattered the money of the men who were exchanging it. Then he said to those who were selling pigeons, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place for buying and selling!”

When this happened the followers remembered what was written in the Scriptures: “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.” (ICB)

HurricaneHarvey-HibiscusLeaf_2017-8-27

Quoting Psalm 69:9, this is a good example of what meekness truly means.  “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.”  It’s not mildness or submissiveness or the lack of strength as the world sees it.  It’s zealously letting God’s will be the one to control the actions that you take.  Like Moses, who was called the meekest person on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3); like Stephen, who portrayed a godly meek spirit with a powerful speech (Acts 7); like Daniel, with his meek request to disregard the king’s orders (Daniel 1:5-21); like Paul, who boldly wrote letters to Christ’s churches “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10-13); and like David’s meekness when he wrote his psalms and praises to the Lord; we need to represent Jesus’s “meek and lowly” spirit in our own lives.

 

 

Psalm 46:9-11, ESV

“Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

 

Psalm 69:9, 16-20, 30-36, ESV

“For zeal for your house has consumed me,
    and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me…

“Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
    according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant,
    for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
    ransom me because of my enemies!

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none…

I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
    and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
    the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
    and those who love his name shall dwell in it.”

 

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 NIV

The Holy Spirit, Our Paraclete

Have you ever heard the word paraclete? I had not heard it before today, although I should have, because I took Ancient Greek in 4th grade. (Shows how little I’ve read my Greek Bible since I was nine!) Paraclete is a word describing the Holy Spirit, our advocate, comforter, helper, and parakletos is the ancient Greek word with the same meaning. The word was originally used by the apostle John. I will share with you the four Bible verses that use the word parakletos, with the original Greek, and the literal English translation. It’s awesome. I got this from my Greek bible:

John 14:16

“καὶ ἐγὼ ἐρωτήσω τὸν πατέρα καὶ ἄλλον παράκλητον δώσει ὑμῖν, ἵνα μένῃ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα…” (“And I will ask the Father, and another Paraclete he will give you, that he may remain with you forever.”)

John 14:26

“ὁ.δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί.μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα, καὶ ὑπομνήσει ὑμᾶς πάντα ἃ εἶπον ὑμῖν.” (“But the Paraclete, the Spirit the Holy, whom will send the Father in my name, he you will teach all things, and will bring to remembrance your all things which I said to you.”)

John 15:26

“ὅταν.δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ παράκλητος, ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός, τὸ Πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ·” (“But when is come the Paraclete, whom I will send to you from the Father, he will bear witness concerning me; also ye and bear witness, because [the] beginning with me ye are.”)

John 16:7

“ἀλλ’ ἐγὼ τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω ὑμῖν· συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐγὼ ἀπέλθω. ἐὰν.γὰρ ἐγὼ μὴ ἀπέλθω ὁ παράκλητος οὐκ ἐλεύσεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς· ἐὰν δὲ πορευθῶ, πέμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς ὑμᾶς·” (“But I the truth say to you, It is profitable for you that I should go away; for if I go not away the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”)

Our modern English Oxford dictionary defines it the same:

Noun

(in Christian theology) the Holy Spirit as advocate or counsellor (John 14:16, 26)

Paraclete is a wonderful word that has disappeared from modern versions of the Bible, where we simply use the words Comforter, Helper, or Friend. I understand why, because a lot of modern people don’t know what that word means, but I think that should change. We should begin to use the word derived from the Greek again!