Sunday, February 16, 2014

Night with Ebon Pinion

A haunting, sorrowful hymn that recounts Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane...

This hymn is based on Matthew 26:36-44, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

“If it isn’t in red ink, then it doesn’t matter."

The world is full of people who don’t understand the Bible.  Millions of people wander aimlessly in their spiritual journey thanks to various misunderstandings of the Word of God, whether it is through trusting a false teacher’s words as truth, taking verses and sections of the Bible out of context, or simply a lack of study on their own part.

Luke 6:39 “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?”

We must therefore commit ourselves to a thorough study of the Word of God if we hope to fully understand God’s will and obey it.

2 Timothy 2:15-16  - “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.”

This lesson’s misconception:  In the Bible, only the words of Jesus matter

A misconception that I've heard a lot here lately is the notion of, “If it isn’t printed in red ink, then it doesn’t matter.”  Basically, the idea behind this misconception is that if Jesus didn’t say it, then it’s not important.

This is an extremely problematic approach to the Bible!  Just imagine if we took everything out of the Bible that wasn’t spoken directly by Jesus while He was here on Earth.  There wouldn’t be much of the Bible left at all! 

A quick clarification before continuing:  The point of this lesson is not to downplay the teachings of Jesus.  That is not my intention at all!  In fact, throughout this lesson, I hope to use the words of Christ Himself (primarily) to dispel the aforementioned misconception!

Obviously, the words that Jesus spoke are the very cornerstone of our faith and should be revered as sacred.  However, as we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16-17All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We must realize that the Bible, in its entirety, is the Word of God.  To take anything away from God’s Word would diminish the entire message!

When Misconceptions Attack:  Why are misconceptions problematic? 

What’s the big deal?  Why should we even address misconceptions such as this? 

For one thing, how can we expect to make informed decisions based on misinformation?

When a misconception manifests itself, more misconceptions are likely to follow.  Galatians 5:9 - “A little leaven leavens the whole lump”

For example:  The most recent use of the misguided “If Jesus didn’t say it, then it doesn’t matter” argument I have heard is in the gay marriage debate.   Supporters of gay marriage state that since Jesus never directly forbade gay marriage, then it should be acceptable. 

By this logic, anything that Jesus never directly acknowledged and discouraged or forbade must be alright!  Jesus never directly mentioned drug abuse, so that must be acceptable among Christians.  Jesus never directly mentioned human trafficking, so that must be tolerable as well.

Obviously this is not the case in any of those situations.  Just because Jesus didn’t directly mention one thing or another does not automatically make it OK.  Once again, to fully discern the will of God, we must view the Bible as a whole.

(For the record, while it’s true that Jesus did not make any reference to gay marriage directly, in response to a question concerning marriage and divorce He did say, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,” [Matthew 19:4] which is consistent with the message throughout the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman…  But that’s a whole other lesson on its own!)

One cannot discredit the Old Testament prophets without discrediting Jesus Himself 

If you were to take out all of the scriptures in the Bible in which Jesus is not directly speaking, the Old Testament would basically no longer exist.  This would be like ripping the first half (actually, probably more than that) out of a novel and expecting someone to make sense of the whole thing!  Someone studying the scriptures without the Old Testament in place would miss out on a lot of information and back-story!  Jesus regularly made reference to important Old Testament figures and events.  Additionally, Jesus also frequently made reference to the Law and the scriptures.  How would anyone hoping to gain understanding of what Jesus was saying have any chance of actually doing so without the Old Testament?

Another issue in removing the Old Testament would be removing a portion of the credibility of Christ’s divinity.  Some scholars say that there are around 400 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus and His actions.  Much (if not all) of what Jesus did while He was on Earth was to fulfill the prophecies made about Him.  In fact, one of the reasons that we can be so sure of Jesus’ status as the Christ are the prophecies made about Him in the Old Testament.  These prophecies are part of the proof that validates our faith! 

Basically, if this misconception was true, the Old Testament would be useless.  But something that people regularly forget is that Jesus didn’t come to destroy the Old Law, but to fulfill it!

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

It’s true that we are no longer under the Law of Moses recorded in the Old Testament.  We are not subject to the type of worship described therein, nor the harsh laws that dictated society during that time.  However, there is still much that can be learned from the Old Testament scriptures.  It’s sometimes difficult to understand the Old Testament in the context of the Bible as a whole, but it remains relevant even to this day.
Jesus makes an interesting statement pertaining to this issue in John 5:46-47 -  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

According to Jesus Himself we must believe in the Old Testament if we hope to believe in Him!

One cannot discredit the Apostles without discrediting Jesus Himself

Many people that state that Jesus’ words are the only ones in the Bible that matter are seeking to discredit the work and teachings of the Apostles.  Some of them might even go as far as to argue that the Apostles over-complicated Christianity, stating that the message of Jesus was simple and liberating, while the teachings of the Apostles like Peter and Paul were very restrictive and maybe even contradictory to what Jesus had taught them!

What these people forget is that Jesus Himself (once again, in red ink even) chose the Apostles personally to be His disciples while he was on Earth. 

John 20:21-22“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit...”

If anybody could claim expertise in the teachings of Christ, it would have to be the very people that walked with Him in the flesh, those who were exposed to the majority of His teachings while He was on Earth!  Who could be more qualified to write the Gospels?

The Apostles not only witnessed the miracles of Jesus and heard His teachings, but they were also chosen to continue Christ’s work after His death, resurrection, and ascension. 

Matthew 16:18-19 - And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Detractors of the Apostles might say, “Well, how can we trust the teachings of the Apostles after Jesus left if they were fallible humans just like us?”  Jesus promised the Apostles that another would come in His place after He left. 

John 14:15-18 - “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

This “Helper” was the Holy Spirit and Jesus said that He would guide them in His place and give them utterance and remembrance.  Additionally, Jesus predicted that the Holy Spirit would play a major role in the foundation of the church. 

Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Then look what happened the Day of Pentecost...

Acts 2:4“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

To ignore the teachings of the Apostles is to question the very authority of Jesus.  If the words in red that Jesus spoke concerning His Apostles are to be trusted, then the Apostles themselves are to be trusted as well.

A Dilemma of Logic:  Who wrote the words in the red ink?

Another problem with this misconception is the logic of the entire situation!  Ignoring the portions of the New Testament that do not include Jesus directly is to ignore the Apostles and their work.   But remember, these were the very men who were appointed by Jesus to continue His work.  And a large portion of that work was the writing of the Gospels.

That’s right; the Apostles were the scribes of the New Testament, including the recording of the very words that Jesus spoke.  Claiming that the Apostles were incorrect in their teachings would also be claiming that they were incorrect in their recording of Jesus’ message!

Fortunately, this is not the case at all.  Jesus Himself guaranteed that the Helper, the Holy Spirit would ensure that the Apostles recorded Jesus’ words correctly.

John 14:25-27  - “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.   Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Once again, we cannot question the teachings of the Apostles without questioning the authority of Jesus.

Jesus and God are ONE

A final problem with this misguided viewpoint is that Jesus Himself stated that He and the Father are ONE!
John 10:25-30 - Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

And this was not the only instance in which Jesus states that He and God are one and the same…

John 14:9b-11a “ He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me…”

John 1:1-3, 14“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Based on passages such as these, we can conclude that God the Father and God the Son are one and the same.  Therefore the words of both God and Jesus must be of equal importance.

Whether we choose to believe it or not, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the Son of God who walked on the Earth 2000 years ago.  Likewise the God of the Old Testament and the Son of God are the same as Holy Spirit that inspired and guided the Apostles through the New Testament scriptures. 


We studied some interesting topics in addressing this particular misconception.  In summation, if we removed any portion of the Bible at all, we would have great difficulty in seeing the full, clear picture of God’s plan.  May we always seek to study God’s Word in its entirety without adding anything to or taking anything away from it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Self Servitude

I remember that when I was in Boy Scouts our troop would participate in the Toys for Tots program.  We would collect toys to give to families that could not afford to buy Christmas presents to their children.  It was always heartwarming to see the gratefulness of a child receiving a gift that wouldn't have otherwise, but unfortunately those aren't always the memories that stick out the most in my mind. 

As part of our service we would take boxes of toys and carry them out to the cars of the parents coming to pick them up. All too often I remember how angry I was to be putting a box of toys in a nice, expensive car with either a fancy, blaring sound system or a floorboard littered with cigarette butts and beer cans.  These parents weren't so poor that they couldn't afford those items which made they themselves happy.

Self Servitude

Virtually all sins are self-seeking in nature.  Unfortunately, many people today choose to live a life that is all about themselves.  The attitude of these people is that is the primary focus in my life is ME.  

Through the course of this lesson I would like to focus on various self-serving sins found in accounts from the Bible and the consequences thereof.  

Selfishness:  Lot chooses the better land for himself
We read the story of Abraham and his nephew, Lot, in Genesis 13.  Lot traveled with Abraham from to Canaan and to and from Egypt.  At one point, Abraham and Lot had such large herds of livestock that their herdsmen fought over land for them to occupy.  So Abraham suggested that Lot and he should separate and divide the land.  Abraham gave Lot first choice and Lot took this opportunity to choose the better land for himself which was more fertile and near the Jordan River.  This left Abraham with the rocky hill country.  But, as we read in Genesis 13:12, Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom.”  Even though Lot got the better land for himself, he was going to suffer for his selfish decision.  Later on, Lot was taken captive during battle in the land and had to be rescued by Abraham and later, when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Lot lost not only his home, but also his wife.  We recall that Lot’s wife, despite being warned to not look back at Sodom, did so and was turned into a pillar of salt. 

1 Corinthians 10:24 - Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being

Jealousy/Hatred:  Joseph’s Brothers
Another way in which people serve themselves is to give in to feelings of envy and jealousy which leads to hatred and sinful acts of aggression, regardless of the harm it causes to others. 

We recall the story of Joseph and his brothers:  Joseph was the youngest of Israel’s sons and the most loved.  Because of their father’s favoritism, Joseph’s brothers hated him. (Genesis 37:4 - But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.)

Later on, Joseph began having dreams of greatness over his brothers, which angered them even more and increased their feelings of resentment and hatred.  One day Joseph was sent by his father to check on his brothers who were tending to the flock.  As Joseph approached, his brothers plotted against him and decided to kill him and they cast him into a pit.  Reuben tried to talk his brothers out of killing Joseph, and when some traders came by, the brothers decided to make a profit by selling Joseph as a slave.  Once Joseph was gone, the brothers covered up their deed by making it look as if he had been attacked by a wild animal, taking his tunic, dipping it in blood and showing it to their father. 

Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22 - You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.”  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.  And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire.  Jesus tells us not to give a place to anger because anger leads to hatred.  That hatred is murder in the heart.

Adultery/Fornication:  David takes Bathsheba for himself       

Jesus also spoke of adultery’s beginnings in the heart in Matthew 5:27-28 - You have heard it said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Shortly after David became the king of Israel his army was at battle while he remained in Jerusalem. One night he looked from his rood and saw a beautiful woman bathing.  He found out that this woman was Bathsheba, the wife Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s soldiers.  David took Bathsheba and lay with her.  Later, Bathshaba told David that she was pregnant with his child.  David tried several time to cover up his sin by bringing Uriah home from battle in hopes that he would be with his wife and think that the child was his.  But when his plan didn't work, David devised a plan to have Uriah killed.  David had Uriah put on the front lines of battle and told his general to have the rest of the troops withdraw, leaving Uriah to die. 

This greatly displeased God and He sent Nathan to David, who confronted him about his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-7).

Nathan told David that because of what he had done the rest of his life would be filled with adversity.  The child of Bathsheba and David was struck ill and died.  Later, Absolom, one of David’s sons, would go to war against David and try to overthrow his rule.

We cannot serve God while serving the lusts of the flesh.  Galatians 5:16-17 I say then: Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Greed/Betrayal:  Judas betrays Jesus for Money

1 Timothy 6:10 - For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Judas was one of Jesus’ apostles and was even entrusted with being a treasurer.  But Judas had his own agenda and was planning to betray Jesus.  Judas met with the Chief Priests and made a deal.  He agreed to betray Jesus for a reward of thirty pieces of silver.  Later, when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas approached Jesus with a multitude armed with swords and clubs.  Judas kissed Jesus which was a signal to the multitude and they took Jesus away.  Judas realized what he had done and that Jesus was going to be put to death, he tried to give the money he received for his evil deed back.  When the Chief priests wouldn't accept the blood money, Judas went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-5).

Proverbs 1:10-19 speaks of greed, betrayal and murder: My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent.  If they say, “Come with us lie in wait to shed blood; Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; Let us swallow him alive like Sheol, and whole like those who go down to the Pit; We shall find all kinds of precious possessions, We shall fill our houses with spoil; Cast in your lot among us, Let us all have one purse” - My son , do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path; For their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood, They lurk secretly for their own lives.  So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners.

Dishonesty:  Peter lies to save himself

In Matthew 26 Jesus was being taken to the high priest, the first of many mock trials that would ultimately lead to his crucifixion.  Peter followed Him at a distance and ended up sitting with some servants to watch.  Several of the servants thought they recognized Peter as a disciple of Christ and asked him about his association with Jesus.  Peter had to have been frightened, for his life, knowing that Jesus was being marched to His death, so he decided to lie to save himself. Peter denied Jesus three times, claiming that he didn't even know Him and even cursed to stress his point to those around him. 

Matthew 26:69-75 - Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard.  And a servant girl came to him saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”  But he denied it before them saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”  And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”  And a little later those who stood by came and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”  Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!”  Immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows you will deny Me three times.”  So he went out and wept bitterly.

Those who deny Jesus will be denied by Jesus on the Judgement day.  Matthew 10:32-33- Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

How often do we deny Jesus in our own lives through the activities that we engage in, through the words we say, through the bad example we set and through our failure to spread His Word?

A Final Thought on a Life Spent in Service to Self

I read a book once that talked about some of the most common objections to Christianity.  Probably the most common is that people do not understand how a loving God could send anyone to Hell.   But if you think about it, when a person chooses to sin, they themselves are choosing to separate themselves from God. 

We know that sin is offensive to God, so much to the point that He can’t stand the sight of it.
Isaiah 59:1-2 - Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.

Basically, when we make the choice to sin, we make the choice to be separated from God.   Therefore, it should be no surprise that God gives us what we want.  Those that spend their lives seeking to be separated from God will get just that.  Hell is a place that is totally removed from God.  God will not be there.  

The Alternative: A Life of Self-Denial in Service to God

As we have seen, a self-seeking is ultimately an empty life.  If we are constantly striving to please ourselves, we will find life’s temporary pleasures to be fleeting.                       

Instructions to early Christians:  Philippians 2:3-4 - Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but for the interests of others.

In order to serve God and follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves.  Matthew 16:24-27 - Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

1 Peter 4:1 -2 - Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

A Christian should honestly be able to say the following:  Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me.
            Jesus gave His life for us, and all He asks in return is that we give our life to Him.