Monday, April 30, 2018

Battling for Joy

Many mornings, in my personal devotions, I go to John Piper's Solid Joys app on my iPad.  He is one of my favorite theologians, though we don't see totally eye-to-eye on the theological concept of election.  I highly recommend this resource to you for your mobile device.  His daily offerings there are what I'd call a highly nutritional snack for your day, whenever you pop in.  Recently, I read one of his posts on the topic of joy; it sort of flipped me on my head.

I realized I had a bit of a misconception about joy.
What I knew to be true (and still know):

1.  Joy is NOT the same as happiness.  The former is based on the foundational promises of God.  The latter is situational.  Both are wonderful, but the former is indispensable.

2.  Joy is the inheritance of every believer in Jesus Christ as Savior.  It is one of God's precious gifts to His children.

So far, so good, right?

Here's where my misconception came in, though.

I always believed that if I experienced an absence of joy in my life that this indicated some spiritual deficit on my part.  In other words, if joy was not "automatic" in my life, it was my fault.

Have any of the rest of you believers ever believed that?  I'd love to hear your comments on this blog page, with your thoughts....

That misinterpretation, though sincere, is a trick of Satan's to lessen our effectiveness.  He loves to beat us to a bloody pulp with this lie.

Now, wait - - - sometimes, there IS abiding sin in a Christian's heart, and in that case such sin needs to be attacked, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Exposed, confessed, repented of, turned from, walked away from, left behind.  Repeat, repeat, repeat (in some cases, for habitual sin).  This is a description of the Christian "going to war" over sin in his/her own life.  Pulling it up like a nasty weed.  Tossing it out.  You get the picture. 

But, there are also times when there is no known sin, and in fact, this scenario can occur when a Christian is in the heat of a battle, joy just seems to have fled the scene.  After all, for example, the spiritual weeding I described above is not what I call "fun" or a joyful experience.  It's more like plucking out a stray hair, repeatedly.  Ugh!  James, the half-brother of Jesus, knew about this, and wrote of it in James 1:2-3.  He opened his book with this truth; he must have felt it was critically important!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
James 1:2 (ESV)

Going deeper, what I learned from John Piper on this topic is this:  as Christians, despite the fact that joy is our inheritance from our Savior, it is not enough to regard it as joy (as James said).  We must at times FIGHT LIKE HECK for it.



Dr. Piper calls it "fighting like a justified sinner".1  What does that mean?
Well, in all honesty, I've not read his book.   (You may want to investigate his book, referenced in the Sources section of this post. I plan to.)  But, I predict he means that we are to fight for joy as one who knows it already belongs to him/her and that we are sure to win the battle to receive it again.
IF joy is our promised inheritance, not only in eternity, but also in the "here and now" (yes!) ...
IF God always keeps His promises (yes!) ...
THEN (yes!), we can fight for joy with confidence that God will restore it in His perfect timing.

Sometimes, as we walk through prolonged battles in our resplendent walk, it takes time.  As we walk faithfully, and fight fiercely, we must simultaneously wait on God patiently.

Allright, so Christian People!  Let's gird ourselves with the Ephesians 6 armor, meditate on God's promises, and plunge into the fight for our joy today.  Are you ready?  Set?  GO!

8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV)

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Isaiah 61:10 (NIV)

17Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

This is the day that Lord Jehovah has made; come, we will leap for joy and rejoice in him!
Psalm 118:24 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)


1     Piper, John. When I Don't Desire GOD: How to Fight for Joy. Crossway Books, 2013.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Mystery of the Red Heifer

Today, we are going to study a rare Old Testament sacrifice, and realize how it foreshadowed the atoning work of Jesus Christ.  The relevant passage is found in Number 19:1-13 (ESV) - -
1Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2“This is the statute of the law that the LORDhas commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. 3And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. 4And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times.5And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. 6And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. 7Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening.9And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. 10And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.
11“Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. 12He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. 13Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him.
I placed the passage here so that you can refer back to it as needed.
Now, read Hebrews 9:13-14 (ESV) - -

13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyf for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourgconscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The uncleanness referred to in the Old Testament is typical of general uncleanness (absence of life) that pervaded the thoughts of all Israelites.  God had given the people strict rules and regulations about dealing with their sin (typified by uncleanness - - sin brings death).  Also, everything in the Old Testament points in some way to Jesus Christ, Messiah.
The remedy for sin in the Old Testament was some sort of shedding of blood of an animal.  Usually, it was a bull, a lamb, a goat, or a smaller animal.  In all cases, the sacrifice had to be "the best of the flock", the purest specimen available.

A red heifer was a rare specimen, one which the Israelites believed God provided supernaturally when He wanted a red heifer sacrifice made.  This rare sacrifice has only been made by the Jews a few times (Jewish tradition says 7 times) since it was first made, in the 3rd millennium after Creation.  Israelites were constantly on the look-out for the appearance of a pure, red heifer, so that provision could be made to restore a person to "cleanness" after having contact with a dead body.  It was the only way to cleanse the person from that type of defilement.  As we look at this special animal and sacrifice, we will also make connections to the life and ministry of Jesus.

1.  The red heifer had to be pure, without blemish or defect (Numbers 19:1).
Jesus was pure and sinless, without blemish or spot.  (Hebrews 9:13-14)

2.  The red heifer was purchased at a high price, according to Jewish tradition, due to its rarity.  It was paid for with money from the Temple treasury.
Jesus, God's only Son, given for our salvation, cost our Father's heart dearly.  (Romans 8:32) . The 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas came from the Temple treasury.

3.  The red heifer came from the flocks of Israel, not from non-Jewish people groups.
Messiah Jesus was Jewish, of the genealogy of King David. (Matthew 1)

Some relevant background:

The first Temple was built by King Solomon, but it was destroyed by the Babylonians who leveled Jerusalem's gates and the Temple, carting off the able-bodied Jews to Babylon for 70 years of exile.  At the end of that time, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem in 3 major waves, one of which began the rebuilding of the Temple.  (This is commonly called the Second Temple.) As Ezra oversaw the reconstruction, he made provision for the red heifer sacrifice.

The Temple itself was built on Mt. Moriah, near the northeast corner of the city of Jerusalem.  The closest gate was the Inspection Gate, called the Paqad (root word) or Mifquad which, in Hebrew means "to count".  It was the narrowest of all the gates.  It was the Inspection Gate referenced in Jesus' words in Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV) - -

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

The Inspection gate was next to the Sheep gate.  {It was through the sheep gate in Jesus' time that the sheep and the goats would pass through, those animals designated for animal sacrifices.  And, you may recall that it was through the Sheep Gate that Jesus rode on the donkey on Palm Sunday.}

When the repairs were done in Nehemiah's time, they began at the Sheep Gate and, working their way all around the city wall gate-by-gate, ended there.  The last gate to be repaired was the Inspection Gate.  Some Messianic Jewish scholars believe this has significance for Christ's second coming, that He will oversee the end-times judgments with this gate figuring prominently somehow.

A bridge was built from the Inspection Gate on the northeast corner across the Kidron Valley and Mt. Moriah (which was a less-tall mountain than Mt. Zion) to the sacrifice site for the red heifer sacrifice, on the Mount of Olives.  The reason for the bridge is that in the Kidron Valley below the bridge were thousands and thousands of graves, the touching of which would make those who walked across them to the sacrifice site unclean.

4.  The red heifer was inspected until its third year, to make sure that no blemish or spot was found on it.
Jesus' earthly ministry paralleled this, in that it lasted 3 years.

5.  The red heifer was taken out of the Census/Inspection Gate, across the bridge, to the site of the sacrifice.
Jesus carried the cross to the Inspection Gate, where Simon the Cyrene was pressed into service to carry it through the gate, outside the city, to Golgotha.
{Read the following scriptures from the four gospel accounts, for verification of this.
Luke 23:26; Mark 15:20-21; Matthew 27:31-32; John 19:16-18. }
Note from Numbers 19 that the red heifer could not be sacrificed within the city walls.
Many believe that the site of Golgotha was at the other end of the bridge, in or near the place on the Mount of Olives where the red heifer sacrifices had been made over the centuries since the days of Moses.

5.  There was a clear line of sight between the doors of the Temple and the place of sacrifice of the red heifer.  The heifer was positioned on the altar so that its head was facing the front of the Tent of Meeting and later the front doors of the Temple, across the bridge.  The priest cut the heifer's throat with his right hand and collected its blood in his left.  He then dipped his finger in the blood and flung it toward the Temple 7 times. (Numbers 19:4)
As Jesus hung on Golgotha, on the Mount of Olives, he faced the front of the Temple.  At the moment He gave up the ghost, crying "It is finished!" the doors of the Temple stood open, the Passover lamb was being sacrificed by the High Priest and the veil in the Temple's Holy of Holies was ripped in two, from the top to the bottom.  (Matthew 27:51)

6.  Other key elements of the red heifer sacrifice:  cedarwood, hyssop, scarlet yarn.
Tradition and some scholars say the vertical beam of Jesus' cross was made of cedar.  As he hung on the cross, and expressed his thirst, a sponge was soaked in vinegar, placed on the end of a hyssop stalk, and lifted to his lips (John 19:29).  As Jesus was scourged, leading up to his crucifixion, a scarlet robe was place on him (Matthew 27:28). Then, at the foot of the cross, soldiers gambled for his garments.

7.  The red heifer's body was burned and the ashes placed in a clean jar.  At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit unites with us, baptizing us with holy fire.  This is for our cleansing and purifying and for sealing us as members of the Bride of Christ.
The jar was then placed in an unused, newly-hewn grave for 3 days.  For each red heifer sacrificed, a newly-hewn resting place was made.  Jesus' body was laid in a newly-hewn grave, belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, and after 3 days, He rose again.

8.  After the third day, the ashes of the heifer were mixed with water, and then that "sacred water" was kept on hand for the purification.  It was also sent all throughout the kingdom of Israel, to be used for its designated purification purpose.  Water in the New Testament is associated with salvation. Baptism is a symbol of the salvation decision that has taken place. (See Ephesians 5:26 and Psalm 51:1-10.)

9.  Here is another mystery surrounding this rare sacrifice: those who participated in the offering of it became unclean through the offering of it.  King Solomon marveled that he, in all his wisdom, could not understand this (Ecclesiastes 7:23).  How does a sacrifice that provides cleansing make the ones offering the sacrifice unclean?  Red is often associated with sin, in the Bible (Isaiah 1:18), and the red heifer offering was a sin offering (Number 19:9). Also, there was no requirement given to Moses that those making the red heifer sacrifice be Levitical priests, (although they most often were).  Of course, the pagan Romans carried out the actual crucifixion of Jesus, while the Jewish religious leaders instigated, and were in agreement with, the act.

10.  Finally, orthodox Judaism today holds that a red heifer sacrifice must be made before the next Temple can be rebuilt and Temple service resumed.  Further, they believe the Temple must be rebuilt before their Messiah can come.  Therefore, the orthodox Jews continually are searching for the elusive red heifer.  As Christians, we believe that our Savior, Yeshua Mashiach, fulfilled this mystery, this red heifer sacrifice, through His death on the cross, His burial and resurrection.  We further believe He will return to the Mount of Olives again, when He returns in fulfillment of  Zechariah 14:4-17.

In closing,
Hebrews 9:23-28 (NIV) - -

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.


Beth HaShomer Ministries - - The Red Heifer Sacrifice: Prophetic Implications, April, 2018.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Titus on Social Media, Etc.

The other day I figured I'd change my profile pic on Facebook.  I don't often do that (and now will do it less often, lol!)  The prior picture was one I love, but I just felt a more current and accurate representation was needed.  At any rate, I thought I'd make the switch late, late at night so that it could be sneaked in and nobody would notice.  Wrong.  There followed a flood of sweet, kind comments, which (since I'm uncomfortable with praise anyhow) I found a bit embarrassing.  I tried to respond with grace.  I say again, "You'll see that profile pic for a good while."

I mention this because it was what would be to most folks a "positive" social media experience.  Most likely, you have had some negative ones.

People use social media for several reasons, some of which are:
1.  To combat isolation.  Most people need interaction of some form with other people.  Social media allows them to "keep up with" a wide circle of friends and acquaintances with a few clicks.  It's been described as "an online cocktail party".  Your friends give you whatever snapshots of their lives they want you to see.
2.  For business.  Many use social media to attract customers.
3.  To get help.  The online yard sales, requests for a good plumber, "have you seen my dog", "that smell you smell over on Ranger Road" . . .
4.  To promote a world view or make a political statement.
5.  To create havoc.  In this category, I put hackers and their ilk.

It is almost as if the Apostle Paul foresaw the day of social media.The truth, though, is he deeply understood the carnal human nature. Technology is merely a tool, an outlet, after all.  Negative interactions between people have been around since the Garden of Eden.  Social media is merely the latest avenue for people to reveal their character, for good or for bad.

In Titus 3:1-2 (ESV) , we read:

1Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Interestingly, Paul pairs these two verses together.  I reckon it has always been fashionable to criticize those in authority over us, whether the one true God, parents and other family members, work bosses, or elected officials.  Human beings are, at the core of their natures, rebellious.  But, going beyond that, it is hard for many of us to accept the "rule" of a grossly imperfect person.  The letter to Titus is not the only place Paul mentions this.  (See Romans 13:1.)  And, of course, Jesus gave a beautiful illustration of this command in the gospel of Matthew (22:22).

Today, for example, many people have seemingly lost their minds over the election of President Trump.  And, in the presidential election before that one, an entirely different group of people were grossly disappointed in the election of Trump's predecessor.  Regardless of what your opinion of either, it is crystal clear that God appointed each of them to those positions of power, because nothing happens on this earth without His knowledge and permission.  It is for this reason we are told in verse 1 to obey our government while doing "good work" to create the most civil and moral society possible, and, in so doing, to keep our criticism civil, avoid pointless quarrels and to season our interactions with gentleness and courtesy.  Gentleness and courtesy....yeah, that describes Twitter.

One of the more recent manifestations of incivility on social media involves trolls.  Trolls are people who make it their prime directive to disrupt the direction of a post, a trend or a conversation, usually in a hateful manner.  A common adage is "don't feed the trolls".  In other words, when someone makes a hateful comment on a post or a hateful tweet, don't respond.  Any attention you give to that only widens its audience.  This is a modern-day form of "quarreling" and "pointless arguments" (Titus 3:9).  Honest, sincere dialogue can be helpful and beneficial, but not uncivil conversations.  They cheapen the name of the Savior whom Christians claim to represent.  Paul even foresaw "blocking" and "unfriending"!

10As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,

Then, in Titus 3:3-9 (ESV) Paul reminds us WHY we should treat with courtesy those behaving nastily.  "At one time, we too...." (NIV)  It is easy, as we move deeper into relationship with our Lord, to fall prey to the sin of pride.  This happens because we forget where we came from - - that place of total lostness, spiritually dead in our sinful state.  It is when we forget, that we view others who are dead to Christ Jesus with contempt or even downright hatred.  This is not the way of Jesus.  This is not the way of the cross.  Paul exhorts us to remember....

3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. 

Paul emphasizes that we, Believers, did not "turn ourselves around".  We did not become regenerate, eternally-redeemed souls through our own "good works" or taking the correct position, or making the correct argument, or even through "making good choices".  No.  We are redeemed because of God's goodness, His mercy, His lovingkindness.  HE did the washing of our souls.  HE renewed us by placing His Holy Spirit into our hearts.  He. He. He.  Not, we.we.we.

As Believers, those whose souls have been eternally transformed, we perform good works in response to what God has done, because of what He has done, as a result of what He has done.  And, we are to insist that this message, this Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ's finished work, be manifested in our behavior, both speech and actions....whether on social media, or on the ball field, or in the workplace, or in our family interactions (often the most difficult place).

The most potent weapon to keep ourselves headed in the right direction is filling our minds and spirits with the Word of God.  The pagan world surrounding us continually seeks to draw us away from the godly walk of faith.  To avoid conformity to the ungodliness around us, we must deliberately take steps of nonconformity.  In this way, we represent Jesus well.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Exhorting and Rebuking

15Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.
Titus 2:15 (ESV)

When I was a college sophomore, the university began to make a full-length feature film entitled "Sheffey" ( ).  It was based on the true story of a "circuit-riding preacher" of the 1800s, in Appalachia.
Being raised in Appalachia, although not in that century (lol), much of the culture was familiar to me.  As a child I attended many revival meetings.  But, I never got to witness exhortation as it was portrayed in that movie.  There were several revival scenes and, in each one, the main character, Sheffey, exhorted people to salvation.  During "the invitation", at the end of the services, when people were invited to the altar to make a decision for Jesus Christ, Sheffey would visually scan the crowd to discern which folks were under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.  Then, he would approach them and urge them to go forward to the altar and accept Jesus as Savior.

Have you ever seen that occur?  If you have, please share your experience by making a comment here on the blog.  I would guess this type of behavior is extremely rare. 

The word "exhort" means to come alongside another person and then to urge, to encourage, to even beg them to do the right thing.  1In the New Testament, "exhort" comes from the Greek word "paraklesis".  For you "churchy folk" that sounds a great deal like "paraclete", doesn't it, the word given to describe the Holy Spirit.  "Para" means "with" and "paraclete" means "to come alongside".   Hmmm....

Did you know that the apostle Paul lists exhortation as a spiritual gift, in Romans 12:6-8?  Those with this gift are, first of all, "people people".  They love other people and are uniquely gifted to be discerning encouragers.  By building relationships with others, who see them "walk the walk",  exhorters can then discern when a fellow believer or loved one is struggling.  They then obey the Spirit's leading to intervene in just the right way.  Those with this spiritual gift make awesome disciplers, teachers, counselors and mentors.  They don't merely make suggestions; they deliver Spirit-initiated "encouragement on steroids".

Now, what about rebuking?  I venture to say that this one is even more rarely seen in the modern-day American church.  In today's American culture, we are super-saturated by "tolerance".   As such, we have been programmed by the world to "live and let live", for the most part.  I submit to you, however, that this is a selfish, unloving practice for the Christian.  If you saw someone in imminent physical danger, would you not rescue that person from certain harm, perhaps even death?  Suppose you were standing on a street corner and the child beside you moved to step out into the street.  If you could stop him, would you?  Of course you would!
How much more then, if we see a believer harming himself or another person, or hurting the cause of Christ should we intervene?  To not do so is unloving!  And, what about the unbeliever on his or her way to a promised (according to the Word of God) Hell?  Is it loving to be "tolerant" and not share the saving, liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ?

We must be careful in rebuking, which in the Greek is "elegcho". It means to reprimand, to correct and/or to expose sin.  Much of what has been classified as godly rebuking is nothing more than sinful pride and hypocrisy, wrapped up in a veneer of righteous indignation.  There are those in the house of faith who enjoy criticizing, tearing down and pointing the finger at a "weaker brother', when they themselves are eaten up with the sin of pride.  This is not godly rebuking.  Ungodly rebuking is nothing more than "judging", which Jesus prohibited in Matthew 7:1-3.

The godly rebuking described in the Bible (Hosea 2:2, Leviticus 19:17, Proverbs 19:25) is motivated by love for the person being given the rebuke as well as love for the holiness of God.  It is a love so great in the heart of the rebuker that it overcomes his or her natural hesitancy to even do it.
Here are the steps a godly person must follow before issuing a rebuke:
1.  Examine your own heart.  Make sure the Holy Spirit is leading you to speak to the other person about the sin.  Make sure your own heart is clean before God.
2.  Pray.  About #1 above and then pray for the right timing to approach as well as the words to say.  Pray for the person God is leading you to, that the Holy Spirit will do what only HE can do.
3.  Be certain the rebuke is scriptural, and not just your own "opinion".
4.  Make your rebuke a gentle one.  Gentle words deflect anger, even when the content of those words is strong (Proverbs 15:1).  Remember that the Holy Spirit is using you.  It will not be the force of your words that changes hearts.

A good test of whether you are being led of the Holy Spirit in either of these spiritual disciplines is the results of your actions.  That's not to say that others will always respond to the words you say.  But, if as a general rule, most of the time, your words are not received positively or no change occurs in the life of the other person, you'd be wise to re-examine the points 1-4 above.

In closing, here are some scriptures which show the necessity of balance in our relationships with others, in light of these teachings today.

5Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
6Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:5-6 (ESV)

Everything you do should be done in love. 
1 Corinthians 16:14

For we all stumble in many ways.
James 3:2a (ESV)

Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:20 (ESV)



Monday, April 16, 2018

How to Be a Master Teacher

Meditating in Titus 2 this morning, I was reminded of one of the sayings of Dr. Bob Jones Sr., that early 20th century evangelist and educator, also founder of Bob Jones University.  He said, "Do right, if the stars fall."  A contemporary of mine at the university, Ron Hamilton, a gifted musical composer, expanded the adage into a song, part of which lyrics are below.

Do right till the stars fall, do right till the last call   Do right when there’s no one else to stand by you!   Do right when you’re all alone, do right though it’s never known.   Do right since you love the Lord — do right, do right!

Paul begins Titus 2 with the strong admonition to teach biblical truth.  Here's the thing about biblical can tell it's truth from the Bible if behaviors change, because the Word of God changes lives.  Accordingly, Paul goes on to admonish subgroups of the Cretan church about their practical living, under the restrictions of their contemporary culture.  Those groups were:  older men, younger men, older women and slaves.  In every case, though, and I think this is so interesting....Paul reminded each group that they were TEACHING ... not only those in their faith community, but also those unbelievers outside, about the glory and grace of the saving gospel!

Titus 2:11-14 (NIV) is the chapter's linchpin.  So, let's start there.  It is crucial we understand that Titus 2 is not merely a laundry list of "do goods" strapped to the backs of sinners attempting to earn salvation.

11For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Hallelujah!  Salvation is FREELY available to ALL people, not just a chosen few!  Isn't that awesome to remember this morning?  And, get this, our FREE salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), instigated through God's grace to us, not earned by our own false "goodness", TEACHES us, if we will allow it.  The Holy Spirit is THE Master Teacher.  When we accept Jesus as Savior, His Holy Spirit comes to reside in our souls forever.  When we submit ourselves to His divine goodness, He shapes us by teaching us to say "no" to sin.

As we are taught by Him and as we learn to live godly lives, even while surrounded by ungodliness, we are to teach others through our resplendent walk.  Christian: you can't be a "master teacher" if your walk is "off", if you are rebelliously practicing ungodliness in some area of your life.

Now, briefly, let's look at the admonishments to each subset of the Cretan church.  

1.  Paul specifies that all four groups should focus on "self-control" (which for the Christian is really letting the Holy Spirit be in control) and on leading by example, so that they garner respect and build/maintain integrity.  A "good reputation" validates the truth of the gospel message.
2.  Paul mentions temperance to both older men and women (2:2-3), and mentions that the older women should avoid excesses of wine (2:3).  It is very possible that, in the Cretan culture, overindulgence of alcohol was a social phenomenon, hurting the testimony of that local church.  It's hard to say.  Still, overindulgence of food or drink can harm one's testimony.  (I speak as one who struggles with this - - the food issue.) 
3.  Paul goes on to focus on the older women mentoring the younger women in how to love and respect their husbands, to raise their children and to run an orderly home (2:4-5).  In those days, families lived close by, sometimes even in the same physical dwelling.  Unfortunately, because families today can be literally continents apart, a great deal of that mentoring has either been lost, or young families are finding like-minded mentors in their expanded Christian circles.  A lot of that mentoring (although of a lesser quality, in my opinion) is also going on online.  It is just a reality of our age.
4.  Slaves - - obviously, we do not have legal slavery in America today.  However, the admonitions Paul gives to slaves are very applicable to the workplace (which, granted, can sometimes FEEL like slavery, lol).

Finally, verse 15...  Paul emphasizes that living a Holy Spirit-controlled life, practicing righteous living, gives a Christian the authority to both encourage and to rebuke others.  Most of us are fairly good at the "encouraging" part, but . . . 

Who loves to be rebuked?  Raise your hands.  LOL, yeah, that's what I thought.  We'll explore this spiritual discipline in more depth in the next post, because it is under-taught and yet vitally important.  


Friday, April 13, 2018


What a beautiful Friday morning this is!  Let's study the WORD, hallelujah!

In the last post on the book of Titus, we examined the problem facing the church of Crete, namely that Judaizers were turning entire families in the church away from the truth of the gospel.  The Judaizers, who were "in it" for their own self-aggrandizement, were the epitome of awful church leadership!

Today, let's look at Paul's proposed solution, in Titus 1:5-9 (NIV) - -

5The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appointa elders in every town, as I directed you. 6An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believeb and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Paul is not the first apostle to describe the characteristics of church leaders.  Peter did also, and we will look as his list too.  You'll see a good deal of overlap between the two church fathers.

Most of the time, the term "elder" is applied to the "senior pastor" (in our lingo) of the congregation. However, it can be generalized to apply to any adult leader in the local church, as well.  The first thing that strikes me about establishing leadership in the church is the power of appointment.  These leaders were to be appointed by other trustworthy leaders.  Another translation of the word "appoint" is "ordain", which is why we have church ordinations for various church leaders.  Ordination commemorates, conveys and convicts.  The ceremony commemorates the beginning of the leadership position.  It conveys trust and authority concerning the responsibilities of leadership.  It convicts the leader of his ongoing Christian walk.

Argue about that as you will, but I have personally witnessed a strict "nomination/election" process in a large congregation and it was not pretty.  The results were not great.  People are distracted by the cares of life; therefore, they do not pay attention to such nominations.  Out of a congregation of hundreds, it was common to find only a handful nominated for these key leadership positions.  The congregation's attitude seemed to be, "Oh well, someone else will nominate and it will turn out allright."  Well, it didn't.

My current church body uses a combination of appointment by the body of current leaders, followed by a vote of the church body, which I believe is a just way of doing things, in keeping with scriptural principles.

Secondly, let's consider the word "blameless", the title of this post.  That seems like an impossibly high standard, doesn't it?  Basically, it does not mean "perfect", since no one is.  It does however mean "of high reputation in the community, especially the community of faith".  In other words, those who know him best speak highly of his character, a character forged in the furnace of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work!  Some of the other attributes of being blameless are given in verses 7-8.

Faithful to his wife is self-explanatory, but I would add a faithfulness coupled with expressed love.  A cold, heartless "shackled to the old lady" is not what Paul was advocating here.....

Paul also emphasizes that church leaders are to encourage others through the active teaching of sound doctrine and to energetically oppose those who are teaching false doctrine.  This is extremely important in every Christian congregation, and we know that the Cretan church was in great need of this kind of doctrinal warrior-leader.  These kinds of courageous leaders are in extremely short supply, in many congregations, because to confront doctrinal error takes tremendous courage, being willing to "go against the flow" in just about every case.  This is a type of spiritual warfare.  Of course, before you can teach sound doctrine, you should KNOW sound doctrine.  In other words, church leaders should be avid students of the Word of God.

With these characteristics from Titus/Paul in mind, let's look at the specifics of Peter's passage and mine out the traits needed for successful church leaders.  In this way, we unite the Word of God around the teaching on this important topic.

Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
In the same way, you younger men, be subject to the elders. And all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because
God resists the proud

but gives grace to the humble.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time
1 Peter 5:1-6 (HCSB)

Shepherd the Flock
In this, elders follow the example of Christ, who is referred to as the Good Shepherd or the Chief Shepherd.  How should they do this?
1.  With humility - - - elders are not to view their roles as occasions for pride, which is the chief sin of the Church.  Peter realizes this too, because he mentions humility repeatedly in this passage.
2.  Without a lust for power - - - Peter mentions money in this context, which is analogous to power. Many church positions are unpaid, but those in them seek to accrue power to themselves as payment. A dead giveaway to this type of leader is the one who says, "My legacy ... "  or (God forbid) "I ran that sorry preacher off!"  Watch out for that type of church "leader".  They are in it primarily for their own self-aggrandizement.
Some of the worst "Christians" I've ever seen are in positions of leadership in our churches! They use their position to disregard church by-laws and constitutions, to not follow proper procedures and to "get their own way".
We are not given positions of leadership within a congregation to create a "legacy" for ourselves.  All glory from our service goes to the Lord, not to us.  Leaders, do you desire that "unfading crown of glory" from the Lord?  Then, don't seek to receive it in this life.

Be an Example
When you are offered a position of leadership in the church fellowship, fall on your face before God and examine yourself.  If your heart is not right, then that is an opportunity for Satan to get in and to not only tarnish your ministry but, more importantly, to harm others spiritually.  Some people are fond of telling other believers how to live the life, yet they don't live it themselves.
(This is how this blog got started actually.  I was co-leading the college group in my home, and we were discussing daily Bible reading.  I became so convicted because I was advocating that discipline for the young people, but was not doing it myself.  I resolved, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to change that in my life.  And, this blog, which is the outworking of my daily Bible devotional time, was born.)
In his admonitions to, his training of, young Timothy, Paul talked about how he as a church leader should be an example.  These were the traits he mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:12 - - -

" an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness and purity."

  • It is no accident that the tongue is mentioned first here.  Leaders in the church are to "put the quietus" on murmuring and backbiting and pot-stirring in the church, not be the instigators or the cause of it.
  • The leader's behavior must be characterized by love, faithfulness and purity.  The Message version puts it like this:  
Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.  Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching.  And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed - - keep that dusted off and in use.

Leaders: don't be lazy!  We ought to see our elders praying, doing visitation, tithing, teaching, worshipping with the congregation, serving in church ministries, participating in many ministries of the church - - - and their spouses as well.  If we don't, then something is wrong.  And, any elder who cannot be loyal to his local church and its leadership, supporting it/them by being an example in these ways should resign.

Being called by God to a position of leadership in the local church is a fearsome responsibility. When we put on the robe of leadership, it has a bulls-eye on its back.  Satan immediately elevates us as a prime target, marked for destruction.  Each of us in leadership roles, each of us elders, should be constantly on our faces before God, asking His Spirit to examine us.  God forbid that we should, by our position of influence, do anything to fracture the Body, to sow seeds of dissension, to dishonor Him.

After you have finished reading this post, please take a moment and pray for your church leaders today.  Pray for them often, as a matter of habit.  And, if you ARE a leader in your local church or in a para-church ministry, ask God to lead you with tenderness and mercy, so that you may do the same with those He has given to your spiritual care.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Judaizers (again)

When Jesus ascended to Heaven and very shortly thereafter the Holy Spirit descended onto the members of the early Church at Pentecost, the battle really heated up.  And, truly, Satan's opposition to the Church, with its gospel message of "salvation by grace through faith" has never abated.

The best information we have in the New Testament about the Judaizers comes from the book of Galatians, where the battle for the soul of the Church ran especially hot.  Note that Judaizers were also soundly renounced by early Church leaders in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem, in the church of Colosse (Colossians 2:16-17), in the very carnal Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 7) and in the church at Rome (Romans 14:5).

The Galatians were a Gentile people who loved Jesus Christ and wanted to walk in obedience to Him. They had, however, been deceived by Judaizers who, I do honestly believe, were sincere (although sincerely wrong).  Look at what Paul says (5:2-3) about the Galatians trusting in circumcision to make themselves right with God (that is, work to earn their own salvation).

2-3 I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.
Galatians 5:2-3 The Message version

Yesterday, a customer called the pie shop and RAVED about our apple pie, declaring it to be the best double-crust pie he had ever tasted.  He exclaimed that there was "no going back" for him.

What the Galatians were doing was submitting to, allowing themselves to be enslaved by, an old covenant.  They had chosen to remove themselves from the path of grace through Christ and to pursue achieving their own holiness through enslaving themselves again to the Law (5:4).

Jesus Christ established a new covenant through His blood.  He IS God's new covenant with His people!  How do I know this?  Where is the "proof"?  Let's examine the Scriptures.  You are expecting a NT reference, aren't you?  No, we must go all the way back to Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV).

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LordI will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

I can hear some of you now - - "This was meant just for the Jews, the chosen people, and will be fulfilled in the last days."  Yes, while God WILL restore the Jews to Himself in the last days Jesus Christ made it clear that HE is the fulfillment of this scripture passage, and He did it at the last meal He shared with His disciples.  Luke 22:20 (ESV) - - -

17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Jesus Christ's blood, poured out for us, established and sealed God's new covenant relationship with people, those people willing to enter into covenant relationship with Him, the Father God, through the Son, Jesus Christ.  This offer is for ALL people who are willing - - Jew or Gentile.  If the Luke passage is not clear enough for you, consider Hebrews 9:15 (ESV), which is quite emphatic.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Does this mean that circumcising our male children is wrong?  Or, that observing Jewish feast days and customs is wrong?  Only if you are depending on them to achieve your own righteousness with God.  NO.GOING.BACK.

I have Christian friends and loved ones with Jewish heritage as well as those without it.  Regardless of bloodline, they choose to honor Jesus Christ by observing the Jewish feast days, because they see Him so beautifully represented in Old Testament practices.  But, they do NOT depend on their observances for their salvation.  They submit to various parts of Jewish law out of love for their Savior, while serving God from a circumcised HEART: a heart which covenants with God through faith in Jesus Christ, a faith is expressed in love (Galatians 5:6, Romans 2:29).

So, that is what Paul had battled in Galatia.  We are currently studying the book of Titus, where Paul had become aware of Judaizers similar to those in Galatia. Today's text is 1:10-16 - -

10For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.16They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
Titus 1:10-16 (NASB)

Again, Judaizers were often referred to as "those of the circumcision" because they held circumcision as the centerpiece of their religious practice/proselytizing.
Judaizers professed to understand the heart of God revealed through the Old Testament, but in practice were entangled with all sorts of non-Mosaic "add-ons" - - Jewish traditions that had been tacked on through the centuries since salvation "by faith" was established with Abraham and from which they were seemingly unable to (or unwilling to) escape from.  (You may recall Jesus debunked several of these during his earthly ministry; we find such in the gospel accounts.)

In summary, let's remind ourselves of this over-arching truth from Romans 7:

But now we have been exempted from The Written Law, and we are dead to that which had controlled us, so that we shall serve from now on in the newness of The Spirit and not in the Old Order Scriptures.
Romans 7:6 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)