Anachronism

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother (Philemon 15-16, NIV).

Anachronism — “a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place, especially: one from a former age that is incongruous in the present” (Merriam-Webster). 

There is a lot of discussion in our day concerning the founding of America, especially that it was flawed because the men and women who founded the nation were owners of slaves, and that the Constitution initially recognized black slaves as only three-fifths of a person. This part of the US Constitution (historians call it the Great Compromise) that was ratified in 1787 is abhorrent (properly) to most Americans today who recognize that God does not diminish a person’s worth on the basis of either race or economics and neither should we. Historically, however, it is important to see the issue from the perspective of the late Eighteenth Century. To question the legitimacy of this nation based upon values that we hold today, that were not held then, is an “anachronism.”

This nation has legalized abortion today. I hope for and work for a day when the unborn children of this nation will be fully valued. When that happens and the future generation looks back at the early Twenty-First Century, will all of our decisions be considered as illegitimate because we de-valued human life in this way? I hope not; I hope that future generations will study the history of our generation to see that many good people worked hard to oppose this form of human sacrifice.

When we today look into the debates that took place to establish the governing documents of our nation, we will see a similar debate in that day over slavery. It was an evil that was already present, and abolishing it by decree was not possible. On the other hand, the debate focussed on the human worth of black men and women. At stake was the balance of representation in the newly formed House of Representatives. For the first 90 years of our country’s existence there were many who worked tirelessly to end this injustice, just as many are working tirelessly today to end the sin of abortion. Both issues centered on the worth of human beings.

But there is a deeper logical flaw to the anachronism that says that our Founders should have eliminated slavery from the very beginning. That flaw is embraced by some in the Church who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture. If we can attribute today’s understanding of slavery to the Founding Fathers in the Eighteenth Century, then we must do the same to the history of every generation. Moses surely should have known the evils of slavery — he led the Hebrew nation from it — yet he gave permission for the Hebrew people to own slaves themselves (Lev. 25:44, et. al.). The Apostle Paul also sent the slave, Onesimus, back to his owner — Philemon.

Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who, for reasons that are unknown to us today, ran away from his duties. Whether the personal offense to Philemon was merely that he was financially inconvenienced because he lost the labor a slave would provide for him for a period of time or, more, that Onesimus had actually stolen from him before escaping, we cannot know. But Onesimus ran from Philemon and tried to get lost in the city of Rome. In God’s providence, he met Paul and was converted to Christ. According to the laws of his day, Onesimus was the property of Philemon, until Philemon himself should free him. Paul “leans” on Philemon, but never requires that he free Onesimus, although he might have used his apostolic authority to do so.

If the values that we hold today concerning slavery are binding upon the Founding Fathers of the Eighteenth Century, then how much more should the writers of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have been bound by this universal value. Yet some in the Church today attribute authority to Scripture while asserting that the writings of the leaders in the Eighteenth Century are invalid. To be consistent, if we hold these values as binding upon our ancestors, then neither Moses’ writings nor Paul’s should be considered authoritative. Adopting an anachronistic perspective destroys Biblical authority. This is why Scripture must be read and interpreted from a grammatical and HISTORICAL perspective.

His Ways Are Different Than Ours

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55:8-9)

God’s ways are mysterious. He doesn’t act predictably, at least by human understanding. Moses and Pharaoh were both surprised that He led the Hebrews right to the obstacle of the Red Sea when they were fleeing from Egypt. Gideon was surprised that God whittled his army down to 300 men to defeat the vast Midianite army. The Jews knew all of the prophecies that predicted Messiah, but were surprised that He came in the Person of Jesus. The list of God’s surprising methods is endless.

In every era of history men have been told to believe the Scripture. Moses’ last commandment to Israel was, “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deut 32:47). God’s first commandment to Joshua after the death of Moses was, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Isaiah told his audience in the passage above that God’s Word would never return empty (vs. 11). The Psalmist in multiple places spoke of the importance of the Scripture, including at least 174 times in the marvelous literary creation, Psalm 119. Jeremiah, Jesus, and the Apostles all tell us of the importance of the Scripture.

But when “push comes to shove,” we humans (at least in this era) choose to believe the changing opinions of science and/or the prevailing popular opinions of the larger society. Certainly we understand the fickleness of humanity, but often we fail to realize that scientific conclusions are determined inductively and therefore are also fickle. A single example can destroy the conclusions of years of experimentation. In the 1970s the scientific news was that the earth was heading into a new ice age; today we will be destroyed by global warming. To reduce the criticism, we’re now worried about “Climate Change.” Medical science has told us that coffee would kill us, among many other substances, only to change a few years later when new studies surfaced. 

On the other hand, the conclusions of Scripture are deductively determined. We start with the premise that those words are true, even if we don’t understand them fully. In much the same way, the Founding Fathers of our nation made absolute the rights of Americans to be free to worship, speak, assemble and to own a gun (et. al.), even though they probably did not conceive of a time when the right to defend oneself (for example) would not be assumed. 

Both the Scripture and the US Constitution arose from the conviction of their (A)authors that the human heart is deceitful. The Founders wrote into the Constitution a set of checks and balances for that reason — they knew that power could and would corrupt people in leadership. The divine Author of Scripture knew this was true also. He inspired Jeremiah to write, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). Jesus Himself “on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). Paul, despite his own teaching and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, recognized that the Church in Ephesus would fall prey to deceitful and corruptible men (Acts 20: 29-32). The antidote that Paul gives is careful attention to the “Word of His grace” (32).

The current COVID-19 flap that has created fear in the hearts of the people of this world could have been averted if we (including our leaders) had chosen to adopt the position that the human heart is desperately sinful. It is an insidious lie of the enemy of our souls that has been foisted upon men — the idea that “all men are basically good.” No, we are not. Men lie and deceive; men in power lie and deceive to retain that power; they use information to manipulate opinion to their own advantage. It SEEMS to be true to the naive and unsuspecting person, even though it denies the Truth that we know absolutely is true.

We thank God for the many exceptions to these statements, but the only way we will truly know if our leaders are honest in their decisions is if we hold them accountable to the (D)documents that form the foundation of our society as the (A)authors intended. But we first have to know these (D)documents ourselves! Otherwise, the deceitfulness of the human heart will prevail, and we will be surprised when our society fails, while we hear God say, “You chose not to believe My ways!”

Fear Gone Viral III

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11, ESV).

This morning I got in my car to come to my office; my radio came on when I started my car. I was not interested in listening to the radio just then so I immediately turned the sound down. The only thing that I heard was a financial guru advertising his business and radio program, but he made this statement in the short time the sound was on: “… the most important thing is your health…” I almost shouted back to him, “No it’s not!” My service to Jesus is more important than my health. If I lose my health in the process of serving Him, it is what I was created to do.

Right now, the world is paralyzed by the fear that we will come down with a virus (which, last I saw, 98.5% of people survive). It has closed down businesses and, amazingly, churches. Our fear is mortgaging the futures of our children and grandchildren. I am not wanting anyone to be afflicted with this virus, and I have always tried to practice good hygiene, but there are worse things than getting sick — like hearing the Savior say, “I never knew you…” The true Church has in this day the opportunity to highlight what really is most important, but our fears are keeping us from it. Some try to justify our failure to prioritize this by telling us that social distancing is the fulfilling of Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor.” But the greatest expression of loving our neighbor is to fear God, not a virus that He has told us plainly not to fear (Ps 91:1-6).

Our fear that paralyzes us because our health may be compromised does a disservice to the countless martyrs who have stood obediently in the face of danger. Look up the story of Polycarp, who was told to recant or he would be burned at the stake, but said “For 83 years I have served my Lord, I will not deny Him now.” Read the stories in Fox’s Book of Martyrs, of those who sacrificed their health — to the point of losing their lives — for the testimony of Jesus. What if Jim Eliot and his four companions had not endangered their lives to reach the warlike tribe of Ecuadorian natives known as the Aucas in 1956? Many would not worship at Jesus’ throne if “the most important thing was their health.” Our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, has a rich heritage of sacrifice for the Gospel of Christ. Thirty-six of our missionaries lost their lives in China’s Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Many more suffered the loss of their health in internment camps during WWII. The Vietnam War brought more danger to the health and safety of our missionaries.

“The war kept worsening. By 1967 soldiers were dying on both sides at the rate of a thousand a week. The highland cities of Dalat, Pleiku, Kontum and Banmethuot with concentrations of missionaries and churches, were surrounded by roving Communist armies. Yet not a single missionary had left because of the danger” (Hefley, By Their Blood,124-125, emphasis added).

The Church in this generation needs to stand before a fearful, unbelieving world with faith in the God who told us countless times not to fear. We need to call attention to a Savior who told us that HE would protect us. We need to confess our sins as a nation and boldly call — even our government — to acknowledge that the God we serve has “created all things, visible and invisible” (Col 1:16). If we don’t bow before Him NOW when we are powerless to stop this death, we never will. And if we cower in fear like the world around us, it will demonstrate that we are not of the same character as those who have served Christ before us.

Plagues down through history have run their course, but the current fearful response is demonstrating that most in this nation — perhaps even many in the Church — are looking to government and not to Jesus for deliverance. 

The Failure of the Church

Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, I have been very disappointed in the response of the Church — not an individual church but the church in general. Through all of this crisis, I have rarely seen a display of our faith in the Creator and a trust in His Word of Truth.

The Church has quickly fallen in line with the “party line” that has believed the models of science that hundreds of thousands will die. This prediction has been continually revised down but the fear has been maintained, even though now the death toll is less than an average flu season. But the Church that should be confidently proclaiming God’s promise of protection, has settled into our “new normal,” not making waves, even though the command of Scripture is to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb 10:25). 

There is only one condition to the Psalmist’s promise that, “He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence(Ps 91:3, emphasis added).That condition is that we “dwell in the shelter of the Most High…[that we] abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (vs. 1). Those who deny the truth of the Christian Gospel should rightly fear and take stock of their mortality. Similarly those who give lip service to the Gospel but fail to take refuge in Him also have a need to fear. The Bible gives no one assurance that he will be protected from judgment who is not walking (present tense) with Him. By capitulating to the world’s answer (which ignores many others) the Church is unwittingly allowing people to avoid the questions God is raising in the souls of men.

But the longer we maintain our silence, the more the damage is being done to our society. COVID-19 deaths may be controlled but suicide is rising as people despair of their ability to provide for their families. In fact, I read today that the number of suicides in my area due to the measures imposed upon the people exceeds the number of deaths due to the virus. People who have need of medical attention have been denied such for fear of the virus. Parents are being warned that child predators are increasingly active since children are spending more time on the internet. Most of this collateral damage cannot be quantified, but it is just as real. Is death by COVID-19 more tragic than death by suicide? By domestic violence? By child abuse?

The “Love your neighbor as yourself” argument is used to justify social distancing and restrict congregations from assembling for worship. But are we unwittingly shielding people from the hard realities of life by these actions? Our society has become adept at putting off thoughts of our mortality. C.S. Lewis properly noted that the death rate is 100% — in other words, (apart from the return of Christ) all of us will one day die. To state that plainly and offer the solution for the life to come — the substitutionary death of Jesus for our sins — is ultimately the most loving and logical thing we can do.

Medical research continually calls upon us to give so they can cure everything that ails us, failing to remind us that when we find the cure for cancer (et.al.), something else will kill us. This research is not wrong, quite the opposite. But the tragedy of death does not lie in HOW they died, but THAT they died — and that issue is answered at the cross. This is the message that the Church is not able to proclaim when it is too busy accommodating the fears of men. 

The objection is raised that the social distancing command has come from the government authorities, and that we are to submit to those authorities (Rom 13:1). In many nations this is true. However the governing authority of the United States is not a person or an office, but a document — the Constitution. Each of our officials — including our military — is sworn to uphold that document — not the changing decrees of the officials in public office. How quickly we as a nation — fully endorsed by a compliant Church — have ceded our freedoms. By doing so, we dishonor the memories of the soldiers that have died for our freedoms and the Founding Fathers who gave their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.” These freedoms are less important to us than the fear of getting sick. Perhaps we should rename our upcoming celebrations “National Barbecue Day” and “National Fireworks Day.”

The Church has had a long history of standing against laws that violate freedom — ask the Apostles Peter and John, ask Reformers like Johann Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Bunyan, the Pilgrim and Puritan Fathers, the list is endless.

In Colonial times, it was the Church that trumpeted the call for freedom. It should be the Church again that is proclaiming, “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36) — free from sin, free from fear, free to worship.

Fear Gone Viral

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence (Ps 91:3).

The fear that Covid-19 has caused around the world is (pardon the pun) at fever-pitch! Reactions in every quarter are over the top. Instead of determining the national championship in college basketball by letting the players play and televising the games for the fans (minimizing social contact) the NCAA canceled all sports! Other sports organizations did the same. Fear dominates the scene, even though we have the best medical care in the world and few will contract the virus and far fewer will have any serious complications. The situation reminds me of Proverbs 28:1 where people “flee when no one is pursuing.” (Dare I say that the subject in this verse is “the wicked”?) But, for many, the fear is real.

Since the news is dominated by the reactions to this virus, we are beginning to see people questioning the source as a new angle for reporting. Is it just a flu-like virus gone rogue, just as we experience every year? Some are starting to theorize that it could be a biological attack from the Chinese who were angry over the sanctions that have been imposed upon them by the United States. What I have not heard is that this is a judgment from God Himself. Of course, that would be immediately dismissed by the politically correct who deny that a God of love is capable of judgment. 

I looked up the word “pestilence” in the Scripture. I found there the comforting passage quoted above in Psalm 91, but I also found that well more than half of the references in Scripture are in Jeremiah and Ezekiel where they refer to pestilence as a judgment. Neither Jeremiah nor Ezekiel were concerned about the pagan nations of their world. The judgment of pestilence was upon Judah and Israel that had been given God’s Truth in the many prophets that God had sent to them, but who had been summarily ignored. Pestilence also was part of the judgment for those who prophesied (preached) falsely, preachers that gave their hearers ideas that they had dreamed up but which the LORD had not sanctioned.

If it has done nothing else, the fear that has gripped the world over this virus has demonstrated how frail and vulnerable human beings really are. There ARE things that are beyond us, outside of our control. And, even when this virus has been fully contained, another is destined to come. We need the perspective of CS Lewis who wrote, “It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty” (On Living in an Atomic Age). If this scare awakens us to the certainty of our mortality, it will have done mankind a real SERVICE.

The confidence of the Psalmist is conditioned upon “dwelling in the presence of the Most High” and “abiding in the shadow of the Almighty.” That Psalmist saw the LORD as his “refuge.” The confidence of this generation in the midst of this virus-scare will also be conditioned upon our individual response to trusting in the LORD. Whether the origin of this is natural or man-made; whether we view this as a judgment of God or not, the proper response — in addition to discretion and good hygiene — is to begin or deepen one’s relationship to Christ. Since many are asked to self-quarantine, this is a good opportunity to find a quiet place to meet Him. 

If we, in faith, will turn back to Him, trusting Him when others are fearful, the LORD makes this promise to us at the end of this psalm: “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him securely on high because he has known My name. He will call upon Me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him behold My salvation” (Ps. 91:14-16, NASB).

Don’t Be Deceived

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kgs 22:6-7, emphasis added).

Jesus told us that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Even the smallest observation can be important for it is in the Scripture that we find Truth.

The king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was a man named Ahab. He openly worshiped the idols of the nations surrounding him rather than the God of Israel (his wife was the infamous, Jezebel). When he was going out to battle it was his custom to call upon his “prophets” to advise him about the probabilities of success in his fight. They told him the “Lord” was on his side and would give him success as he was about to fight the Syrians.

The king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah was Jehoshaphat and he was to join Ahab in this battle. But Jehoshaphat recognized that these prophets did not worship the same God that he did, so he asked, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?”  Notice each reference to deity in these two verses.

The Hebrew language has at least three words to refer to deity. Two are used here. When the word “LORD” is capitalized in this way, it is an English convention that means that the Hebrew word is the personal name of God — the name He gave to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. It is a sacred name and refers only to the God of Israel. The other word used here is spelled “Lord” and is a generic reference. Jehoshaphat recognized that the statements of Ahab’s prophets referred to a god other than the God of Israel. 

Ahab wasn’t concerned about which god was on his side, as long as he would get his victory. In our day the Western Church largely is not concerned about pleasing the God of Israel. Like Ahab, we are more concerned with the appearance of success. Which god we address is immaterial.

It has become a conventional practice in this era of the Church to address “God” in our prayers — even though our God has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. We typically hear, “God, bless this person or that…God, comfort and heal so-in-so…” Less often do we hear people address in prayer, “Lord Jesus…” or “Our Father…”

I do not suggest that everyone who addresses Him as “God” is worshiping a false god, but I have to wonder why we are reluctant to speak to Him as He has revealed Himself, especially when Jesus specifically told us to “pray like this, ‘Our Father…’” (Matt 6:9). Jehoshaphat recognized that Ahab’s prophets were not true prophets, perhaps by their mode of address.

Later in the story of Ahab and Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22, a true prophet of the LORD explained that deception from false prophets was how Ahab would be destroyed. I daresay that it is how this generation will also be destroyed (see Jeremiah 23).

So how do we avoid that deception if we cannot always say that the way we identify our God is the key to the Truth? By keeping our minds focused upon what we know to be true — the Scripture. By measuring everything we hear from the standard that Scripture sets. By recognizing that deception can come through people who are genuinely sincere and have been trustworthy in times past. Even their words must be compared with Scripture.

The psalmist writes, “The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts” (Ps 119:110).

Now All Is Well

Now All is Well

Every year as I enter the Christmas season, I find myself mindlessly singing or humming the familiar carols without paying attention to the words of the song.  I suspect that I am not alone. One such carol is “The First Noel,” a song that simply re-tells the Christmas story. But what does the term “Noel” mean?

I used to think that it was of French origin, but older hymnals and books of carols say that it is English instead. In fact, those same older hymnals spell it differently – “Nowell.” Here is my understanding of how we came to have this carol in the present form.

The English people are notorious for abbreviating words and phrases. When a friend would depart from them, it was customary to extend a blessing of “God be with you,” but as time went on that phrase was abbreviated into our present, “goodbye.” Another example is the word “bedlam” which is an abbreviation of the term “Bethlehem.” In England many years ago there was an insane asylum that was notorious for its noise and riotous nature, named St. Mary’s of Bethlehem. Associating any riotous events with the reputation of this asylum led to coining a new word, “bedlam” meaning “riotous.”

A similar abbreviation probably occurred leading to “noel.” This spelling would be a shortened form of “nowell” which itself probably is an abbreviated form of “now…well” or “now it is well” or possibly, “now all is well.” And this phrase is a fitting response to each part of the Christmas story that is related in the song.

“The first now-all-is-well, the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay…” One can only imagine their sense of despair. They were Jews who knew that God had promised them His presence and provision, but rather than seeing the fruit of that promise they were under the rule of the cruel Roman Empire. As lowly shepherds, without any influence and without any legitimate opportunity to change their station in life even for the generations to come, they would likely be characterized by a deep sense of helplessness. The knowledge that there were factions within the Jewish community that couldn’t agree about how to shake off the Roman oppression only increased their despair.

It was to these oppressed and depressed people that the news first came that “Now-all-is-well” – the promised Messiah is born. Certainly we could not expect them to anticipate the future ministry of this Baby, but hope doesn’t always have to understand. It was enough that an angel with a mighty host of heaven visited them that wonderful night with the news that Messiah had come. Now all is well.

The song goes on to suggest that the wise men were looking for a king when they followed the star to Bethlehem. History has understood these mysterious men to be Eastern astrologers who discovered in the stars that the Jewish Messiah was born. They came from an area that had been the home for many Jews who had been carried into captivity only 500 years earlier and it would not be unlikely that some Jewish people remained, or that their influence remained. These men would not be concerned about the ethnic differences because the Jewish people anticipated that Messiah would be the King over all. 

If they were frustrated over the political decline of the Persian Empire to Greece and later to Rome, it would be natural for them to look for a king to arise that would right all wrongs and establish justice again in the world. This news that the promised Jewish Messiah was come would indeed be a welcome encouragement. Now all is well.

Oppressed and depressed people today can also find hope in the Promised Messiah, just as they did in ancient times. The simple truth that God has heard us and has entered again into human experience should be enough to elicit a “Now all is well!” from us, but there’s more. As the carol goes on to explain, the redemptive work of the Messiah has been completed and peace is now possible between us and the Living God. That’s the best “Now all is well” of all!

Those of us who have bowed in obedience to Jesus Christ recognize that the world in which we live desperately needs a “Now all is well!” The world is on the brink of war, fears of terrorism are all around us while rampant drug and alcohol abuse impact most families in one way or another. It is a humanly hopeless setting with no solution unless God steps in. Gloriously, He has. We invite you to meet Him this season so that you can also say, “Now all is well!”

Spiritual Warfare

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

Apparently my life is too entrenched in the physical world that surrounds me, because this verse always strikes a chord with me. Reading this, along with Ephesians 3:9-10, I am reminded that there is an unseen spiritual presence that somehow impacts the affairs of men that I can see. What the connection is between the spiritual world of “principalities and powers” and our physical world of personal survival, caring and rearing our families, standing for Truth in the political world and promoting Christ is impossible to understand. Perhaps one day when this life is over, we will understand it.

In the verses that follow Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks about the spiritual armor that we are to don as believers in this battle, but there is another passage that speaks about the weapons that we are to use. That passage is II Cor. 10:4-5 which tells us that our weapons are spiritual and can pull down the strongholds (in the spiritual world) that are impossible if we only see this as a world of space and time. The weapons to which Paul refers are, of course, prayer and fasting. Some might include giving since Jesus included this in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6).

Both of these “means of grace” (to use the term employed by the Reformers) are mysteries to most of us. Why does God need us to pray when He already knows what He wants done and has the power to accomplish it? Why did the ancients consider fasting to be a way “to make your voice heard on high”? Isn’t that what prayer itself does? If our Lord owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” and “the wealth of every mine,” why does He command us to give?

The answers to these are bound up in the reality that “our warfare is not against flesh and blood…” Somehow, what we do when we pray, fast and give impacts the spiritual world in ways that we will never completely understand while we are in this life. Certainly the practice of these disciplines creates a growth component for our lives here that will be satisfying while we remain on this side, but God’s purpose is much greater even than that. Somehow we make a difference in the unseen world, and the unseen world affects what happens around us. That’s why Psalm 149 can say that it is the glory of God’s people to pray and to impact the political world in far-away places (see vss. 6-9).

These spiritual disciplines can become wearisome to us at times, but we must continually feed on the Scripture to keep the truth before us that even if we cannot see visible results from these disciplines, they are effective in the unseen world.

Tried in the Court of Public Opinion

“The worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, ‘Naboth cursed God and the king.’ So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones” (1 Kings 21:13, ESV)

The long-awaited report has been filed with the Attorney General. Unless you have avoided all media for the past two years, you have heard that President Trump has been tried in the court of public opinion for collusion with the Russians to rig the 2016 election by the Mueller Investigation. The official verdict of the investigation is that neither he nor any of his team worked with the Russians to undermine our elective process. Stated positively — he won the election fair and square, and is the rightfully installed POTUS.

The tactic that was used to try to unseat Mr. Trump was right out of Scripture. It had been tried about 850 years before the common era (BCE). The king of Israel was Ahab and his wife was Jezebel. Ahab approached a man named Naboth to purchase his vineyard, but Naboth refused because Naboth was determined to preserve the family property/inheritance that had been established by the God of Israel after Joshua conquered the land of Canaan. This frustrated Ahab, so Jezebel took matters in her own hands and convened a special public event at which a couple of “worthless men” falsely accused Naboth of “[cursing] God and the king.” The public outrage led to Naboth’s execution.

The attempt to engage public opinion to condemn an innocent man (in this case, a man duly elected to public office) employed virtually every media outlet in America for the past two years. But it failed — so far. Mr. Mueller included the statement in his report that although there was no evidence of collusion, it did not exonerate Mr. Trump. Just as Naboth was guilty without<span class=”Apple-converted-space”>  </span>any corroborating evidence, it appears that Mr. Trump will continue to be tried outside our courts until he is destroyed. One of the principal principles of American jurisprudence is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Mr. Mueller spent (reportedly) in excess of $25,000,000 over a two year period to establish a violation of the law, could not find one, yet declares that Mr. Trump is not exonerated. This statement is in violation of the American legal system and in violation of the the normal definition of “exonerated.” Mr. Trump has every right to feel like Naboth.

The Scripture doesn’t speak about Naboth’s family in this story, so we can only speculate (but with great sympathy). After being blind-sided by false accusations against their family member, they lost him and their property to the elite and powerful people of their day. (And the desire to retain power has been behind the Mueller Investigation from the beginning.) Mr. Trump’s family likely will celebrate a major victory, but the “not exonerated” line (however irrational it is) will signal to them that they will still have to endure more attacks upon their family. In reality, this family is experiencing the pressure of the larger war of our culture over the ascendancy of a conservative, if not a Christian, worldview versus a liberal one.

Happily for God-fearing people, the story did not end with Ahab rejoicing over his spoils of victory. While he gloated over the property he acquired by deceit and slander, he was met by the prophet Elijah who informed him that the God of Israel that created this world, that will execute true justice, Who provided the very air he breathed and food he ate, by Whose will Ahab retained a position of power in his world, had seen what Jezebel had done for Ahab’s benefit. There would be judgment.

Happily for those who perpetrated the crime, the Lord commends Ahab’s sincere repentance. In His judgment, He remembered mercy. And those in our day that have slandered and deceived to manipulate their political will can find that same mercy if they also will repent.

Take Hold of Instruction

Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her for she is your life (Prov 4:13)

Being instructed is hard. It rubs against our pride by forcing us to admit that there is something lacking in us. Everything in our society tells us that we are complete and adequate in ourselves, just as we are. There is nothing in us that requires instruction, at least not morally; men are basically good in themselves. If there is a flaw, society will take care of that through its Department of Corrections. The emphasis in public education upon “self-esteem” undermines real instruction. No longer does a student have to master a certain body of material; he is given passing marks so that he will feel good about himself. As a result of this unBiblical philosophy, larger numbers of our society are having to be “corrected.”

But Solomon’s words to us – if they are followed – actually help us live satisfying lives, because they keep us humble. We don’t think “more highly of ourselves than we ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We recognize in these words that there is real life…satisfying life…fulfilling life…abundant life, not a pretense of life like we see in the characters on TV and the movies. That’s why Solomon tells us to “guard her.”

Primarily Solomon has the informal instruction of a parent to his child in mind, but it is not outside the meaning here to think of formal instruction. Some professions expect a certain amount of “Continuing Education” or “Professional Development” of their members. My own course in seminary is stretching me to read things that I might otherwise have set aside. In some cases I have read books that I had not known existed, books confirming certain convictions in me but which I had no idea had been put into print. The confirming of those convictions has been a great encouragement to me, in some cases delivering me from an “Elijah Syndrome,” the feeling of being all alone in my ministry.

I’m glad I “[took] hold of instruction.”