All posts by dan huff

The Bride of Christ

The Scriptures often employ various words to paint a picture to assist us in seeing God’s beautiful plan.  The church is described in various terms: the body of Christ, the ground and pillar of the truth, a spiritual house, the flock of God, God’s field, and a bride.  “For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5).  The prophet appears to be looking forward to the time of the church.  God chose to use the word “husband,” revealing the closeness and relationship that He desires for Him and His people.  He is the greatest husband of all, the Creator!

In the New Testament, we begin to see this fulfillment of God’s design take form in His Son.  John the Baptizer, when describing his role and place in God’s blueprint, calls himself a friend, or the best man, of the bridegroom Jesus.  Since Christ is the bridegroom, what would His disciples be?

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven in terms of marriage.  He spoke the parable about a significant king who arranged and prepared a sumptuous wedding feast for His Son.  Those who were invited to the wedding feast made light of it, therefore the king had his servants invite whosoever would come to share in this joyous occasion (see Matthew 22:1-14).  On another occasion, Jesus spoke of the ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five were prepared, and five were not.  But what were they waiting for?  For the bridegroom to come and the wedding to take place (Matthew 25:1-13).

While Jesus was on the earth, He did not physically marry.  However, the Scriptures teach us that everything He did while He was here was to purchase His bride’s freedom from sin and to prepare her for the great and wonderful marriage in heaven!  Paul, speaking about husbands and wives, gives the Savior as the ultimate example for husbands to follow:

“…just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

After this, in verse 32 Paul says he was talking about Christ and His church.  Again, the husband and wife relationship is used to describe the Lord and His people, the church.

Paul speaking to the church in Corinth: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealously.  For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).  Paul was concerned for the church.  Betrothal would be similar to our engagement, but stronger – breaking it would require divorce.  It was as if the marriage had already taken place:  the bridegroom and bride had made their life-long commitment to one another, but the consummation with intimacy had not taken place yet.  Paul says this is how the Lord looks upon those who have entered into the New Covenant relationship through the gospel of Christ.  The Lord looks upon Christians as spoken for, as His, and He will complete the marriage when He returns.

The scene of Revelation chapter 19 is at the throne of God in heaven (19:4).  As Jesus said in Matthew 22, the marriage of the Lamb, the Son of God, has come.

 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation 19:7-9).

The Lamb is Jesus Christ (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6-9).  His bride is the glorious church, whom He washed, cleansed, and sanctified for Himself. Notice what the Lamb’s bride is dressed in?  This dress begins with our wedding garment of Christ Himself—putting Him on in obedient faith (Matthew 22:11; Acts 2:38)“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  Christians are making our own wedding dresses.  The righteous acts of the Saints compose the bride’s wedding dress.  What will our wedding garments look like?  What do they look like?  The Church (you and I) must prepare for this great and wonderful event.  The Lord will not accept a bride who is not purified and fit.

Back in Matthew 22 the Great King invited all peoples to come to His wedding feast for His Son.  The king, walking among His guests, found a man who was not wearing a wedding garment.  It was custom for the host to present his guests with robes of honor.  The fact that this man did not have a wedding garment was proof that he had no right to be there (verse 11).  The man was speechless, no excuses, he knew he was supposed to have a wedding garment.  Praise God, the Great King, who has graciously offered us a wedding garment of righteousness through the blood of Christ, so that we can take part in the wedding of the lamb (Isaiah 61:10).  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Have you submitted to the will of God and put on Christ, by faith, in baptism?  May we be found like the five faithful virgins, who kept their lights burning bright while they waited for the bridegroom to come; be ready, that we may enter in with Him to that great wedding!

What was the Sin of Moses?

In Numbers 20, we read about the story of Moses bringing water from the rock and committing a sin that was so egregious that it kept him from entering the promised land. There seems to be a different explanation of this sin for every commentary ever written, so perhaps we can’t all agree on the specificity of the sin, but surely we can learn some valuable lessons from the discussion.

There were actually two events that occurred where God commanded Moses to take water out of the rock. The event in Numbers 20 happens near the end of the 40 year wandering whereas the first event happens near the beginning in Exodus 17.  It appears that Moses did not sin during the first event, so let’s analyze his actions here before we go on to the matter at hand.

In Exodus 17:5-6 we read that it seems this particular event was more of a private ceremony between Moses, God and the elders of Israel. God said that He would stand on the rock and Moses was to take the rod that he used to turn the Nile into blood and strike the rock and the water would spring forth. Verse 6 says only, “And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” This simple statement speaks volumes about the character of Moses. Time and time again in the face of trials, adversity and constant complaining from the people he was leading, Moses suppressed any selfish feelings and simply followed the commands of God. In Numbers 12:3 we read, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

In spite of his humility, we find out that Moses is a human being in Numbers 20. Up until verse 8, the story is very similar to the Exodus account. Moses was still supposed to take the rod, but God asks Moses to do everything else differently. This time the entire assembly (not just the elders) would be brought before the rock to witness God’s greatness. “And before their eyes,” you are to SPEAK unto the rock so that it will give up its water.

Verse 9 says, “And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing he did correctly here. What was the sin of Moses? Here are your choices. First of all, without any command to do so, in his anger, he presumed to speak on God’s behalf to rebuke the people. Next he says, must “we” bring water from this rock. I believe by “we” Moses is referring to himself and Aaron; but even if it is assumed that Moses is referring to himself and God, he is still missing the opportunity “in the eyes of the people” to show that all glory belongs to God. Instead of speaking to the rock as clearly commanded by God this time, he smites the rock as he no doubt remembers he was commanded last time. But even then, he takes it upon himself to beat the rock one more time for good measure. So what was the sin of Moses? It appears that it is a culmination of all of these things as God makes it clear in several passages. In the 12th verse we have, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Deuteronomy 32:51 says, “because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.” Psalm 106:32-33 says, “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.”

From these passages we see that Moses “believed not” or had a moment of weakness in his faith and failed to sanctify God. Sanctify means to “set apart.”  God required the whole assembly to be present to demonstrate to them that He should be sanctified as their powerful and gracious God. Notice that despite Moses, He accomplished this goal as we read in the 13th verse, “This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.” This is why the water still sprang forth even though Moses did not heed the Lord’s command. Although Moses failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the people, God was still sanctified. As we read in Romans 8, nothing, not even flawed leadership can separate us from the love of God.

As a side note, the question might be asked, “Why did God tell Moses to bring the rod if he wasn’t supposed to use it to smite the rock?” I believe the answer to this is found three chapters earlier in Numbers 17 and also gives us some insight into the words Moses used in rebuking the people. The 17th chapter tells the story about God selecting Aaron’s rod by having it blossom. It was to be kept by the ark of the covenant as a sign to remind the people of their rebelliousness. Compare what Moses presumes to say on God’s behalf in 20:10 with what the Lord says here in 17:10. “And the LORD said unto Moses, bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.”

Sun Tzu, in his book the Art of War, wrote to always attack where they least suspect it. Sometimes that could mean where the enemy thinks they have strength so they are not as vigilant. Satan caused Job to sin through his impatience, Peter to sin through his failed courage, and unfortunately Moses to sin on his least humble day. How much easier would it be for Satan to attack us in this same way? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  It’s easy for us to focus on the sin of Moses. Stains look so much worse the whiter the robe of righteousness. We shouldn’t forget that Hebrews 11:38 says the world was not worthy of men like Moses. Although this one sin didn’t block his entry into the spiritual Promised Land, it did stop him from entering the physical one.

~ Marc Hermon

Two Sons and a Loving Father

Finding fault in others, while missing or overlooking our own faults, is a characteristic that humans have perfected.  Jesus observed this human failure and addressed it though his wise teaching many times.  In the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), Christ provides an example that is easy to miss, but one Christians should take quite seriously.  The message of the older son in this story is often overlooked because the focus seems to be on the wayward son, the rebel.  But Jesus told this story to share two types of error into which children of God can fall.

The younger son had little respect for the father and the stable life that he had provided.  He selfishly asked for his inheritance so that he could go off and focus on himself.  He leaves, wastes everything, hits bottom and then humbly returns to ask forgiveness. Just being accepted back by his father would be good enough.  But before this son can say anything, the father sees him in the distance and runs to hug him as an expression of his love.  The father then throws a big party to rejoice because of the return of his lost son.  Sometimes we think that this is where the story ends, but in reality, the story is just beginning.

The older brother had been out working in the field, and when he returns, he is surprised that there is a party.  When he finds out the reason for the party, he does not react well.  This older son shows just as much disrespect for the father as the younger son had shown, by selfishly questioning why his brother deserved the attention.  It wasn’t an innocent question asked in love because the story goes on to explain that he was so angry that he didn’t even go inside the house.

It may have seemed that the older brother did everything right because he didn’t appear to be rebellious. The reality is that he was tempted to believe that his obedience trumped the mercy of the father.  He showed no more respect for the father than his younger brother did.  Too often we can be tempted in this same way.  We attend church every Sunday.  We let people around us know that we are Christians.  We take pride in our obedience.  Each of these are good things to do but not things that by themselves provide salvation.

In the end, the father tells the older son that “all I have is yours.”  One might think that this statement was about the money and land the father had and that the younger brother would get nothing.  The story doesn’t work that way though.  The father had much more to give than money and land, as the younger brother has already learned.

The story Jesus told addresses our need for the Father and his loving care for us.  The Father desires our service, but he desires service that is grounded in our humble devotion.  He wants all to be saved:  2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” We become like the older brother when we think that we can, through works and obedience, earn salvation by ourselves; when we act like the Father loves us more because we do good things.  We must recognize the depth of the Father’s love, the value of being His servant and the inheritance that awaits and live in faithful obedience as a result.

Jesus told the story of the loving Father to teach that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that we are all loved like children by a Father that loved us so much that he gave His only son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Whether we rebel outwardly or inwardly, he still rejoices when we repent.

~ Craig Hensley

The Coming of the Canon

Since the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, a great deal of misinformation has been circulating concerning the New Testament’s origins, namely, how its books were collected, when, and by whom.  Despite the book’s opening disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, its fabricated history has come to be believed by many as true, and is now frequently cited as grounds for distrusting the New Testament’s witness concerning Christ and the early church.  It is not within the scope of this article to expose all the errors—many, egregious, and obvious—that undergird the The Da Vinci Code’s storyline, but rather to answer with facts the very important question the novel has raised: “How did the New Testament come to be?”

Before getting into the meat of the answer, it may do us well to take a moment to familiarize ourselves with a frequently used term related to this subject — “canon.”  This word comes to us from Hebrew (qaneh) via Greek (kanon), and originally had the basic meaning of “reed” (our word “cane” is derived from it).  Since a reed was sometimes used as a measuring rod, kanon came to refer to a “standard” or a “rule.”  And since a measuring rod might be marked in units of length (like a modern ruler), kanon came to mean a series of such marks, and hence, finally acquired the general sense of a “series” or “list.”  And so, when we speak of the “canon” of Scripture (as many do), we are speaking of the “list” of writings that is regarded as inspired, and therefore, the “rule” or “standard” for our lives.

Contrary to the thinking of some, authority precedes canonicity.  That is to say, the writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets did not come to possess authority because they were included in the canon, but were included in the canon because they possessed authority.  Simple, but very important.  And the recognition of their inspired authority did not take hundreds of years to develop.  Rather, the writings of the apostles and prophets were both presented and received as authoritative at the time of their composition.  Consider the following:

    Paul claimed that his writings contained “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthains 14:37), and said that Christ spoke through him (2 Corinthians 13:13).  Peter acknowledged these claims, referring to “all [Paul’s] epistles” (his accumulated body of work) as part of “the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15, 16).

    Peter wrote that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).  Jude acknowledged Peter’s inspiration, citing this very prophecy, exhorting his readers to remember it (Jude 17, 18).

    Luke recorded Jesus saying, “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7).  Paul quoted this statement, introducing it with the phrase, “For the Scripture says” (1 Timothy 5:18), leaving no question where he stood concerning Luke’s gospel.

Paul acknowledged Luke.  Peter acknowledged Paul.  Jude acknowledged Peter.  And other similar examples could be cited.  It was known very early on that a new covenant canon was in the making and whose writings God was using to make it.

And uninspired history offers further testimony to this.  The earliest Christian document we have outside of the New Testament is 1 Clement, a letter sent from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth around A.D. 95 while the apostle John was still walking the earth.  Its antiquity is evidenced by its reference to Corinth’s plurality of elders and its interchangeable use of the terms bishop and presbyter.  The second century false doctrine of distinguishing between the two had not yet taken hold.  In the letter, the Romans exhort the Corinthians to turn from their divisive behavior, and refer—either through citation or allusion—to 12 different books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter.  Clearly, it was known among these churches that these books were inspired (i.e. “canonical”).  Why else would they have been appealed to?  And, furthermore, the letter would not be expected to contain quotations from every book they knew to be inspired, just as lessons and articles, today, do not contain quotations from every book we trust.  These 12 were only a portion of their recognized canon.

All this is telling testimony.  Brethren in the first century didn’t need an “official” “Church council” to tell them which books were from God.  They knew by other and better means.  They could “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  They could test those who claimed to be apostles (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 12:12) and those who claimed to be prophets (Deuteronomy18:21-22; 13:1-3).  They could “test the spirits, whether they [were] from God” (1 John 4:2).  Like the Bereans, they could weigh the unproven against the proven “to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  They could even inquire of an actual apostle if needed.  And who knows what role spiritual gifts may have played in this work? (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:8, 10)

Still, did it take time for all churches in all places to be certain about all the books?  Yes.  In a world where geographic isolation was a profound reality, where no message could travel faster than a horse, where a man like Apollos could still have not heard about baptism into Christ even though it had been taught 20+ years before, where the limitations of scrolls and codices may not have allowed all the books to be gathered into one volume…where a government would seize and burn your Scriptures…yes, in a world like that, it took time for knowledge of the complete New Testament canon to become universal.

But it did happen.  By A.D. 170, every book of the New Testament had been acknowledged as inspired by multiple voices.  And two centuries years from that time, every book would be acknowledged by all.  Later Catholic councils did not determine the parameters of the canon, but only acknowledged the canon that was already in existence, the same canon of 27 books we trust today.

~ John Morris

Building Up the Temple

The temple built by Solomon lasted about three hundred and fifty years and then was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, in divine judgment. Seventy years later, the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon dedicated a second temple, much smaller than the one Solomon built, and the sacrificial system was restored, as predicted by Jeremiah. The second temple was eventually renovated and expanded in the latter part of King Herod’s reign, about five hundred years after it was built, with work continuing for several decades, throughout the lifetime of Jesus on earth. Construction finally terminated in the early 60s A.D., about the time Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Then the second Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., by the Romans, as predicted by Jesus. From that time, the Jewish sacrificial system initiated at Mt. Sinai through Moses ended, and several generations later in Rabbinic Judaism a symbolic system of prayers and rituals centered in the synagogues and homes of the Jews among the nations became the traditional substitute. Almost two millennia have passed with no Jerusalem temple, although since the late nineteenth century, interest in building a third Jerusalem temple has been stirred again, an interest further inflamed by the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel in 1947. Zionists and evangelical premillennialists have great interest in a revived Jewish temple system.

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D., stamping out a Jewish revolt against the Romans, there was  a second Jewish revolt in 132 A.D., led by a man known as Bar Kokhba (Son of The Star), who presented himself as the Christ, during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Bar Kokhba intended to restore Jewish dominion over Jerusalem, rebuild the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. The rebellion was put down by Hadrian’s forces, brutally and at great cost in lives, and Bar Kokhba died in 135, with one result being that Jews were banned from Jerusalem, the province of Judea was dissolved into Syria Palestine, and the city renamed Aelia Capitolina. A little more than two centuries later in 363 A.D. a Roman emperor remembered as Julian the Apostate wanted to destroy Christian influence in the empire and reaffirm paganism. Part of his program included restoring the Jews to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple there. Christians of the era believed that Julian’s motive was to undermine the prophecies of Jesus in the New Testament about the destruction of the temple (see Matthew 24-25). The emperor authorized funds and resources to build a third temple, but several historians, both Christian and pagan, reported that the work was thwarted first by disaster, fireballs bursting forth from the foundation stones of the temple, and an earthquake, and then by the abrupt death of Julian (see Ammianus Marcellinus, “Res Gestae,” Book 23, for example). After almost 3 more centuries passed, in 610 A.D., the Persian Sassanid Empire gained control of Jerusalem and again proposed rebuilding the Jewish temple, but that effort too fizzled and died.

Meanwhile, what did Jesus say about building a third temple in Jerusalem? He clearly and accurately prophesied the destruction of the second temple in all its grandeur, “not one stone left upon another,” (Matthew 24:1-2), but what did he say about building another temple? Early in his ministry when he visited Jerusalem’s temple and denounced turning his “Father’s house into a market” the Jews demanded a sign proving his authority (John 2:16-18).  Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days” (verse 19). This answer seemingly confused the Jews who cited the ongoing building project that was then forty-six years in progress, but John tells us that “the temple he had spoken of was his body” which his disciples later understood when he was raised from the dead (John 2:21-22), and they “believed the scripture and the words Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus proposed to raise up a temple, and that temple was his body. When Jesus later spoke to the Samaritan woman at Sychar (Shechem), he told her:

“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:21-24).

Subsequent New Testament references speak of the fading glory of the Mosaic mode of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and the increasing glory of heartfelt worship of those who come to God by the Spirit.

“If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:7-11, and see Hebrews 8:13).

When the New Testament speaks of a temple being built, it is as Jesus said, the temple of His body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), made up of living stones being built together. Peter had confessed faith in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God, and Jesus promised that “on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-19). Peter later wrote that Jesus is “the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him. You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).  The church, the body of Christ, is God’s house,

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple to the Lord… built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22).

This is the temple Jesus proposed to raise up, and he is the builder of the house of God in which Moses was a servant, as described in Hebrews 3:1-6, which concludes that “Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” Jesus built the temple God wanted. He spoke of no other. Despite every effort to destroy or distract true worship, his temple stands firm as the “place” for worship in spirit and truth.

~ Charles Fry

What’s in a Name?

Ecclesiastes 7:1 begins, “A good name is better than precious ointment…” The wise Preacher states that a good name is better than costly cleansers or perfumes for the body. What, though, does he mean by a good name? While I would like to think we gave our children good names — names that just roll off the tongue — is that really what the Preacher means?  Was he warning us to get out the name book one more time before appellation?

Since I can remember, it has been my desire to have a son named Caleb. Now that God has granted me that son I pray that we will have the blessing of entering the Promised Land together. However, it isn’t what we call him that reveals his godliness. So it must be more than just the way the name roles off the tongue.

From Genesis 3:20 onward, we see names assigned to identify unique traits, conduct, or purposes. Eve is the mother of all living, and the name well-described her uniqueness and core purpose. This hits the heart of Ecclesiastes 7:1. What makes you you is not your name, but rather the identity you’ve developed through your actions and words. It’s your uniqueness and core purpose. Perhaps you’ve known a mother or two who refused to name their children specific names because of the character of others bearing those names. The name didn’t give the person soiled character, but the soiled character certainly soiled the name. When we think of the names of people we hold dear, it isn’t the beauty of their literal name that endears us to them. It’s their character. It’s love. It’s patience. It’s generosity. These, and many others, are the traits that make up a good name.

It is likely that most of you reading this article bathed recently using various products, and a few of you used additional fragrant sprays or oils to add sweetness to your natural scent. Realize, says the Preacher, that all our preparation for proper presentation in public matters very little if our reputation is unclean. If our reputation hasn’t cleaned itself in weeks, its stench of ruin will overpower any fragrance we might try to apply to our bodies.

A woman is presented to us in Luke 7:36-50 who seems to have understood this concept. Jesus was invited by Simon the Pharisee to eat a meal. As they ate a woman came to Jesus. Her name in verse 37 is “sinner.” This woman began to wash and kiss Jesus’ feet using her own hair and tears. Consider, the next time you’re dusting, using your hand instead of a rag or glove. This woman humiliated herself at the feet of Jesus. Weeping she cleansed his dusty, road-worn feet. Then, she took an alabaster flask of fragrant oil and anointed his feet. She proved her adoration for him and submitted to him in humility. In this moment, her name transformed into Humility and Submission.

The Pharisee on the other hand was incensed that Jesus would allow this to happen. In verse 39 he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” The Pharisee saw himself in comparison to this woman. Yes, it is right for Jesus to join me for a meal, but how dare this “sinner” approach. And further, how can he allow such to continue. In this monologue, the Pharisee’s name changed to Pride.

This is an easy trap for us to ensnare ourselves into. We begin to think that the good name we’re supposed to have is with the world. We mistakenly think if our reputation is solid in our communities that this is that good thing the Preacher so encouraged us to have. Not so. For the Preacher concludes Ecclesiastes 7:1, “…and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” For it is in death that the truth of a man is revealed. All the potential from birth is brought to judgment in death. Peter remarks in 2 Peter 3:11, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” It is our good name before God that is most valuable. Jesus could see that Simon had made a name for himself on this earth, but it was of no value in the kingdom of heaven. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much…” (Luke 7:44-47).

This woman left the Lord with the most beautiful name: forgiven. Truly, she could go in peace (Luke 7:50).  Hers was a name so much more valuable than anything she had ever possessed. What was the value of her hair compared to the beautiful feet of the one bringing peace (Isaiah 52:7)?  What was the value of the oil compared to the sweet-smelling aroma sitting before her (Ephesians 5:2)?

So what if our bodies are clean and our name is well thought of in the world. If we haven’t made the answer of a good conscience, then the stench of death surrounds us. So what if we’ve hit the fast track at work and everyone seems to like us. If we remain in sin, the Judge of all will condemn saying, “I never knew you.” Make sure you’ve submitted yourself to him so that in the end you may hear him say, “well done, good and faithful servant.” May the Lord always know us by that good name!

~ Joshua Riggins

Worldly Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address to a nation in the throes of economic depression.  In this first speech FDR proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  From a spiritual perspective, his words are not entirely accurate.  There are some fears that are legitimate and necessary.  However, FDR did identify one of the greatest impediments to improving the human condition.  God commands His people over three hundred times to “fear not.”  The frequency of the command indicates the far-reaching consequences of a life led by improper fear, what one might call “worldly fear.”

The list of worldly fears is long.  We fear for our safety or the safety of those we love. Many of us fear how we will die and some fear what will happen after death.  The fear of a meaningless life drives some to overwork, destructive sacrifices and selfish ambition.  Some of us fear that we will be alone or unloved while others are afraid that they will fall in love and thereby increase the probability of pain.  Fear crops up when we want something, but we know we may not receive it.   When we realize that we cannot control an outcome for those that we love, our fear of losing them overwhelms good judgment.  Our politicians – both from the left and right – capitalize on fear to motivate their constituents.   In some families, fear is passed from generation to generation like blue eyes or curly hair.  Far too often, far too many of us are controlled by worldly fears.

No one wants to admit that they are afraid.   We prefer to think of ourselves as courageous, calm, and in control.  In what we would count as honest moments, we acknowledge our “insecurities.”   But is not “insecurity” simply a euphemism for fear?  Sometimes we say precisely what we mean in spite of ourselves.

A common thread connects worldly fears:  they reside in the unknown, nourished by an overactive imagination.  To put it another way, worldly fears fixate on what might happen.  Consider, for example, the children of Israel.  As the children of Israel were poised to invade the land of Canaan one year after their exodus from Egypt, they received an unfavorable report from ten of their twelve spies.  Formidable armies protected this abundant and rich land.  The inhabitants fortified their major cities.  The prospect of victory seemed slim; total annihilation seemed much more likely.  It was this story filled with worldly appraisals lacking faith that Israel chose to believe.  Israel forgot the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, and the terrifying glory of God on Mount Sinai.  Facts, you see, are the natural enemies of worldly fear.  Israel chose instead to accept the narrative of the ten spies and their resolve withered in the face of worldly fear.  If we allow it, worldly fear tells us wild stories about what might be happening now or what might happen in the future.

The first example of worldly fear in Scripture appears after Adam’s sin.  The father and mother of the human race hid themselves from God because they were afraid.  Their sin awakened fear which, in turn, compelled Adam and Eve to conceal themselves.  Worldly fear, you see, cowers behind secrecy.  We conceal because we fear what God, or others, might think about our transgressions or our faults or our flaws.  We also hide our sins because we fear the sacrifices that may be required to right our wrongs.  It hurts to change, so we bury the sin and practice it in secret.

Not only is worldly fear inclined to conceal, but it is also inclined to delay.  Adam and Eve did not seek out God to throw themselves on His mercy.  They attempted to avoid Him.  Like Felix’s reaction to Paul, worldly fear urges us to wait for a more convenient day: “I will do this one more time and then tomorrow I will fix it.”  Since it dwells in the realm of imagination, worldly fear always believes there is more time.  A delay might briefly release the grip of fear, but the relief is temporary.  With the next sin, fear awakens like a hibernating beast, waiting to be fed.

Worldly fear is an effective deceiver:  it cannot abide either the pain of public knowledge or the pain of personal sacrifice, yet our sin accumulates the pain of guilt and shame. In Psalm 38:1-11, David describes in poetic language the burden and consequences of hidden sin.  Harboring our sin out of worldly fear does not avoid pain, it increases our guilt and shame and thereby increases our suffering.

As we suffocate under the weight of unforgiven sin, a sense of hopelessness settles in.  Worldly fear tells us that we have wandered beyond hope.  The possibility for change seems unattainable.  Death looms like a specter and our fear of it ensnares, imprisons and enslaves.  Convinced there is no escape, we become spiritually incapacitated, overwhelmed by a sense of apathy and isolation.  Oh, wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Truth is our greatest weapon against the enemy of worldly fear: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  Godly fear moved Noah to build an ark because he was persuaded that the consequences for disobedience were very real (Hebrews 11:7).  Even though he had never seen a drop of rain, Noah saw the rampant wickedness of his generation and trusted that the Creator was capable of the cataclysms He forecasted.  Unlike worldly fear, godly fear is grounded in truth.

Fear tells us stories and stories lead us to feel.  In moments when fear either begins to creep in or seizes control, analyze what those fears tell you.  Do they talk of what might happen or what might be happening?  How do your fears look in the light of cold, hard facts?  Do they stand up to the scrutiny of God’s word?

Godly fear, like godly sorrow, leads to action. Like Noah, we work out our salvation by godly fear, knowing that our God is both a consuming fire and an impartial judge (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:25-29, 1 Peter 1:17).  To conquer worldly fear, we must consider what we will gain with repentance.  Godly fear frees us from guilt and shame.  While temporary consequences for sin may remain, God’s mercy and grace empowers us to face them by faith.  Growing in our love for God and our brethren overwhelms and expels worldly fear, instilling confidence as we approach the day of judgment (see 1 John 4:7-21, especially verses 17-18).  As the biblical poets say, godly fear is clean, and it is the beginning of wisdom.

~ Wade Stanley

Laying Down Our Lives

From the moment God breathed into man’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7), it has been readily apparent that there is something sacred and precious about life.  This fact has been consistently reflected and protected in the laws, institutions and instructions that God has given His people.  Well before the Law of Moses, we find examples and commands highlighting this truth.  When God confronts Cain for murdering his brother, in Genesis 4, Cain seems to immediately grasp the implications of God telling him, “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”  Upon receiving his sentence, Cain states the following, in verses 13 and 14: “My punishment is greater than I can bear! … I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”  While capital punishment is never mentioned anywhere in God’s judgment, I find it interesting that Cain considers himself as good as dead.  Despite being the first recorded instance of a man taking the life of another; the inherent value of life, and the consequences for abusing it, seem to already be firmly understood and established.

A few chapters later, in Genesis 9, Noah and his family emerge from the ark after the flood to receive a blessing and enter into a covenant with God.  Included in this blessing is God giving mankind all things — every animal and every green herb, alike — for sustenance.  Then, in verse 4, God makes what seems to be a rather strange prohibition when He says, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  God goes on to say in subsequent verses: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning…Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”  Here is another clear indication of the value God has placed on man’s life and how seriously He views what’s done with it.

God included similar statutes in the law He delivered to Israel several hundred years later.  Leviticus 17 is largely focused on instilling in Israel an understanding of the sanctity of blood and, in turn, the sanctity of life.  God cared how Israel esteemed, valued, respected life.  It mattered to Him what they did with the life He gave them — to whom and what they devoted it.  Failure to bring a sacrifice and its blood to the proper place, to be presented by the proper person, for the proper purpose resulted in that person being cut off from the people.  To misuse or misappropriate the blood was serious business to God.  Verse 11 of Leviticus 17 seems to provide insight on why that was: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”  Not only does this passage foreshadow the atonement and propitiation provided by the blood of Christ, but it also seems to provide instruction as to what life is really all about.  God gives life for the good and benefit of the soul.  Based on what I can gather from God’s word, any other use is a misuse — and something God will demand a reckoning for.

Sadly, man’s inclination is often to expend and exhaust precious, God-given life pursuing our own pleasure and the gratification of our flesh.  Countless lives are absolutely wasted and consumed by selfish ambition.  Millions of others, each year, are simply snuffed out because they are deemed inconvenient or unwanted.  When God is not recognized and honored in His rightful place, life becomes just another commodity, something to consume at our own discretion and for our own pleasure.  This is a fact clearly demonstrated by Israel in the time of Ezekiel, where in chapter 34 we see just how far their idolatry had taken them from God by their corrupt and distorted view of life.  Their departure from the Lord wasn’t just evident in their participation in forbidden pagan rituals (drinking blood), but in how they treated one another.  It had made them blood-thirsty and brutal.  Even their shepherds — those who were supposed to be leaders, nurturers, and protectors — were exploiting the flock for their own profit: eating their fat, clothing themselves with their wool, ruling with force and cruelty.  All the while they neglected their responsibilities to feed the flock, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring back those driven away, and seek the lost.  As a result, precious lives were lost.  The sheep were scattered.  They became prey for the wild beasts.

That would be an extremely sad and depressing end to Israel/mankind’s story if God didn’t go on in that same chapter and promise the coming of the good shepherd who would seek out the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and heal the sick, who would lay down His life for the sheep.  How wonderful to know that God loves us and values our souls to the point of redeeming them with the precious blood of Christ!  And how sobering to know that we are called to love one another as He loved us, to follow His example in laying down our lives for one another.

Like Peter, our first impression of this concept may be jumping on the grenade or going down in a blaze of glory — some dramatic and heroic feat.  After Jesus commands his disciples, in John 13:34, to love one another as He had loved them, Peter is convinced he is ready to lay down his life for the sake of Christ and to die with him.  Not only does Peter soon learn he was not ready to follow through on that commitment, but that was not what Christ was asking him to do at all.  When Christ later appears to His disciples by the sea for breakfast in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times (the same number of times he betrayed Him) “do you love me?”  When Peter answers in the affirmative each time, Jesus tells Him: “feed My sheep … tend My lambs.”  While Jesus later reveals that Peter would, indeed, glorify God by dying for Him when he is old, he was to prepare in the meantime by loving and laying down his life by caring for the flock.

This seems to be at the heart of what laying down our life is all about.  Laying down our lives is not merely a theoretical or theological concept with little room for application.  It’s as practical and important as it gets.  It’s sharing our worldly goods to meet brethren’s needs (1 John 3:16-18).  It’s a husband’s loving and caring for their wives as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:25).  It’s mothers devoting enormous amounts of time, energy, and affection toward training and nurturing children to know and love the Lord.  It’s seeking to be a benefit and blessing to souls.  While the world may view such lives as wasted potential, unambitious, unfulfilling, and unsuccessful, a life laid down for the brethren and the wellbeing of souls is a life well spent.

~ Zach Crane

God’s Grace and Our Works

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  I fully believe in the truth of this verse, but to my shame I have not talked about this verse as much as I should.  I am saved solely by the grace of God.  My sins have severed my connection with God and corrupted my soul.  By itself, confession in God will not save me.  By itself, faith in God will not save me.  By itself, baptism will not save me.  None of these things on their own will ever be sufficient for me to obtain salvation.  Those acts alone, and even collectively, are not a sufficient price to cover the cost of my sins.  The forgiveness of sins is only possible because God chooses, for his own name’s sake, to extend grace to men and women.

But, God’s grace and therefore God’s salvation, is not unconditional.  If it were, then all people would be saved.  We know that’s not true.  There are conditions which we must meet before we can hope to experience God’s grace.  Faith, as described in Ephesians 2:8, is one of those conditions.  If we lack faith, we cannot expect to experience God’s grace.  This has always been the case, regardless of the law men and women served under.  Romans 9:30-32 says the Jews failed to attain righteousness because they lacked faith.

I also believe the following statement is true – We are not saved by works.  That phrase is completely supported by scriptures, Ephesians 2:9 being one of them (“not of works”).  Does that mean we access God’s grace by faith only?  No.  The phrase “faith only” is found just one time in the scriptures and it is in the negative.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).  When reading the context of these verses we see the faith which justifies, the faith which saves, is an active faith.  It is a faith which is expressed in actions – works.  But those works, by themselves, do not save.

So what is a “work?”  Without getting into the Greek, the word “work” means exactly what we assume it would mean – something a person does.  Giving money is a work.  Helping someone whose car has broken down is a work.  Providing medical help to an injured person is a work.  And yes, baptism, because it is “something a person does,” is technically a work.

“So that settles it, right?  If baptism is a work and works don’t save then baptism can’t be essential for salvation.”  This line of reasoning is wrong because it has unexpected consequences.  Confession is also technically a work because it is something a person does; however, confession is specifically mentioned by God as something which is part of the salvation process.  Romans 10:10, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  To continue, consider John 6:28 and 29“Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.’”  In this passage, belief in Jesus – faith – is specifically called a work.  If we apply the reasoning that anything which is a work cannot be considered essential for salvation because “works don’t’ save,” then we are forced to conclude faith is not essential.  The point being made is a blanket statement like “anything called a work can’t be essential for salvation” has serious scriptural flaws.

What is often lost in the discussion about works and salvation is the specific reason why works don’t save.  Too often the “why” is glossed over or completely ignored in the discussion.  One side quotes Ephesians 2:9, the other side quotes James 2:24, and a stalemate results.  As often is the case, figuring out the “why” leads to greater clarity in the matter.  God gives us two reasons why works don’t save.

One of the reasons is found in the back half of Ephesians 2:9: “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  If works saved, then a person would have a reason to boast about what they had accomplished.  This same theme is echoed in Romans.  Romans 3:28 is often quoted about works and salvation.  “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  The “therefore” should turn our eyes to the previous verse which says, “Where is boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  Of works?  No, but by the law of faith.”  This theme is continued in Romans 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

This makes sense.  If my works brought salvation, I could brag, and in doing so, I would take glory away from God.  Consider words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  This man was bragging to God about all he had done and how this made him a better man compared to the tax collector next to him.  I could fall into the trap of comparing my works to those of others.  “Well, what you did for the Lord was good, but I’ve done a whole lot more.  I give twenty percent in my tithes rather than ten percent.”

We are tempted to boast about many things.  Boasting about works leads to a sense of having earned out salvation.  This is the second reason why works don’t save.  We cannot say we have earned our salvation or we deserve salvation because of what we’ve done.  Look at Romans 4:4, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”  If works saved, then we could get to the point where we could say we have paid off the debt of sin.  We have earned our salvation and God must grant it to us.

This may have been the mindset of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  Look at this part of the conversation:

“’Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good but one, that is God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother.  And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  The young man said to him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?’” 

This man was trying to earn his salvation.  It’s not specifically stated, but there’s a good chance he was hoping Jesus would say, “Sounds like you’ve done everything.  You have eternal life.”

Once we understand the reasons why works don’t save, we can then properly evaluate the role, if there even is one, of things we do when it comes to our salvation.  Look at the wording in Ephesians 2:9 again.  “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  We are not saved by our works, but this doesn’t exclude works from being part of the process.  This is an extremely important distinction and makes sense with what we previously read in James 2.  We are not saved by our works; however, works are still part of the salvation process.

In fact, works have always been part of the process.  We have always had to do something to access God’s grace through our faith.  Abraham’s faith, which was “accounted to him as righteousness” had to be shown.  How?  By offering up the son of promise as a sacrifice.  If the Israelites wanted atonement for their sins, they had to do something.  They had to bring the appropriate gift to God as a sacrifice.  Yes, the atonement from God was ultimately from his grace; however, without the Israelite doing something, there was no opportunity for God’s grace.  Look at the story of Naaman in II Kings 5.  Was it actually the waters of the Jordan river which cleansed his leprosy?  No.  It was the power of God; yet, Naaman had to do something to access that gracious healing power of God.  If he did not go to the river and dip seven times there would not have been any healing.  The work didn’t heal him, but a work was still an essential part of the process.

It therefore stands to reason the same principle holds true today.  While we are saved by God’s grace, it is up to us to find the means to access this grace – “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  We believe in God, we accept responsibility for our actions and resolve to changes our ways, we confess our convictions, and we follow our Lord into the grave through baptism.

Much more could be said about grace and works and much more needs to be said regarding the power of God’s grace in our lives.  Our works, including the moment we obeyed the gospel and submitted to baptism, have no power at all were it not for God’s grace.  May the Lord God be magnified in our lives and in all the earth.

~ Jeremy Morris

iCare

We at the Old Lamine church of Christ have subjects assigned for each month.  Each speaker then takes the subject assigned and gives a lesson on that subject.  A couple of months ago, one of our members set up the subject for the month and it was titled iTruths for an iGeneration.  The subject that was assigned to me was iGive.  Being the old computer person that I am, I picked up on the “i” implications being related to iPhone, iPod, iPad etc.  We had quite a discussion about the differences between the Apple products and, my favorite, the Android products.   When it came my turn to speak of course I had to make some comments about the “i” series.

As I prepared for my lesson, iGive, I got to thinking about a part of iGive being iCareiCare is an important part of our lives.  We can look at the “i” part in two different ways.  As we know we have become an ‘I’ generation.  It is all about me.  We see so much of that in the world today, and I am afraid that we as Christians are somewhat guilty of thinking only of ourselves too.

As most of you already know, I am having a battle with Cancer.  After the initial shock, I have come to accept the fact that first of all God is helping me through this.  I also feel blessed that I have learned much from all of the treatments.  It has helped me to understand what others have to go through when they acquire this disease.   Hopefully I can give others encouragement and assistance in their bout with Cancer.  I think the greatest lesson I have learned is the iCare of others.

 I want to say a big “Thank You” to all of those when have sent cards, texts, given words of encouragement, and above all have told me they are keeping me in their prayers.  This has meant so much to me because it has opened my eyes to the fact that I have so many brothers and sisters who do care for me and I am sure they pass this same level of iCare along to others as well.

We tend to be discouraged when we look around us and see so many falling away from the grace of Jesus, and sometimes we almost feel we are in a very small group of believers.  This reminds me of what God said to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18 and mentioned again in Romans 11:4 of how there were still seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  It has also given me an opportunity to talk to others about Christ, telling them that whatever happens to me is in God’s hand.  This has inspired many of my friends, not all members of the church of Christ, to tell me that they are keeping me in their prayers.  I am also reminded of Paul in Philippians 1:21 where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  These are wonderful words of encouragement to all of us as we look forward to being with Christ in eternity.

~ Doug Weekley