This Knowledge Will Save Your Life!

As a programmer for many years, I might have been less impressed about what a computer could do than most who find it a marvel of modern science. In fact, some might think: who needs a belief in God when man is so capable! Scientific materialism as a modern ideology believes (and that’s the word) that eventually man will build a utopian way of life free from poverty, sickness, and war. And, for starters, our unity would have to be based on one world—a one world government—with no religious affiliation. (Man tends to use religion as a patriotic call to arms.)

But I have been reading up on some of the current mysteries in science that are so perplexing that an entire academic discipline has been created (Theoretical Physics) to deal with them (as “String theory”). And what is understated (in my opinion) is the times physicists and astronomers know their theory is unworkable or highly improbable (The universe is shown to be “fine-tuned” suggesting a “design”). But because the alternative is “a belief in God,” they either hide their findings (like the Cambrian Explosion) or they simply lie (like the cosmological constant). So the atheist would rather believe that the universe, rather than the God who made it, is eternal. If science is openminded about correcting their theories or their understanding of nature and its “rules,” why should that openness not leave room for a Designer/Creator? A belief in God can be—and I think should be—a belief in the God who designed our world! Such an idea should be supportive of, not contradictory to, scientific discovery.

We tend to take mysteries for granted when they are part of life (as birth and death). This fact hides the real issue from us that all around us are the proofs of the God we cannot always sense is there. For anyone interested, this was Paul’s opening argument in Romans 1:18 that academic scholarship tends to “hold the truth” from their own and our perception. In verse 20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” Verse 22 is a slap in the face, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

The foolishness is not scientific research. The foolishness is trading a belief in the God who made the universe for a belief in ourselves to discover things without recognizing His genius and involvement. What atheism doesn’t tell you is that they have traded one belief for another. They have discarded a reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe for one that is filled with contradiction, cognitive dissonance, close-mindedness, and falsehoods.

That science can make a TV for your watch doesn’t mean, ipso facto, man will live on Mars or someday create life. The final frontier is not outer space, it is getting to know Him, Whom to know is life eternal [John 17:3].

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Evolution?

I am soliciting honest feedback—not controversy, but ideas based on scholarly research—to explain the underlining evolutionary process or how “natural selection” works to seed new forms in the taxonomical classification of animal life. So, I evolved from the monkey? How does this work? Or must I just take someone’s word for it? If the latter, you are asking me to put my faith in someone other than the Author of the Bible! (I think not.) The following facts are irrefutable:

  1. No new phyla have been found by archeologists that were not represented in the Cambrian Explosion of life [541 to 485.4 million years ago]. Evolution requires intermediary changes to occur over millions of years [The Cambrian represents a mere 70 million years—not enough time]. Every phylum, including Chordata, in which man is identified, was found in this period.
  2. Missing links are—well—still missing, even though archeology has combed the surface of the globe multiple times. They are still looking and still not finding those life forms in the fossil or bone records. This suggests—if evolved—a leap. (as if nature in frustration yelled out, “Oh, skip it! I don”t have the time!!)
  3. If life up to the phylum classification came only through “leaping” (they just “show up”), then, natural or random selection which is “by chance” cannot out-argue a reasonable belief in a designer—Creator.

My honest question for you is: How would or does a mutation occurring in one life form (one animal) propagate through all members or a significant number of “like” forms to represent an entire group or “kind” on that level? [I think at least one son of mine thinks the question ridiculous, as if I asked, “why are elephants pink in my dreams?] Sibling or consanguine “joining” is acceptable. (Footnote: Inbreeding among humans, consanguine marriages, across a single generation carries about the same risks of congenital disability as if a child is born to older parents. So, just as an aside, Cain could have wed a younger sister—bad choice of brothers!)

So, I came from the bonobo monkey! Don’t insult me! How does this translate into an explanation for my walking erect on 2 feet anyway? Could I outrun or outbox the gorilla (another supposed ancestor) from which I allegedly evolved? Sorry for being a bit facetious, but, I guess since my mind is more developed with language, I could talk him to death.

There are a number of issues with the current scientific explanations for the origin of man and the origin of life, in general. I am, however, comfortable with the Biblical account because the Biblical narrative has a scientific basis for it. It seems like evolution is only the agnostic’s and atheist’s alternative for an intelligent designer. But they don’t believe that either because they keep ascribing intelligence to “Mother Nature” or “The Universe.” They know pure chance or chaos is really not possible!

If life was designed and brought about by the Creator—as Christian’s believe it was—the frightening fact is that the evolutionist should prepare to meet Him someday!

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Child Sacrifice??

I am reading “The End of Everything,” the newest work by Professor Victor Davis Hanson, Senior Fellow in military history and the Classics at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and Professor Emeritus of Classics at California State University. Not wanting to misrepresent him (I, being, far less brilliant and knowledgeable: actually quite dumb) nonetheless, I still thought it noteworthy—even if “out of context” to refer to a couple quotes from his book as they relate to the city of Carthage which the Romans “leveled” in 149 BC and the Aztec civilization which Hernán Cortéz “annihilated” in 1521 A.D. In both cases, the Italians and the Spanish, respectively, found the practice of killing children— I might say “even”—in the name of religion an unconscionable act worthy of cultural extinction. I was wondering if God felt the same way!

In the Bible the Ammonites also practiced human sacrifice which God forbade in the most absolute and demanding sense on ban, the curse, of death [Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5]. In Jeremiah 32:35, we are told Judah practiced child sacrifice to Molech, the ancient God of the Ammonites, which, alone can explain  the exile. God called this abominable. We might explain this word: It speaks of utter rejection and is represented by the carrion that vultures eat (necrotic tissue). The word itself in Hebrew sounds onomatopoetic, spelled “To-a’-Vah” as if gagging or in the process of vomiting [Revelation 3:16]. The place of child sacrifice was given a special name: “Topheth” [2 Kings 23:10], coming from the Hebrew term for “spittle”

Cortez wrote Charles V of Spain about the Aztecs: “They have another custom, horrible, and abominable, and deserving punishment, and which we have never before seen in any other place. As often as they have anything to ask of their idols [their gods], in order that their petition may be more acceptable, they take many boys and girls, … and in the presence of those idols, burn [them] offering that smoke and sacrifice to [their gods].” Professor Hanson explained, “Both the god of rain and the god of war were carnivorous and to be appeased by frequent gifts of human flesh and blood. ” [226].

In Carthage [an ancient city in Northern Africa, in what is now Tunisia] the Romans, too, found what the Greek’s would rightly call barbaric: “Carthage’s social identity was … influenced as well by its mother country  [an ancient country on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean Sea], Phoenicia, [supporting] a … retention of the rights of child sacrifice…. Archaeologists have noted that the prevalence of Topheths, sanctuaries used for child sacrifice, increased during the fourth through second century BC… Greeks [we might add] found the notion of killing children repugnant” [69, 72].

We would be self-deceived if we had not learned from this history that killing children—even if we call them by a different designation (a zygote or embryo)—cannot go unnoticed and unaddressed by God. Explaining away the act as mere paganism—as surely it is—does not exonerate the person who supports it. Because it is a moral issue, it is a religious one, and children should not be offered on the altar of a selfish motivation that simply doesn’t want them.

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What is God’s Righteousness?

What is The Righteousness of God? One might think the answer obvious: this is God’s gift of salvation whereby now we are in right standing with God. However, the verb (in Protestant theology translated “to declare righteous”) has been variously interpreted from being justified to being made righteous or sanctified. One thing is true: the word righteousness in our Bible has no meaning without God. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” [Romans 3:10]. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” [1 John 2:29].

If you are like me, you are probably wanting to find a single word in the English language that answers to the Greek word, righteousness. But we are discovering that a study using this word is not that simple. Righteousness seems to refer to everything between God’s justice to our sanctification. Perhaps, we might have expected this to be the case since our word, righteousness, is not the only term in Scripture which embraces a number of English words. The Old Testament words, love and peace, for example, have a similar testimony.

We are for the best part dependent solely on Scripture to understand what a Biblical word means. Referencing other ages of the Greek language through its literature to understand the meaning of a word in our Bible should remain a humble and prayerful endeavor. This does not suggest we cannot know the meanings of words, but some terms have been elevated to a higher level of inspirational truth. The “Fruit of the Spirit” are definitely in the list. Paul made it clear that God’s truth is spiritually discerned [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Again, as Professor Trench alerted us, “There has often been occasion to observe the manner in which Greek words taken up into Christian use are glorified and transformed, seeming to have waited for this adoption of them, to come to their full rights, and to reveal all the depth and the riches of meaning which they contained, or might be made to contain.” [Richard C. Trench Synonyms of the New Testament (Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company,,Grand Rapids, MI: 1975) page 166.]

Granted, if we, as believers, could get in a time machine and return to the middle of the first century, and maybe, dialog with Brother Paul for a while, things would get much clearer, but we have a greater than Paul to teach us—The Holy Spirit [John 16:13]. This is why I would rather trust the Body of Christ— as a whole—to get it right, rather than the single input of the most renown scholar. And this is one more reason for our fellowship around God’s Word. If we keep our hearts humble and open and we listen with the heart to the testimonies of our fellow believers (the scriptures lived) we will find the meanings to the most cherished of Christian truths, including righteousness. We will, then, know, by living it, what righteousness means when Paul says that we have been created in true righteousness [Ephesians 4:24], not a counterfeit misrepresentation of it nor a dictionary definition that satisfies an academic interest in it, but what Habakkuk called “living by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4].

The Bible is not a mere theological treatise. It is from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 all about God’s righteousness for us and in us. In many ways, God has already provided spiritual insight into Biblical truth by what He is perfecting in us [1 John 2:5]. Some believers, I surmise, have only begun to befriend the new person they are becoming under Christ’s Lordship in their lives and to discover what God’s righteousness is all about.

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The Scent of Water

Is it possible to experience a change of life at 78? If a generation is 20 years, I have lived through three generational changes and are probably approaching my fourth. At 20, I went away to college to study for the ministry. At 40, my new family and I moved to Massachusetts, which represented a massive cultural change. At 60, we moved into our first mortgaged home instead of renting. [Retirement was only a half dozen years away.] And now, I’m near 80—physically and mentally, if you know what I mean.

The world around me was going through passages of time as well. At 20. the city of my birth was losing its identity as the City of Good Neighbors [Buffalo, NY] while neighborhoods disappeared and were replaced with high-rises, projects, and malls [a mistake they regretted and began to walk back on when I turned 40. But the street I grew up on is unrecognizable for the most part. The house is gone]. The nation in my 20’s was convulsing with a counter-culture movement as they fought a foreign war they couldn’t admit they were losing. At 40, the church I pastored was trying out a full-time pastor [me] for the first time after decades of financial indifference. Now they were buying a parsonage as well! At 60, the sub-prime fiasco was about to go kaboom. But none of this compares to now, at near 80, when a single election—that might even be rigged—in a divided country on the verge of exploding—might mean the end of democracy [so, both sides claim].

I am almost 80. Next month I turn 79—close enough—and all I want to do is sit at this computer and research scripture. I don’t feel capable anymore to be able to teach anything I might learn—nor do I think there would be any serious interest. I write everything into the computer which then becomes another book. I am working on my 22nd. I am not sure if I am learning anything meaningful because my interest in life is waning. T.V. holds no interest for me unless I am watching it with the wife and we can laugh together. And I think if I stopped all Bible studies, no one should care because God would supply others to step in. And I am sorry I disappear for long periods of time from Facebook. I think of friends now gone and if we talk on the phone, I guess you might do most of the talking.

Incidentally, the church, too, is changing. When I began, we huddled in religious ghettos, but now, a new generation of believers, joyfully, is breaking out and tossing the denominational badges away! Music went from worship to praise [There is a difference. Think about it.] The organ is replaced with guitars and drums and pews with chairs—all good—all God.  But I am just sitting there and at times not even listening. Even my singing voice is broken [But last Sunday the lady in the row in front of me expressed appreciation for my singing. Shocking, indeed, but I think I needed that smidgeon of appreciation.]

Well, one of my College instructors, Dr. Beuttler, back in ’69, when we asked him what was next for him [He was planning to stop teaching] he said he didn’t know but we knew that he would only follow the Lord’s call on his life. Five years hence, he was with His Lord in glory. I think of him now. I am older than our Enoch was when he left us. Age is just a number, anyway. And God needs more time to straighten me out—I’m sure.

The Lord knows all this because I let Him in on all my secrets: my feelings, rambling concerns, age appropriate interests—and misappropriate ones, too. This morning I tuned into a religious network—just for background noise while I sulked. Preaching was one of the few ministers I love to listen to and his message seemed directed at me. He even spoke of those persons in our life whom we love but who don’t have any serious interest in the Lord right now. For me some are family members—the one thing I have left I do deeply care about.

He closed with Job 14:7-9. The New English Translation thinks Job is talking about death, but that’s not how I took it—nor how the  T.V. preacher saw it either!  He was talking about unsaved friends and family, but that is only one possible application.

“But there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
Although its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump begins to die in the soil,
at the scent of water it will flourish
and put forth shoots like a new plant.”

There is truly a scent of water in the air!

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The Great Tribulation

Is it just me or is the price of food through the roof? A couple friends now like to discuss eschatology. One wonders if any of the seals in the Revelation have already been broken. But I think not. Things need to get a bit worse first. But, in the meanwhile, we keep a close eye on the sky, if you know what I mean [Luke 21:28]. There are many interpretations of the Revelation usually influenced by current events because it is difficult to look into a future that might be drastically different from now.

I like to view the seals as seven scrolls which only Jesus, the Lamb of God, can break and unravel, i.e. fulfill the prophecies written on them [Revelation 5:5]. It seems reasonable to believe that the seventh scroll is the prophecy of the seven Trumpets [Revelation 8:2] and the last trumpet blown introduces the seven vials which brings everything to a quick end [Revelation 11:15].

Here are the 7 scrolls of a future global history yet to be revealed by the Lamb [Revelation 5:6]. Many believers see the Church caught up [1 Thessalonians 4:17] Perhaps, the Lamb initiates these events by taking His people out along with the Holy Spirit who has been holding such evil in check [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. Perhaps, the last trumpet sound of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the Trumpet sound of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15.

  1. Rev. 6:1-2 First seal – A persecution, an unleashed evil that opposes the Christian message.
  2. Rev. 6:3-4 Second seal – A global conflict focused initially on Israel, the Pearl of the East.
  3. Rev. 6:5-6 Third seal – An economic collapse with famine, bankrupting nations including America.
  4. Rev. 6:7-8 Fourth seal – A man-made pandemic, either accidental or intentional, killing 1/4th mankind.
  5. Rev. 6:9-11 Fifth seal – A martyrdom, an escalated attack on Christians and not only their message.
  6. Rev. 6:12-17 Sixth seal – Extinction level natural disasters: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, meteors.
  7. Rev. 8:1-2 Seventh seal – The Trumpets and the final harvest and Judgment [Revelation 14:6, 14] .

As we know, the focus is on Israel—or more specifically, the “land” of Israel or the Holy land which makes the persecution—in effect—a war on the Judeo-Christian faith. It is here at the finality of time Israel will finally embrace Jesus as their Messiah on a national level [Romans 11:26].

American will play no major role in the global drama the ensues, which we call “The Great Tribulation” because its government of, now 235 years—of a Constitutional Republic with its Bill of Rights will have collapsed inevitably through debt and mismanaged resources into a globalized form of a social democracy controlled by a global economic culture and a global government under a ten nation plutocracy [Revelation 17:12]. This finally happens within the seventh seal.

The conflict spoken of in the 2nd seal is, as all wars are ultimately, territorial, but through political alliances expanded globally. Wars cost and we expect the global economy to be conscripted to finance it. Whereas previous conventional warfare has strengthened the U.S. dollar because factories were refitted for weapon production, for 3 reasons, that will not happen this time: (1) We have been remade into primarily a service and not a manufacturing economy. The market thrives now because of the Tech sector not through a free market system. The balloon will bust because people cannot fill empty bellies with computer chips; (2) the American debt has exhausted America’s potential for support. Expect the U.S. dollar to lose face globally as the reserve currency and expect the government to endorse a digital currency which is controlled by a world organization-Central Bank Digital Currency, CBDC [Revelation 13:17]. Look for the interest on the U.S. debt to exceed the total cost of the social programs designed to subsidize national poverty (socialism). The flood of immigration currently underway and the efforts to convert to “green” energy alternatives too quickly will prove catalytic; (3) Nuclear war on some level can be anticipated. The pandemic will be a global reset effort to stabilize societies. Expect this to be a 7 year period of massive unrest which Christ’s coming alone can rectify.

The key to understanding the general timing of the prophecy is Israel [Daniel 9:24].

But I am free to change my view on all this tomorrow, except we are given to understand that it will be “Great” and a “Tribulation” [Matthew 24:21].  How do we soften this landing!

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Rewards in Heaven?

Will there be awards honored to the saints in heaven based on their labors for Christ here on earth? [suggesting that some will received more than others.] In Matthew 16:27 we read:

“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

Rewards? Works or Grace!

Will believers be audited—not as regards salvation (we know that is solely by grace) but—as regards, in some way, inheriting the blessings of heaven? [Romans 2:6]. Revelation 14:13 seems to suggest that awards are warranted because it is referencing those who “died in the Lord” and the record of their service to the Lord “following.”

Some contend (for eternal security) that how we live (what we do) does not impact saving grace. They might argue that works don’t define our position in Christ but decide the rewards in heaven that will follow [Hebrews 13:17].

The Scriptures freely use such language:

  • Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you…  falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven….” [Matthew 5:11-12a].
  • “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. [Luke 6Z:35-36].
  • Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. [1 Corinthians 3:8].
  • if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward…. [1 Corinthians 9:17].

Wages or Gift?

This question seems legitimate exegetically because the word and concept of “reward” speaks of a “wage” which is always earned (not unearned) and deserved (not undeserved) which is unlike grace!

“Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” [Romans 4:4].

So how do we understand Revelations 22:12,

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Paul appears to be careful on this point. When pressed, Paul referred specifically to a “crown of righteousness” which is equally given all believers [2 Timothy 4:8]. Elsewhere Paul clarifies: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” [Romans 11:6].

So are we arguing that both works and grace play a part in the distribution of heaven’s blessings? Or because (1) “grace” is more abundant to save from sin [Romans 5:20] and (2) grace is instrumental in our spiritual well-being [Galatians 2:20-21] and ministry [Romans 12:3], can we not say that grace alone is the modus operandi of heaven, the way in which heaven operates or the reason for the distribution of blessings in God’s Kingdom?

An Apologetic

There is a logical argument that supports the premise that, even in Heaven, grace swallows up works in the same fashion as the eternal makes the temporal disappear [2 Corinthians 4:18].

“…to him that sows righteousness shall be a sure [true] reward” – Proverbs 11:18b

An argument can be made logically for grace based on the sheer absurdity of the notion that we should expect to be treated differently in heaven based on earthly service.“It is not so much recompense as a sign of God’s grace and blessing.” [Kittel, vol iv. page 697]. In The Wisdom Literature we read “But the righteous live forever, and their reward is in the Lord.” [5:15: δικαιοι δε εις τον αιωγα ζωσιν, και εν κυριω ο μισθος αυτων.] Any “reward” in heaven would be a permanent, eternal, benefit, for how would it be possible that God would offer anything for a period of time when He is all about eternal blessings—and time is no more [Revelation 10:6]!  If heaven’s gifts are “earned” in this life we are imagining an inequality in the distribution of blessings that will be forever. My mind always goes back to the thief on the cross which the Savior brought with Him into paradise. What reward might he have lost because he had no time to merit any heavenly benefits based on works!

Earned or Inherited?

Often, words in our Bible carry a meaning not so common in our language., “Reward” is such a term associating with the word “inheritance” [Psalm 127:3].  An inheritance from the Lord is clearly an act of His grace [Galatians 3:18 NET].

“You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” – Colossians 3:24 NIV

Few or Many?

If we get to drink from the river of life with a smaller or larger cup based on works, is there a difference, since the river never runs dry! But there is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 [and Luke 19:11-27] in which Jesus suggested a kind of reward based on faithful Christian stewardship. In verse 21, the Savior concluded, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Although unfaithful stewards never get into heaven in the first place, is the “few” to “many” suggestive of a reward? Few and many are terms suggesting limits. These are terms that fail to describe the limitless provisions of heaven [Ephesians 2:7].

Where logic fails is in these very terms “few” and “many.” These are defined finitely not in terms of the infinite. Jesus was using temporal logic in a Jewish world to emphasize the importance to God of our stewardship. As persons of faith our entire lives are resources for God’s use [Romans 6:13]. Where the words few and many have theological value is in contrasting our labors in this life with the eternal glorious benefits of heaven. [1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17 compared to Hebrews 11:26].

For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. – 2 Corinthians 3:11

“Everywhere in the kingdom of love, to say nothing of the kingdom of grace, all idea of merit falls to the ground….” [Lange. vol X. page 216.]

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Forgiveness

[A disclaimer: The following is intended to be observational only and not to be used as a suggested approach in presenting the Gospel nor is it intended as a correction—theological or otherwise—to the four spiritual laws or any other proven method of evangelism.]

In a study of Acts 26 a question was raised regarding the Savior’s words to Paul on the road to Damascus. God was choosing Paul as His minister and witness “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Who exactly is “they/them”? Jesus continued, “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” [Acts 26:18]. Since Paul was being “sent to the Gentiles” [Acts 26:17] it seems obvious that the Savior’s words were meant for both the Jew and the Gentile. In speaking of “darkness” and “the power of Satan,” Paul assuredly spoke of both groups.

But the question might still be asked, “Is there a relevance to Israel in phrasing the call of salvation in this way that might have less of a meaning to the Gentiles? Was it only incidental that Jesus chose Aramaic to relay this message [Acts 26:14 NIV]? Was Ananias’ interpretation of the Savior’s wording significant in this regard, when he referred to having our sins washes away? [not just forgiven] “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins” [Acts 22:16 ]. Or is the washing away of sin a metaphor for forgiveness?

The word “forgiveness” is a Christian term coming from the idea of releasing or letting go of something—in this case, our sins. But the importance of this singular act of God is often confused with God’s tolerance or forbearance [Romans 3:25-26 NIV] which is not the same! God tolerated His people in the wilderness [Numbers 14:20-21] but now requires our repentance [Acts 17:30] which is vitally linked to forgiveness—as we know [Acts 3:19].

Questioning the language does not in any way suggest that forgiveness of sins is not equally important to both Jew and Gentile. It most decidedly is! The question raised here is simply: “Is the idea of having one’s sins forgiven more meaningful to Israel? The Savior’s work on the Cross was intended not only to forgive sin but to bring it to an end [Daniel 9:24]. We might ask it this way: “Does the significance of forgiveness—what it really means and entails—need to be explained more fully to the Jew, whose understanding was associated with the Mosaic Law and the sacrifices and not Calvary [Hebrews 9:22; 10:18].

Peter’s defense before Gamaliel was specifically directed at Israel: “Him [Jesus] hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” [Acts 5:31]. But the apostle’s language should never be so limited in scope as to suggest this message should not be shared with the Gentiles.

Even though the subject never—to our knowledge—came up between the Savior and the thief being crucified beside Him, this doesn’t erode its importance, nor is that man any less saved than we. Nonetheless, to us, forgiveness remains a critically important announcement [John 20:23].

In letters to both the church at Ephesus [Ephesians 1:7] and again to those in Colossi [Colossians 1:14] Paul spoke of “the forgiveness of sins” as part of the plan of redemption. Even here, however, Paul’s thoughts hinge upon the Old Testament understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin. Paul was speaking about “circumcision” in Colossians 2:11, “trespasses” in Colossians 2:13 (which is the Jewish word for “sin”), and the handwriting of ordinances [also referred to as a spiritual debt] in Colossians 2:14—all more significant to the Jew than the Gentile. Clearly in Romans 4:7 (taken from Psalm 32:1) Paul’s words are very Jewish! “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered.”

“The forgiveness of sins is the ground of the Christian life” explains 1 John 2:12: “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” “The reference is not to Him Who forgives sins, God the Father, but to Him [Jesus], for whose sake the Father forgives” [Lange]. In other words: our redemption which included forgiveness came by way of the Cross. There is great meaning in John’s words, not just for the Jews, but for all. Here is a nonagenarian, in his 90’s, addressing us as his little ones, who should take comfort and joy in knowing that our sins have been completely forgiven [the tense or form is a perfect—meaning “complete and forever.” 1 John 1:9]. In Ephesians 1:7 Paul has the entire church in mind—including the Gentile converts—when he spoke of our adoption and forgiveness as part of the plan of redemption—God’s gift of an unmerited favor [grace].

A co-worker once confided in me about something that they did that could be misinterpreted by the church they attended. I thought it most regrettable that they didn’t sense a spirit of forgiveness there but feared being ostracized and even excommunicated.

A prima facie argument might be made that we need the Spirit’s guidance in sharing this  “good news” because words can have more or less significance to the listener depending on their life’s experience. The message of our salvation must never become cliché. Nor should we speak in esoteric or confusing terms when someone’s soul hangs in the balance.

Lord, give us what to say! And allow us the privilege as Your servants to let them know that indeed there is forgiveness with You in Christ!

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Christians United

In the Bible the word for partisanship is translated “strife” in John Nelson Darby’s translation of James 3:16 “For where emulation and strife are, there is disorder and every evil thing.” The Greek dictionary defines it as “a factious spirit.”

In English, we can use a syllogism:

  1. Partisanship means prejudice in favor of a particular cause.
  2. Prejudice is preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
  3. So partisanship means a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience in favor of a particular cause.

James associated this with jealousy [emulation is Darby’s word] which the Greek dictionary calls an “ardent pursuit in defense of something; a contentious rivalry.” And then James talks about “disorder” and just plain “evil.” Disorder is a word meaning anywhere from political unrest to revolution. And Darby’s word evil is the opposite of “good,” found in John 5:28-29 “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all will hear His voice and come forth … they that have done ‘good,’ unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done ‘evil,’ unto the resurrection of damnation.”

Is James going overboard here? Our first amendment supports freedom of partisanship and our court system is intentionally adversarial. The Pilgrims came to American to have the freedom from a state religion even though a single Christian Faith based on a single Gospel for all was a Pauline idea!

Should I forsake the principles by which I govern my own actions in the name of unity! Controversy is a part of life! How could we embrace all differences as non-threatening? Some ideas encompass moral principles which  cannot be compromised!

Sadly, within our Christian churches we have become quite comfortable defending what we were never sure of because the goal was winning in debate not promoting Biblical truth. We defended the right of our denominational directives to exist at the expense of any kind of unity. And even if we knew this was wrong, we couldn’t seem to find a way to change. Dissension had a life of its own and there were few if any preachers who would confront it with sermons on peacemaking or love. Good pastors with a true heart for the work of God have been cast out in the quest for that larger identity as a political force and influence. We grow our churches on denominational creeds but they may be only fattened, not nourished, on the empty calories of doctrinal differences.

In the cover leaf of Dr. Lenny Evans book, “Love, Love, Love: How One Man Found Out What Really Matters” we read “Since God is love … salvation was to bring about a unity based on interpersonal love. Could a congregation so manifest this love that others would be attracted by the thousands? Could Christians overcome their polarizations in order to love one another?”

Answer” Absolutely Yes! And then others will come “by the thousands” [John 17:21].

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Is Caring Altruism?

Is caring for others a form of altruism. There is a curious reading in Philippians 2:3-4 “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”  Other translations interpret the words “strife or vain glory” as “selfish ambition or conceit.” The New Living Bible reads, “don’t try to impress others.” 

But what should interest us is in the New International reading where the word “also” in verse 4 is missing: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Most Biblical scholars like to keep it in. Bishop Lightfoot interprets, “Let them look beyond their own interests to those of others.”⁠1  How disinterested [not influenced by considerations of personal advantage] ought we be when getting involved in the care of others. Is it wrong for us to complain that we also need to take care of ourselves, else, we will not have the energy or ability to help them? 

How hard it is to put ourselves last, because that means to many: not at all! But what are we to make of the context of Philippians, chapter 2? Our Savior-God became incarnate, laid aside His “omni” cloak to die for us. Yet one might correctly argue that Jesus’ death and resurrection, though a selfless act of extreme and supreme love, nevertheless, benefitted Him, as well. The Cross was intended by God  to reconcile His creation unto Himself, so that He would have us to love. How is that not a benefit to God?

This conundrum is  found elsewhere. The New Living Translation of Hebrews 12:2 reads “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross” And then footnotes: “Or Instead of the joy.” How altruistic was the Cross? It almost sounds sacrilegious to ask but this is the instrument and source of God’s grace and, as such, it seems acceptable to ask if the sacrifice of ourselves for others or putting others before ourselves—if this—benefits us, is it really a sacrifice?!

Giving Better Than Receiving

Recall  Jesus’ motto  in Acts 20:35 “…how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The ultimate giving is a sacrificial gift,⁠2 as a husband should consider for his spouse: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”  [Ephesians 5:25].  However, when all is said and done, this husband, or the the Philippian Christians or even our Heavenly Father, Himself, find themselves with a blessing selfish interests could never provide! And if they knew this—and they did—it is proper to conclude that showing grace in a selfless act of love or caring, regardless the size of the sacrifice, was never intended to replace our happiness but to add to it! No wonder Jesus countered the apprehensions of the believers in Smyrna while facing persecution [Revelations 2:9] “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” These believers were following in the steps of  the Savior who revealed Himself to them as “The First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” [Revelation 2:8]. When all is said and done, this church and us, too, look forward to inheriting the wealth of Heaven, endless joy, and a happiness that should make us wonder, what was it we thought we sacrificed for our Lord, anyway!


1 J. B. Lightfoot. Saint Paul Epistle to the Philippians. (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI:, 15th printing, 1976), page 110
2 A sacrificial gift is considered one given out of our own need. 2 Corinthians 8:2, 9.

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