Just Dream!

I was sitting alone with my thoughts reminiscing about years gone by when love was giddy and adventurous, when ministry was ahead of me, when I was blessed with an infinite source of energy, when I thought I knew what love was all about, what ministry was all about, what marriage was all about, raising children and even sound theology.

Now I am not quite so sure of all things. But I think I have at least discovered that life is a paradox in which you cannot have hope without tribulation, nor comfort without toil, nor forgiveness without remorse, nor victories without an enemy. There is no peace without reconciliation, no mountain tops without the valley between. Not even love in its infinite sense is real until with a vulnerable abandonment we open our hearts to love back.

Perhaps, my day is now past and I regret that wisdom comes when I am too old to enjoy it! My despair—if that’s what it was—was a seeming reluctant acceptance of getting old and leaving the greater challenges to the energetic young.

Well, as I am won’t to do, I brought my Lord into my soliloquy to make it a dialog, and then there came to my mind and heart Joel 2:28 [I think He brought this up] that says it is the young men whom are called to see visions, to look ahead to the work that requires youth and energy. We old men get to dream, but not of yesterday, but of a beautiful and glorious tomorrow that awaits all of us who love our Lord.

As David wrote “I am old!” [Psalm 71:18}. Jacob told us this also when the time came to pass the blessings of God onto His eldest. In Joshua 23:2 after many victories, he realized that age was catching up. And Samuel [1 Samuel 12:2] resigned himself to Israel’s choice of a king with these same words, “I am old.”

This almost sounds like an excuse for retirement or some form of regret that our strength is failing. I am even developing the octogenarian gait. But it isn’t any of this! It is the time we have waited for through the passages of life—it is time to dream!

Dream of a crown of life because the finish line is in site. Dream of rewards, though, I admit, I don’t know what this means beyond a robe of righteousness (there’s nothing else I want). Dream of the blessings that await us, dream of the promises soon to be fulfilled, dream of glorious communion with old friends, of sitting at the Savior’s feet listening to Him teach us of mysteries He will then make so simple!

The Word of God is eternal because “It is written” which means it is not a mere history of what God did as much as it is a record of what God does—the divine activity of our Creator/Savior who has only begun to be both in our lives.

I do have opportunity to continue teaching in smaller groups a number of men and women called to serve our Lord. They honor me—as does the Lord—in allowing me to share God’s Word  with them. I think maybe with age comes wisdom and, God helping me, I will serve Him in encouraging them in the work.

But also: I may have a monthly opportunity now to share God’s Word with a group of saints at a Senior Citizens Residence Home, and I am thinking—why not go verse by verse through God’s Word and … just dream!

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Great Expectations

Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel – Colossians 1:5 NET

There is a brief note in one commentary which describes “the hope laid up for us in heaven,” as the treasures in heaven Jesus spoke of in the Gospels [Matthew 6:20-21; Luke 12:34; 18:22].

It sounds like Paul is saying that hope is what faith and love depend upon, but an intelligent argument can be made that all three are interdependent. This “irreducible complexity” is an undeniable watermark of a Divine creation—and we are made in His image.” Let’s explain.

The word hope speaks of the object of hope, the blessing expected. Paul reasoned, “Hope that is seen, is not hope.” [Romans 8:24]. No one expects to receive something which they already have! But what is it that we do not already have from God which we are looking forward to having? Well, Romans 8:32 “Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?”

We, also, should only look for something which we, as believers, are assured is coming. The Bible word hope is much stronger that our English word “hope.” We often hope for things which we have doubts about getting, like a child on Santa’s lap asking for something mom and dad have no intention of buying. [Most of us learn to get real—really fast]. But read Hebrews 11:1 NET “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, convinced of what we do not see [or already have].”

Hebrews 11:1 might read “Faith is foundational (the actual word used in this verse) to hope.” A hope that is not sure—because it is not based on divine promises—is a false hope. Hope built on doubt or chance isn’t trustworthy enough; what we do not assuredly know is coming, we best not expect [James 1:6-7]. But in the Bible “hope is expectation” which makes our faith in God a prerequisite for hope. No faith means no hope.

For Paul the connection between faith and hope is part of a triad with our love for God and one another. Paul encouragingly acknowledged to the Thessalonian believers [1 Thessalonians 1:3] that he was ever mindful of their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. This sounds like our verse [Colossians 1:5]: “faith and love risen from hope.” As Polycarp spoke of a faith with hope following and love going before. Or in I Corinthians 13:13 “now faith, hope, and love abide.”

Look at the first word in The King James Bible version of Colossians 1:5: “for.” The NET which we are using here simply brought “faith and love” along from the previous verse. Our translators seem to be struggling a bit with Paul’s use of this word “for” here to begin our verse. One scholar freely renders the meaning: “looking to … hope.” The ESV in Colossians 1:5 says “love is because of hope,” which I like best, because the word “for” can mean “because” or “for the sake of hope.” There is a relationship here between our expectations from God and our love for Him—something which should be obvious.

Why love one another? For the same reason we must have an unshakeable faith or trust in God: the pronounced effect this agape love has on our expectations—our hope. Polycarp, like Paul saw these 3 traits as inseparable, that we cannot have one without having all. If we are not expecting or anticipating what awaits us in heaven, but living with painful anxieties about tomorrow, perhaps, our faith is weak and, just maybe, this means our love for others and our Lord has not been evident in what we say or do.

There is a sense in which our love for others, as well as our reliance on God’s promises, strengthens hope. Alone we tend to look down in despondent gloominess, but united in fellowship and prayer we are more prone to “look up, and lift up our heads; for our redemption draws nigh” [Luke 21:28]. Looking up is hope in action.

Great expectations require great faith and a Christian love for one another that as Peter described is: “out of a pure heart … fervently” [1 Peter 1:22]. The word fervently or earnestly means “stretched out or extended” We are to extend our love, stretch it! Let it reach the otherwise unreachable! It won’t break! [Matthew 5:44]. Hope is strengthened in the act. We begin to understand how this triad of traits are like the 3 legs of a tripod. It will not stand on fewer.

Hope, too, is spoken of elsewhere as a persistent expectation [Romans 8:19, 23]. Paul spoke of “the earnest expectation “ of all creation … And … even we ourselves groan … ‘waiting’ for [our] redemption….” I must tell you: the word “waiting” used here means “to look with outstretched neck” as I use to do waiting for the train to work, looking down the tracks, trying to steal a glimpse just past the rise from where I knew the train would be coming. Get the metaphor?

What we are expecting from God, Paul said, is “laid up for us” already in heaven! Our Heavenly Father has been getting ready to receive us! [John 14:3]. Are we looking for it all with great expectation?

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God’s Inspired Word

Every scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness- 2 Timothy 3:16 NET

Did you know that scholars study the Bible from a variety of perspectives, some of which treat it as only ancient literature with no more value to modern times than Chaucer’s Beowulf, of which it is said (at schoolworkhelper.net), “Although evil is not truly existent, necessarily, classical literature manages to portray evil in supernatural and symbolic manifestations.“

The sad truth is that culture has often influenced how the church “sells its message” and what that message will be. Seven letters to seven different churches in John’s day exposes this blatant tampering with the Christian testimony which has rendered it, in some respects, powerless. In the “western world,” for one, we rely heavily on science for answers making spiritual warfare in prayer all but a relic of a by-gone practice.

I apologize for bringing this up, not out of anger or bitterness but, out of a deep concern for a spiritually dying world with whom God wants to share His love but also warn of impending judgment. How appropriate that the Revelation which Jesus brought, that we know as the Apocalypse and a time of unspeakable horror, should begin with a serious message to the Church! But to the degree we have viewed the inspiration of scripture as only the popular view of a time now gone, we have made God’s Word less than God’s Word and now are able in a scholarly fashion to parse its language as merely an historical footnote on a forgotten culture.

Speaking of footnotes, however: there are footnotes to our verse in the BibleGateway version on these 3 words “every, inspired, and rebuke”: “Every scripture. There is very little difference in sense between every scripture (emphasizing the individual portions) and all scripture (emphasizing the composite whole). The former option is preferred, because it fits … Paul’s normal sense for the word scripture…. So every scripture means ‘every individual portion of scripture.’ Inspired by God. Some have … translated it as ‘every inspired scripture is also useful.’ But… the arrangement of words makes clear that both should be taken as … ‘every scripture is inspired…and [all are] useful.’ Rebuke, the word implies exposing … sin … to bring correction.”

We maintain that every word has God’s approval, if not His fingerprint, upon it and He wrote it to us to expose the deadly sins we excuse, at the peril of our souls, as just a part of “human nature.” But the Church gets weary of fighting social change and might choose, accordingly, to tone down its message to sound more reasonable and humane. Maybe more will listen, then?

No!  The message of Scripture confronts cultures on a moral level, calls out hypocrisy, and will not compromise the holiness of God before the world.

Now I can see why God’s Word is popular as an heirloom but is taken far less seriously than its context, language, and emphasis demand. I can understand why some scholars go through 8 or more years of Bible training to teach at some respectable seminary that there is no god (or at least, we cannot be sure) and that the Bible is important in an historical sense only.

Many have, sadly, succumbed to social pressure to comply in small measure—or great—to tweak the interpretation of God’s Word to make it less outspoken against sin, less demanding of a cross to carry for Christ,  arguing that we cannot be sure of its meaning.  Bonhoeffer called this the message of a “cheap” grace.

Like many who read or study the Word regularly, I, too, continue to be drawn to its pages and refuse to let go its promises—even if I only know He promised something the scope and importance of which I cannot yet comprehend. And what has He not promised if the whole Bible was spoken [the word is: God-breathed} by the God Who does not lie and was written for our benefit, our admonition, and our instruction! The miracle that we have it, alone, speaks to its inspiration! 

Paul affirmed that “When a covenant has been ratified,… no one can set it aside or add anything to it” [Galatians 3:15]. The Book, itself, is one undeniable and unalterable “The” Covenant with God, which makes it from cover to cover one glorious promise. As to its teaching, God’s Word is worthy our conviction; as to its reproof, our contrition of heart, repentance, and confession; as to its correction, our obedience; as to its training, our commitment; and as to its inspiration, our undying faith!

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Take Heart!

There is, no doubt, much anxiety and apprehension world-wide about the mideastern conflict and what must be seen as an anticipated effort by the nations surrounding Israel to remove the Jewish nation from its soil. As a Christian you might find consolation in the verses of Ezekiel 36 where God speaks—not to the people, but—to the land! God calls it his land—not the Jews nor the Palestinians.

[verse 5 NLT: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My jealous anger burns against these nations … because they have shown utter contempt for me by gleefully taking my land for themselves”]

Look closely at the context of these verses. It is obvious that there has been an aggressive media campaign against God’s interest for His land. [Verse 4 His land “became a … derision to the countries that are around it;” Verse 6 “The Lord’s land has borne the shame—ignominy, insults, of the surrounding peoples.”]

If the connection has not been made yet to the present conflict, consider God’s passion in verse 5 (here is the Greek translation): “Therefore thus saith the Lord, ‘Verily in the fire of my wrath have I spoken against the rest of the nations … because they have appropriated my land to themselves, disregarding the lives of the inhabitants, to destroy it by plunder.”

What this translation left out, which is important to note, is the celebrations in the streets around the world when the Jewish people are attacked [The NLT called the nations around them, “gleeful;” the NIV: “with glee and with malice in their hearts”]. The Bible word is “SiMCHaH meaning “to get great pleasure from.” You interpret this! God noted that it is “heart felt exultation” over Jewish pain. And then, God adds this description (a word used exclusively in Ezekiel’s prophecy): contempt “in their souls” for God’s land. This speaks, to me of a reckless disregard for God’s interests in Israel, a contempt “in the soul” that is borne on their very breath, possessed of a undefinable hate with a single cause in mind, “to “plunder it” [the Greek explains, “to destroy it by plunder”]

With God there always is a “but.” Remember, God is talking to the land! Verse 24 of Ezekiel’s prophecy, it is generally agreed, happened in May, 1948, but the “but” is yet to be completed. Verse 21 “BUT” God will have pity on His name.

“God will have pity on His name.”

God’s name is His reputation among a people He loves and has chosen to dwell among [Ezekiel 48:35, He ends on this note like a song filled with minor chords but always finishing on the perfect “note.”] God is passionate about His relationship with His people. (Jealous is the word used in Ezekiel 36. Divine jealousy is not a light rebuke.) Paul affirms in Romans 11 that this remains so! So God will rescue Israel but not because of them—none of us deserve His goodness—but because of grace, for His own name’s sake!

[Verse 22: “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake”]

Take heart!

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Paul spoke of the restoration of all things [Acts 3:21] “the restoration not only of the true theocracy,’ the dictionary explains, “but also of that more perfect state of (even physical) things which existed before the fall” It is an idea inherent in any covenant God makes with us that His relationship with us starts anew, that things be restored. “Therefore,” as Paul noted, “if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. 

A restoration has to be saying that the past is past; it should never determine our future because, secondly, a new covenant necessary speaks naturally of a complete and eternal forgiveness in which our sins no longer need, nor should, reflect the relationship we have with our Lord going forward. 

And this forgiveness has “teeth.” And now “restoration” must lead to “reconciliation,” not only with God but necessarily with others of like faith. We can forgive others as we have been forgiven, which now includes the restoration of peace and unity with other believers in Christ. 

Restoration in Joel and many other scriptures is an intensified or emphatic use of the word “peace,” peace with God. Isaiah in 26:3 used the noun word “peace” twice to give emphasis to such a glorious restoration, which in Joel speaks of a “New Covenant of peace” [Isaiah 42:19 where the NIV translates the word “perfect” in the King James by “the one in covenant with me;” the NET translates “covenant partner.”]  Restoration with God is relational and covenantal. 

The importance of restoration must not be undervalued; it cannot be overestimated. There were 2 prerequisites to this happening. First, it should not need being said, God asks for our repentance. [1 John 1:9]. This is clearly not so much to ask of us but a recognition of our need of Him and a desire to return to Him and be reconciled.

This makes restoration the necessary and evident fulcrum point between repentance and reconciliation; between spiritual revival or “alive in Christ” [Romans 6:11] and yielding ourselves servants of righteousness [Romans 6:13].  Restoration becomes a necessary act of God whereby repentance leads to reconciliation and being alive in Christ is more than status but  “living in the Son” [1 John 5:11; Galatians 2:20]. Said another way: the bridge between our repentance and reconciliation is a restored relationship with God. The bridge between being created new in Christ and putting on that newness in our living [Ephesians 4:24] is the act of God’s restoring grace. 

Ultimately and necessarily, this speaks of a restored eternal Eden, we call Heaven.  Restoration means a complete restitution of, as well as end to, all damages sin has occasioned in us and to us, all abuses, crimes, injustice, all hurt, all injury, all resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, all sorrow, all fear, anxiety, and worry.  

In their place God brings: a vindication of faith and labors in Him [Psalm 62:12; Ruth 2:12], healing on all levels physical, spiritual, psychological, and emotional [Isaiah 57:18-19], provisions in abundance to address and meet all need, answer all prayer and fulfill every promise [Proverbs 13:13; 25:22], a love [not made for us but we for it] which brings about a deepening fellowship, an enduring sense of belonging, an everlasting unity and peace  with one another as with our Lord [Hebrews 13:20-21]. As Peter summed it up, “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” [2 Peter 1:3].

There is a simple way to see this restoration that is written into the New Covenant that we have in Christ.: Colossians 2:10 “we are complete in Him.”

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What Do You See?

The account of Saul enquiring of a necromancer in 2 Samuel 28 has puzzled many a scholar. What is it saying? 2 Samuel 28:13, “What did you see!”

1 Samuel 28:6 The sin is not in seeking to know. If we seek the Lord to know His counsel He will make it known [Romans 9:23; Colossians 1:27]. This was done through enquiring of

  1. God’s prophet [2 Kings 21:10] or
  2. The High Priest through the Urim [Light] and Thumim [Truth]. These are 2 Elements of the Priest’s breastplate. The ‘U’ is actually the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the ‘T’. He is the Alpha and Omega [Revelation 1:8]. He is the Light and Truth – John 1:9; 8:12; 14:6] or
  3. In dreams [Genesis 20:6].

But God was not speaking to Saul anymore, so he sought to know the future through forbidden means. The Philistines used divination to determine what to do with the Ark of God found in their possession [1 Samuel 6:2] but this was absolutely forbidden in Israel [Deuteronomy 18:10, 14].

“You must not allow a sorceress to live” [Exodus 22:18].

The Soothsayer

1 Samuel 28:7 [She was a] woman that hath a familiar spirit [a necromancer] at Endor. The incantations she practiced were known as divinations [the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means].

1 Samuel 28:8 [Saul] came to this woman at night and said, “Use your ritual pit [your divination] to conjure up for me the one I tell you.”

The bodies of the deceased are buried in the earth and, in the practice of necromancy, the spirits are said to ascend from there. “like a spirit speaking from the underworld; from the dust … as if muttering an incantation.” [Isaiah 29:4]. Interestingly, according to the Septuagint, Saul instructs the woman, “Practice divination by the divining spirit within you.

We have 1 New Testament example Acts 16:16, 18, which Paul identified as a demoniac spirit: ” a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying.” Then Paul confronted the spirit of divination in her, commanding “in the name of Jesus Christ … come out of her.”

Prophecy vs Divination

Scholarship teaches that the word “prophecy” is used in the New Testament when speaking the counsel of God whereas divination is always false prophecy and not of God. The word, divining, itself, speaks to the temporary madness or emotional fury that is exhibited. The word “mantis” [viz. the praying mantis insect] comes from the same Greek word representing a form of prayer [but not to God!] It is never used of Christian prayer! Remember, 1 Samuel 28:6, God did not answer.

What Sawest Thou? Was it Samuel?

1 Samuel 28:13 The woman called the apparition she saw “god” or a spirit being. The woman, alone, saw the apparition [1 Samuel 28:12-13].

Considering the passage unadorned by imaginative explanations, we cannot affirm that this was, indeed, Samuel. But, for our Catholic friends, we read in The Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) 46:23, “And after this he [Samuel] slept [died], and he made known to the king [Saul], and shewed him the end of his life, and he lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy to blot out the wickedness of the nation.”

The Grave

There was no return from Sheol [the grave: Job 7:9; 2 Samuel 12:23]. This passage appears to be the only exception [if indeed it was Samuel: 1 Chronicles 10:13]. But Tertullian called this apparition “a rivalry of truth by an unclean spirit.” Luther called it “the devil’s ghost” and Calvin, “it was not the real Samuel but a specter.”

When Samuel alleged to have visited the scene, Saul was at Gilboa. Samuel’s body was laid to rest in Ramah in the territory of Benjamin, about 20 some miles south. It was believed that the spirits of those who died were held awaiting a final judgment [Luke 16:22; Ephesians 4:8-9] and could not leave [Luke 16:26].

This chamber in Sheol for God’s saints is now vacant! [2 Corinthians 5:8].

Present Day

Today such divination is even practiced with the Ouija board, but getting our counsel from anyone but God and in any other way than by and through God’s Word is forbidden because it is demoniacally deceptive, misleading those that practice it away from God! [Titus 1:14; 2:1].

Referring again to the Septuagint, in 1 Samuel 28:3 & 7, a “divining spirit” is interpreted with the word “ventriloquist.” So, Saul saw nothing and what he heard came from the woman? The woman was surprised to learn this was Saul whom she said was noticeably terrorized by the very thought of God. Saul was not at all at peace, but now seeks the God that so frightens him! He didn’t want God [that follows repentance]. He wanted to know the future.

The Message

But, if this were not Samuel, how could the prophecy given be so spot on accurate? [1 Samuel 28:17, 18]. The simple explanation would be that Saul related to her what Samuel told him while still alive [1 Samuel 20:19-24].


So there are three explanations:

  1. It was a mere deception on the part of the necromancer—a magic act.
  2. She was indeed clairvoyant and could predict the future.
  3. It was Samuel.

I lean toward #1. For when it comes to prophecy, would God allow a necromancer to speak for Him!?

“I the LORD will answer … myself!” [Ezekiel 14:7 ESV ].

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A Devotional Thought

Here’s a devotional thought worthy our attention: 2 Timothy 4:16-17a KJV “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me.” This is the King James but let’s look more closely at what Paul told Timothy.

The Expositors Commentary along with more recent scholarship interprets “My first answer” to mean Paul’s court hearing now at the end of his life. The word “answer” means “defense.” He was being arraigned but knew that this time he would not be freed [2 Timothy 4: 6].

What was his crime? “By me,” he confessed, “the Lord commissioned and enabled me that the Gospel message might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” [2 Timothy 4:17].

But Paul informed Timothy, “no one stood with me.” Paul, like the Savior, had no one there to speak in his defense [Matthew 26:56]. Did he not say he wanted to partake of Christ’s sufferings!

But the next thing he told Timothy is what stands out here: “I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.”  Paul didn’t hold it against anyone for not showing up during his arraignment.

  1. The words “I pray” were not written. I don’t think this thought was directed at the Lord. When life’s final moments are pending, its best to approach already with a forgiving heart.
  2. The words are in the form of a wish, as if Paul were telling Timothy, ‘”It’s Okay. I don’t fault anyone for not being here.

Paul was so forgiving of the many [Philippians 1:13-14] that might have been available as defense witnesses. He had 2 reasons.

  1. He wrote confidently, ” Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me.” reminds me of Romans 8:31b, 33a: “If God be for us,who can be against us? … Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?” [Matthew 10:19].
  2. Paul, also, knew he was soon to go home. “I have finished what God had called me to do! My fight is over. [2 Timothy 4: 7].

In verse 7 Paul is writing with emphasis. I, also, believe we will know when this moment has arrived for each of us as believers and it will be Okay.]

In verse 7 he writes in this “perfect” sense 3 times: “fought, finished, kept.” This form emphasizes completeness, finality, and permanence.

  1. His fight with the judaizers was over, finally, completely and for good.
  2. His race was run and there would be no other.
  3. And, as unexpected as this might sound, coming from Paul, the last temptation was won! [I thought only I am tempted!] The last act of Satan to undo him was defeated. Paul is going home!!

These are the final thoughts of an elderly saint to his spiritual son. He has mellowed over the years. He has learned to be more understanding and accepting of the ambivalence of youth [Mark 15:39 comp 2 Timothy 4:11]. He is very much like a father now [1 Timothy 5:23].

“And for those believers I might have expected to support me in this moment but were not here,” I can imagine Paul thinking, “it’s Okay, son. Don’t give it any thought:”

I’m going home!


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What It Means To Be An American

What makes me an “American?” Or asked another way: Is there such a thing as the American Cultural Experience and am I a part of it?

People come to America for many reasons. Some do not seem to know or care to know what that American experience is. They come to get what they can get because they heard the word “free.” Others identify the American way of life as the way to freedom from political oppression. They want to share in our freedom—to give back and not just get. They contribute to the dream of our forefathers.

What it means to be American should never be lessened in importance! We ought to be ever improving as a society without altering our identity as Americans. In evolutionary terms: We must remain the same specie but better “fit” or adapt at caring, dealing with poverty and illness—and, culturally, a people united under a common flag.

An American cultural experience, as a way of life, was once based on a simple constitution that has over time been extended beyond that simplicity. The Federal Register includes 438 agencies and sub-agencies in which federal authority has been delegated to non-elected officials. This means unelected persons with no allegiance by oath to this Constitution. As history will show, some had not honored it in practice. We know this because the more we are regulated, the less free we are. The American cultural experience, that a revolutionary war was fought to defend, is being regulated out of existence. What is basic to being American is hereby being redefined. Even  some would rewrite our national history to legitimize changes that impugn (and even criminalize) what it has always meant to be American.

So I ask, What does it mean to be an American? What makes an American an American?

The Statue of Liberty describes those coming here as “yearning to breathe free.” The Declaration of Independence used the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to describe this. It has always been American to be a free people and that “yearning” has been transformed into a national patriotism that professes, “I am American!”

But how is this a cultural idea? Hamilton called the U.S. Constitution essential to our freedom which makes this Constitution a vital aspect of the American cultural experience:

Alexander Hamilton enlisted the help of political writers …  to pen a series of essays convincing the American people that the new Constitution was essential to their liberty. These are known as “The Federalist Papers”  (Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition. p. 75)

Culture defines the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular society. Culture is the collective achievements of any society or nation, which for America, is described and envisioned in our Constitution and the importance we ascribe to it. [Wars have been fought on its account.] To disregard the provisions in the U.S. Constitution is to enlist in a regulatory system of control and deny Americans those freedoms described in that constitution. In other words: To change the culture is to change what it means to be American!

There are those who talk of democracy as foundational to our way of life but that word has been painted with a broad brush stroke that includes a hundred other nations. We are more than a democracy. We are a constitutional republic with a Bill of Rights and a separation of limited government powers.

To be American, means to have a distinct cultural experience that defines freedom in terms of our faith and that gives voice to our opinions. We even can redress grievances—disagree—with the government publicly.

Culturally, also, being Americans means we can climb up out of a lower class into a higher one—a higher economic bracket, a better career, if we choose. We can improve ourselves. Our roles in society are not culturally defined. There is no defined class system in America.

In the Federalist Papers #14 James Madison wrote concerning the U.S. Constitution,

“To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness. … Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. They formed the design of a great Confederacy, which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate.” [The Federalist Papers. Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.]

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What If

Have you ever reflected back on choices you have made and wondered “What if” I had chosen ‘B’ instead of ‘A’? How would life be different now? I have—which has led me to research the “what if’s” in Scripture—if there are any.

Looking at this question from a theological point of view: Is there such a thing as God’s “permissive” will that a believer might choose instead of His “perfect” will for their life? Is it possible to take the wrong path at that cross roads and end up living with God’s “second best”?

Oh, by the way: There is a “perfect will” of God mentioned in Romans 12:2 and according to Paul, 1 Corinthians 12:9, God works best in our “weakness.” Might this mean, God never planned to leave us to our own devises? [Hebrews 13:5]. There is no “permissive will” mentioned to my knowledge.

What If

The phrase: “what if” has the word “if” in it. Scripturally, the word “if” is always forward looking. It speaks of some future possibility or probability. If it references the past in the New Testament it speaks of what is not factual or never happened: “…if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” [Galatians 1:10].

“What if” is more like “if only.” I found a couple “only if’s” but the only “if only” expressing regret was: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt.” [Exodus 16:3] which is not a “what if” in our sense. It is only an “if only.” The first [what if”] regards choices; the latter [only if], circumstances. Beside, biblical examples all look forward, not backward in time—as our “what if” does.

The problem with “What if” is that it points to a condition with an unknown result where as in the New Testament “if” points to a condition with a known outcome. “If a man walks during the day, he won’t stumble.” [John 11:9]. If the result is unknown, it is future [Acts 8:31]. So, if any believer wants to torment themselves about theoretical possibilities that could never happen because—well, they never did happen and because choices have a shelf life [Our resources of time and energy abundant in youth seem to diminish with age] all this reminiscence just amounts to so much regret. God bless your sweet heart.

We read a “what if” Paul used arguing for grace. Romans 3:3 is worth looking at first in the NIV: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” compared to the NET: “What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?” The NET is better since it separates out the “what” from the “if” in good Hebrew fashion: “what would be the case, then, “God’s faithfulness is unchanging.”

In Genesis 18, 6 times Abraham, interceding for Lot, sought to stay God’s judgment on Sodom, arguing “what if.” “What if there are fifty godly people in the city?. 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? Will you really wipe it out and not spare the place…” [Genesis 18:24ff]. But as we will shortly point out in the grammar: this is using the phrase in a future possible setting not looking back on choices made asking whether or not Lot’s decisions may have impacted God’s will for his life.


Regret might be expressed in terms of what should have been but wasn’t, often in the form of a wish: Here’s our desert complaint again: “Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt,” [Exodus 16:3]. See also Revelation 3:15.
Yet none of these answer to the expression “What if my choices were different back then..?”

What do we make of Romans 8:29-32 which depicts the foreknowledge of God as foundational to everything God’s grace thereafter perfects in us. Where is the fork in this path?

And if God—like in Israel’s choice of a monarchy over them to replace the theocracy they were living under [1 Samuel 12]—”permits” us to make poor life choices that impact later what level or kind of calling He might give us, does this imply a “second best” life? Remember that David’s kingdom came out of Israel’s request and Christ from David’s lineage. Did God simply salvage Israel’s mistake or somehow leverage their carnality [wanting to be like every other nation: “equity?”] with a plan ‘B’? Yet I do not read anywhere of the wisdom of God ever chucking plan ‘A’ for any reason, else He would never have made it! Even Adam’s sin led to the Cross. I, for one, cannot believe God didn’t know that ahead of time—”before the foundation of the world was laid.” [Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 4:3].

Maybe we sought more out of our Christian life than we appear to have obtained. Sounds a bit like pride? Perhaps, we regret some very bad decisions along the way or that last fight with our spouse left us wondering about something. Hang in there! There is nothing here that God didn’t know about already. And if we think He abandoned us to our own wiles at that precise moment that He—and He aloneneeded to make that choice, whatever it was …sounds like our faith in Him needs strengthening or at the least, have another conversation with Him about all this. Maybe another trial will do it? [1 Peter 1:7].

My advice? Don’t say “What if” because it is unresolvable [you cannot go back!] and only the “enemy’s” opportunity to discourage. We often see as failure what doesn’t appear world impacting or we surmise life would be a little less painful had we made better choices back then, but only God knows

… and He chose us anyway!

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Something New, Something Great, Something Expanded

Isaiah 56:3 reads in the KJV: “Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree [can’t beget children].”

Deuteronomy 23 places restrictions on strangers and eunuchs joining Israel—either for a limited time like the Moabites or indefinitely like the eunuchs. The good news is that under a new covenant with God, everyone will be welcome!

How expansive or granular must we define the words “stranger” and “eunuch” to correctly interpret the prophet? In other words: what is the context of Isaiah 56? Is it Israel? Is it the Church? Is it both!

Isaiah 53:8 speaks in a more general tone of those who had been banished [excommunicated] from the congregation of Israel. The KJV interprets the last part of this verse: “Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.”

Does “gathered” speak of those added to Israel by covenant? Is this the Church [John 10:16 “other sheep”]?

Widen Your Horizon: Look Up!

What’s interesting here is Isaiah’s use of language that hints at a wider scope in use:

  • The term “eunuch” is never used in the law code. It can refer to Egyptian officers [being castrated]. It encompasses intentional body mutilation as well as by accident. It appears more general than what Moses was talking about.
  • The phrase, “the outcast of Israel” is found only once outside Isaiah [Psalm 147:2]. Jeremiah 30:17 defines an outcast as “…whom no man seeks.” Perhaps, Isaiah has expanded his theological horizon to include more than eunuchs and foreigners.
  • The “stranger” Isaiah speaks of is more than just an immigrant [which is another term]. It is a word meaning “unrecognized” because no one paid them attention. This includes aliens but it may encompass a few excommunicates for other reasons. The point is, we haven’t really been introduced yet! I think cliques are seen here as taboo. We are forever meeting someone new and welcoming them into our group!
  • The double name of the Lord: “The Lord GOD” is used here which “indicates something great,” says scholarship. This phrase “saith my master Jehovah” is written 95 times, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos. [in other words, it is prophetic!]
    In verse 8 the KJV translated “saith” from a Hebrew term mostly found at the end of a sentence, but found here at the beginning. [Here and Zechariah 12:1 are the exceptions.] Why? I like scholarship’s explanation (which supports everything I read about this word): “the expression … is … solemn, … and … stands here at the head [of this verse as] “… a proof that it contains not only something great, but something which needs a solemn confirmation because of its strangeness.”
  • And then there are a couple problems I had in addition trying to understand these verses:
    • The word “joined” was written with 2 “n’s.” [in the Hebrew, you nut!] Okay in Spanish they can trill 2 “r’s” in a different word than 1: perro [dog] and pero [but]. Pero, there is generally no double ‘n’ sound in Hebrew unless the first one ends a syllable and the second begins the next. It’s a question of pronouncing the thing! Hebrew also had contractions, like our “gimme” for “give me.” I just didn’t expect to see the double ‘n’ here.
    • The word “that hath joined” in verse 3 uses a verb beginning with the word “the” which stopped me in my interpretative tracks. One well respected grammarian thinks maybe Isaiah meant to use a different spelling but kind-of got caught in his brain between. [The “but” was my part.] And all this put the word’s accent [according to the Masoretes] on the last syllable, which isn’t usual, either.

A Great Gathering Prophesied!

And then, Isaiah did it again in verse 8 with the word “gather.” According to Isaiah [and this seems clearer] God is going to bring us all together, Israel and stranger and mutilated and everyone [to His gathering].

I love this word “gather” because it is God doing it not you and I, or Israel, or anyone else, making it happen. He did not ask us here to assembly. He assembled us! [It’s passive, for all you students of language. It’s grace for all you theologians!]

On The Sabbath

Read the context. It is a New Covenant, a new day! It’s Sabbath in God’s week. It is time to join the greatest prayer meeting to celebrate “our master” Jehovah! Brueggemann said that it is time to punch out of what he called the “producer-consumer rat race.” It is time to say sayonara to all anxiety and fear and go find a fig tree to sit under [Micah 4:4] —after the prayer meeting [Matthew 11:28].

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