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Joshua 10     Psalm 142-143     Jeremiah 4     Matthew 18


Joshua 10

The Sun Stands Still

Joshua 10 1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.

Five Amorite Kings Executed

16 These five kings fled and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah. 17 And it was told to Joshua, “The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makkedah.” 18 And Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them, 19 but do not stay there yourselves. Pursue your enemies; attack their rear guard. Do not let them enter their cities, for the Lord your God has given them into your hand.” 20 When Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished striking them with a great blow until they were wiped out, and when the remnant that remained of them had entered into the fortified cities, 21 then all the people returned safe to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah. Not a man moved his tongue against any of the people of Israel.

22 Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.” 23 And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. 25 And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” 26 And afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening. 27 But at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day.

28 As for Makkedah, Joshua captured it on that day and struck it, and its king, with the edge of the sword. He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho.

Conquest of Southern Canaan

29 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah and fought against Libnah. 30 And the Lord gave it also and its king into the hand of Israel. And he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.

31 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish and laid siege to it and fought against it. 32 And the Lord gave Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he captured it on the second day and struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it, as he had done to Libnah.

33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish. And Joshua struck him and his people, until he left none remaining.

34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon. And they laid siege to it and fought against it. 35 And they captured it on that day, and struck it with the edge of the sword. And he devoted every person in it to destruction that day, as he had done to Lachish.

36 Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron. And they fought against it 37 and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it. He left none remaining, as he had done to Eglon, and devoted it to destruction and every person in it.

38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned back to Debir and fought against it 39 and he captured it with its king and all its towns. And they struck them with the edge of the sword and devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. Just as he had done to Hebron and to Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king.

40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded. 41 And Joshua struck them from Kadesh-barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, as far as Gibeon. 42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.


Psalm 142

You Are My Refuge

Psalm 142 A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.

3 When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

5 I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
7 Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.


Psalm 143

My Soul Thirsts for You

Psalm 143 A Psalm of David.

1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

7 Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

11 For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.


Jeremiah 4

Jeremiah 4

1 “If you return, O Israel,
declares the Lord,
to me you should return.
If you remove your detestable things from my presence,
and do not waver,
2 and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’
in truth, in justice, and in righteousness,
then nations shall bless themselves in him,
and in him shall they glory.”

3 For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:

“Break up your fallow ground,
and sow not among thorns.
4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord;
remove the foreskin of your hearts,
O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of the evil of your deeds.”


Disaster from the North

5 Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,

“Blow the trumpet through the land;
cry aloud and say,
‘Assemble, and let us go
into the fortified cities!’
6 Raise a standard toward Zion,
flee for safety, stay not,
for I bring disaster from the north,
and great destruction.
7 A lion has gone up from his thicket,
a destroyer of nations has set out;
he has gone out from his place
to make your land a waste;
your cities will be ruins
without inhabitant.
8 For this put on sackcloth,
lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the Lord
has not turned back from us.”

9 “In that day, declares the Lord, courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” 10 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life.”

11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, “A hot wind from the bare heights in the desert toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse, 12 a wind too full for this comes for me. Now it is I who speak in judgment upon them.”

13 Behold, he comes up like clouds;
his chariots like the whirlwind;
his horses are swifter than eagles—
woe to us, for we are ruined!
14 O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil,
that you may be saved.
How long shall your wicked thoughts
lodge within you?
15 For a voice declares from Dan
and proclaims trouble from Mount Ephraim.
16 Warn the nations that he is coming;
announce to Jerusalem,
“Besiegers come from a distant land;
they shout against the cities of Judah.
17 Like keepers of a field are they against her all around,
because she has rebelled against me,
declares the Lord.
18 Your ways and your deeds
have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
it has reached your very heart.”


Anguish over Judah's Desolation

19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
20 Crash follows hard on crash;
the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are laid waste,
my curtains in a moment.
21 How long must I see the standard
and hear the sound of the trumpet?

22 “For my people are foolish;
they know me not;
they are stupid children;
they have no understanding.
They are ‘wise’—in doing evil!
But how to do good they know not.”

23 I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and behold, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

28 “For this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above be dark;
for I have spoken; I have purposed;
I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”

29 At the noise of horseman and archer
every city takes to flight;
they enter thickets; they climb among rocks;
all the cities are forsaken,
and no man dwells in them.
30 And you, O desolate one,
what do you mean that you dress in scarlet,
that you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold,
that you enlarge your eyes with paint?
In vain you beautify yourself.
Your lovers despise you;
they seek your life.
31 For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor,
anguish as of one giving birth to her first child,
the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands,
“Woe is me! I am fainting before murderers.”


Matthew 18

Who Is the Greatest?

Matthew 18 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Temptations to Sin

7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.  Some manuscripts add verse 11: For the Son of Man came to save the lost   ESV   12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

If Your Brother Sins Against You

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

ESV Study Bible



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Natural Explanations and A Supernatural God

By J. Warner Wallace 2/6/2015

     I get lots of email from skeptics. Much of this email is related to miracles. People want to know why Christians are so quick to attribute an event (or healing) to the miraculous intervention of a supernatural God, especially when it appears that a natural force may be offered as an explanation. After all, even Moses reported that a “strong east wind” blew all night prior to the parting of the red sea ( Exodus 14:21 ). Maybe this natural occurrence was simply interpreted as a miracle after the fact. In a similar way, Thallus (the 1st Century Roman historian) attributed the darkness at the crucifixion to “an eclipse of the sun”; another reasonable natural occurrence that may have been misinterpreted as a miracle by those who were inclined toward the miraculous.

     Modern day Christians also make claims about the supernatural intervention of God, and to many skeptics, these claims seem unwarranted. When someone claims God healed them from cancer, but admits they underwent a year of chemotherapy and radiation, it’s difficult for non-believers to credit the healing to God. It seems just as likely the “natural” interaction of the treatment was responsible. See the problem? When skeptics find evidence “natural” forces or laws are in play, they quickly dismiss any claim of supernatural activity. But the involvement of “natural” forces does NOT preclude the activity of a “supernatural” God.

     Can God Use the “Laws of Nature”? | My dog, Baily, occasionally begs for a chew toy or dog treat. When one of these coveted items is sitting on the dining room table, she is frustrated beyond words (or barks). Bailey’s Corgi stature prohibits her from making the necessary leap to the tabletop. Her incessant whining will usually provoke one of us to come over and knock the treat from the table so it can fall to the ground for her. Without our intervention as a free agent, the natural force of gravity would never deliver the treat to Bailey. Strictly speaking, it could be said the force of gravity provided the treat. But we know our personal intervention was necessary, even though this intervention utilized the force of gravity as a means to an end. God most certainly works in the same way. God often engages the environment He created in a manner employing the physical laws reflecting His nature. Over time, we’ve observed and identified these divine characteristics and given them a title: “The Laws of Nature”. But the laws describing the interaction between material objects don’t preclude the existence or intervention of a Divine Free Agent who intercedes to “knock something from the table.” God’s free agency actively engages the laws reflecting his ordered, unified and consistent nature.

     A “Supernatural” God in the “Natural” World? | But how can we, as reasonable Christian observers, tell the difference between a series of “unguided,” “natural” occurrences, and a series of events guided by the hand of God? How can we differentiate between a purely “natural” event and a uniquely “divine” miracle? Well, I think we begin by recognizing all “natural,” physical processes in the universe are sustained by God ( Hebrews 1:3, John 5:17 ). The physics of the universe are simply a reflection of the active participation of God in his creation. It’s easy to separate the “divine” from the “natural” and think of the world in categories and boxes. Yet, this is not how the Christian Scriptures describe God’s creation. When we fail to see the forces of nature as the hand of God, we end up justifying all of God’s divine interaction as some form of “natural” coincidence. If we do this long enough, we’ll eventually fail to recognize those moments when God’s free agency is evident; those times when God clearly had to act dramatically to “knock something from the table.”

(Heb 1:3) 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,   ESV

(Jn 5:17) 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”   ESV

     All of us, regardless of worldview, acknowledge the existence of at least one “extra-natural” cause. Whatever caused the universe and created all space, time and matter (the very definition of the ‘natural’ realm), must itself be non-spatial, a-temporal and non-material. This first cause is extra-natural by definition. If this extra-natural cause is personal, there is little reason to reject the reasonable possibility such a cause could choose to interact with its creation. So next time your inclined to attribute something miraculous to a “natural” cause, consider the source of all the physical laws governing the universe. The Divine Being responsible for these laws certainly has the power to act “miraculously”.

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J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of:

     

How to Lose the Things You Love

By Stephen Witmer 7/5/2017

     In a fascinating 1942 essay, C.S. Lewis offered a “universal law” of human experience:

     Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. . . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first. (“First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock)

     In other words, overvaluing a lesser good results, paradoxically, in losing it. In a letter to his friend Dom Bede Griffiths, Lewis expanded on his observation, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”

     Lewis applied his law of firsts and seconds to everyday life. The woman who makes her dog the center of her life loses “not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.” The man who focuses solely on the woman he loves, doing nothing but contemplating her, eventually loses the pleasure of loving her, as well as all the other things that make life rich and enjoyable. On a much larger scale, Lewis believed that the civilization of his day was imperiled because it had been putting itself first, rather than second to a higher good.

(Lk 6:24–26) 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.   ESV

     These four woes match the four Beatitudes that come immediately before them, each of which describes future blessing from God in his eternal kingdom (“you shall be satisfied, you shall laugh”). Correspondingly, the woes describe an eternal state of divine judgment upon God’s enemies.

     It may appear, at first sight, as though Jesus warns his hearers not to be rich, full, happy, or well-regarded. But, as J.C. Ryle pointed out long ago, Abraham and Job were rich, with plenty to eat; King David laughed and rejoiced; and Timothy had a good reputation, as did the seven men appointed to serve the church in Acts 6. So, what is Jesus actually warning against?

No Good Apart from God

     The key is the last phrase of the fourth woe: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Jesus warns not against a good reputation per se, but specifically the sort of good reputation enjoyed by the false prophets. We’re in danger of divine judgment when we’re well-thought-of for ungodly reasons, when we say what’s not true to gain the good opinion of others, sacrificing truth for popularity.

     This helps us understand Jesus’s woes. Jesus doesn’t pronounce woe upon all who are rich, but upon those who find their consolation in riches rather than in God — who treasure their wealth above God. Jesus doesn’t pronounce woe upon all who are satisfied, but upon those who place the satisfaction of their appetites above God.

     Jesus doesn’t pronounce woe upon all joyful people, but upon those who seek happiness apart from God. The problem is not wealth, food, laughter, or reputation in and of themselves. It’s the idolatry of elevating such things above God. When that happens, the law of firsts and seconds applies, forever.

Do You Love It Enough to Love It Less?

     Consider the first woe: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” God is a first thing. Money is a second thing. Yet we know it’s easy to trust money more than God, pursue it harder than we pursue God, and use it for ourselves rather than for God. Wealth may become our protector and comforter.

     Jesus says that if we put wealth above God, we’ve already received all the consolation we’ll ever get; namely, our present bank account, investment portfolio, and retirement plan. But this consolation will not last long, because God’s judgment will fall. If we pursue wealth more than God, we’ll lose God and also, eventually, our wealth.

     In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who trusts in his wealth, plans to build bigger barns to store his crops, and looks forward to relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. God calls him a fool and tells him he’ll die that night. Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God”Luke 12:21 ). He valued God’s gifts over God, and therefore, in the end, was left with neither God nor gift.

What About Food?

     The same is true in Jesus’s second woe: “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” It’s wonderful to prepare and eat a delicious meal. When God is firmly first in our lives, a world of guilt-free, God-glorifying culinary pleasure opens before us. We enjoy food more because we know who made it and gave it. Putting first things first, we get second things thrown in.

     But when we let our stomachs rule, we begin to live for meal times. We think about food too much. We draw too much comfort from it. We overeat. Thus, we minimize our present enjoyment of food, feeling stuffed, overweight, and enslaved. And in the end, we lose the enjoyment altogether. We’re hungry, dissatisfied, and empty forever.

Love Everything for God’s Sake

     No matter what gift you can think of — reputation, money, sex, influence, music, even the love of family and friends — the principle remains the same: the best way to destroy your joy in them (and, more importantly, your soul) is to seek them above or in place of God.

     Jesus is most emphatically not against our enjoyment of God-given pleasures. But if we place gifts before God, he warns we will lose both.

     Augustine prayed, “He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.” Jesus wants us to enjoy both God and his gifts. We will have both forever if — and only if — we keep God first.

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Stephen Witmer is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He previously served with John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota, and is a member of the editorial board of the Gospel Coalition's journal Themelios. He and his wife, Emma, have three children.

Stephen Witmer Books:

The Absurdity of Moral Relativism: A Student's Perpsective

By Sean McDowell 7/4/2017

     When I was a full-time high school teacher, one of my favorite assignments was to have my students develop a creative project to illustrate what would follow if moral relativism were true. Students wrote stories, composed songs, made short films, and more.

     My all-time favorite was a short poem written by a high school senior. She captures the moral absurdity that would follow if morality were truly relative to the individual:

     “If Relativism Were True”

     The trigger’s pulled, heart cold as stone. Body thrown into the sea. No tears are shed, though his brother is dead. He says “It was right for me.”

     A woman is bruised, all black and blue. She silently drinks her tea. Her husband’s eyes conceal the lies. He says, “It was right for me.”

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Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, a part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.Books By Sean McDowell

Books By Sean McDowell

The Ascension

By R.C. Sproul 3/1/2010

     These men had spent three years in a state of unspeakable joy. They had witnessed what no human beings before them had ever seen in the entire course of history. Their eyes peered openly at things angels themselves longed to look into but were unable. Their ears heard what ancient saints had a fierce desire to hear with their own ears. These men were the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. They were His students. They were His companions. Where He went, they went. What He said, they heard. What He did, they saw with their own eyes. These were the original eyewitnesses of the earthly ministry of the Son of God.

     But one day, these men heard from the lips of their teacher the worst of all possible news. Jesus told them that He was leaving them. He told them that the days of their intimate companionship in this world were coming to a hasty end. Imagine the shock and profound panic that filled the hearts of these disciples when Jesus said that it was just about over.

     In John 16 we read what Jesus said: “‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and, “because I am going to the Father”?’ So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’

     “Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, ‘Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me”? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’” (John 16:16–22).

     Just shortly before this enigmatic statement, Jesus had said to His disciples: “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (vv. 5–7).

     In the first instance, Jesus says that their hearts will not simply be touched by sorrow or grief or disappointment, but there will be a fullness of sorrow that saturates the chambers of their hearts. They will be overcome with grief. Their mourning will reach the limits of its human capacity. But Jesus says the condition that they will experience will be temporary, that the sense of abandonment they may feel for a moment will give way to unspeakable joy.

     Jesus also explains why He must leave them. He says that it is expedient or necessary for Him to go away so that the disciples may be filled with the Holy Spirit. What sounds like an absolute disadvantage, Jesus promises will turn into an advantage. In Acts 1:9–11 we read, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” The disciples watched Jesus leave them. They gazed, staring intently into the heavens as long as their eyes had any sight of Him, at which point two angels came and asked them why they were staring into heaven. The angels then told them that the same Jesus who visibly and bodily ascended would come in like manner at a later time.

     Luke tells us in his gospel account of the ascension (24:50–53): “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” We notice here the complete fulfillment of what Jesus had predicted — the fullness of their sorrow that had completely engulfed them at the hearing of the news of His departure, had given way not only to contentment, not only to acceptance, not only to joy, but to a great and fulfilling joy. They returned from their last sight of Jesus with their hearts filled with elation. How can that be? The obvious answer is found in that the disciples came to understand the significance of the ascension. As hard as it was to fathom, they came to believe that Jesus’ absence from them was of more benefit than His bodily presence with them, the reason being where He was going and what He was about to undertake.

     In John 3:13 Jesus declared, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” That verse sounds difficult at first glance when we realize that in the Old Testament, Enoch ascended into heaven in the sense that he was carried there, as was Elijah when the chariots of fire lifted him up into the heavens. When Jesus speaks of ascension, He’s not speaking of merely “going up.” He is speaking of something in technical terms. He is thinking in terms of the Psalms of Ascent that celebrated the anointing of a king (Pss. 120–34). When Jesus says no one ascends into heaven, it is true that no one ascends or goes to heaven in the same manner or for the same purpose that He went there. He was lifted up on clouds of glory in order to go to His Father for the purpose of His coronation as our King — as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He ascended into heaven to fulfill His role as our Great High Priest, interceding for His people daily. So as He sits at the right hand of the Father, exercising His lordship over the whole world and His intercession before the Father on behalf of His people, He improves our condition dramatically. Not only this, but before Pentecost could come and the Holy Spirit could be poured out upon the church, empowering the church for its missionary enterprise to the whole world, it was necessary for Christ to ascend so that together with the Father He might dispatch from heaven the Holy Spirit in all of His power.

     As hard as it is to imagine, the condition that we enjoy right now on this side of the atonement, on this side of the resurrection, this side of the ascension, and this side of Pentecost is, redemptively speaking, a greater situation than that which the disciples enjoyed during their three-year tenure in the presence of the Lord Jesus. We celebrate the ascension because we celebrate our King.

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Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.

R.C. Sproul Books:

Give God Your Revenge

By John Piper 7/5/2017

(Ro 12:19)     19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” NRSV

     Why is this such a crucial promise in overcoming our bent toward bitterness and revenge? The reason is that this promise answers one of the most powerful impulses behind anger — an impulse that is not entirely wrong.

     I can illustrate with an experience I had during my seminary days. I was in a small group for couples that began to relate at a fairly deep personal level. One evening we were discussing forgiveness and anger. One of the young wives said that she could not and would not forgive her mother for something she had done to her as a young girl.

     We talked about some of the biblical commands and warnings concerning an unforgiving spirit.

(Eph 4:32)     32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. NRSV

(Mt 6:15)     15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


     But she would not budge. I warned her that her very soul was in danger if she kept on with such an attitude of unforgiving bitterness. But she was adamant that she would not forgive her mother.

     The grace of God’s judgment is promised to us here in Romans 12 as a means of helping us overcome a spirit of revenge and bitterness.

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      (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

     John Piper Books:

I Don’t Take The Bible Literally, And Neither Does Anyone Else

By Glenn T. Stanton 5/1/2017

     Literally no one takes the Bible literally. But otherwise intelligent pollsters and journalists continue to ask the question as a gauge for who takes the Bible seriously—or too seriously.  This reminds me of The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.

     A recent report from Pew tells us that only 39 percent of Christians take the Bible literally. This is very bad news for believers’ fidelity to Scripture, but not for the reason you might think. It’s also a poor reflection on the good folks at Pew.

     Why? It’s quite simple: Literally no one takes the Bible literally. NO ONE. But otherwise intelligent pollsters and journalists continue to ask the question as a gauge for who really takes the Bible seriously—or too seriously. And Christians continue to play along.

     Herehere and here are just a few examples of this. It all shows an embarrassing ignorance of how billions of Christians and Jews approach this important and world-changing book hermeneutically. This is unacceptable.

     All one need do is open a Bible to any random page. I’ve just slipped my thumb into my closed Bible as I write this and aimlessly opened to Ecclesiastes 10:2, where we read: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”

     If I say I take Scripture literally, then I must believe my heart—this four-chambered, muscular organ beating in my chest—physically inclines to the left part of my chest cavity because I’m a fool. If I were ever to become wise, it will physically shift toward the right side. My cardiologist would be amazed.

     However, if I take these words as true, authoritative, and reliable, rather than literally, they mean my internal self—who I really am—is inclined in a direction exactly opposite of one who is wise. Scripture’s lesson for me? Being wise or a fool has dramatic and polar opposite consequences and affects us internally and externally, right down to our deepest depths.

     Let’s do it again for confirmation. I randomly flip over a few books and find myself in Psalm 62. I read here, in verse two, that God is my rock, my salvation, and my fortress. This is good news indeed.

     Taken literally, it raises the question as to what kind of rock God is: igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic? God says he’s my fortress. Is he stone, wooden, or steel? How tall are his walls? What’s his configuration? Am I being disrespectful with such questions? It seems like it, and that’s the point. If anyone actually took the Bible literally, these would be perfectly reasonable questions for any serious student.

What People Really Mean by the Question

     Of course, when we answer “Do you take the Bible literally?” we are simply taking it as short-hand for “Do you take the Bible as truth?” But the faithful student should have long ago dispelled such misinformed assumptions, correcting the questioner with, “You don’t really understand much about Christianity or the Bible, do you?” The serious student of Dante or Shakespeare wouldn’t tolerate such ignorance of their beloved texts. We shouldn’t either.

     In the same way, we do not take all of Christ’s words literally, even as the faithful Christian takes every one as divine and practically true. Consider John 10:7 and 9: “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep… I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

     “Very truly I tell you.” Do we believe that Jesus is speaking truthfully to us here? If we take Jesus seriously we must.

     “I am the gate for the sheep…” Is Jesus literally a sheep’s gate? Are his hinges on the top or the side? Does he open to the left or right? Is he made of wood or iron? Does he squeak? If we do indeed take Jesus’ words literally, these are very appropriate questions about the Nazarene, are they not?

     Even the unbeliever or smallest child knows Jesus is speaking metaphorically, as he often does. But he is speaking truthfully. He is the means by which we enter salvation. Faithful Jews, Christians, and intelligent students of the Bible know it communicates the story of God in multiple ways. It does so:

  • Literally: Abraham actually existed. He had a real child with Hagar, his wife’s handmaiden. Jesus is God’s son, died on a Roman cross, physically rose from the grave, bodily ascended to the Father and will return, literally.
  • Poetically: As in much of Psalms and Song of Solomon, even in Christ’s teaching.
  • Metaphorically: Many of Jesus’ parables and illustrations.
  • Rhetorically: Acts 1:18-19. Did every last bit of Judas’ intestines spill out as he killed himself? Did every last person in Jerusalem hear about this? Or is Luke speaking in truthful generality?
  • Descriptively: Joseph’s jealous brothers threw him and his brightly colored coat into a deep hole and left him for dead. At Cana, Jesus said to the servants, “Fill these jars with water so they filled them to the brim.”
     God’s word is completely true, but not literal. No faith tradition, even the most fundamentalist, has ever read the Scriptures this way. This is obvious to anyone who takes ten seconds to think about it. Why then, do we allow it to be described in such a sloppy and inaccurate way? Why do intelligent believers let the question stand, much less answer it?

     One’s fidelity to the text and integrity of Scripture—including the generally well-educated non-believer—requires we correct this error when it arises, putting it out of it misery once and for all.

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     Glenn is the Director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa. He debates and lectures extensively on gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the country. He served the George W. Bush administration for many years as a consultant on increasing fatherhood involvement in the Head Start program.

     He and his wife Jacqueline have five endlessly growing kids and they all live relatively happily in the shadow of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He blogs at glenntstanton.com.

Glenn T. Stanton Books:

Joshua 10; Psalms 142-143; Jeremiah 4; Matthew 18

By Don Carson 7/8/2018

     Psalm 142 should be read in tandem with Psalm 57; both were the product of David’s experience of hiding in a cave while fleeing King Saul. In some ways, however, the two Psalms are quite different. Although in both cases David is pushed to the edge, in Psalm 57 he sounds reasonably buoyant, perhaps bold — certainly confident of the outcome. Here in Psalm 142, however, the mood is gloomy, characterized by “desperate need” (Ps. 142:6), with only three rays of hope. It should not be thought strange that the one crisis should precipitate more than one emotional response. Both Scripture and experience testify that extreme danger and uncertainty can push us to conflicting responses. However we think about such matters, Psalm 142 reflects raw despair — and correspondingly, it speaks tellingly to believers whose circumstances draw them through dark waters no less deep.

     The opening lines find the psalmist urgently and frankly begging for help: “I cry aloud”; “I lift up my voice”; “I pour out my complaint”; “I tell my trouble” — these are the words of a frightened and desperate man. The word rendered “my complaint” sounds less petulant and whiny than the English: perhaps “what’s wrong” or “my troubled thoughts” might be better.

     The first ray of hope comes in verse 3a: “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know [sic] my way.” When he has sunk so low that he is ready to give up, the psalmist finds reassurance in the fact that God is never taken by surprise: “It is you who knows my way.”

     The worst hurts, of course, are personal betrayals. When all around there is no one who can be trusted, when experience after experience demonstrates that this conclusion is pathetically sound and not a symptom of paranoia, when the sheer loneliness of the fight adds a thick layer of depression (“I have no refuge; no one cares for my life,” Ps. 142:54), where does the psalmist turn? Here is the second ray of light: “I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living’” (Ps. 142:5). The move from “my refuge” to “my portion” demonstrates that David is not thinking of God as merely the solution to a problem. There is progression from fear to gratitude.

     None of this reduces the stark reality of David’s “desperate need” (Ps. 142:6). This need is not merely emotional: his emotional crisis is grounded in the reality that he is being pursued by soldiers and their bitter king. The final ray of hope serves as contrast: God’s goodness and fidelity ensure that David will be rescued. David dares to envision the day when the righteous of the land will not only surround him but applaud his reign.

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Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

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Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 72

Give the King Your Justice
72 Of Solomon.

15 Long may he live;
may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field!
17 May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed!

18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!
20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     4. Therefore, it is not the principal part of a sacrament simply to hold forth the body of Christ to us without any higher consideration, but rather to seal and confirm that promise by which he testifies that his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed, nourishing us unto life eternal, and by which he affirms that he is the bread of life, of which, whosoever shall eat, shall live for ever--I say, to seal and confirm that promise, and in order to do so, it sends us to the cross of Christ, where that promise was performed and fulfilled in all its parts. For we do not eat Christ duly and savingly unless as crucified, while with lively apprehension we perceive the efficacy of his death. When he called himself the bread of life, he did not take that appellation from the sacrament, as some perversely interpret; but such as he was given to us by the Father, such he exhibited himself when becoming partaker of our human mortality, he made us partakers of his divine immortality; when offering himself in sacrifice, he took our curse upon himself, that he might cover us with his blessing, when by his death he devoured and swallowed up death, when in his resurrection he raised our corruptible flesh, which he had put on, to glory and incorruption.

5. It only remains that the whole become ours by application. This is done by means of the gospel, and more clearly by the sacred Supper, where Christ offers himself to us with all his blessings, and we receive him in faith. The sacrament, therefore, does not make Christ become for the first time the bread of life; but, while it calls to remembrance that Christ was made the bread of life that we may constantly eat him, it gives us a taste and relish for that bread, and makes us feel its efficacy. For it assures us, first, that whatever Christ did or suffered was done to give us life; and, secondly, that this quickening is eternal; by it we are ceaselessly nourished, sustained, and preserved in life. For as Christ would not have not been the bread of life to us if he had not been born, if he had not died and risen again; so he could not now be the bread of life, were not the efficacy and fruit of his nativity, death, and resurrection, eternal. All this Christ has elegantly expressed in these words, "The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51); doubtless intimating, that his body will be as bread in regard to the spiritual life of the soul, because it was to be delivered to death for our salvation, and that he extends it to us for food when he makes us partakers of it by faith. Wherefore he once gave himself that he might become bread, when he gave himself to be crucified for the redemption of the world; and he gives himself daily, when in the word of the gospel he offers himself to be partaken by us, inasmuch as he was crucified, when he seals that offer by the sacred mystery of the Supper, and when he accomplishes inwardly what he externally designates. Moreover, two faults are here to be avoided. We must neither, by setting too little value on the signs, dissever them from their meanings to which they are in some degree annexed, nor by immoderately extolling them, seem somewhat to obscure the mysteries themselves. That Christ is the bread of life by which believers are nourished unto eternal life, no man is so utterly devoid of religion as not to acknowledge. But all are not agreed as to the mode of partaking of him. For there are some who define the eating of the flesh of Christ, and the drinking of his blood, to be, in one word, nothing more than believing in Christ himself. But Christ seems to me to have intended to teach something more express and more sublime in that noble discourse, in which he recommends the eating of his flesh--viz. that we are quickened by the true partaking of him, which he designated by the terms eating and drinking, lest any one should suppose that the life which we obtain from him is obtained by simple knowledge. For as it is not the sight but the eating of bread that gives nourishment to the body, so the soul must partake of Christ truly and thoroughly, that by his energy it may grow up into spiritual life. Meanwhile, we admit that this is nothing else than the eating of faith, and that no other eating can be imagined. But there is this difference between their mode of speaking and mine. According to them, to eat is merely to believe; while I maintain that the flesh of Christ is eaten by believing, because it is made ours by faith, and that that eating is the effect and fruit of faith; or, if you will have it more clearly, according to them, eating is faith, whereas it rather seems to me to be a consequence of faith. The difference is little in words, but not little in reality. For, although the apostle teaches that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17), no one will interpret that dwelling to be faith All see that it explains the admirable effect of faith, because to it it is owing that believers have Christ dwelling in them. In this way, the Lord was pleased, by calling himself the bread of life, not only to teach that our salvation is treasured up in the faith of his death and resurrection, but also, by virtue of true communication with him, his life passes into us and becomes ours, just as bread when taken for food gives vigour to the body.

6. When Augustine, whom they claim as their patron, wrote, that we eat by believing, all he meant was to indicate that that eating is of faith, and not of the mouth. This I deny not; but I at the same time add, that by faith we embrace Christ, not as appearing at a distance, but as uniting himself to us, he being our head, and we his members. I do not absolutely disapprove of that mode of speaking; I only deny that it is a full interpretation, if they mean to define what it is to eat the flesh of Christ. I see that Augustine repeatedly used this form of expression, as when he said (De Doct. Christ. Lib. 3), " Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man" is a figurative expression enjoining us to have communion with our Lord's passion, and sweetly and usefully to treasure in our memory that his flesh was crucified and wounded for us. Also when he says, "These three thousand men who were converted at the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:41), by believing, drank the blood which they had cruelly shed." [635] But in very many other passages he admirably commends faith for this, that by means of it our souls are not less refreshed by the communion of the blood of Christ, than our bodies with the bread which they eat. The very same thing is said by Chrysostom, "Christ makes us his body, not by faith only, but in reality." He does not mean that we obtain this blessing from any other quarter than from faith: he only intends to prevent any one from thinking of mere imagination when he hears the name of faith. I say nothing of those who hold that the Supper is merely a mark of external profession, because I think I sufficiently refuted their error when I treated of the sacraments in general (Chap. 14 sec. 13). Only let my readers observe, that when the cup is called the covenant in blood (Luke 22:20), the promise which tends to confirm faith is expressed. Hence it follows, that unless we have respect to God, and embrace what he offers, we do not make a right use of the sacred Supper.

7. I am not satisfied with the view of those who, while acknowledging that we have some kind of communion with Christ, only make us partakers of the Spirit, omitting all mention of flesh and blood. As if it were said to no purpose at all, that his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed; that we have no life unless we eat that flesh and drink that blood; and so forth. Therefore, if it is evident that full communion with Christ goes beyond their description, which is too confined, I will attempt briefly to show how far it extends, before proceeding to speak of the contrary vice of excess. For I shall have a longer discussion with these hyperbolical doctors, who, according to their gross ideas, fabricate an absurd mode of eating and drinking, and transfigure Christ, after divesting him of his flesh, into a phantom: if, indeed, it be lawful to put this great mystery into words, a mystery which I feel, and therefore freely confess that I am unable to comprehend with my mind, so far am I from wishing any one to measure its sublimity by my feeble capacity. Nay, I rather exhort my readers not to confine their apprehension within those too narrow limits, but to attempt to rise much higher than I can guide them. For whenever this subject is considered, after I have done my utmost, I feel that I have spoken far beneath its dignity. And though the mind is more powerful in thought than the tongue in expression, it too is overcome and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the subject. All then that remains is to break forth in admiration of the mystery, which it is plain that the mind is inadequate to comprehend, or the tongue to express. I will, however, give a summary of my view as I best can, not doubting its truth, and therefore trusting that it will not be disapproved by pious breasts.

8. First of all, we are taught by the Scriptures that Christ was from the beginning the living Word of the Father, the fountain and origin of life, from which all things should always receive life. Hence John at one time calls him the Word of life, and at another says, that in him was life; intimating, that he, even then pervading all creatures, instilled into them the power of breathing and living. He afterwards adds, that the life was at length manifested, when the Son of God, assuming our nature, exhibited himself in bodily form to be seen and handled. For although he previously diffused his virtue into the creatures, yet as man, because alienated from God by sin, had lost the communication of life, and saw death on every side impending over him, he behoved, in order to regain the hope of immortality, to be restored to the communion of that Word. How little confidence can it give you, to know that the Word of God, from which you are at the greatest distance, contains within himself the fulness of life, whereas in yourself, in whatever direction you turn, you see nothing but death? But ever since that fountain of life began to dwell in our nature, he no longer lies hid at a distance from us, but exhibits himself openly for our participation. Nay, the very flesh in which he resides he makes vivifying to us, that by partaking of it we may feed for immortality. "I," says he, "am that bread of life;" "I am the living bread which came down from heaven;" "And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:48, 51). By these words he declares, not only that he is life, inasmuch as he is the eternal Word of God who came down to us from heaven, but, by coming down, gave vigour to the flesh which he assumed, that a communication of life to us might thence emanate. Hence, too, he adds, that his flesh is meat indeed, and that his blood is drink indeed: by this food believers are reared to eternal life. The pious, therefore, have admirable comfort in this, that they now find life in their own flesh. For they not only reach it by easy access, but have it spontaneously set forth before them. Let them only throw open the door of their hearts that they may take it into their embrace, and they will obtain it.

9. The flesh of Christ, however, has not such power in itself as to make us live, seeing that by its own first condition it was subject to mortality, and even now, when endued with immortality, lives not by itself. Still it is properly said to be life-giving, as it is pervaded with the fulness of life for the purpose of transmitting it to us. In this sense I understand our Saviour's words as Cyril interprets them, "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26). For there properly he is speaking not of the properties which he possessed with the Father from the beginning, but of those with which he was invested in the flesh in which he appeared. Accordingly, he shows that in his humanity also fulness of life resides, so that every one who communicates in his flesh and blood, at the same time enjoys the participation of life. The nature of this may be explained by a familiar example. As water is at one time drunk out of the fountain, at another drawn, at another led away by conduits to irrigate the fields, and yet does not flow forth of itself for all these uses, but is taken from its source, which, with perennial flow, ever and anon sends forth a new and sufficient supply; so the flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain, which transfuses into us the life flowing forth from the Godhead into itself. Now, who sees not that the communion of the flesh and blood of Christ is necessary to all who aspire to the heavenly life? Hence those passages of the apostle: The Church is the "body" of Christ; his "fulness." He is "the head," "from whence the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth," "maketh increase of the body" (Eph. 1:23; 4:15,16). Our bodies are the "members of Christ" (1 Cor. 6:15). We perceive that all these things cannot possibly take place unless he adheres to us wholly in body and spirit. But the very close connection which unites us to his flesh, he illustrated with still more splendid epithets, when he said that we "are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Eph. 5:30). At length, to testify that the matter is too high for utterance, he concludes with exclaiming, "This is a great mystery" (Eph. 5:32). It were, therefore, extreme infatuation not to acknowledge the communion of believers with the body and blood of the Lord, a communion which the apostle declares to be so great, that he chooses rather to marvel at it than to explain it.

10. The sum is, that the flesh and blood of Christ feed our souls just as bread and wine maintain and support our corporeal life. For there would be no aptitude in the sign, did not our souls find their nourishment in Christ. This could not be, did not Christ truly form one with us, and refresh us by the eating of his flesh, and the drinking of his blood. But though it seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the Holy Spirit surpasses all our conceptions, and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore, what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive--viz. that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space. That sacred communion of flesh and blood by which Christ transfuses his life into us, just as if it penetrated our bones and marrow, he testifies and seals in the Supper, and that not by presenting a vain or empty sign, but by there exerting an efficacy of the Spirit by which he fulfils what he promises. And truly the thing there signified he exhibits and offers to all who sit down at that spiritual feast, although it is beneficially received by believers only who receive this great benefit with true faith and heartfelt gratitude. For this reason the apostle said, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ"? (1 Cor. 10:16.) There is no ground to object that the expression is figurative, and gives the sign the name of the thing signified. I admit, indeed, that the breaking of bread is a symbol, not the reality. But this being admitted, we duly infer from the exhibition of the symbol that the thing itself is exhibited. For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us.

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain      Institutes of the Christian Religion


  • Marriage - Eternal Significance?
  • Faith Talk?
  • King Worth Serving

#1 Erik Thoennes | Biola University

 

#2 Kate Wallace | Biola University

 

#3 LeAnne Hardy | Biola University

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     9/1/2013    The Disappearance of Heresy

     On October 29, 1929, the Roaring Twenties came to a screeching halt. The stock market crashed, sending these United States of America into the Great Depression, which in turn affected much of the industrialized world. On September 25, 1929, in God’s sovereign timing, just one month before the Wall Street Crash, fifty-two students began their fall semester at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Only a few months prior, J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) resigned from Princeton Theological Seminary and founded Westminster Theological Seminary. Machen, along with Robert Dick Wilson, Oswald T. Allis, and Cornelius Van Til (and later John Murray), resigned their faculty positions at Princeton not only on account of its outright denial of certain essential doctrines of the faith but on account of its increasing lack of regard for doctrine itself. What was once a bastion of doctrinal orthodoxy, Princeton, America’s second-oldest seminary, gradually became not only a stronghold of false doctrine but a cesspool of apathy toward doctrine itself. The seminary, and its parent denomination, attempted to place the unity of the church above the doctrinal purity of the church and the result was neither purity nor unity, but outright heresy. The gradual disregard for doctrine itself and the complacent attitude towards confessional orthodoxy naturally led to wholesale disinterest in contending for the faith once delivered to the saints. Fundamentally, the seminary’s heresy was indifferentism about doctrine. And as Machen wrote in his now-classic book Christianity and Liberalism years prior to his resignation at Princeton, “Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith” (p. 42).

     Currently in the church, we are facing much the same thing that Machen and his colleagues faced, only with more subtlety—lip-service to confessional orthodoxy but complacency in preaching and defending it. Today, the only thing not tolerated is intolerance of doctrinal tolerance, the only evil is calling out evil, and the only heresy is calling anything heresy. And although we cannot by any means condone any of the unbiblical tactics of the thirteenth-century church in her wrong-headed attempts to root out and kill heretics, particularly the crusade against the Waldensians and Albigensians and the Inquisition, we must nevertheless appreciate and recapture the church’s zealous fight to guard doctrinal truth against all error and heresy. With all of its ecclesiastical problems and abuses, the thirteenth-century church gave us Thomas Aquinas’ robust systematic theology Summa Theologica, scholasticism, and a developing reformation that, in centuries to come and in God’s sovereign timing, gave us heroes of the orthodox biblical faith once delivered to the saints.

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     The Liberty Bell got its name from being rung this day, July 8, 1776, to call the citizens of Philadelphia together to hear the Declaration of Independence read out loud for the first time. Made in England, this massive bell, weighing over 2000 pounds, was rung on each successive anniversary, until 1835, when it cracked on July 8th while tolling at the funeral of the famous Supreme Court Justice John Marshall. Inscribed on the Liberty Bell is a verse from Old Testament Book of Leviticus, Chapter 25: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


Passion and prejudice govern the world;
only under the name of reason.
It is our part, by religion and reason joined,
to counteract them all we can.
--- from a letter in the Works of John Wesley
Living Thoughts of John Wesley: A Comprehensive Selection of the Living Thoughts of the Founder of Methodism as Contained in His Miscellaneous Works

Asked to make a list of the men who have most dominated the thinking of the modern world, many educated people would name Freud, Einstein, Marx and Darwin. Of these four, only Darwin was not Jewish. In a world where Jews are only a tiny percentage of the population, what is the secret of the disproportionate importance the Jews have had in the history of Western culture?
--- Ernest van den Haag
Jewish Mystique

Oh, help me, Lord, to take the time
To set all else aside,
That in the secret place of prayer
I may with you abide.
--- Unknown
My Utmost for His Highest
... from here, there and everywhere

The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
     CHAPTER 17 / The Torah, the Heart,
     and Education


     “Your Heart”

     As previously mentioned, “these words” that are to be placed “upon your heart” refer to the whole corpus of divine revelation, that is, to Torah. What, we must then ask, is the relation between the words of the Torah and the human heart? How do the words of Torah—austere and magnificent, ancient and transcendent—connect with our innermost being?

     The heart, in the Bible, is the seat of both intellect and emotion, of reason and intention, of the Good Urge and the Evil Urge. In other words, it is the source of personality and character. The prophet
Ezekiel (38:10) points to the heart’s capacity for evil intentions as he rails at Gog: “… It shall also come to pass that at the same time shall things come into your heart and you shall think an evil thought.” Or, even more to the point is this brooding and angry statement by Jeremiah (17:9): “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” This verse occasioned the following comment by the Rabbis: All of the organs of man remain more or less as God created them, except for the heart. “Said Jeremiah, [the heart] changes from hour to hour, and man changes his self and makes himself crooked.” (2)

(2)     Midrash Aggada,
Gen. 2:2.

     Thus, our verse in the Shema urges that the divine words be placed “upon your heart,” so that they decisively influence our actions and behavior for the good and the honorable instead of being “deceitful … and desperately wicked.”

     But at this point we encounter a more acute problem. To take the words of the Shema seriously, especially as commented and elaborated upon by the talmudic and midrashic Sages, confronts us with a formidable dilemma: On the one hand, if we take the injunctions of the Shema as hyperbole, as Scripture’s dramatic way of making a point, we cannot really hope to understand what the Torah truly requires of us. But on the other hand, to accept them as they are, in all their stark literalness, is an overpowering experience. How can we, in truth, expect to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might?” And if we accept the Rabbis’ expansion of these terms, is it at all possible to fulfill this fundamental commandment? Who indeed has the spiritual strength and psychic capacity to sublimate all libidinal impulses and redirect them for so remote a goal as loving God? Are we prepared to give up our lives and our fortunes in order to prove that love? Is such profound commitment possible, especially in an age so critical of “the true believer,” so cynical about the extent of human spirituality, so suspicious about all claims that point to the transcendent, beyond the material or the “scientifically” provable?

     Before we address this question, let us consider an apparently insignificant literary problem that may guide us toward an answer. Our verse contains a rather awkward preposition in the phrase “upon your heart.” Most contemporary editions translate this as, “in your heart,” which is the obvious sense of the text. But the Hebrew is not bi’levavekha, “in” your heart, but al levavekha, “upon” your heart. The King James version, from which we have quoted above, is closer to the literal reading of the text. Is this expression simply an idiomatic peculiarity, or does it hold some hidden meaning?

     The hasidic master R. Zadok Hakohen of Lublin elaborates on this stylistic oddity. (3) The heart, says R. Zadok, is never neutral; it never rests. It is either preoccupied with thoughts of Torah, or it is filled with hirhurim, that is, ignoble, unworthy thoughts. While Torah is identical with emet, truth—an intellectual category—random thoughts (the hirhurim) are a function of the human being’s imaginative faculties: wide-ranging and undisciplined, fanciful and poetic, charming and deceitful, full of sacred potential and yet equally capable of the most dangerous self-delusion.

(3)     These remarks are culled from his Tzidkat ha-Tzaddik, 210.


  The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 4.

     Herod's Veteran Soldiers Become Tumultuous. The Robberies Of Judas. Simon And Athronoeus Take The Name Of King Upon Them.

     1. At this time there were great disturbances in the country, and that in many places; and the opportunity that now offered itself induced a great many to set up for kings. And indeed in Idumea two thousand of Herod's veteran soldiers got together, and armed and fought against those of the king's party; against whom Achiabus, the king's first cousin, fought, and that out of some of the places that were the most strongly fortified; but so as to avoid a direct conflict with them in the plains. In Sepphoris also, a city of Galilee, there was one Judas [the son of that arch-robber Hezekias, who formerly overran the country, and had been subdued by king Herod]; this man got no small multitude together, and brake open the place where the royal armor was laid up, and armed those about him, and attacked those that were so earnest to gain the dominion.

     2. In Perea also, Simon, one of the servants to the king, relying upon the handsome appearance and tallness of his body, put a diadem upon his own head also; he also went about with a company of robbers that he had gotten together, and burnt down the royal palace that was at Jericho, and many other costly edifices besides, and procured himself very easily spoils by rapine, as snatching them out of the fire. And he had soon burnt down all the fine edifices, if Gratus, the captain of the foot of the king's party, had not taken the Trachonite archers, and the most warlike of Sebaste, and met the man. His footmen were slain in the battle in abundance; Gratus also cut to pieces Simon himself, as he was flying along a strait valley, when he gave him an oblique stroke upon his neck, as he ran away, and brake it. The royal palaces that were near Jordan at Betharamptha were also burnt down by some other of the seditious that came out of Perea.

     3. At this time it was that a certain shepherd ventured to set himself up for a king; he was called Athrongeus. It was his strength of body that made him expect such a dignity, as well as his soul, which despised death; and besides these qualifications, he had four brethren like himself. He put a troop of armed men under each of these his brethren, and made use of them as his generals and commanders, when he made his incursions, while he did himself act like a king, and meddled only with the more important affairs; and at this time he put a diadem about his head, and continued after that to overrun the country for no little time with his brethren, and became their leader in killing both the Romans and those of the king's party; nor did any Jew escape him, if any gain could accrue to him thereby. He once ventured to encompass a whole troop of Romans at Emmaus, who were carrying corn and weapons to their legion; his men therefore shot their arrows and darts, and thereby slew their centurion Arius, and forty of the stoutest of his men, while the rest of them, who were in danger of the same fate, upon the coming of Gratus, with those of Sebaste, to their assistance, escaped. And when these men had thus served both their own countrymen and foreigners, and that through this whole war, three of them were, after some time, subdued; the eldest by Archelaus, the two next by falling into the hands of Gratus and Ptolemeus; but the fourth delivered himself up to Archelaus, upon his giving him his right hand for his security. However, this their end was not till afterward, while at present they filled all Judea with a piratic war.

The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)

Proverbs 20:27-28
     by D.H. Stern

27     The human spirit is a lamp of ADONAI;
it searches one’s inmost being.

28     Grace and truth preserve a king;
with grace he upholds his throne.


Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The will to loyalty

     Choose you this day whom ye will serve. --- Joshua 24:15.
     Will is the whole man active. I cannot give up my will, I must exercise it. I must will to obey, and I must will to receive God’s Spirit. When God gives a vision of truth it is never a question of what He will do, but of what we will do. The Lord has been putting before us all some big propositions, and the best thing to do is to remember what you did when you were touched by God before—the time when you were saved, or first saw Jesus, or realized some truth. It was easy then to yield allegiance to God; recall those moments now as the Spirit of God brings before you some new proposition.

     “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” It is a deliberate calculation, not something into which you drift easily; and everything else is in abeyance until you decide. The proposition is between you and God; do not confer with flesh and blood about it. With every new proposition other people get more and more ‘out of it,’ that is where the strain comes. God allows the opinion of His saints to matter to you, and yet you are brought more and more out of the certainty that others understand the step you are taking. You have no business to find out where God is leading, the only thing God will explain to you is Himself.

     Profess to Him—‘I will be loyal.’

     Immediately you choose to be loyal to Jesus Christ, you are a witness against yourself. Don’t consult other Christians, but profess before Him—‘I will serve Thee.’ Will to be loyal—and give other people credit for being loyal too.


My Utmost for His Highest

Absolution
     the Poetry of RS Thomas


                Absolution

Prytherch, man, can you forgive
From your stone altar on which the light's
Bread is broken at dusk and dawn
And chosen for an indulgent world's
Ear the story of one whose hands
Have bruised themselves on the locked doors
Of life; whose heart, fuller than mine
Of gulped tears, is the dark well
From which to draw, drop after drop,
The terrible poetry of his kind.


Selected poems, 1946-1968

Hab. 2:6–20
     Declare God’s Judgment
     W. W. Wiersbe


     To the faithful Jews in the land, God would be a refuge and strength (Naum 1:7; Ps. 46), but to the godless Babylonians invading the land, He would be a judge and eventually punish their sins and give them what they deserved. In this “taunt song,” God pronounces “woe” upon five different sins, all of which are prevalent in the world today.

     Selfish ambition (Hab. 2:6–8). Of itself, ambition can be a good thing, but if it motivates people to be greedy, selfish, and abusive, it’s a bad thing. “It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known,” wrote Paul (Rom. 15:20), and God honored that holy ambition. Paul also wrote, “Therefore also we have as our ambition … to be pleasing to him” (2 Cor. 5:9, NASB), an ambition we all should imitate.

     The Babylonians were consumed by selfish ambition and they stopped at nothing to acquire wealth and expand their kingdom. They had hoards of stolen goods, plundered from helpless people. God warned them that the owners of this wealth would one day rise up to condemn them and collect what was due. (The KJV translation of 2:6b is a bit puzzling: “And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!” The image seems to be that of a creditor giving a pledge to the banker (a clay tablet) and promising to pay his debt at a specific time. Habakkuk wrote, “The predator (Babylon) is really a creditor and his victims will one day rise up to collect what is due. It will be payday!” F.F. Bruce translates verse 6b: “Woe to him who multiplies what is not his own—but for how long? And loads himself with pledges” (F.F. Bruce, 864).) Then the Babylonians will become the victims! This happened when the Medes and the Persians invaded Babylon and overthrew Belshazzar (Dan. 5). Babylon plundered other nations and she herself was plundered. Babylon had shed rivers of blood, and her blood was shed. It’s a basic law of the universe that eventually we reap what we sow.

     Covetousness (Hab. 2:9–11). According to Eph 4:28, there are three ways to get wealth: you can work for it, steal it, or receive it as a gift. Stealing is wrong because the eighth commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal”
(Ex. 20:15). The Babylonians took land that wasn’t theirs in order to build an empire that glorified them and assured them safety. Their goal was security, like the eagle’s nest on the high mountain crags. Of course, this was a false security; because no individual or nation can build walls high enough to keep God out.

     What will be the consequences of this covetousness? Instead of having houses and families that bring honor, they will have disgrace and shame and will eventually lose their lives. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) The very materials in their expensive houses would testify against them, for they were plundered from helpless people. James used a similar image when he warned the rich that the wages they owed their laborers would witness against them at the judgment (James 5:1–6). (Jesus used the image of the stones crying out when He cleansed the temple and the children sang His praises (Luke 19:40). If people don’t praise God, inanimate nature will do it! The idea of stones bearing witness goes back to Joshua 24:27.)

     It’s likely that some of the covetous Jews felt the sting of this rebuke, for they were amassing fortunes by exploiting the poor and using that money to build expensive houses. (See Amos 3:15 and 6:11). The prophets often rebuked the rich because they lived in luxury while the poor suffered. Jesus warned His disciples, “Take heed and beware of covetousness” (Luke 12:15), and that warning is valid today. “Thou shalt not covet” may be the last of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17), but if we’re guilty of covetousness, we’re in danger of breaking the other nine!

     Exploitation of people (Hab. 2:12–14). Babylon was built by bloodshed, the blood of innocent victims. It was built by prisoners of war, slave labor that was exploited to the fullest extent. Babylon was proud of what she had built, but God said it wouldn’t last; it was only fuel for the fire. The city of Babylon was an architectural marvel, but their great projects were for nothing. It’s all gone, and today, if you want to see what Babylon was like, you have to visit a museum.

     When I was a seminary student in Chicago, one of our classes did just that: we visited a museum to see the exhibit on Babylon. I recall how impressed I was with the model of the city, marveling that such magnificent walls and gates and buildings could be constructed in those ancient days. But my wonder turned to disgust when I recalled that the city was built with slave labor and that the soul of one of those slaves meant more to God than all the buildings put together.

     In contrast to the shame and infamy of Babylon, God promised that His glory would one day cover the earth
(v. 14). The “glory” of Babylon didn’t last, but the glory of the Lord will abide forever. Certainly, the Lord was glorified when Babylon fell before her enemies in 539 B.C.
(
Jer. 50–51), and He will be glorified when the Babylon of the last days is destroyed, that final great world empire that opposes God (Rev. 17–18). When Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom, then God’s glory will indeed cover the whole earth (Isa. 11:1–9). (Isaiah promised that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (11:9), a phrase that relates to Numbers 14:21. When the seraphim before God’s throne look upon the earth, they see it full of God’s glory (Isa. 6:3), though it may not look glorious from our perspective. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for Habakkuk 2:14 to be fulfilled. “Let the whole earth be filled with His glory” (Ps. 72:19).)

     The fall of “Babylon the great” is a reminder to us that what man builds without God can never last. The exploiter will eventually lose everything, and man’s “utopias” will turn out to be disasters. We can’t exploit people made in God’s image and expect to escape God’s judgment. It may take time, but eventually the judgment falls.

     Drunkenness and violence (
Hab. 2:15–17). This repulsive picture can be interpreted both personally and nationally. While the Bible doesn’t demand total abstinence, it does warn against the evils of strong drink (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; 23:20–21, 29–35; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; and
1 Thes. 5:7
). Drunkenness and sensual behavior often go together (Gen. 9:20–27; 19:30–38; Rom. 13:11–14).

     But the word “neighbor” could also refer to a neighboring nation that was “intoxicated” by Babylon’s power and made naked before Babylon’s invading armies. In Scripture, drinking a cup of wine can be a picture of judgment
(
Jer. 25:15ff), and nakedness sometimes speaks of the devastating effects of military invasion (Isa. 47:1–3).

     However, what Babylon did to others, God would do to her. Babylon had been a golden cup in God’s hands
(
Jer. 51:7), and He had used her to chasten the nations, but now God will give her a cup to drink that will bring her to ruin (Rev. 16:19). (Some see in this the picture of the conqueror giving the conquered rulers a cup of poison to drink. However, the emphasis seems to be on disgrace rather than death.) She will be ashamed as other nations look on her nakedness. Divine retribution will be hers: the violence she did to others will be done to her; as she shed the blood of others, her blood will be shed; and as she destroyed the lands of other nations, so her land will be devastated. The glory of God will cover the earth, but Babylon’s “glory” will be covered with shame. The picture is that of a repulsive drunk, vomiting all over himself, and it isn’t a very pretty picture.

     It’s worth noting that God mentions the way the Babylonians abused trees and animals (
Hab. 2:17), suggesting that the soldiers wastefully chopped down trees and killed cattle to use both the wood and the meat for their war effort. God also mentions His concern for animals in Jonah 4:11, so check the references. You wonder how many birds and animals lost either their lives or their homes because of this policy. See Deuteronomy 20:19–20 for Israel’s policy on war supplies.

     Idolatry (
Hab. 2:18–20). Sad to say, the people of Judah were also guilty of this sin, for during the declining years of the kingdom, they worshiped the gods of the other nations. All the prophets cried out against this flagrant violation of the second commandment (Ex. 20:4–6), but the people refused to repent.

     What is idolatry?
Romans 1:25 gives the best answer: worshiping and serving the creature instead of the Creator. It started with Lucifer who said, “I will be like the Most High”
(
Isa. 14:14), and it entered humanity when Satan tempted Eve with, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5, NKJV). It’s the popular philosophy of the world that man is the highest thing in the universe and can pull himself up by his own bootstraps to any level he chooses. “Glory to man in the highest!”

     Not only is idolatry disobedience to God’s Word, but it’s also foolish and useless. Of what value is a god made by a man? It’s much more reasonable to worship the God who made the man! (See
Rom. 1:18ff.) Not only is the idol useless (see Ps. 115), but it does definite evil by teaching lies (Hab. 2:18) and giving people false confidence that the dumb idol can help them. For a heartbreaking example of this kind of foolish reasoning, read Jeremiah 44.

     Idols are dead substitutes for the living God (
Ps. 115). Whatever people delight in other than God, whatever they are devoted to and sacrifice for, whatever they couldn’t bear to be without, is an idol and therefore under the condemnation of God. Most people in civilized countries don’t worship man-made images of things in nature, but if the above definition is correct, modern society has its idols just as the Babylonians did.

     Famous people are the “idols” of millions, especially politicians, athletes, wealthy tycoons, and actors and actresses. Even dead entertainers like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley still have their followers. People may also worship and serve man-made things like cars, houses, boats, jewelry, and art. While all of us appreciate beautiful and useful things, it’s one thing to own them and quite something else to be owned by them. Albert Schweitzer said, “Anything you have that you cannot give away, you do not really own; it owns you.” I’ve met people who so idolized their children and grandchildren that they refused to let them consider giving their lives for Christian service.

     Social position can be an idol and so can vocation achievement. For some people, their god is their appetite
(
Phil. 3:19; Rom. 16:18); and they live only to experience carnal pleasures. Intellectual ability can be a terrible idol
(
2 Cor. 10:5) as people worship their IQ and refuse to submit to God’s Word.

     God ended His reply to
Habakkuk by giving a third assurance: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20; see Ps. 11:4). The first assurance focused on God’s grace (Hab 2:4), and the second on God’s glory (v. 14). This third assurance focuses on God’s government; God is on the throne and has everything under control. Therefore, we shouldn’t complain against God or question what He’s doing. Like faithful servants, we must simply stand and listen for His commands. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

     Seeing the vision of God and hearing the voice of God made a tremendous difference in
Habakkuk’s life. As he grasped the significance of the three great assurances God gave him, he was transformed from being a worrier and a watcher to being a worshiper. In the closing chapter of this book, he will share with us the vision he had of God and the difference it made in his life.

Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)

Searching For Meaning In Midrash
     Genesis 24:10–14


     Between the midwife and the woman in labor, the poor child was lost.

     BIBLE TEXT /
Genesis 24:10–14 / Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and set out, taking with him all the bounty of his master; and he made his way to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city, at Evening time, the time when women come out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townspeople come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’—let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby I shall know that You have dealt graciously with my master.”

     MIDRASH TEXT / Genesis Rabbah 60, 3 / Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townspeople come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please.…’ Four asked inappropriately. Three were granted appropriately and a fourth inappropriately. These are them: Eliezer, Abraham’s servant; Caleb; Saul; Jephthah. Eliezer said, Let the maiden to whom I say.… Thus even if it had been a slave who had come out and brought water, he would have taken her to his master. How strange! Yet the Holy One, praised is He, answered him appropriately. “He had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebekah … came out …” (
Genesis 24:15).

     Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Achsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher”
(
Judges 1:12). Even if a slave had captured it, he would have given him his daughter! Yet the Holy One, praised is He, answered him appropriately, as it says, “His younger kinsman Othniel the Kenizzite captured it; and Caleb gave him his daughter Achsah in marriage” (Judges 1:13). Saul said, “The man who kills him will be rewarded by the king with great riches; he will also give him his daughter in marriage …” (1 Samuel 17:25). Thus had a Cushite, an idolater, or a slave killed him, he would have given him his daughter. Yet the Holy One, praised is He, answered him appropriately, as it is written, “David … the son of a certain Ephrathite …” (1 Samuel 17:12).

     Jephthah: “Then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering” (
Judges 11:31). Thus had a donkey, a dog, or a cat come out, he would have offered it as a burnt offering. Yet the Holy One, praised is He, did not answer him appropriately, as is written, “When Jephthah arrived … there was his daughter coming out to meet him.” (Judges 11:34). Rabbi Yoḥanan and Resh Lakish: Rabbi Yoḥanan said, “He was required to pay her dedicated value.” Resh Lakish said, “He wasn’t even required to pay her dedicated value, as it is taught: ‘If one said on an unclean animal or on a blemished animal, “These are a burnt offering,” he has said nothing. If he said, “These are for a burnt offering,” he should bring their dedicated value as an offering.’ ” But wasn’t Phinehas there to release him from his vow? Phinehas said, “He needs me, and I’m going to him?” And Jephthah said, “I’m the head of Israel’s leaders. Am I going to Phinehas?” Between the two of them, the maiden was lost! This is [what people say], ‘Between the midwife and the woman in labor, the poor child was lost.’ ”

     CONTEXT / The Rabbis read the prayer of Abraham’s servant (identified by tradition as Eliezer) and felt that it was not proper. This led them to think of other people in the Bible who made improper requests of God: Four asked inappropriately. Three were granted appropriately and a fourth inappropriately. They note that Eliezer said, “Let the maiden to whom I say …” without putting specific conditions on what type of young woman he sought. Had an unsuitable woman come to water her flock, the servant might have brought back an unfit wife for Isaac. Fortunately, God intervened, keeping the divine promise to Abraham to grant him a child, a nation, and a future. It was Rebekah who appeared at the well.

     Similarly, Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Achsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.” What if the man who captured the city of Kiriath-sepher was not a proper husband for Achsah? Again, God intervened and it was Othniel who captured the city and married the woman. Another close call, and another case of God watching out for people.

     King Saul is quoted by the Israelite warriors as having said: “The man who kills him, Goliath, the Philistine giant who had been tormenting Israel, will be rewarded by the king with great riches; he will also give him his daughter in marriage.” Who knows? say the Rabbis. The one who killed Goliath could have been a Cushite, a member of a dark-skinned neighboring people, an idolater, “star worshiper,” or a slave, in other words, someone inappropriate to marry the daughter of an Israelite king! (The Rabbis may be showing their prejudice against Cushites here.) God saw to it that David … the son of a certain Ephrathite, that is, a person with good lineage, was the one to kill Goliath. In the Rabbis’ eyes, each of these cases, though apparently random, is really the work of God.

     Why, then, was the prayer of Jephthah not granted? The outcome of the story—his having to sacrifice his daughter as an offering to God—is certainly more troubling and terrible than the others. But was Jephthah’s prayer all that different? As the Rabbis read the story of Jephthah, his prayer must have been different, for God did not grant Jephthah’s wish for an appropriate sacrificial animal to greet him on his safe return from battle. Thus had a donkey, a dog, or a cat come out, he would have offered it as a burnt offering. The Rabbis were too overwhelmed by the consequences of Jephthah’s mistake to add “or a human being.”

     The Midrash then digresses into what Jephthah should have done when he realized that his vow compelled him to sacrifice his own daughter. Rabbi Yoanan holds that he, Jephthah, was required to pay her dedicated value, that is, the value of a person in Temple terms, as when one said, “I promise the value of Person X to the Temple.” That would have exempted Jephthah from offering her as a sacrifice. Resh Lakish believes that he wasn’t even required to pay her dedicated value because of the language that Jephthah used. If one said of animals that could not be sacrificed in the Temple (for example, pigs), “These are a burnt offering,” he has said nothing, because a pig cannot by definition be a burnt offering. But if he said, “These are for a burnt offering,” then their value is for a burnt offering.

     Of course, the Rabbis assume that Jephthah would have followed the same laws as any second-century Rabbinic Jew. We know that Jephthah lived one thousand years before Rabbinic Judaism, that he was the son of a prostitute, and that “men of low character” surrounded him. He was hardly a paradigm of Jewish observance. Nonetheless, the Rabbis then ask: But wasn’t Phinehas, the High Priest, there to release him from his vow? Again, the Rabbis assume that Jephthah would know that (later) Rabbinic laws could release him from vows. The Rabbis imagine both Jephthah and Phinehas standing on ceremony, neither one willing to meet the other halfway. Jephthah, the great general, thought: It’s beneath me to go to Phinehas, the High Priest. At the same time, Phinehas felt that Jephthah should honor him, as High Priest, and should come to him. Because each stood on ceremony, Jephthah’s daughter lost her life. This reminds the Rabbis of a folk saying (“what people say”): “Between the midwife and the woman in labor, the poor child was lost.”


Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living

Take Heart
     July 8

     Yet he saved them for his name’s sake.
---
Psalm 106:8.

     “For his name’s sake,” signifies his making his name the ALL of our salvation. (Ralph Erskine, “God’s Great Name, the Ground and Reason of Saving Great Sinners,” preached at Carnock, July 18, 1730, before the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, downloaded from Fire and Ice, Puritan and Reformed Writings, at www.puritanRS Thomas.com, accessed Aug. 21, 2001.) Thus God designed to show himself to be all in all. More particularly,

     For God to save for his name’s sake is to make his name the motive for which he saves. What moved him to save any guilty sinner? It is his name, his own mercy, his own grace, his own pity and compassion, his own love.

     For God to save for his name’s sake is to make his name the reason why he saves. Though his name is the motive, yet some may think there is some reason drawn from the creature—that it was [God’s] foresight of faith and good works, that he foresaw some would be better than others and for this reason he would save them. But the Word of God says otherwise. God loves sinners because he loves them. His sovereign mercy is the cause of his showing mercy; “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy”
(
Rom. 9:15).

     To save for his name’s sake is to make his name the substance of their salvation—his name itself is their salvation. Those he saves have not only salvation from him, but in him. Christ, therefore, who calls us to look to him and be saved, is himself the salvation of the sinner. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” said old Simeon (
Luke 2:30). Christ is not only the helper, but the help itself.

     To save for his name’s sake is to make his name the means of salvation. “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (
Acts 4:12).

     To save for his name’s sake is to make his name the measure of our salvation; he will, therefore, save as far as his name and honor is engaged by promise to Christ or to his people in Christ.

     To save for his name’s sake is to make his name the goal of our salvation. The great goal he proposes in saving is the praise of his grace,
Ephesians 1:6—the praise of his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. This is the great purpose of God in his work of saving sinners. Christ’s grand prayer, when he was accomplishing the work of our salvation and redemption, was, “Father, glorify your name!” And here let us pause a little and admire the great design that God had in saving for his name’s sake.
--- Ralph Erskine


Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     Spiders over the Fire  July 8


     America’s greatest theologian is often identified as Jonathan Edwards, a New England pastor of the 1700s. Edwards was brilliant. At 6 he studied Latin. He entered Yale when not quite 13 and graduated when barely 15. He was ordained at age 19, taught at Yale by age 20, and later became president of Princeton. Harvard granted him both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree on the same day. But he is best known for his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God—the most famous sermon in American history.

     He preached it on Sunday, July 8, 1741, while ministering in tiny Enfield, Connecticut. A group of women had spent the previous night praying for revival. When Edwards rose to speak, he quietly announced that his text was Deut. 32:35,
“ … their foot shall slip in due time” (NKJV). This “hellfire and brimstone” approach was somewhat a departure for Edwards. Of his 1,000 written RS Thomas, less than a dozen are of this type.

     Edwards spoke softly and simply, warning the unconverted that they were dangling over hell like a spider over the fire. O sinner! consider the fearful danger. The unconverted are now walking over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that it will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.

     Edwards’s voice was suddenly lost amid cries and commotion from the crowd. He paused, appealing for calm. Then he concluded: Let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom.

     Strong men held to pews and posts, feeling they were sliding into hell. Others shook uncontrollably and rolled on the floor. Cries of men and women were heard throughout the village, begging God to save them. Five hundred were converted that Evening, sparking a revival that swept thousands into the kingdom.

     The Great Awakening had come.

     Soon our enemies will get what they deserve—suddenly they will slip, and total disaster will quickly follow. When only a few of the LORD’s people remain, when their strength is gone, and some of them are slaves, the LORD will feel sorry for them and give them justice.
--- Deuteronomy 32:35,36.


On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - July 8

     “Tell me I pray thee wherein thy great strength lieth.” --- 1 Judges 16:6.

     Where lies the secret strength of faith? It lies in the food it feeds on; for faith studies what the promise is—an emanation of divine grace, an overflowing of the great heart of God; and faith says, “My God could not have given this promise, except from love and grace; therefore it is quite certain his Word will be fulfilled.” Then faith thinketh, “Who gave this promise?” It considereth not so much its greatness, as, “Who is the author of it?” She remembers that it is God who cannot lie—God omnipotent, God immutable; and therefore concludeth that the promise must be fulfilled; and forward she advances in this firm conviction. She remembereth, why the promise was given,—namely, for God’s glory, and she feels perfectly sure that God’s glory is safe, that he will never stain his own escutcheon, nor mar the lustre of his own crown; and therefore the promise must and will stand. Then faith also considereth the amazing work of Christ as being a clear proof of the Father’s intention to fulfil his word. “He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Moreover faith looks back upon the past, for her battles have strengthened her, and her victories have given her courage. She remembers that God never has failed her; nay, that he never did once fail any of his children. She recollecteth times of great peril, when deliverance came; hours of awful need, when as her day her strength was found, and she cries, “No, I never will be led to think that he can change and leave his servant now. Hitherto the Lord hath helped me, and he will help me still.” Thus faith views each promise in its connection with the promise-giver, and, because she does so, can with assurance say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life!”


          Evening - July 8

     "Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day." --- Psalm 25:5.

     When the believer has begun with trembling feet to walk in the way of the Lord, he asks to be still led onward like a little child upheld by its parent’s helping hand, and he craves to be further instructed in the alphabet of truth. Experimental teaching is the burden of this prayer. David knew much, but he felt his ignorance, and desired to be still in the Lord’s school: four times over in two verses he applies for a scholarship in the college of grace. It were well for many professors if instead of following their own devices, and cutting out new paths of thought for themselves, they would enquire for the good old ways of God’s own truth, and beseech the Holy Ghost to give them sanctified understandings and teachable spirits. “For thou art the God of my salvation.” The Three-One Jehovah is the Author and Perfecter of salvation to his people. Reader, is he the God of your salvation? Do you find in the Father’s election, in the Son’s atonement, and in the Spirit’s quickening, all the grounds of your eternal hopes? If so, you may use this as an argument for obtaining further blessings; if the Lord has ordained to save you, surely he will not refuse to instruct you in his ways. It is a happy thing when we can address the Lord with the confidence which David here manifests, it gives us great power in prayer, and comfort in trial. “On thee do I wait all the day.” Patience is the fair handmaid and daughter of faith; we cheerfully wait when we are certain that we shall not wait in vain. It is our duty and our privilege to wait upon the Lord in service, in worship, in expectancy, in trust all the days of our life. Our faith will be tried faith, and if it be of the true kind, it will bear continued trial without yielding. We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously he once waited for us.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     July 8

          COME, YE DISCONSOLATE

     Thomas Moore, 1779–1852, (verses 1 and 2 with alterations)

     Thomas Hastings, 1784–1872, (verse 3)

     You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

     God’s delight is to administer comfort to wounded spirits.
--- Unknown

     Repeating the plea to “come” and the plaintive promise that “earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal,” this hymn of a soulful Irish poet has brought divine peace and consolation to countless troubled individuals. The text assures the anguished, the desolate, the straying one, and the penitent that responding to God’s gracious invitation and sharing our burdens with Him will bring us joy, light, hope, and tender comfort.

     Thomas Moore was well-known in Ireland for his poems and ballads such as “The Last Rose of Summer” and “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms.” He became known as the “Voice of Ireland.” Moore’s prose and poetry were said to be influential in the political emancipation of Ireland. The English seemed to sense in his writings the true spirit of the Irish people, and they were moved to be more sympathetic toward their gaining independence from England.

     After Thomas Moore included this hymn in his 1824 collection, Sacred Songs—Duets and Trios, a number of revisions were made in the lines by Thomas Hastings, an American hymnist. The third stanza was almost completely rewritten by Hastings. It is generally agreed that these changes made Moore’s poem easier to sing and more suitable for evangelical church use. How important to be reminded that “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”

     Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish—Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel; Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish: Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.
     Joy of the desolate, Light of the straying, Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure! Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying, “Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure!”
     Here see the Bread of Life, see the waters flowing forth from the throne of God, pure from above; come to the feast of love—come ever knowing earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.


     For Today: Matthew 11:28, 29; John 14:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3–7; Hebrews 4:15, 16; 1 Peter 5:7.

     Bring to the mercy seat whatever is clouding your life, and you will find the consolation and peace that God has promised and that only He can give. Then remember that the world is full of people with heavy hearts. Share this word of encouragement with someone. Carry this musical reminder with you ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)


     Sect. LXXIX. — BUT this is the most excellent statement of all — ‘that God is said to harden, when He indulges sinners by long-suffering; but to have mercy upon them, when He visits and afflicts, and thus, by severity, invites to repentance.’ —

     What, I ask, did God leave undone in afflicting, punishing, and calling Pharaoh to repentance? Are there not, in His dealings with him, ten plagues recorded? If, therefore, your definition stand good, that shewing mercy, is punishing and calling the sinner immediately, God certainly had mercy upon Pharaoh! Why then does not God say, I will have mercy upon Pharaoh? Whereas He saith, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh.” For, in the very act of having mercy upon him, that is, (as you say) afflicting and punishing him, He saith, “I will harden” him; that is, as you say, I will bear with him and do him good. What can be heard of more enormous! Where are now your tropes? Where are your Origens? Where are your Jeromes? Where are all your most approved doctors whom one poor creature, Luther, daringly contradicts? — But at this rate the flesh must unawares impel the man to talk, who trifles with the words of God, and believes not their solemn importance!

     The text of Moses itself, therefore, incontrovertibly proves, that here, these tropes are mere inventions and things of nought, and that by those words, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh,” something else is signified far different from, and of greater importance than, doing good, or affliction and punishment; because, we cannot deny, that both were tried upon Pharaoh with the greatest care and concern. For what wrath and punishment could be more instant, than his being stricken by so many wonders and with so many plagues, that, as Moses himself testifies, the like had never been? Nay, even Pharaoh himself, repenting, was moved by them more than once; but he was not effectually moved, nor did he persevere. And what long-suffering or goodness of God could be greater, than His taking away the plagues so easily, hardening his sin so often, so often bringing back the good, and so often taking away the evil? Yet neither is of any avail, He still saith, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh!” You see, therefore, that even if your hardening and mercy, that is, your glosses and tropes, be granted to the greatest extent, as supported by use and by example, and as seen in the case of Pharaoh, there is yet a hardening that still remains; and that the hardening of which Moses speaks must, of necessity, be one, and that of which you dream, another.


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